Ride the Rockies Logbook, 1997

by Joseph King

Here are my log entries from our 1997 tour of The Denver Post Ride The Rockies presented by NEWS4 Colorado. The official ride was 418 miles and featured 20,000 feet of climbing. The ride was all in Colorado starting in Grand Junction and ending in Golden.Three of us from Wisconsin did the ride together. During the ride we added a fourth to our group, Lou, who is from Cleveland.

The ride is put on annually by the Denver Post. They send out applications in February and require that all applications be returned by the end of February. Then they choose a couple thousand at random. Last I checked, you have about a 50:50 shot at getting picked. The ride usually takes place in mid-to-late June. The Denver Post is on-line: http://www.denverpost.com/. Your best bet is to call them: (800) 336-7678.

June 14, Saturday

We left Madison, Wisconsin on Thursday after work and arrived in Estes Park, Colorado at about 5:45pm on Friday after an overnight in Des Moines, Iowa. Just west of Greely, Colorado we ran into some flash flooding and the remains of some extremely heavy hail. There were piles of hail so thick that we thought it was snow.

Friday night we ate at the Notchtop Cafe/Bakery and Pub in Estes Park. It topped all expectations. I had the roasted chile peppers stuffed with mashed potatos and served with grilled vegis. For dessert we all had raspberry and peach pie. Add to that a selection of fine micro-brews and you've got the makings of world's best pie ride.

June 15, Sunday

Grand Junction to Delta: There will be 38 miles of rolling, easy biking to Mesa. Then a steep accent to the Grand Mesa summit at mile 57. From there it is downhill all the way to Delta, Colorado.

The climb from 4,500 feet to 10,800 feet begins.

Today's ride included the most difficult climb I've ever experienced. 20 miles of steep climbing. The first 10 were difficult even in my lowest gear. After that, I went into a bit of decline. Although the last 9-8 miles were not quite as steep as the first 11, having biked from 4500 feet to over 10,000 at the summit took it's toll in the form of a bit of altitude sickness. This might have been avoided if there had been more to eat at aid station number 4 which was at the midpoint of the climb.

The climb was also extremely beautiful. Grand Mesa is dotted on top with 300 lakes that overlook canyons and valleys. It was a fun and fast decent to Cedaredge were we relaxed, ate, and listened to some live music. By the time Jack and I rolled into to Delta we were fully recovered.

I find my friends from Madison at the top of Grand Mesa.
I also find some much needed food.

We would, in fact, get back on our bikes later that day to go in search of dinner. Ride the Rockies sponsors community dinners each evening and we were glad that we took our bikes over to the feed instead of waiting for a $2 shuttle. When Jack and I arrived, the line is long and moving slowly. We located a basic family restaurant nearby. The food here is nothing to write home about but it serves the need.

Each evening 2,000 cyclists go looking for showers and food. Sometimes all I would find was cold showers in the high school. Generally, but not always, having more fun along the way and getting in later meant shorter lines for a hot shower. Dinner, on the other, is best had by 5pm.

You are encouraged to walk, bike, or take a shuttle into town or to a park each evening. Either food, entertainment, or both are offered by each town under the Ride the Rockies banner. We found that many merchants gave discounts to participants and that going downtown to window shop and eat dinner was generally worthwhile. Here in Delta, after a long day of biking, all we could manage was dinner.

June 16, Monday

Delta to Montrose: A quick and rolling ride to Montrose from Delta. It's slightly uphill all day. The totals include in-town biking after the ride.

An easy day. A fun day. Since the ride was short there was no need to rush off and I enjoyed the relaxed pace to the morning routine. Jack and I worked together and rode vigorously finishing with 15mph average at the end of the ride despite a head wind. The ride went by so fast I hardly noticed it. I did notice how strong I felt and after yesterdays hard ride this was a bit surprising. I guess this is the payoff from nearly a 1,000 miles of training in Wisconsin.

In Montrose we really enjoyed ourselves. I discovered that I packed up without my tent-fly pole. Fortunately, it was possible to fashion a replacement pole from the shredded remains of a tent pole I had broken on Saturday.

Dan, Jack, Lou, and I enjoy a great meal at Sicilly's Italian Restaurant.

Then we went swimming. My friend Dan and I biked down to the local swimming pool to find Ride the Rockies participants get a huge discount for access to the pool, water-slide and warm water therapy pool. After a couple trips down the slide we headed to the therapy pool to stretch and relax. This was just the thing for my sore knee.

Later Jack and I met Lou (from Cleveland) and Dan for dinner at a great place called Sicilly's Italian Restaurant. Beer, salad, calizone, teramazu, wow! The tomato sauce lacked tart and zing but otherwise a flawless performance.

