A Colorado Cycling Odyssey

For years I wanted to join John Hughes on one of his tours, but never did because of RAAM commitments. Many of his tours, such as Pacific Crest, Red Rocks and Chain of Fire generally involve more climbing and appear to be more “relaxed” as compared to the venerable PacTour. For me the inaugural Leadville 100K seemed to be just the ticket to start enjoying cycling again. Climbing all the major passes in Colorado in a “relaxed” , non-racing atmosphere sounded really attractive. I looked forward to riding with Richard “ Ski” Kondzielasky and Richard Avalone , both fellow PacTour and RAAM veterans.

How to get my bike to Colorado? Ski recommended the "Air Caddy" . A reusable card board box requiring minimal disassembly of the bike. Great system! Too bad United Airways charged $ 75 each way with the shuttle charging an extra $10 each way. That Bike Friday is looking better and better.

To recover from all the flying and shuttling, John outlined a warm up ride consisting of the “Coors Mogul “ Loop, well known to any CompuTrainer owner. Riding it was sure a lot easier compared to pushing yourself on that damn trainer. The group consisted of 19 riders. Most of them proved to be in excellent shape. Three of the female riders were mostly riding off the front. One of them, Kirsten Ames from Steamboat Springs, easily out climbed anyone in the group. Most of the days one could earn BONUS miles. After a few days most of us, except for Richard Avalone,  were quite content to stick with the basic route. The plan was to recap the ride on a daily, but I gave up on that pretty quickly. Riding mostly above 7000ft really takes its toll. I used a Ciclo downloadable computer to provide detailed descriptions of the various climbs, including detailed % grade. Unfortunately it overwrote itself, wiping out all the info except for the last six days : Red Mountain, Wolf Creek, Slumgullian, Cottonwood, Hoosier, Loveland and Mount Evans.

Each day followed pretty much the same routine. Breakfast at a restaurant either at 6am or 7am. All you care to eat was included ( for tightwads like me that meant a BIG breakfast ). First rest stop after 2 or 3 hours riding. Lunch usually at or just beyond the summit of  the major climb of the day. Snacks at the finish. Dinner on your own. In Steamboat, Kirsten Ames was the gracious host of a dinner at her lovely home.

The scenery on this ride was spectacular. I used the Minolta DiMage X , the smallest digital camera available. Unfortunately, it is just  about impossible to do justice to the grandeur of  the Colorado mountains with this or probably any other camera. Photo gallery.

Day 1

Louisville to Louisville, 108 miles, 7650 ft

Gentle climbs in the Louisville area with bonus miles to Brainard lake, elevation 10242 ft. Nice climb, 1000ft in 8miles, from CO 72 past Ward. Beautiful view of the mountains and their reflections in the lake. Most everyone seemed to ride stronger than me. Fortunately I had the lame excuse of taking lots of pictures.

Day 2

Louisville to Ft Collins,  117 miles, 5692 ft

Because of the fire in Estes Park, we had to do the low land route. Mild climb to Carter Lake. Richard Avalone goes it alone doing bonus miles making the left turn to a steep climb. Then climb via Glenhaven Rd to Glenhaven, a picturesque tiny town offering great cinnamon rolls. Bonus miles to Devils Gulch with short very steep sections. Humbled again by Kirsten and Shelley. 

Day 3

Ft Collins to Walden,  115 miles, 6900 ft

Lunch at Cameron Pass. Slight rain. Before Cameron , bonus miles were earned riding to the Stove Prairie Rd. School at the summit. Tedious boring, bumpy ride to Walden, the center for Moose watching. Thunderstorm in PM. If you are used to the Ritz Carlton, don't stop here.

Day 4

Walden to Steamboat Springs,  74 miles,  4700 ft

Lots of headwind early. Nice scenery on the climbs to Rabbit Ears Pass. Climbed back to Rabbit Ears from Steamboat. 2300ft in 7 miles, very nice climb, beautiful views. Lots of RAAM 2000 and 2001 memories.

Day 5

Steamboat Springs to Leadville,  118 miles, 8480 ft

The first long and difficult day. Good breakfast at the Shack Cafe. I remember this ride well from RAAM 2001. 2000 ft climb to State Bridge. Busy roads without much in the way of a shoulder. Quaint town of Minturn. Great climb to Battle Mountain (9,400 ft) with its abandoned mines. Tennessee Pass somewhat anticlimactic. LOTS of rain and hail, especially for us slow pokes, to Leadville ( 10,152 ft )

