Friday, July 31, 2015

Ride the Rockies

A few months ago at my mother’s company dinner, I started talking cycling with the owner of my mom’s company.  I had ridden indoors with him a few times, and we had spoken about cycling quite a bit.  We got to talking about his plans for the summer, and he mentioned that him and his group of friends who have been riding together for years were fortunate enough to be able to get into the lottery for Ride the Rockies.  He started giving me a bit more information about what the Ride was about.  He told me that I needed to come and that it would be the experience of a lifetime.  I told him that I would love to and to let me know the details later.

Leaving the dinner, I didn’t really think about it, until about two weeks later when out of the blue, he sent me an email with the words “I’m calling you out from our conversation at the banquet.”  I have always had too much pride to turn down fighting words like that, so I adapted my schedule to make sure that this was something that I could definitely get in on.

Initially, I was a bit worried as I have never ridden more than 230 miles in a week and I was going to have to ride more than double that for this week.  But, I was still very excited to get the opportunity to do this and knew that this would be a trip I would never forget.

Ride the Rockies is this:

Meet the great crew that will be referenced throughout the rest of this blog:

JS aka “The Captain”- JS is the one who invited me to this and is the only one that I knew prior to the trip.  Jeff is awesome for a variety of reasons.  He is the captain, because he steers the ship that was our group this past week.  He is very organized and makes you feel confident in what you are doing.  I am very new to road cycling and have only every operated by myself on a TT bike with minimal pack riding.  I am far from a “roadie,” so it was awesome to have him as well as the other guys to help me learn.  He answered my endless questions about road signs, hand signals, and etiquette all week, and was even nice enough to tell me that I wasn’t asking too many questions/being an idiot.  I also like JS because he is very competitive.  He likes to go fast and push the pace.  He has a ton of power and will make you work on each ride.  There have been more than a few times that I have seen him slowly fading away up the road.

Jo aka “The Locomotive”- Jeff told me that this is what he is known as in Belgium, where he is from, and for very god reason.  Jo can pull the group for miles and miles and miles.  No change in expression, no change in pace, no change in cadence.   The guy is like a machine with the sole purpose of pulling groups through long days of cycling.  Jo is also a huge fan of the sport.  He has amazing stories of people he has met and races that he has seen.  Also, he is a former professional soccer player, so he also dealt with endless questions from me.

FG-  FG is the most stoic rider that I have ever met.   We can be going up a hill pushing really hard power, and I look back at FG, stone-faced.  We could be descending a pass at 45-50 mph, stone faced.  We could be in a pace line killing ourselves, and I look back and still the same dang expression.  He can hold anyone’s wheel and bring anyone back, and did so many times this trip.   However, off the bike, FG is one of the friendliest people you will meet.  When you get back from a ride, he is the first person to throw out a compliment to the other guys.  “You absolutely killed that climb.”  “Nice work on that pull.”  He is the guy who makes you feel good about your riding every day.

JL-  JL is the sage of the group.  Always a smile on his face, regardless of the day.  He has a Doctorate in Organizational Development and is a professor at a very well-renowned University.  He is one of those people that seems so wise that when he speaks, I felt like I needed to have a notebook handy to take some of it down.  Also, a very solid rider.  Climbs very well.  He stands at 6’7.  Okay, maybe 6’4.  But to a 5’9 guy he is a giant.  Talk about a draft.  I could be out of the saddle standing up trying to get on my tiptoes and still be in his slipstream, and was more than once on this trip.  

ML-  ML is discretely hardcore.  ML regularly puts out 400 mile weeks in the saddle.  He has also been cycling across the United States.  Let me say that again, ACROSS THE USA.  There is not enough chamois in the world to make me ready for that ride.  But when you ask him about it, he talks about it as casually as I would talk about going out for a morning jog.  Alhough, ML does have one very aggravating trait that I was able to experience more than one time this trip.  My first encounter was after the ride on Day 2.   The ride was 97 miles with 20 miles of straight climbing at about a 3-4% grade the entire time.  By the time you get to the top you have most likely been riding and pedaling for 4-5 hours straight.  I got back from the day and was complaining to anyone that would listen how hard this was.  ML rolls in and looks like he just got back from a nice loop around town.  “That was sooo much fun” were his words.  I about took my Fat Tire and threw it at him.  But that is just ML.  Immune to pain and suffering.

