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Colorado Rocky Mountain Bicycle Tour – CRMBT – Dan the Ironman

August 11, 2013

Day One

Colorado Rocky Mountain Bicycle Tour

Day One – First in the series of 6 days. Overall on the tour, everybody made it safely with no flat tires even. Pretty amazing given that we rode 466 and spent 34.3 hours actually riding. This tour was the most challenging I’ve ever done mostly because of all the climbing. We climbed a total of 32,719 feet, a bit more than the height of Mt. Everest is above sea level.

The first day was a nice run from Loveland (near Fort Collins) to the very neat town of Estes Park, the doorway to Rocky Mountain National Park and made famous by the Elk wandering around town and the Stanley Hotel which inspired Stephen King to write the Shining.

Day Two – The second day was more challenging in which we left Estes Park to travel southward along the Peak to Peak highway to Golden. Peak to Peak has no big individual climbs but it is never flat; 6042 feet of climbing that day and a real eye opener to the character of this tour. Got into Golden pretty tired. Day Two

Day ThreeDay Three – The third day was the so called “Queen Stage” of the tour meaning it was the most difficult. It sure was with 10,192 feet of climbing over 3 separate mountain passes. A few blocks from Golden High School the road went straight up. Switchback after switchback took us up the top of Lookout Mountain past Buffalo Bill’s grave and the associated museum. Poor Bill has a nice grave overlooking the Golden Valley (think Coors) but they built two cell phone towers at his lookout point. L

After we enjoyed a nice downhill run the road tilted up even more to Squaw Pass (actually Juniper as well). This climb was out first up over 10,000 feet in altitude so the few days of acclimation really helped. Not much oxygen up there. It was made more tricky due to quite a lot of highway construction with one way traffic in many places. The workers would let a few of us and some cars go over the bumpy open lane around the construction which was mostly with heavy equipment. I bargained with myself treating myself to a stop for breath or a drink every 300 to 400 feet of altitude gain. As you can see by the stats, average speed was pretty slow as a result.

Another exhilarating downhill brought us up short to the climb to the third pass, Berthoud. This one is also over 10,000 feet. We had a short stint on Interstate 70 which is always nerve racking but turned out to be quick and non eventful. Further along the way, we passed through the cute town of Idaho Springs. Ravenous after the first two climbs and quite tired of Gatorade and Propel, we opted for a quick deli lunch. I split a Reuben with a buddy and several Diet Pepsi’s for the caffeine and fluid. That turned out to be both good and bad since I felt better as we moved on but had almost gas from the sauerkraut. So I politely rode well ahead or behind my buddies for the rest of the afternoon. As we moved towards Berthoud the skies began to look quite dark and we worried about rain. As we moved on up the pass, it looked like we were going to get at least a passing blow. Fortunately that’s all it was. We donned the rain gear and moved on but some riders opted to head back and ride up the pass in the SAG. It turned out that it went west of us so we kept on plugging. I was with a strong rider we rode with in 2010 and another rider who had improved a lot from that year. It turned out to be his hardest day on a bike but we all made it. I stuck with my elevation gain and stopping strategy at intervals down to 250 feet near the top. The Tour Leader stopped us twice to make sure we were OK but we kept plugging and made it over the top. It was very cold up there and the storm had passed recently so we added layers and zipped up for the descent. Fortunately it took us down quickly to the relative warmth of about 8000 feet on the road to Fraser just outside Winter Park. Fraser is known as the “Ice Box” of the US for it’s cold temps. The riders who had all SAG-ed to some degree so they had already picked up our luggage and quickly helped with the tents. We found a nearby restaurant/pub with and outdoor patio and an C & W band to entertain us but it kept getting colder so we retreated to the Rec Center’s warmth. Good thing my family got me a good sleeping bag! We had some trains go by overnight and a snoring neighbor kept me awake so it was a tough night. We worried about a dubious morning forecast as well. Cold and rainy….

