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The ride this year was challenging, and in parts, smoky.  Pat and I sagged 21 miles the second day to avoid biking in the smoke from the fires near Durango.  The route that day and the next was changed at the last minute to avoid the worst of the smoke.  In Durango, the Rockies camp was near that of the exhausted fire fighting personnel.  One woman was kind enough to take a minute to give us the run down on the conditions up the road after a night of fighting fire.  "The smoke near the road is not too bad," she told us.

We first encountered the smoke on the second day of the ride from Pegosa Springs to Durango.  The Denver Post Reported how the ride was prepared to help 2,000 cyclists through the area that day and the next.  "I know we're going to have asthma attacks today; we started seeing that last night with all the smoke," said paramedic Rodger Ames, president of Stadium Medical, which supplies ambulances for the tour, the Post reported.

Smoke from the fire near Durango filled the east side of the valley which was the original route for today.  Paul Balaguer and his army of volunteers spent the previous night moving the route and aid stations to the west side of the valley to avoid as much of the smoke as was possible.

It would not be Ride the Rockies if there weren't passes to climb but the climb on the first day of the tour was one of the more difficult.  Although there was just one big climb it came at about sixty miles into a 99 mile day.  When Pat and I climbed it, it was hot and steep.  I saw a number of people suffering from the effects of altitude, exhaustion, and heat.

Pat tops Wolf Creek Pass well and finished this 99 mile day with good hard efforts on the final short climbs (to the surprise of some of the cyclists she overtook).

Perhaps the biggest test on the tour would come on the third day which took us from Durango to Silverton.  There are three significant climbs between the aid stations and the top of Molas pass.  For reasons described later, only Pat and I would do the route as put down by the organizers.  Tour director Paul Balaguer had this advice for this leg of the tour, "Shortest day of ride, but far from easiest. More than 6,000 feet to climb. Take it at your pace. Don't work so hard you can't appreciate the stunning beauty around you. Careful on descent into Silverton."  Good advice indeed.  Even so, Pat and I found ourselves feeling rather exhausted at Coal Bank Pass which is one pass short of calling it a day.

Adam and David absorb the 18 miles of climbing behind them and contemplate the climbing yet to come at the Coal Bank Pass rest area.

Rather than calling it a day at Coal Bank, Pat found her second wind after a rest and some food.  She climbed the last few miles to Molas Pass as well as she climbed the first.  I was absolutely thrilled because completing today was a real accomplishment.

Pat and I are feeling good just a couple of miles before Molas Pass, however, after this photo the road turned upward more steeply making the final bits more effort than expected.  Pat celebrates the accomplishment (and her weight training) by lifting her bike high above her head.

As important as the climbs are to create the challenge of Rockies, the descents are for creating the thrill.  This thrill, however, is not without it's risks.  Below is an excerpt from the Denver Post:

The ascent up Red Mountain Pass, on Day Four of Ride The Rockies, provided 2,000 cyclists with some of the most stunning views of this seven-day cycling tour. It also was one of the more dangerous.

In 14 miles, riders descended 3,500 feet, competing for space with cars and trucks on more than a dozen steep, hairpin turns. Many riders, pushing the limits of the official speed (25 mph) and common sense, clocked speeds above 50 mph.

"Roads like this, there's the potential for something catastrophic," said Rodger Ames, lead paramedic on the tour and president of Stadium Medical.

"This stuff makes me nervous. All these cars, all these bikes and these people," he said.

To Ames' surprise, only a few riders were injured on Wednesday's 60-mile ride from Silverton to Montrose.

For the first time in our groups nine years of Colorado tours, we had a crash.  It was on day three, Durango to Silverton, that Evan ran out of road while overtaking slower cyclists on a turn.  His unplanned tumble into a rock wall resulted in mostly minor injuries and a pair of wrecked wheels.  His hip sustained the worst of the damage and he was in considerable pain that night but biked the rest of the tour in relative comfort, considering his injuries.

The Million Dollar Highway crossing of Red Mountain Pass provided some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever experienced on Ride the Rockies.
Doug and his son Nat climb toward Molas Pass.  Pat and I would see them narrowly avoid a crash on their way into Silverton later that same day.
Pat arrives at the top of Monarch Pass after a satisfying climb.
This photo is my personal favorite.  That's the face of accomplishment.
Our entire group had satisfying climbs up to Monarch Pass on our way from Gunnison to Salida.  Everyone reported strong climbs with Adam's being the fastest on the day.  For me it was pure redemption as I conquered this hill that had given me trouble the last time we climbed it during Rockies in 1999.

Where there's wind, there are pace lines and Rockies is no exception.  On the last day in particular there was plenty of wind.  After climbing Poncha Pass individually or in pairs, the six guys in our group worked together most of the day.  With so many pace lines and cyclists it wasn't always easy to keep things under control.  Typically when things seemed to be getting out of control we found the best thing to do is slow it down for a bit and the disruptive elements would disappear.  Once I tried to gap a couple of inconsistent riders off the back (a mean thing to do, really).  One was actually a good cyclist that ended up staying with us for awhile.

Our pace line minus Evan who took the picture.  We worked well together.
A good pace line does everything as a unit.

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prepared by Joseph King