SS-  SS is the final combatant that came on the trip with us.  SS has done this ride many times in the past, but chose to sacrifice this year to be the RV Driver.  However, he was able to ride the prologue, 1st, 3rd, and 6th(?)( memory is blending the days together) with us.  Because he knew that he wasn’t doing the ride, SS had the distinction of being the person that made me the second least prepared person for this trip.  On the first day when we went out riding, he proclaimed that this was his 5th ride this year.  However, that didn’t stop him from being one of the first 2 back to the RV with FG on Day 1 and hammering away on the other days.  He credits this to Crossfit.  I credit it to Dad Muscles as his daughter was on the trip with us as well. 

Now that you have the crew.  Here is the trip.

Days Leading Up to the Ride:

We started the drive on Thursday afternoon.  JS, FG, ML, Jo, and me met in Aurora, Illinois and started the drive down.  The RV that we were riding down in was truly awesome.  It is the biggest RV when expanded that I have ever seen.  Having made my fair share of car trips down to Florida, this made traveling feel luxurious.  The initial ride down was not too eventful.  I was introduced for the first time to everyone besides JS and FG as I had ridden with FG twice the earlier week on a group ride.  I was able to learn many things about the guys that I have mentioned above. 

We picked up SS in Iowa, and continued west through the bumpy state of Nebraska.  I am fairly confident the people who built the roads in Nebraska did so with the intention of making sure that no driver ever fell asleep driving through the cornfields.  Needless to say, we didn’t sleep much either.
18 hours later, we arrived in Colorado.  

Colorado is the most beautiful state in the US.  This is not up for debate.  Everywhere you turned, there was another sight that absolutely took your breath away.  We picked up JL who was already in Colorado for a conference and made our way to the first hotel that Jo and JL would be staying at.  

It was Friday and the Ride didn’t start until Sunday, so the decision was made to not ride on Friday.  I took this as an opportunity to get out and run a bit and see how my knee was holding up.  Mentally on this run, I was not in it.  It was only 45 minutes, but every minute I was either waiting for me knee to start hurting or thinking about if this was going to make me too tired to keep up with the guys for the next few days.   However, the knee held up and after I got back, we all hung around for the rest of the night.

The next day we all got up and decided to ride.  We went out as a group with the plan of going 2 hours.  We somehow found the only flat roads in the area, got lost a few times, found 5+ Dead Ends, but ultimately had a good ride.  It was nice to get the legs spinning and get more experience with pack riding before the next few days.   I was able to gain a ton of experience and knowledge afterwards, especially from JS and Jo on some of the things that I could fix in the way I was riding.  Road Bikes are very different to TT bikes in terms of the way they handle.  Having them to point out some subtle ways to better what I was doing was great. 

After that, we went and relaxed for a bit.  I went for a shorter run.  Then, we all gathered up to go to 
dinner.  We found a good local Italian Place and carb-ed up for the next few days.  After that, we all went back to the trailer and got to bed early-ish for the day ahead.

Day 1- Grand Junction

Grand Junction was easily my favorite day of the ride.  This is not just because it was the one day that I woke up and didn’t feel like someone had taken a hammer to my quads.  Because it was a looped course, you were able to see the most riders of any day of the week.  This was amazing to see not only because of the vast amount of people doing the ride(over 2000), but also because of the variety of people doing the ride.  I personally broke it up into a few groups:

The KOM chasers-  These are the guys that are less than 150 pounds, riding bikes/components that are worth more than some cars, and just destroying themselves up and down the mountains

The Peloton- This group is in matching kits, riding the same pace, and pulling each other through this ride

The families- These people tended to be riding mountain/hybrid bikes, carrying pounds of gear and food in their backpacks, and for the most part seemed to be really enjoying themselves.  One dad was actually pulling his son up the mountains on a Tandem bike(cheers to that guy)

The common folk- This group just set their sights on doing this insane ride, grabbed a bike, and went for it.  Not rolling in kits or nice gear, but doing the work to get to the next town each day

The partiers-  These people are the ones that are camping out each night, staying up until 3am, and somehow still getting themselves up to go ride the next day.  Can be seen riding anything from a road bike to a cruiser with flags and bells on it.

