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Ride the Rockies 2005

In 2005, I participated in the 20th annual "Ride the Rockies" ride. This page lists my journal pages and some photos from the ride. Colorado National Monument Climbing Grand Mesa
Gread Aid stations Mountain pass cycling

June 18th, Grand Junction

An air of excitement as Ride the Rockies 2005 begins in Grand Junction. This ride of 2000+ cyclists goes from here to Breckenridge over 7 days riding and 405 miles. Signs of the ride started early with many cars carrying bikes and a lot of commotion around the high school.

Registration tent Vendor booths
A giant tent saying "Registration" was the first stop. Here I picked up matching color coded tags for myself, my luggage and my bike. While a number of "bandits" ride each year, the tags are intended to keep services such as camping, bike parking, aid stops and the like for those who paid their fees. The colors are used to sort luggage.

Smaller than my recumbent Try one of Lance's bikes for a day
Around the registration tent are a dozen other booths. Some sell bike paraphanelia, others T-shirts. It is possible to ride a "demo bike" for a day, buy rims, camelbacks or bicycle jewelery. One can get popcorn, burritos and ice cream. Also here is the USGS with geologic maps of the route. I bring my recumbent to the tennis courts which are attended bike parking. I also got a burrito from nearby booth.

Indoor Camping Lots of bicycle repair and adjustment
I have chosen the "indoor camping" option, so find the high school gym to spread my sleeping bag. The sign used to say "early risers" but that has been scratched out, not sure why. The Denver Post is a sponsor so free newspapers are available. At 4:30pm is an interesting talk by USGS team about geology. Before the talk I go to downtown where there is live music, a beer garden and restaurants.

Bicycle parking Fun and games downtown
I talked with a two volunteers from Minnesota. They saw this as a fun opportunity and had flown out just for the week. There were also local Grand Junction volunteers who were helping in their home community.

The cycling seminar included weather forecast (low 42, high 98), general ride information before a talk about geological highlights. We got a day by day summary of geology we were going to pass. The ride has three days of plateau riding before four days of mountain riding. After the geology talk a short video preview of Colorado National Monument site of our ride tomorrow.

June 19th, Grand Junction

Wow! A spectacular ride today through Colorado National Monument. Once we had climbed on top of the mesa, the route skirted along the edge with awesome views of canyons, spires, rock walls and valley below.

Folks in indoor camping were awake early, shuffling around. I was up and in a breakfast line when it opened at 5am. Each community finds groups to put on "community" breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here it was the Lions club.

Early morning breakfast Approaching Colorado National Monument
After breakfast riders started departing. I initially thought I'd wait for "official" start at 7am, but eventually decided to get going while it was cool rather than wait for ceremony.

The route is marked with large yellow arrows. Major intersections are marshalled with law enforcement. At two miles flashing police lights marked a left turn to the monument. Another three miles of slight climb before reaching the monument entrance.

On entry to the monument, a sign indicated a winding climb for 4 miles. I put it in low gear and went through switchbacks. At one point it looked like the road was getting boxed in but last minute saw a tunnel. I passed two people pedalling recumbent bikes with their hands.

Tunnel on the route Aid station
At nine miles was the first aid station, and worst of the climb was over. The next stretch had some climbs and some descents as we followed edge of the mesa.

A sign said 6640ft at our high point. Along the way multiple official cars passed with signs "repair", "SAG", "staff" or medical. The Colorado State Patrol passed on motorcycle. A photography company was taking photos. They told me to remember "A", so I was still in first batch of riders.

Monument views Monument views
A short climb after aid station two, before almost 10 miles of descent. Spectacular riding where I stopped once or twice for a photo of rocks or green valley below.

At bottom was Fruita and another aid station at 30 miles. Each aid station had ~20 portable toilets, jugs of water/gatorade, either oranges or bananas and a handful of friendly volunteers to help.

