Ride the Rockies, Day 2
Day Two, Monday, June 20th, loomed big. 92 miles; 6,000 feet of climbing, almost all of it in one steady six percent grade that goes on for 20 miles with absolutely no break.
But first, a beautiful early morning spin through Colorado's wine and orchard country just east of Grand Junction. A little head wind, but nothing too bad.
Sunshine, blue skies, a well-tuned bike and a day in which to enjoy it all; what could be better?
My main objective at this point was keeping enthusiam in check well enough to pace myself for what lie ahead. It was soooo easy to just want to hammer and keep on passing people. Stopping to take this photograph of these beautiful sweetpeas helped my regain perspective. I got off the bike, took a deep breath of the fresh dry air, let the Gods of Nature into my being and was rewarded with a fresh "new day" "SEEing" of all that was around me, and a KNOWING of how Blessed I was just to be here; to be healthy and to have the means and the spousal support to put me here.
From here, and after a brief 5-mile interlude along I-70E, we entered the quiet and gentle climb along the Plateau River you see below.
As we rode along, headed east into the sun, the road piched up a bit, just enough to let us know what was coming. About five miles in, just outside the little town of Mesa, the road suddenly pitched UP, . And we began to climb. And Climb. And Climb. I was grateful that I had cooled my jets a little; there was a long way to go before reaching the top of the mesa at about 10,600 feet.
The grade was not bad, just relentless. It never leveled out or let up, so the pressure on your legs was constant. The only way to handle it was to just settle into your "zone" and be patient; any sudden sprints or accelerations just upped the pain equation.
Halfway up, the view opened up and we could see the entire Grand Valley below and to the West.
It was due to be 98 degrees in the valley during the afternoon, so it was good to be gaining at least some of the altitude before it got any hotter. Still, the sweat was pouring and the thirst was building.
Suddenly! A VISION.
Two ranch kids selling cold Gatorade!
Strictly out of the overwhelming goodness of my heart and human generosity, I stopped and bought not ONE bottle from them, but TWO; The first of which I chugged and the second I poured into my now empty water bottle.[sometimes I'm such a good human being, supportive of small children, thinking only of them, that I amaze myself!]
Getting back on my bike, the climb continued. I was making between six and seven miles an hour most of the time. Finally I started getting up into the aspen and evergreen forests. Patches of snow started appearing in shaded areas.
My altimeter slowly climbed above 9,500 feet and headed for 10,000. My legs felt good. Time for another picture break as others climbed toward me.
Only a few more miles and "Up Around the Bend" and the climb would begin to mellow for a mile or two before swooping up the the broad, flat-top summit of Grand Mesa, billed locally as "the largest flattop mountain in the world."
One more steep section, then a rolling mile or so and: THE SUMMIT. All survivors at this point stopped in the chilled air, celebrated however briefly, scarfed down some food and drink, then pulled on jackets for the long descent into the valley and heat below. The Denver Post reported the next day the over 500 riders, out of 2,000 were "sagged" to the top, having pulled off the road and stopped somewhere along the climb.
After a quick PBJ and a drink, I pulled on my windbreaker, got on the bike and headed down the grade. Within a mile, I was glad to be wearing the jacket as the wind at 40 mph was freezing. That didn't last long though, and less than half way down the mesa I was getting hot, so pulled over to peel off the extra layer. The heat hit me even at this elevation. The valley and plains below looked hazy and hot.
Coming down off the downhill, the heat smacked me in earnest; it was going to be a long 15 miles into Delta, a hot headwind and the end of the day's ride. Fortunately a rider pulled by me about then. Within a quarter mile it became obvious we were well-matched. I pulled up along side him and asked him, "How 'bout working together for a while?" He agreed, so we took turns pulling, upping our pace a bit in the process and making the ride much more fun. It's amazing how much better you can go when you have somebody to alternate in front, fighting the wind while you take a quick breather sheltered behind. I have a power meter on my bike that measures the wattage I am putting out, and when I was pulling, it was hitting between 225 and 300 watts. I'd duck back behind and get to cruise along at the same speed at about 150 to 210 watts. We pulled this way for about 10 miles, then slowed and rode side by side the last four miles into Delta. He was from New Jersey and we had a good chat, the perfect end to an excellent day of varied and challenging riding.
My buddy, Art, being Art, had arrived about 1/2 hour before me, with great tales of passing 90 gazillion people on the climb. All told, from the time we had left our hotel in the morning until we were settled at the finish area in Delta took me seven hours and Art six and a half. So we both felt pretty good about our day's ride and looked forward to a shorter day the following morning. Time to kick back, sweat and eat pasta.