Random age-d “roadies”- This group was interesting.  You had some very nice people in this group who both understood cycling and were courteous on the road.  However, the other half of this group is bitter every time you pass them, refuses to move to the right, and normally has some choice words for you as you passed.

However, every group is essential to the ride.

We started the day at about 8am and hit the main road with hundreds of other riders.  The first few miles every day are nice.  It is a relaxed pace, you can casually talk with other riders and get your legs warmed up for the climbing ahead.  After about 6 miles, we hit the entrance of the Colorado National Monument.  I’ll let the images speak for themselves.

It was at this point in the ride that we all broke off into our own paces.  I road with JS, Jo, and FG for the first part of the climb.  We didn’t stop for many aid stations on this shorter day and just kept plugging along up the climb.  I honestly was surprised at how easy it felt to be climbing this mountain.  A combination of living in the Midwest and cycling a lot indoors does not really help to prepare you for any type of climbing.  This was the first time that I had been out of my Big Chain Ring in 2015.  

This was definitely the easiest of the days.  After 15 miles, we were already able to start descending.   At this point, I was riding with JS and Jo and had a not so shocking revelation.  Being light is very useful when going uphill, but a combination of being light, being a wuss, and not having great bike handling skills is not so good for going down mountains.  I quickly saw the bodies of JS and Jo turn into tiny dots down the mountain.  They waited for me in the next town, we found a group, and took the last flat miles at a quick click to get back to the trailer.  After we got back, I ran a bit again because…..reasons.

We all cleaned up, took a nap, and went to grab food.  We celebrated the last night that Nick didn’t order a BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich for dinner and got back quickly to watch the Blackhawks get one game closer to winning the Stanley Cup with a group of people who had no interest in hockey, but had a strong interest in the beer that we were drinking. 

This was a great start to the Ride.

Day 2-Grand Juction to Hotchkiss

Today was going to be interesting for many reasons.  With 96 Miles and 7,631′ Elev. Gain, it was going to be a “Shut Up Legs” kind of day.  We hopped out of the RV fairly early for the long day.  Personally, I was trying to get mentally ready for the day ahead.  I had never ridden over 78 miles in a day, and that was in circles around Fermi-Lab back home.  I was about to come close to my weekly average milage in the first 3 days of this trip.  So I did what I usually do when I get anxious, I go to the bathroom like 5 times and think about how much food I am going to eat after the ride.  

We rolled out and pace-lined the first 35 flat miles more or less as a group.  The route took us along the highway which made it very difficult to pass.  Me and FG got caught behind a large group of riders who did not want to move over.  Eventually, we were able to get around them, but by the time we had, JS, Jo, and JL were long gone.  FG stopped at the next aid station and I went on a solo chase to try to find the 3 others.  After about 15 minutes of hammering along, I found them with a group of 15 or so riders.  I hopped in the line and pulled for the next 5 miles until we got to the base of the the Grand Mesa.  There was an aid station at the base of the 20 mile climb. 

It was here that I discovered the fuel that would propel me through the next few days.  Each day I would start off with enough gels, Clif Bars, etc. to get me through the ride, but when at each aid station they offer you endless amounts of Animal Crackers, Cheez-its, and Pretzels, a gel just doesn’t sound appealing in the slightest.  Therefore, with a gut full of kids’ lunch snacks, I started attacking this 21 mile climb. 

In cycling, there are categories to label certain climbs based on their difficulty.  The least difficult are Cat 5 and they go to  Cat 1.  However, there is a label reserved for certain climbs that are “beyond categorization.”  These are referred to as HC climbs - "Hors Categorie" - (a French term for above category) climbs, the hardest rating/score given to any climb. All climb scores are based on distance, grade/elevation change, and maximum elevation.   This is climb was HC
There are many times in the sport of cycling and triathlon when having a background in mathematics and being able to do quick math is very useful.  This was not one of those times.  As soon as the climb began, I saw that my speed had dropped significantly to a range of 7-10 mph.  So I started doing math(I would not recommend this). 