Day 6

Leadville to Carbondale, 94.2 miles, 3618 ft  

When we wake up, its cold, gloomy, wet and dark. First off a copious breakfast at 6am. It is still dark when we leave Leadville and descend to Twin Lakes ( 8,900 ft. ).By this time the weather is clearing up. The climb to Independence Pass is very gradual, mostly 2% and never exceeding 5%. The views are spectacular. Many “ Kodak moments”. The last 1000 ft. are not steep but the 11000 ft.+ elevation makes it feel twice as steep. Lunch  is being served at the summit. We meet some tandems climbing the Pass from  the Aspen side, a much more difficult climb. Richard Avalone leaves EARLY TO CLIMB BACK UP from the Aspen side. Tough guy!! I am tempted, but I know better. Want to get back early, no more getting stuck in the rain for me. The descent takes about 18 miles for 4000 ft. Ride around Aspen searching unsuccessfully for a Starbucks. Too bad. Next the bike path to Carbondale with some surprisingly short steep sections.

Day 7

Carbondale to Ridgeway, 142 miles, 6090 ft. 

This is going to be a long one. Suppose to have breakfast at 6am, but unfortunately there is only one waitress and one cook and my table gets served last. Finally after at least 1 hour  we ride out in the back of the pack. After a gradual 1% climb to Redstone, we are ready for McClure Pass. This turns out to be the most scenic one so far. I stop so many times to take pictures, that I am still way in the back. Views of beautiful Paonia valley and the mining village of Somerset. I am truly glad to have installed my aerobars, since there is a lot of flat riding between the climbs. This day is turning into a “death march”. After some Q sheet errors with the subsequent extra miles as well as after a pinch flat over the rail road tracks we are finally on the road to Montrose , only to get hit by a thunderstorm. After Lee Mitchell’s SAG van takes off for the hotel, I get  my second flat in the pouring rain. Pull out a tiny piece of metal, but can't find the leak ( not too surprising in this rain ). Call John to return and hand me some spare inner tubes. Miraculously the weather turns again and it is turning really hot. I am still hoping to do the extra miles to Dallas Divide, but it seems to take forever to get to the hotel. I finally get there at 5:30 pm and it is just too late to do the bonus miles. “ Stick me with a fork” as they say. I am "well done".

Day 8

Ridgeway to Durango, 85 miles, 6770 ft.

Over night the rear tire went flat again. Richard is nice enough to change it and pulls out another tiny piece of metal. Keeping my fingers crossed. Quaint town of Ouray. Great views of the town from the climb. Spectacular climb to Red Mountain. This is by far the most scenic climb of the entire trip. Narrow road hugging the mountain. Flat section with headwinds. Mine restoration. Silverton, train ride to Durango. Lots of Harley Davidson's. Views of railroad tracks from climb to Molas Pass. Loop around Durango. Bakers bridge ( Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ), bungee jumping. Fire damage near Durango and yet  another flat!!! Shelley, Ski and Richard Ruge are nice enough to give a hand and finally we get to Durango. Dairy Queen time!

Day 9

Durango to South Fork, 89 miles, 7550 ft.

Road construction!! A dirty word. I have never encountered so many road blocks, broken up asphalt etc. then in Colorado on week days. David, Nancy and I are the first to be stopped. I can't stand these road workers stopping all traffic, even if it is a bicycle. " You got to stop for thirty minutes" "If you go through, I have to arrest you". Dave and Nancy have a similar problem with authority and after a short stop we ride on. Lots of dirt and mud though. So much I have to clean out my Speedplay cleats. Damn!! Get to the rest stop just as Lee gets there. He took a detour, the others are close behind. Much up and down to the base of the climb to Wolf Creek Pass. Wolf Creek used to be the defining climb in previous RAAM's. This time there is extensive road construction, diverting the traffic for the last 4 miles into two GRAVEL/ DIRT lanes. Extremely hazardous. Big trucks, motor homes etc. push us off the road into the raised dirt alongside. Ski  nearly gets "mirrored". At the summit, more dirt. Too bad. The weather is fantastic. It is actually warm at the summit, which is a first for me. According to the route sheet there is more construction on the downhill. Forget it ! I am going to sag. No way I am going to screw up my beautiful Campy Neutron wheels. This challenging day is concluded by a great dinner at the Buffalo Barbeque or Steak House.

Day 10

South Fork to Lake City, 71 miles, 4670 ft.

Good breakfast. Cold Head wind ( 43 degrees ). Road construction stop  to Creede gives me the opportunity to get more warm clothes from Lee's Bike Van. From then on things change for the worse: lots of traffic, no shoulder and fresh asphalt with thick layers of pebbles and tar. Spring Creek Pass is broken up with fresh asphalt/rocks and the last 4 miles we spend in the back of a pickup truck. After that I am all stiffened up, very tired and feel as if I am bonking near the summit of Slumgullion Pass. Horrible descent over, you guessed it, fresh asphalt. This is not a good day. I can't believe what I am seeing: Richard is climbing up again through this ......!!A true glutton for punishment. We have the best dinner of the entire trip in Lake City at a restaurant called: John and Jonna’s  

Day 11

Lake City to Buena Vista, 122 miles, 7220 ft.