Starting point Flamingos to mark the tent
The last fifteen miles were mostly flat as we rode through country roads. Several of the intersections had volunteers watching for traffic. Without much difficulty I found myself back before 10am. A short ride that I figure is half distance and slightly less than half the climb of tomorrow.

An early community pasta lunch and otherwise relaxing morning and early afternoon before another cycling seminar scheduled at 4:30pm. The massage tent was keeping good business and was already scheduled full for tomorrow. I wandered downtown for a snack and otherwise relaxed on an easy cycling day.

June 20th, Delta

Made it! On paper today is the toughest day. From a starting elevation of 4600ft, we climbed to over 10,800ft before descending back below 5000ft. Rumor has it that 400+ cyclists SAGed of the total of 2000. This 20% rate says something both about difficulty, and the superb logistics and organization for the ride.

At 4:30am the gym was abuzz with people packing up. I was fairly quick in packing my bag and bringing it to the "early truck". There are three semi-trailers marked "early", "middle" and "late". Each morning you load your bag in the appropriate truck. At destination, those unloading put bagged out and sort it by color codes of the luggage tags.

I-70 on-ramp Bicycles on the road, next 61 miles
Breakfast was quick and by 5:15am I was ready to roll. A little confusion getting out of town but quickly rolling on my way. Nice cool riding with a slight headwind. Mostly flat with a few hills to cross. We went along nice vineyard roads with an aid stop at 14 miles.

From the first SAG some more orchard roads before the road dumped us on Interstate 70. Five miles of interstate riding and then second station at turnoff for CO 65 over Grand Mesa.

For ten miles the road continued mostly flat along the river. Here the sign said "Mesa 2". Those two miles were the first substantial climb. My gears dropped and I shifted into slow mode. However without much difficulty, found myself at Aid Station #3 at mile 38 and 5600ft. From here a mile of climbing over the next 19 miles.

My recumbent was slow to climb, so mostly people were passing me (along with my early departure I had already passed those slower than me). Fortunately somewhat cool. However, this first climb was relentless, with a continuing grade. I walked one or two places to exercise other muscles.

Aid stations provide water/gatorade and alternate oranges/bananas. There are also typically some vendor stands selling other foods (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for $1-$2 seemed to be a big hit). Sometimes between official stops are informal lemonade type stands. There were two such stands on way to aid station #4.

Climbing to aid station #4 Great views as we got higher
I was pretty tired on reaching aid station #4 at 8800ft. It had become warm and the relentless grade had taken its toll. Fortunately, some rest, an overpriced peanut butter sandwich and two smoothies did their trick and I felt better.

At aid station #4, there was parked a large 55 passenger bus + rental truck for bikes. The organizers were running these as an oversized SAG. In addition, a fleet of smaller vans marked "SAG" kept passing with bikes on the roof.

It was tempting to SAG, but my lunch rejuvenation and more varied terrain in remaining miles kept me going. It was also slightly cooler and so the remaining 2000ft of climb were easier than expected. There was still snow along the way, beautiful expansive views and some lakes we passed.

Made it! Lots of folks on the summit
Party! The summit bustled with activity. I had made it! Lots of bicyclists were celebrating on the summit. At time they flowed into the roadway to be shooed back by Colorado State Patrol troopers who have been shaperoning the trip. Felt good to reach the summit.

Of course a minor matter of 34 mile descent of almost 6000 feet remained. We could see down into the valley off to the south with nice views. The descent went quickly. I was a little cautious with my speed so rarely topped 30mph, but others got close to 50mph.

Views into the descent Delta food vendor
It became warmer and warmer as we descended. Wow, hot! The road just kept going down and down. A final aid station was found at 76 miles. From here 11 miles of descent and then four level miles into Delta.

A few citizens of Delta were out on their lawn chairs to cheer the riders as they arrived. Elsewhere the camp was bustling with booths and Mexican was the fare for community dinner. Indoor camping space was tight and there was a line for showers but felt good to relax after a tough ride.