If you have 21 miles to climb and you are doing this at an average of 8ish mph, how long will it take to get to the top?    

That’s easy.  Around two and a half hours.  

Wait WHAT?!?  That can’t be right.  Do math again, and do it better this time. 

The answer is the same.

So, before I would allow panic and desperation to set in, I started to think of ways to make the time go by.  I would look for a rider up the road and time myself to see how long it took me to catch him.  I would try to remember times where my legs felt less tired than they were currently feeling.  I sang songs.  Sometimes out-loud depending on who was around me.  My rendition of “My legs are going Bye, Bye, Bye” to the tune of NSync was pretty solid.

Eventually, you do get to the top.  When I got to the top, I pulled into the aid station and made a friend.  We made a contest of who could eat the most trail mix.  We both won.  I stuck around for a few minutes to gather myself, saw a certain disgraced cyclist from Texas in the back of car hanging out(Lance Armstrong)  and started the descend down the mountain pass.

One thing that is always amazing to me is how quickly your mind and body forget suffering.  I have noticed this after races and again after the climb that we just undertook.  You can go into the darkest corners of your mind and convince yourself that you are in the worst pain/place that you have ever been in.  You can write off ever doing anything like this again.  But remove yourself from the pain for a few minutes, eat some trail mix, start descending down a mountain where you go 40+ mph without spinning a pedal, and you will most likely find yourself at ease and ready to take on another challenge.

The next 20 miles were a blur.  Going 35-45 mph for 20ish miles just flew by.  After going 20 miles in just over 30 minutes, there was a flat section and one more small climb before the finish.  I rode the last 25 miles with a 45 year old lady who told me that she used to race professionally, and she was FAST.  We took turns pulling and before I knew it, we were to the finish with 98+ miles behind us.   I found SS and his daughter at the RV.  Told him about the day and waited for the rest of the crew to roll in.  I ate about 3 bowls of Honey Nut Cheerios and drank 2 Fat Tires before resigning to sleep. 

We hung out for the rest of the night with nothing too crazy and rested up before the next day.

Day 3- Hotchkiss to Gunnison

There is an old saying that all have heard in some variation, “When I was your age, We had to walk ten miles to school, barefoot, in the snow, uphill, both ways.”

Whoever came up with the route for today, clearly had that quote in mind when coming up with this course profile. 

Uphill nearly the entire way- Check
Snow on the Route- Check
10 miles- It was actually 78 with climbing for the first 40, so Check
Barefoot- Well we did get to wear shoes.  

Today was easily going to be the toughest day of the Ride.  If a century-ish the day before wasn’t enough of a leg mashing day, today, we had 78 miles through some rain and snow.  

Most days started with at least a few miles of flat, relaxing, warm up your legs miles.  Today was very different.  From the very first moment, it was a brutal day.  I saw the profile the night before and commented to the guys that I thought today was going to be tough.  We were going to finish the day 2800 feet higher than we started.  FG, who was sacrificing to drive so that SS could ride, assured me that this was an easy day.  He said, “there is always a tailwind and you can pace-line most of the way.” 

About an hour into the ride with rain, a 15 mph headwind,  a 3% grade, and ZERO opportunity to draft, I was cursing mentally at FG, but I am glad he couldn’t actually hear it, because again FG is one of the nicest guys I have met.

My thoughts then turned to the other guys and SS who was now on his 6th ride of the year.  I started hoping that they were having a better go of this ride than I was.  This ride did have one redeeming quality.  The views coming around the switchbacks were some of the best of the week.  See here:

The rest of the ride on this day was a blur.  I stopped at some aid stations, but mostly rode alone and dealt with my own personal demons and suffering.  I eventually made it to the end when I was able to latch on to a group of 3 riders who were all from Wisconsin, where we took turns and made the last few miles fly by at a pace well over 20 mph.    