June 17, Tuesday

Montrose to Gunnison: Three significant climbs and two passes are in store for us today. The first 14 miles will take us over Cerro Summit then at mile 28 we'll reach Blue Mesa Summit which tops 8,700 feet. We drop down and then climb a final 400 feet before taking a 35 mile roller coaster down to Gunnison which is at 7,800 feet.

This was to be a day of 3 climbs but I did 4. I turned off at mile 7 and climbed an 8% grade for 7 miles to the rim of the Black Canyon in the Black Canyon National Monument. The park ranger told me that the entrance to the park was at 8,300 feet making this extra climb the most significant of the day.

My wife claims that this photo is the only proof she needs to have me committed.

Biking to see the Black Canyon took a lot of effort but it was worth it. The views were spectacular and the wildlife mostly undisturbed. I was unable to get a look at the woodpecker I could hear laughing at me during the climb but the magpies and the ground squires seemed to ignore me.

During the fast and easy descent to rejoin the ride, I noticed six others out to repeat my foolishness. There's no question that this bit of extra credit took a toll on me later in the day. It was the steepest climb of the day although each of the next three would have their strong points.

It felt strange rejoining the ride at mile 7, where I had left it over an hour and a half ago. Here the other cyclists are beginning in earnest the first climb of the day. It seems mild to me after the climb into the Black Canyon. For the first time all ride I feel alone among the 2,000 throng of riders. How could they possibly relate to how I feel just now? Why should they care?

The view of the Black Canyon from it's rim.

The Cerro Summit comes quickly and easily. At the top there is a family selling lemonade. Dad has his hands full directing his young daughter (six?) and is son (four?) while still making some money to fund the building of new tennis courts. I enjoyed sipping my lemonade and I could feel the excitement of the little kids who were working hard to get bikers to stop.

While enjoying my lemonade I met Don. He must be retired and has the appearance of some one who has worked with his hands all his life. He seems to be enjoying himself and he is ready to tell me about it. He tells me how he came to be on this ride. He did some biking around and thought that this ride might be fun so he signed up. A friend told him that to train for the ride he should try biking with the local cycle club in Grand Junction. So he rose early one morning, and showed up for the 6am ride in regular clothes and a bandana on his head. His mountain bike with knobby tires seemed a bit out of place among the spandex mounted road bikes with their thin slick tires.

Unfazed, off he went with the group and he stayed with them for awhile. He lost the group for a moment when he had to adjust his bandana. He seemed amazed by how quickly they disappeared. He would, by the chance of a wrong turn, happen upon them later. Eventually, he lost them for good but figured he would see the group at a planned picinic in Moab after which they were to be bussed back to Grand Junction. But when he arrived in Moab the picinic was over and the group was gone. That chartered bus he had seen heading the other direction, was that them? Surely, they wouldn't just leave him out there. It was 4am the next day before Don returned home. I noticed his bike is now outfitted with thinner and smoother tires and Don is wearing a helmet and biking clothes. He is also wearing a large friendly smile.

The rest of the day's ride featured two climbs, each was easier than the last, although both are steep at times. Fortunately, I was saved from total self-destruction by a strong tail wind that blew us into Gunnison. This part of the ride was dotted with canyon walls and reservoir lakes and would have been even more lovely if not for the semi-tractor trailers that drove very close to the cyclists for no apparent reason. Occasionally blowing their horns in envee of our good time.

June 18, Wednesday

Gunnison to Salida: One good climb over Monarch Pass at mile 42 and the rest is downhill all the way. Today we will leave the high desert and enter the Rocky Mountains.

Looking back on the mountains we just crossed as we head
down to Salida.

We started the day with a great breakfast in Gunnison and ended it with a wonderful dinner in Salida. In between we biked 64 miles, enjoyed the view, fixed a flat and climbed for 10 miles over a mountain pass. Jack and I rode together all day. He was fine with waiting for me and my mishaps (besides the flat, I broke my helmet mirror).

Breaking camp in Salida.

Breakfast: Down-town Deli in Gunnison
Oatmeal with raspberries prepared by people who really care. Also a blue berry muffin fresh out of the oven at 6am.

Dinner: Laughing Ladies Cafe in Salida
Blackened Snapper served over black beans with tomato, avocado and cilantro -- yum! I was defeated by the chocolate truffle cake afterward.

June 19, Thursday

Salida to Leadville:It is an easy but steady climb most of the way. There are a few hills and head winds have been known to make this a tiring bike ride.

Young people often provide
welcome stops for lemonade.

The log entry for today reads like a menu.