June 21st, Montrose

An easy ride today. Only 34 miles and around 1000 feet of climb made for an easy day. I left a little later but still was done by 9:30am.

Medical support with us Early morning breakfast
I have seen a few more recumbent bicycles on the ride. The overall number seems small, perhaps a dozen total. There is a somewhat larger number of tandems but vast majority are single upright bikes.

Country roads Pea Green
Our ride went through rural countryside, past corn and hay fields. The corn was perhaps 12 inches high. There were slight hills but nothing extreme. The first aid station was eight miles in, the second one at twenty-nine miles.

Some of the roads were rough. The worst of these gets marked with orange paint to point out hazards. Occasionally they will also paint other sayings such as today when we passed a large junkyard and the painted words said "retired SAG vehicles" with an arrow.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison Before the lightning
Without much trouble I reached Montrose. On arrival a reporter from local paper wanted an interview, so answered some questions. I then found my place in the indoor camping and wandered around town.

In the afternoon I took a bus ride to nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This deep narrow 2000 foot deep gorge is named "black" due to lack of sunlight reaching the bottom. Our ranger talk was cut short when lightning stuck so nearby that some people felt the static charge and we could see smoke. Everyone ducked and we quickly hurried back to our bus.

Coming into Montrose Tough to ride
At 4:30 was another cycling seminar. We heard that ~500 people got a SAG yesterday, and there were several miles of road construction tomorrow. We were also warned about early winds.

June 22nd, Gunnison

A scenic and varied ride today. After some morning climbing, the end of the ride was mostly flat. We also transitioned from more mesa/plateau area to more mountains.

Ride organizers had warned us against leaving too early since there was typically a morning headwind that lessened later. They also sent mixed messages by pointing out that sometimes the wind didn't stop at all. I left at 6am anyway since I figured I could at least beat the heat.

First climb Road construction
A few miles from Montrose the wind picked up. It was perhaps 15-20mph so not too bad. This also started a gradual climb of 2000ft. At 7 miles was turnoff to Grand Canyon of the Gunnison Park followed by the first aid station at 10 miles. Here I took a welcome break from hill and wind before riding the last four miles to Certo Summit. Yeah!, longest climb of the day already done.

From the summit a few mile descent. At mile 16 was road construction. Apparently, Ride the Rockies organizers had worked with Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), but they had been unable to finish paving the road in time. Instead, they divided the roadway into three parts: one for traffic each way and a wide 14ft shoulder marked off for bicycles. The gravel had been freshly oiled. Little rocks and oil would sometimes stick and made noise on my fairing. It made the descent a bit obnoxious, but fortunately only three miles.

Local fan Great food
Road construction ended at bottom of the hill and from here we slowly started climbing again. The wind had subsided and we had our next aid station at mile 22. From here a six mile climb to the next summit. I found this area particularly scenic with meadows and mountains in the distance. Without too much difficulty, the big climbs were done at mile 28.

The Colorado State Patrol seems to have a motorcycle unit and a few patrol cars that accompany the riders. Sometimes they marshall dangerous left turns, but much of the time motorcycles also patrol along the road. This next section was scenic but also narrow. A motorcycle officer came past and warned, "there is a string of traffic behind". Several cars and trucks carefully passed, occasionally pausing for oncoming traffic.

A green pickup with mattress in back passed and immediately honked at a cyclist ahead. The truck also swung extremely close to other cyclists with the mirrors. I suspect the driver didn't hear me but I yelled, "you're a jerk!", more to let off steam than anything else. This was dangerous! Another cyclist from behind remarked, "can you believe that truck!"

Our route slowly climbed and about a mile later to my surprise was the same truck pulled over with three motorcycle officers nearby. The must have been more honks and dangerous driving since a steady stream of cyclists was stopping, remarking "I'm glad you got her!" and offering witness testimony. The officers couldn't keep up with it all but were taking names and addresses - at least ten that I counted and still increasing.