We all got back to the trailer, and everyone seemed to have a different day.

JS, Jo, and me-  All complaining about wind, difficulty, and leg pain.
SS-  Just happy to get it done.  Loved descending.  I asked him when we got to descend.
JL and ML-  Both had great days.  Hung out together and really enjoyed the ride(I secretly hated both of them at this moment.

I told the guys that the one thing that got me through the tough climb was a Bruce Lee quote, “'Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”

JS turns to me and says, “you take this way too serious.”  He is probably right. 

We watched the Hawks win the Stanley Cup and went to bed shortly after.

Day 4- Gunnison to Crested Butte

Day 4 was a much needed day of rest.   The day only totaled 27 Miles  which were mostly uphill.   1,424′ Elev. Gain total for the day.

I woke up early in the morning.   I had a run on schedule.  My legs were less than willing to oblige, but eventually I walked out the door and tried to really work into this run slowly.  

 My legs would just not wake up.  Every mile was slow, and you seem to feel the altitude more when running than with biking.  I tried to find the flattest route that Colorado can offer to actually try to take advantage of this “rest day.”   6 miles later I was back at the trailer and very uncertain how this ride would go.

I found everyone awake and ready to get on riding to the next town.  I quickly put on my cycling gear and got in line for the day ahead.  We had a short descent before the long slight incline to the next town.  As soon as we started the incline, I started to feel really good.  Like really good.  I moved to the front of our 5 man pace-line and made it my goal to see how long I could pull before one of the other guys took over because I was slowing the pace.  However, today that just didn’t happen.
I was able to pull the group along the incline for the first 11 miles until the first aid station.  When we got there, we gathered the group again, and JS and I were feeling pretty good so we went out ahead.  After about 3 miles, I looked back and we had picked up a group of 5 guys.  They sat there in the slipstream for a bit, and then pulled a move that started becoming more common as the week went on.  Randomly coming around and attacking after spending 12-15 minutes resting while we did the work up front.

I looked back at JS to see if he wanted to chase them down.   He looked back at me and just said, “Go get ‘em.”

I shifted into a higher gear and went after them.  About 20 seconds later, I was in their draft now and just sat there for a bit.  All 3 guys in the group looked about my age, and we took turns at the front for the next few miles.  I started pulling at the front about 5 miles from the end and just pulled into the town.   The 2 guys that were left both said thanks for the work, and we parted ways. 

That was one of the things that I loved about this ride every day.  For every person who was sour at you from hearing “On your left” there was a group of people who just wanted to work together to get to the end.  These people ranged from college aged kids, to stud women cyclists, and older men who still had plenty of miles in their legs.  There was a certain camaraderie that this ride possessed that made it unique every day. 

After we all gathered up and showered, we were able to explore Crested Butte which was one of the coolest towns I have ever been to.  We ate lunch at a Ski Resort and watched some mountain bikers doing some pretty insane things down the mountain.  They would ride up in the lift with their bikes and then descend down the mountain through the moguls and jumps.  Pretty impressive.

For dinner that night, we went into DT Crested Butte.  That town is hoppin’.  We saw a few of the shops and found a good local place to eat.  Nothing too eventful for the rest of the night, and with the longest day being Day 5, we went back to the trailer reasonably early for the 7am wake up.

Day 5- Crested Butte to Salida

Today was going to be my first ever century ride.  And if you are going to do a century, you should definitely start with one that has a 13 mile Hors Categorie dirt ascent.  This was the day that I was most anxious about going into this week.  I knew that I would have crested my longest ever week of cycling already going into this day, and was going to have 100+ miles with one of the tougher climbs in Colorado to deal with.

The day started of nice.  We woke up, I had 2 bowls of Cheerios, we all packed up our gear, and we got on the way.  The temperature to start the day was cool, but nice.  Knowing that we would be climbing up to 12,000 feet in Altitude, and the temperatures at the top would be in the 30’s, we packed plenty of clothes.

