2011 Ride the Rockies – Day 2 – Windy Climbs on the Way to Leadville

Day 2 started out a bit nicer than day 1 – it was 10 degrees or so warmer in Buena Vista than Crested Butte, making getting ready a whole lot more enjoyable.

I decided to skip breakfast at camp and opted for the famous pancake breakfast at the first aid station – this may have been a bad plan. The first 13 miles were the hardest of my day – moderate cross- and head-winds the entire way, and a gradual climb with no respite the entire way. Couple that with tired muscles from day 1 and it was a rough way to start out the day. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way – I heard lots of complaining along the way, and some short tempers compared to day 1.

The pancake breakfast hit the spot as it always does, and gave me enough energy to head directly to Leadville and bypassing aid station 2. The ride into Leadville was surprisingly easy compared to the first 13 miles. The road grade seemed more gradual, the winds miraculously died down completely, and the temperatures were perfect.

The road quality in this section was the main issue, as we had little to no shoulder and a sandy margin beyond that. Oh, and of course the altitude continued to creep up and we did a large part of this section over 9,000 ft, eventually reaching 10,200 ft in Leadville proper.

After a nice break in Leadville, it was time to leave town, go on a short, fast descent, and then make our way up Tennessee Pass. This climb was fantastic. The road grade was very gradual making the climb up to 10,424 ft a pretty easy one.

The descent down from Tennessee Pass was fast, mostly straight, with only a little road traffic to contend with. This descent ended too quickly though, and then it was time to climb Battle Mountain. At 59 miles into the ride, and the hardest climb of the day, this climb wore a lot of us out. It was much steeper than the other climbs up the day and the temperatures had warmed enough by then to make shedding clothes a necessity. The road was narrow, rough, and with lots of traffic, but the views were spectacular.

After Battle Mountain, we had a fast 15 mile descent into Minturn, followed by another descent along US 6 into Edwards. That section of US 6 was almost entirely downhill, but there was some occasional strong winds that made the descent quite a lot of work.

The overnight setup in Edwards is nice – maybe a bit more spread out than we’d like, but everything is nice and clean. I made sure to visit the yoga class this evening to help work out some kinks after a couple of hard days of riding. We’ll see how that helps with day 3 trip to Steamboat Springs!

This post originally appeared on the Denver Post at http://blogs.denverpost.com/ridetherockies/2011/06/13/windy-climbs-on-the-way-to-leadville/764/

2011 Ride the Rockies – Day 1

Today was the day I was looking forward to the most during this year’s Ride the Rockies. I’ve ridden up Cottonwood Pass before, but never got a chance to descend.

Chad at the top of Cottonwood Pass
Chad at the top of Cottonwood Pass

The weather looked perfect starting this morning so looked like a perfect opportunity to finally get a chance to see what this pass really looked like and how fun the descent would be.

Like everyone I talked to, this morning’s cold weather really made getting out of the tent and going difficult. I waited, as snug as possible, until the sun finally made it over the mountains before venturing out. I still managed to get on the road by 7:30am so not too much time was lost waiting.

Taylor Reservoir as seen from Cottonwood Pass
Taylor Reservoir as seen from Cottonwood Pass

The ride down to Almont was amazingly fast, and a great way to start the day. Likewise, the ride through Taylor Canyon has great – perfect weather, gentle climbs, and little traffic to contend with. Once we made it over the Taylor dam we were blessed with one of my favorite sites in Colorado – the Taylor Reservoir with the mountains beyond it.

 

The climb up Cottonwood Pass itself was great fun. Even though it’s a dirt road, it’s in such good condition that there’s very little lost traction to contend with. The weather on the climb up was cool, but not too cold – perfect climbing weather. Even though Cottonwood Pass is one of the highest, the road grade coming from the Taylor Reservoir is rather gentle and makes the climb a lot of fun.

Granted, once the we cleared 10,000 ft it was really hard to keep the pace up as before. I got into a groove and kept it there, just happy to be there and enjoying the climb in great weather.

The best view of the day came just before reaching the stop of Cottonwood Pass by looking back down and being able to see the entirety of the pass road and the Taylor Reservoir in the distance.

And finally, the descent (but not before indulging in a quesadilla!) – fast, smooth, and a blast. Car traffic was well-behaved, it wasn’t raining, and the wind was mostly playing nice, with only a few big gusts to contend with.

Day 1 – what a gem.

This post originally appeared on the Denver Post at http://blogs.denverpost.com/ridetherockies/2011/06/13/day-1-what-a-gem/422/

2011 Ride the Rockies – Preparing for the Ride

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.

Land's End
Land's End as seen from the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway

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.

Rim Rock Rd High Point
The high point of Rim Rock Rd in the Colorado National Monument

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.