When I finally made it to 12,000 ft elevation, I thought for sure I’d feel better than I had in the past. After all, I live at sea level, and any additional time at high elevation should help my acclimation quite a bit. This year, I’ve been in Colorado exploring and training for almost a full month before the Ride the Rockies begins – I should be getting somewhat used to the higher altitudes by now. But that climb up to 12,000 ft reminded me how foolish I was to think it would come so easy. It was easy to get out of breath just doing a normal pace walk, even after all the time here.
The effects of the higher elevation on me are different than I would really have expected. Yes, if I jump right into it from sea-level, I’ll get the classic headaches and a bit of dehydration. But more surprising is how it effects my riding. I don’t see increased heart rates, and I don’t see a longer time to recover after a hard effort. What I do see, though, is a precipitous drop in power output compared to riding back home. After a season of training, that’s quite frankly annoying to see performance drop just because of a few little, er, massive mountains.
Still, it’s great fun climbing up these things, especially given back home in coastal Texas I can ride for 70 or 80 miles and see a grand total of 150 ft in elevation gain. Climbing 5,000 or more ft a day really lets you know your body had some hard work to do, and the feeling is incredible.
I’ve been lucky enough this spring to be able to spend some extra time in Colorado and do some of my favorite rides: Durango to Silverton, the Colorado National Monument, and a loop up Grand Mesa. These are amazing rides, especially so for someone like me who doesn’t live in the state and has few chances to ride them.
The first day of this year’s Ride the Rockies is the day I look forward to the most, thanks to Cottonwood Pass. I rode up Cottonwood Pass back in 2009 on another tour, and it was fantastic fun, despite the heavy rain, fog, and new freezing weather we had the entire way up. I didn’t get a chance to ride down into Buena Vista because the ride course was shut down, something I’m hoping to correct this year.