We were able to take the exact same route down that we climbed up yesterday for the first 17 miles.  I really didn’t notice that we were climbing much yesterday, but you could definitely feel the descent today.  We were able to cruise along at about 25 mph without much effort.  We picked up a pretty big train before the first aid station.  I opted to skip that one and started the gradual 20 mile climb that would lead to Cottonwood Pass.   I had 2 other guys from the train stay with me and and stay on my wheel for the rest of the gradual part of the climb.

After the next 20 miles or so which were all uphill, we finally hit the turn to the dirt part of the climb.  When they had dirt written in the description, they were not lying.  Not only were you now going uphill, but you were also praying that you didn’t catch a flat on the assortment of rocks, uneven terrain, and whatever else you could imagine.  Your tires would occasionally spin out and catch nothing which made the climb all the more difficult.

We hit an aid station and one of the kind volunteers informed us that the 13 mile assent started now.  

My first thought was. What the heck was that last 4 miles?

I stuffed some animal crackers in my jersey pocket, filled up my water and started the climb.  This was one of those climbs that was hard to gauge your effort.  I didn’t know the course well enough to know when the gradient of the climbs was going to change, so I started off the climb debating whether I was going too hard or not hard enough.  I had this internal argument until about mile 8 of the climb when my legs started to give, and the verdict was too hard.

I am unsure whether it was the accumulation of miles from the past few days, pushing too hard on the flats earlier in the day, the fact that the dirt climb worked like quicksand at parts, or all three but I was tired.  Eventuall, as we started getting closer and closer to 12,000 feet, the temperature began dropping nicely.  With the great views and the cooling temperatures, my spirit was beginning to gradually lift.  

The thought that kept me going was a quote I had read a few years back, “Treat pain like an old friend. It’s not that you enjoy suffering, but when you accept it as a moment that signifies that you are pushing yourself and advancing toward your goal, then you have begun to approach pain management from the right direction.”  So for the remaining miles, I reminded myself that I CHOSE to do this and got out of the dark place that I was heading towards.

In the final few switchbacks, you could start hearing some music which is always a good sign on this trip.

When you finally got to the top, snow covered mountains, rivers, and trails covered the horizon.  I started eating everything that I could get my hands to.  I found some of the riders that I had shared a few miles with the previous day, had a quick conversation, and started the fast decent down the pass.

Going into this trip, I was very apprehensive about the steep descents, especially steep descents with switchbacks.  But it was truly amazing to me the comfort that you gain with your bike when you have spent more time with it than any human being in the past week. 

The next 50 miles flew by.  Mostly downhill and very fast, I have never covered 50 miles faster in my life.  The only real adventure of the rest of the day occurred why I arrived in town and began to search for SS.  

I had been fortunate the first few days of the trip that my normally sub-optimal T-Mobile service had been good enough for me to call the driver and locate whomever it was.  This was the day that it finally decided to give in and provide me no means by which to contact SS.  This is always fantastic news especially after riding 100+ miles.  After riding around for 15 minutes looking for the trailer, I rode myself to a hotel, and found the guest computer/phone to locate SS.  

Everyone else rolled in, and we went in search of food.  Everyone was pretty exhausted after this day and we all rolled back to the trailer pretty early to get as much sleep as possible before the next day.  

Day 6- Salida to Canon City

My alarm rang much earlier than I wanted it to this morning.  By the time I came to, everyone was up and moving about.  I had that usual feeling of someone having beating my legs with a hammer when first standing up.  We all ate, got dressed, and hopped on the bikes. After cruising the first few miles at a reasonable pace, there was this unspoken feeling within the group that for some reason, everyone was ready to go today.  We gradually started doing what us Mid-westerners do best and got in a pace-line to start cruising through the field of riders.

We were simply flying.  It was fun, it was competitive, and everyone was geared up.  We picked up a few other riders along the way.  One of my favorite parts of this ride was after I had taken a good, long pull at the front, two of the random people who had sat in on our wheel for at least a few miles decided to pull off and attack our group.  Having just spent my legs a bit, I had nothing to pull them back, but Jo with FG and JS on his wheel chased after the two like a bat out of hell and pulled me back to them.  

When we got to the aid station shortly after, I turn to Jo to thank him for the work.  He just laughed and said, "Well I couldn't just let them do that after you did all the work for them."  Awesome.