Started climbing right away. First 2 climbs each 1000ft, second one steeper. Lots of traffic, no shoulder. This traffic is getting really old, especially since I got "mirrored" on a similar road in Malibu last year.  At the rest stop  I get to cool my feet in the ? Taylor river. Before Cottonwood Pass lots of road construction. At least 8 miles of dirt, potholes and mud. Two miles in pickup truck with Nancy, David and Carl towards  the lunch stop. Gradual climb. Got out just before a lake/ dam. Anne Marie has already left the reststop to get an early start on the Cottonwood Pass climb. Catch her 1/3 of the way up. Road is relatively smooth. After all the road construction earlier, this is a breeze. This is turning out to be a great climb. Stop quite a few times for pictures and finally get a chance to take some pictures of David and Nancy, both of whom usually ride way off the front. Great views near the top. Nice descent. Fortunately did not do the detour, where others who did, Ski and Richard Ruge, got stuck in more dirt.


Day 12

Buena Vista to Dillon, 82 miles, 4910 ft.

Traffic and more traffic. No shoulder. Sections with fresh gravel without white line. Traffic better after Rt turn on US 24. Bad traffic without shoulder during climb of Hoosiers Pass. Rough road on descent to Breckenridge. Main Street is lined by  multi colored buildings. Pink, violet, blue, green, you name it.. Small climb on Swan Mtn rd. Minimal rain. Mild rain in Dillon. Short day, Richard is obviously riding the bonus miles. I need the rest.

Day 13

Dillon to Granby.  81 miles, 6100 ft.

Great climb of Loveland Pass. Kirsten Ames flies up the hill. Then Richard, followed by Bill and Ski. Nice descent. I am surprised not seeing Richard climbing back up. View of I 70 and Eisenhower tunnel. View of George Town Mine rail road. Bike path along I 70. Then US 40, horrible road. Construction with one lane, no shoulder. Brenda and I get pushed off the road. Brenda stops and gives the truck driver a piece of her mind. Cross the road to reach the picnic area. On with the climb. Road construction actually makes the traffic less annoying. Top of Berthoud with its ski area and Lodge. Sprinkles on the descent into Winter Park. Town is all geared up for a 24 hour mountain bike race. Head wind between Fraser and Granby. Lots of rain throughout the afternoon and night. The rain continues unabated. The next morning the weather looks grim. John surveyed the course really early and makes the decision to sag everyone to Louisville rather than risk adverse conditions on Trailridge (12,183 ft.). It's fine by me, I have no desire to ride in the freezing rain.

Day 15, The Final Day

Mount Evans, 65 miles, 7320 ft

This is a great climb from about 7,770 ft to the very summit of Mt. Evans at  a whopping 14,150 ft. Thirty-two miles with a 5-8% grade. I have never been at that high an elevation with a bicycle. Roads are great. Very little traffic, it's early. You can see the 12,000 ft level way in the distance, very intimidating. I am tolerating the altitude surprisingly well. No wonder we have been at it for the last two weeks. During the last 1500 ft of climbing  from Summit Lake to the true summit there are, to my surprise, quite a few cars and motor cyclists. At the summit  tourists are plentiful, there is even a line for the bath rooms. The clouds are moving in, which is quite eerie since we are above some of them. To avoid getting rained on, I don't spend much time at the summit. Take some pictures of Chuck, Crista, Ron and John, still climbing. The weather looks good, I race down from Summit Lake and get hosed by rain and hail from 12,000ft.on. At Echo Lake, I join Ski and both Richards taking shelter. It just keeps on pouring and on we go. It seems the rain and us keep pace all the way back to Fillius Park. Strangely enough there are still a lot of cyclists going up, one just wearing a halter top. Are those folks from Colorado crazy or what??? When we reach the vans we are greeted by the largest thunderclap I have ever heard. Am I glad we made it down safely. Where are the others?? I can only assume they are sagging back in with Lee Mitchell. After 1/2 to1 hour they all show up happily smiling, they did not get rained on at all!! What injustice!

This climb to Mt Evans was a choice conclusion of a great cycling trip. The weather was quite good for Colorado this time of the year. To avoid the afternoon showers an early start was required. The support was excellent. I can't thank Lee Mitchell enough for his enthusiastic support. After being hit by a car last year in Malibu, I have become very apprehensive about riding on roads without adequate shoulders and  heavy traffic. There is a surprising amount of traffic on the roads we had to take to get to the various passes. On some of the passes such as Hoosier and Berthoud the traffic was not to be believed.

Thanks John for organizing the trip and Pam and Lee for all the support.



















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