Ride the Rockies 2003

Gunnison–Buena Vista, 69 miles (June 20)

[Elevation Profile]

Today was supposed to include about 20 miles of hard-packed dirt road, and the highest elevation we would ever reach (Cottonwood Pass, 12,126 feet). We had spent some time yesterday taking apart our bikes and cleaning them. The weather had been cold and rainy all day and all night yesterday. People we talked to said that the dirt road had been rained on pretty bad, and was in a state of severe disrepair. The organizers were apparently spending time pressing the road surface to get it back in shape. Some people scouted out alternate routes just to avoid the whole mess. Then, there were reports of snow, and the pass might be closed. But we figured the organizers would announce something if it was that bad.

We wanted to get an early start, but the weather was bad, and we didn't get started as soon as we wanted. It was miserable and cold. The ride went right past where we had stayed the night. The real climb started at about 36 miles, and it felt good that I was able to say, The first thirty or so miles don't count.

A little past the second aid station, we started seeing some climbing. The road was under construction, and was mostly dirt. This wasn't even the dirt road yet, and it was awful. The dirt was wet, and had turned into mud. Fit for road-bikes, they said. It certainly wasn't fit for my butt. That road was awful.

Then, the bad stuff hit. A storm came upon us. It started out as rain. A cold, driving rain. Once it got colder, it became sleet, and then, ice and snow. Even when the rain was falling, it was so cold that every drop felt like a needle-prick.

As I got drenched, I was contemplating sagging. I remembered what someone had told me earlier in the ride when I was staring at a sag van: Just remember, sag vehicles are of the devil, and they'll turn you queer.

At some point, I heard a squelching noise. I looked down at my shoes, and every time my feet pressed down, there was water coming out of my shoe. By this time, I was freezing. I was wearing cotton socks, so my toes were numb. Wool would've kept me warm. At that stage, I said, the hell with it, and decided to quit.

I pulled into the next aid station, set my bike down, and went running for cover. I found someone who put me on a list for people wanting to sag. I let a few people get ahead of me in the line for vans, because they were obviously in early, or advanced stages of hypothermia. I could afford to wait.

There was a nice breakfast place there, hugely crowded with people like me taking refuge. The community spirit there was amazing. People were huddled around trying to warm up. One person was passing around his cup of coffee for people to hold, to get their hands warm. My own feet were in danger of getting frostbite.

I finished off a tall cup of hot chocolate, chatted with some people, and stepped outside. It was sunny, and warming up again. I felt good enough to start riding again.

I looked around at everyone. The bikes were dirty, everyone's back was sprayed with mud. There were a few people trying to clean their bikes before they rode on. My own bike was remarkably clean, and there wasn't any spray on my back. Maybe I just didn't ride fast enough.

But I looked behind me, and saw another storm coming up. That was enough to convince me again to sag. When I had to choose between keeping all of my toes, or victory, I chose toes. They found me a sag van, and I hopped in. Jill was the burliest volunteer I had met, and lifted my bike a lot easier than I could. She eventually handed me and my bike off to a USGS employee who wasn't officially driving sag, but heard about the bad weather and decided to volunteer. She drove me up the trail, and down the mountain to Buena Vista. As we neared the summit, I could see a lot of freshly fallen snow. The road was really bad, and I was glad to be in an SUV. I also had taken my shoes and socks off, to let them warm up in the heat.

The descent was tricky, with lots of switchbacks, but still, it looked like it would've been fast and fun. Oh well.

I hadn't been able to find my Dad at the rest stop that I was stuck at. I guessed he would've sagged. But no, when I got to Buena Vista, it turns out he was riding the whole way. That's determination. Bruce made it as well, a little after I got there.

I had been looking a the road, and the climb that I skipped was a tough one. I still think I could've done it, but it would've been tough. I took a lot of heat for sagging today. I had no problem with it, but boy was my mom disappointed. I was relentlessly teased the way to the hotel.

Tomorrow's climb is similar to today's, only at a lower elevation. It'll be good. I've had enough rest.