We got through just under 27 miles in the first hour.  

In the aid station, I lost track of the other guys.  I hopped back on the road and started moving along again.  After a few minutes, a group of 4 guys flew past me, and I did everything I could to hop on their wheel.  This group was also cruising.  This was another moment in the trip that I was glad that I didn't have a power meter.  I was red-lining trying to hang with these guys and take my pulls and I definitely didn't need a number to tell me that.

The next few miles were a blur of spinning legs, pain, and staring at the random wheel/butt of the guy in front of me trying to hang on.  When we finally made the turn to start the only climb of the day, we had covered 47 mile in 1:45.

The climb that was on tap today is referred to as "the wall."  Most of the climbing on this trip, although very difficult, had been longer and more gradual.  This one was short, quick, and to the point.  The group that I road with broke up a bit as we tackled the climb which ranged from a 6-10% grade.  I just wanted to get it done as quickly as possibly.  I got out of the saddle. rocked my bike back and forth, and threw everything my legs had left into the climb.  After performing what was essentially a 20 minute power test, we hit the summit and were able to cross the Royal Gorge to make our way down to Canon City.

Similar to the last few days, the final miles went quickly as we were able to descend for most of them.  However, we were given the option to make one more climb and ride along Skyline Drive which is a narrow path hundreds of feet above the city where you can see endless terrain.  It was really amazing to be up there and actually quite a bit scary as if you strayed from the path you had a solid 100+ foot drop on either side.

After we got back, I went for a quick jog and realized how dead my legs were feeling.  There is a limit to how hard and how far you can push yourself when you only have a certain level of fitness, and I was definitely reaching my end for this trip.  Only 47 more miles to the end, and after speaking with the guys, it seemed like most of us were ready to put our feet up for a few days.

Day 7- Canon City to Westcliffe

The last day.  The morning came very quickly again.  We all got dressed and set up our bikes for the final day of riding.  The day started off typically with everyone spinning their legs and getting ready for the climb ahead.  

The day that was in store for us was far from a walk in the park for a final day.  Although it was one of the shorter days, we had a tough trek over Hardscrabble Pass, which is a tough 29 mile climb. We started the climb, and all I can remember thinking was how badly I want to be done.  Everyone went up the mountain at their own pace.

At first the climb was very gradual, but as we rode further and further, the grade increased.  Every turn that we made exposed another endless amount of road that seemed to ascend forever.  

 It was at this point in the ride, where I reached the darkest part of the week mentally.  My legs were dead, emotionally, I was exhausted, and I had officially run out of ways to try and trick my mind/body into thinking I was alright.  This seemed to last forever, when in reality, I am sure that it was at most 30 minutes. 

Then, as if he was sent specifically to answer my prayers/pleas, a rider came up from behind me and said, "Hop on my wheel and let's tag-team this the rest of the way up."  This was all that I needed to keep going.  We took 30-60 second long pulls for the remaining miles to the top of the pass.  When we got to the top, I just sat there for a while.  I knew that there was only the quick descent to the town of Westcliffe remaining, but I was just dead.  I had nothing left if my legs and the thought of hopping back on my bike was not appealing.

However, eventually, I kicked myself out of my own pity party and got back on my bike to descend into the town.  I will never get the chance to ride in the Tour De France or any other large spectator race, but in the descent into Westcliffe, you felt like a Champion.  According to Wikipedia, the town of Westcliffe has a population of barely 600 people,  But with the family and friends of the 2500 riders and what seemed like the entire population, the final 2 miles into town were lined with hundreds of people cheering you to the finish.  

This was an unbelievable finish to an epic trip.  We explored all the festivities that the town had come out to create.  Ate some food.  Drank some beers.  And eventually, we hopped into the car for the ride home.  It was very bittersweet to be done with the trip.  I know that my legs could not have handled another day, but I did not want to leave this beautiful area and my new friends.  I was that kid at summer camp that finally had to go home and wasn't ready.  

This is truly an experience that I will never forget.  Thanks to all the guys who let me tag along for the ride.

Credit to ML for all the photos.