Blue Mesa Reservoir Photographer
The driver was in her truck, clearly agitated. She was ranting about "bicyclists not paying road taxes or being allowed on the road" and asking officers why they should believe spandex wearing cyclists over her (while at the same time the number of spandex witnesses continued to increasing). She was not helping her situation and I was relieved to later see a tow truck pass towing her pickup since she appears to be so upset/irrational that she wouldn't be safe on the roads today. Unfortunately this driver picked the wrong day and behavior to be impatient with cyclists on "her" road. I hope she reforms before she injures someone.

From the summit another nice descent down towards Blue Mesa Reservoir. This road had rumble strips but an adequate shoulder. Less trees and more sagebrush.

Cycling seminar, Paul explains the route Local Denver Media
Just off the reservoir was our third aid station. Lots of cyclists and multiple food vendors made a good place for lunch. From here the road flattened out with no real climbs or descents as the next 15 miles was along the reservoir. It was getting warm but the miles were going quickly.

I stopped briefly at aid station #4 at mile 55 before quickly riding the last ten miles into town. Overall a fairly easy ride with a lot of variety in scenery. I noticed quite a few bikes stopped with flats so also some road debris. I was into the rhythm of camp to get my stuff and camp out in the gym.

June 23rd, Salida

A beautiful cycling day from Gunnison to Salida. In contrast with yesterday, the first half was flat and the second half was not. Our weather also cooperated with cool overcast skies, breaking at top of the pass and then warmer in the afternoon. It does look like we might get a shower or two.

Repair stands Ready for the crowds to arrive
A little later starting out to fix a flat in my front tire near the valve stem. It was cool but fortunately calm. For the first 25 miles our route went slightly uphill along a broad grassy valley. The miles went quickly as there wasn't much to stop and see. At 18 miles was first aid station. I laughed with the smoothie vendor as we noted it wasn't smoothie weather.

Climbing Monarch Pass Summit of Monarch Pass
At 25 miles the valley narrowed and went around a corner. New mountains were visible, though some had their summits in the clouds. It was around 8000ft and more trees here as well. Our second aid station was mile 33. I filled my water and prepared for the upcoming climb to Monarch Pass.

It was cool enough to wear my jacket but as the climb started, it warmed up and back to just a jersey. There were two climbing lanes so this left one for bikes. State troopers were patrolling the narrow parts. I was surprised to see a SAG or two pass with bicycles on the roof.

Monarch pass downhill Descent!
I tend to climb (and descend) a little slower than average so more folks passing. Our route left the river valley and climbed at a steady grade along the hill sides. It was cooler than our Grand Mesa climb and this also seemed easier. Nice views of mountains along the sides.

Mountain views Salida
A slow steady climb to mile 43 brought me to the summit, 11312 feet. That wasn't hard. Lots of people here, but only one vendor for food. A DJ was playing music and periodically giving out prizes. Bicycles were carefully layed on their sides in large fields. From here a gondola car could take tourists higher on the mountain.

Baggage trucks Message boards
Sign said 6% grade, next 10 miles. In fact it really wasn't necessary to pedal almost all the way to Salida, 23 miles and 4300ft below. Zoom! Unfortunately a moderate amount of traffic, so had to be careful on descent. It steadily got warmer. That jacket wasn't needed.

New uses for goal posts Larry Green from Channel 4
Without much difficulty, made my way to Salida a little after 1pm. The routine was familiar now: baggage truck, indoor camping, shower, lunch, newspaper and other steps. This left some time to wander past vendor booths and also listen to the cycling seminar. Evening community dinner is downtown. Its estimated that each town sees ~$175,000 economic benefit by 2000+ hungry and tired cyclists descending for a day, and these towns have been very hospitable.

June 24th, Leadville

A long slow climb up the hill today. Overall a little easier than expected as we followed the Arkansas River as it climbed from 7000ft to over 10000ft. In total less climb than our previous days.