Breakfast #1: Coffee Shop on Main Street, Salida
Huevos Rancheros, with potatos, black beans, salsa, tomatos and gaucamole

Breakfast #2: Restaurant in Buena Vista
French toast

Lunch #1: Aid Station Number 3 (mile 44)
Pesto-vegi sandwich from a vendor at a rest stop. Kari, one of several vendors that followed the tour and sold food along the route, sold several type of good looking sandwiches all with meat. Since I only eat fish and vegetables, I had to pull the ham off of this sandwich. In the process, I talked her into making and selling vegi sandwiches the next day. She did and I bought her last one.

Lunch #2: Leadville High School
Chips and Coke

Dinner: Columbine Cafe in Leadville
Black bean burger with avocado, tomato, onion, and cheese. Also fries and lemonade.

The ride was easy all morning but a nasty head wind made me work hard for the last 10 miles into Leadville. This ride follows the Arkansas river valley. On our left for most of the day were some of the highest peaks in Colorado, all dressed in white.

June 20, Friday

Leadville to Frisco: The day starts with some steep climbs and decents on a side trip around Turquoise Lake. Then there's a good climb over Freemont Pass and an fast downhill to Frisco.

Turquoise Lake. The views combined with the total
lack of motor vehicles to make this one of the best
parts of the tour.

I haven't felt this normal in days. I think that I am either less dehydrated or adapted to the altitude or both.We started with a 6am breakfast in down-town Leadville and the Homestead Bakery/Restaurant and Coffee Roasters. They have some good bread there shaped like bagels. They even called them bagels but the only thing bagel-like about them was their shape. Very good nonetheless. The coffee they served was the best I've had since leaving Madison. They roast their own coffee and they claim it to be "above all others." This is a play on the fact that at nearly 10,000 feet, Leadville's elevation makes it the highest incorporated town in the United States. I found the Leadville blend of coffee to be rich and full with just the right amount of acidic bite.

Turquoise Lake.

Jack, Lou, and I biked around Turquoise Lake, took lots of pictures and returned to the Homestead Bakery/Restaurant and Coffee Roasters for a second breakfast. Lou joined me in buying some beans to bring home. Never mind we'd have to carry them over Freemont Pass -- this coffee was good!

By the time we left Leadville the second time it had gotten to be about 11am so we headed up Freemont Pass to eat lunch. We then coasted down to Frisco to find that we had to camp on rocks and dirt. Our campsite for the night was the new high school in Frisco, Summit High. It was so new that all of the fields were stripped of grass. Instead loose dirt and rocks covered the grounds. Jack found a spot next to the bikepath that leads to town, as did I. Lou found the concrete entry way to the school acceptable.

Jack and I congratulate each other at the summit of Freemont Pass.

Dinner was at a brew pub. We've eaten at several during this trip and they've been good to a fault. The Backcounty Brewery in Frisco proved to be no exception. I had salmon which was just a tad overdone but otherwise an excellent meal. Dan, Lou, and Jack all enjoyed their meals as well.

Fortunately for everyone camping on loose dirt, it did not rain. Nor was it extremely windy. All in all the camping here, on the dirt, was about as good as anywhere else during our tour. The worst part of it was the realization that this would be our last night in the tents.

June 21, Saturday

Frisco to Golden: Seventy miles of some of Colorado's best biking. Loveland pass is a long and lovely climb to nearly 12,000 feet and Floyd Hill is short but steep. While significant climbs dot the day, we will drop nearly 4,000 feet before the tour is done.

Jack charges the top of Loveland Pass.

A super, super day of biking. I loved the climb up Loveland Pass. It is a grind but not as steep as Grand Mesa. It is exhilarating to climb that far above the tree line. Jack and I did most of it together. I didn't eat much on top so I was low on energy when we arrived in Idaho Springs. I talked Jack into lunch at one more brew pub, the Tommyknocker Brew Pub in Idaho Springs.

Between Idaho springs and the end of the tour are two good climbs. Not mountain passes but significant pulls with steep grades. Unlike in 1994 when we biked with Ride the Rockies, we used bikepaths and side-roads instead of the interstate highway to get up Floyd Hill.

I consider myself more of a tourist than a serious cyclist but I try to bike efficiently and effectively. I tend to charge the tops of hills whenever it feels good. Today it felt very good.

There are lots of strong riders on Ride the Rockies. They are old, young, female, male, and paraplegic. They ride road bikes, mountain bikes, cross bikes, tandems, Bike Fridays, recumbants, and even tandem recumbants. They come from near, many from the Denver area, and far, this year we had riders from Alaska and Ohio. In 1994 Jack and I had dinner with a couple from Australia.

Ride the Rockies runs on volunteer power and corporate sponsorship. The volunteers were first rate all the way. They helped make the ride easier and safer.

Driving from Wisconsin to Colorado to do Ride the Rockies is something I hope to do again.

Looking back on the ride from Loveland Pass.

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