About the time I crossed the Oklahoma border I knew my Colorado vacation was officially over. The temperature gauge in the truck said 105 degrees, and it got worse by the time I reached DFW (thankfully it was a bit cooler once I reached the coast). One day prior, I was standing on top of Berthoud Pass shivering in the ~40 degree temperatures after a nice climb up the pass.

Day 6 - Granby to Georgetown

My last day of the tour went rather well. After reading Ingrid’s description of her day 6, I am very glad I slept in and avoided all the bad weather. I usually wake up around 5am while camping, but hearing the rain and feeling the cold is a great motivator for not leaving the sleeping bag. I didn’t make it out on the road until almost 8am on Friday, and by that time the rain had stopped in Granby and I never had any more for the remainder of the ride. It was still rather cool, though - when I made it to Winter Park the local banks showed 44 degrees on their clocks, and the sun never really peaked out of its clouds for the rest of the day.

Day 6 was one of those days that looked rather intimidating in the route map booklet. Berthoud Pass is not small, and I had driven it several times the week before the ride. Based upon that, I assumed it was going to be the 2nd hardest climb of the entire tour. In reality, it turned out to be one of the easiest. According to my gadgets, the climb from where the pass begins in earnest, just pass the Robber’s Roost campground, was 6.3 miles with a 4.3% average grade, climbing a grand total of 1821 ft. That’s really rather mild compared to many of the other climbs we did. Granted, it doesn’t tell the full story, as a lot of the climb occurred from Winter Park to this section of the pass, but that was even a shallower grade.

Chad on Berthoud Pass

Regardless, I arrived at the top a lot sooner and a lot fresher than I had expected. It was certainly cold at the top, but thankfully the ride organizers had one of the motor coaches waiting at the top for us with the engine running to help riders warm up some. A nice hot coffee from the lovely ladies at Gypsy Crepes, followed by the obligatory picture of the pass sign, and then a relaxing warm-up in the bus was a great way to chill out after the climb.

The descent down from the pass was one of my favorites. I knew the road well from having driven it so much the week before, so I felt comfortable going full speed down. The several 15 mph switchback corners make great bike turns, especially with the gigantic shoulders that exist on this pass. The road quality, which seemed rather horrendous in my truck, was fine and mostly smooth on the bicycle. And then there was the reality that the descent was just plain fast, with little wind, little traffic, and really long. I barely had to work all the way down to the intersection with I-70 at Empire, and even after that the “climb” into Georgetown was really more of a gentle rolling road and was a great way to end the tour.

Day 5 - Steamboat Springs to Granby

Snow on Rabbit Ears Pass

My day 5, on the other hand, was not nearly as enjoyable as the last day. In fact, it was pretty clearly the one “bad” day of the tour I had. Granted, it started out fantastic with the climb up Rabbit Ears pass. I treated day 4 as an active recovery ride, and that plus a good yoga session left me in great condition to tackle that pass, especially since it started so early in the ride. My legs felt great, my energy levels were dialed in just right, and the altitude was relatively low so I was able to get into a climbing zone and hold it, all the way to the top. Looking back at my ride data, I can say with confidence that this was my best climb up a mountain ever. It was great fun, and the views at the top of the pass were fantastic. Lots of snow left, but it was melting so fast that all the streams in the meadows along the top were raging torrents.

The quality of the ride changed quite a bit once we began the descent off the pass. Instead of a lovely, fast descent, we encountered a rather stiff headwind. It really limited my downhill speed and frankly mostly ruined the I expected coming down off that pass. Perhaps that, plus the reality of 5 days in a row of hard work, put me in a bit of a cranky mood for what was to follow.

Towards the end of the descent, I hear a shout behind me about a rider passing – my first reaction was “yes!” since rarely had I noticed riders calling out if they do pass on a descent. What followed was a pace-line of 6 riders, going at least 40-45 mph (I was descending at 35). Descending in a pace-line is a rather dangerous and stupid behavior on a group ride, but what most surprised me was that in the back of the pace-line was a rider with  OFFICIAL taped to his bag and helmet. He made the classic newbie-racer mistake of cutting back over to the right when he thought he was well clear of me. In reality, his rear tire brushed my front tire and nearly caused me to wipe out. I was pissed-off enough when this happened to me, but then I saw the same scene repeating itself for the next half mile of road, as the same group would continue to pass small groups and then cut sharply over to the right immediately in front of the riders they were passing. Incredibly reckless and negligent behavior on a group ride, especially from someone who should have known better - you can get away with that crap on a closed-course race circuit, but don’t do it on public roads with 2,000 other riders.

There’s an well-known truism in life that it is your own reaction to events that matter the most, not the events themselves. Certainly my reaction to the above incident put me in a foul mood for the rest of the ride. The strong headwinds didn’t help. The bad road conditions and heavy traffic on US40 didn’t help, either. But all of the normal little acts of rudeness and lack of courtesy from other riders seemed twice as bad as they normally would have. I really just did not have a good ride all the way to Kremmling. At the aid station here, I took time to chill out (a cookie is always a great de-stressor) and forget about the events that had transpired so I could focus on the rest of the ride. It helped knowing that the road direction was changing, and we were going to have a slight cross- and tail-wind for the remainder of the ride.

In fact, that rest of that day was fantastic. The trip to Granby was fast and scenic. The canyon near Hot Sulphur Springs was a joy to ride through, as all of those narrow, tall canyons tend to be. Granby itself was my least favorite town of the tour, but great beer was drunk, and good food was consumed, and all troubles were put aside.

Looking Back…

Despite the speed-bump on day 5, this year’s Ride the Rockies was my favorite bike tour to date. My training and fitness was the best I’ve done yet, and the few weeks of time I was able to spend at altitude before the ride clearly made a big difference for me. The views were stunning, especially of the Steamboat Springs area, which was a brand new part of the state for me.

There are still a few little things I think the ride organizers could do better. Having some basic medical supplies at each aid station is just a no-brainer. People forget sunscreen, lubricant and anti-inflammatories, or sometimes they just fall out of their pockets. Having a few of those things available, or even if some of the aid station vendors would realize they could sell these things, would really help out a lot of people that run into a situation where they need some. Likewise, even though the organizers do a good job pushing safety, clearly this message isn’t getting through to a lot of the riders, and the ride officials.

This post also appears on the Denver Post at http://blogs.denverpost.com/ridetherockies/2011/06/22/looking-back-on-ride-the-rockies-2011/1304