Salida at dawn Cycling amongst the 14ers
The lights were left on in the gym last night but I didn't notice until 3am or so that it was all light. Despite a somewhat easier ride, still seemed to be enough people starting to stir at 4am. Griddles were going full speed at 5am to serve a line of people ready for breakfast.

I was on the road at 6am. A little cool, with pretty views to mountains above. All day we were treated to spectacular views off to the left of 14000+ foot mountains. In a few miles we left Salida and traveled through a broad valley. After 7 miles we reached 285 and at 10 miles the first aid station.

Majestic Mountains Aid station
A climb over a hill, slight descent and then gradual climb brought us to Buena Vista. This region had many rafting companies, but it was early for the raft tourists to be out. Stopped at the second aid station at 25 miles.

DJ The gym before it got crowded
After Buena Vista, the valley narrowed and we also got a stretch of new chip seal. A little rougher riding but also looks like they had tried to sweep up loose chips. The aid stations were close with one at 34 miles and another at 44 miles. The DJ at 4th aid station had frequent giveaways and I ended up with two concert tickets for having a dollar bill with four of the same digits in the serial number.

SAG Leadville band
After fourth aid station, a few more miles of narrow valley before it opened again with nice views of Mount Massive, Mount Elbert and other peaks. The gradual climb continued as we reached Leadville. Yeah! A nice ride today without too much difficulty. I was in by 12:30pm which was a good time to arrive and beat afternoon thundershowers by about an hour. Indoor camping space also seems to be tight here as the gym gets more and more packed. The "massage tent" is actually a second floor hallway. People are continuing to arrive.

Rumor has it there a bicyclist marriage proposal yesterday on Monarch Pass. Also read in the paper that a bicyclist was killed when competing in Race Across America (RAAM), in Trinidad Colorado yesterday. Report from this ride was zero broken bones as of yesterday.

June 25th, Breckenridge

Just before 11am, I followed the marshall's signal to turn my last corner and passed underneath a large banner that said "finish line". Ride the Rockies 2005 was complete! It was with a bit of mixed emotions: it felt nice to have completed the goal of riding from Grand Junction to Breckenridge, but I was also enjoying this vacation...

On the way to Fremont Pass Fremont Pass
The gym last night was crowded, and a cooler night than before. Several storms came through to drop some rain, and in places hail. The alarms and beeps were going by 4am, and I didn't have much trouble packing up, getting breakfast upstairs and getting underway around 6am.

Fremont Pass Tailings ponds
I was bundled up but it was still cool cycling, in low 30Fs. There was white under a few trees, hail the day before that hadn't melted. Our route descended slightly out of town, before circling around to climb to US 24. One more brief descent before the climb to Fremont pass started.

An aid station at mile nine and then a continuation of a gradual climb along the river. This was an easy pass, only 1300ft higher than Leadville. The sun made it feel a little warmer. At 16 miles, the final climb became a little steeper but all quick to the summit of our last pass. This was also area of the Climax Molydenum mine, since shut down. I lingered for a bit at the aid station.

The Band Completing Registration
A few miles of up and down in area overlooking tailings ponds from the mine. A sign listed a few settlements that had been flooded out by those tailings. From here a good descent down into Copper Mountain.

At Copper, we took the bike path. I was surprised at the amount of bicycle traffic heading the other direction (as might they be). The path was still wet and with limited visibility I took it a bit slow. In Frisco I paused briefly to bicycle to local Hertz Rental where I had reserved a minivan. My parents met me there and later brought the van to Breckenridge.

Finish! Breckenridge closing
Homestretch. Almost flat and some extra push made the last miles go quickly. Before I knew it I was at the finish. I hung around to see closing ceremonies. Mostly thank yous and also a raffle of two bicycles, some wheels and other items. After that Ride the Rockies 2005 was done.

Overall, I enjoyed this ride. The weather cooperated and I didn't ride in any rain. One day was tough riding, the others easy to moderate. Organization and logistics were excellent. What I enjoyed most was the friendliness and positive spirit I got from other riders and from staff.