Day FourDay Four – Well; it was cold (low 40’s or less I think) but no rain so the group headed north on relatively flat roads towards a new set of Mountains. We zipped along pretty well trading pulls as a group. Eventually, we got to the foothills and Rabbit Ears Pass which Al might remember from 2007. Rabbit Ears going north is easier than the other way but we were tired (especially me) and glad to see the top. Rabbit Ears has three summits. The first is at Muddy Pass where Rt 40 intersects with 14, the second at the Continental Divide around 9600 feet and then drifts along the top several miles up and down to the East Summit. After that, we got a nice fast descent but mine was interrupted my two trucks who had to use their brakes a lot. It is not wise to pass them on the shoulder unless there is plenty of room so I played the waiting game until I could. It felt so good to get down in the sun again around 7500 just outside Steamboat Springs where I publicly disrobed and shed the jacket and a layer. We drifted along into Steamboat where we had rented a condo. First stop was for food and we found a really good Mexican place and summoned the whole group. They arrived via the car we had rented. The food was great! The condo turned out to be a perfect refuge; we stored the bikes in the garage, cleaned and oiled chains and did maintenance as necessary. I was able to get my gears working better too. It turned out that I had not been able to get into the lowest gear for climbing after all. We found a little market steps away and everybody was happy with the sleeping arrangement. It was on three levels though so the climbs and tired legs left us pretty breathless. We were joined by an old Illinois friend who now lives near Denver. Good times! Great rest too….slept great and caught up on my losses from Fraser.

Dave FiveDay Five – The start of Day 5 found us in high spirits. Much rested and relaxed, we dropped our bags at the school with the rental car which we had arranged to be left at the condo. This was actually closer to the route anyway so we effectively got a 3 mile head start. CRMBT was not to cheated though since Rabbit Ears going south is no picnic. Harder than the direction we came the previous day, it got everybody heated up fast after a 40 degree start. Tow of our guys had decided to abandon the tour due to sore legs and had retrieved their car from Fort Collins. So they acted as Sherpa’s the last two days; an added benefit. So after the cold start and warm up during the climb, we all shed some clothes and they took them. This was a “short” day of 57 miles with pretty much a descent after that first climb.

Our destination was the tiny town of Walden where we had been the year before with BTC. So we knew the places to get food and the layout of the school. The Sherpa’s got good camping and indoor spots arranged which also made things easier. We literally ate our meals at the same places we liked last June. Rain threatened several times in the afternoon an evening but very little came down. It got cold though overnight so the start for the final day was the coldest yet. Slept fully clothed in the sleeping bag and even added a jacket in the in the early morning hours. However, a late night trip to the bathroom yielded a huge sky full of bright stars all the way down to all horizons with lightning off in the distance in one spot; most likely more than 50 miles away.

Day SixDay Six – I got really cold taking down the tent and getting ready for this last day; a century. Frozen hands, feet and stiff joints made the start at dawn a really uncomfortable experience. I didn’t warm up until the first rest stop even though the sun was out. We had shadows in many spots due to the rocks or trees along the road. Brrrrr!

Our climb was Cameron Pass but we needed flats and a valley of over 30 miles to get there. Still cold, I dropped behind most of the guys and plugged along. The climb was gorgeous. The pass had huge rock faces, some snow fields, hardly any evidence of human activity. I could see why Walden bills itself the “Moose Watching Capital of the World”. We didn’t see any but the scenery was some of the finest I have seen out here. Stopped for quite a few pictures as I was mostly riding by myself still. At the top of the pass, we re-grouped for a photo under the sign saying it was over 10,000 feet. Moving down from there the pace quickened but the descent was very long and very gradual. Basically, we dropped from 10,000 feet to the end here in Loveland at about 5600 feet. The drop was mostly through the Poudre River Canyon which very honestly is the finest scenery I have ever experienced out here. Well worth a return trip. The river is rough and tumbling over boulders, rocks and wide rapids and there is only one dam near Cameron Pass. At times the canyon is so narrow, the road seems to close in above you with cliffs hundreds of feet high. More pictures but it was tough to stop a lot when you are cruising downhill and know you have to ride 106 miles. I came out of the canyon with about 20 miles left. These last 20 were undulating and some we on a busy highway but it still was fairly easy except for the constant headwind as the warm air (87 in Fort Collins and 37 at Cameron) blew up hill all day into our faces. I picked up the guys who had stopped for a cold drink at a 7-11 for the last 15 miles and we powered on to the end. Everybody was pretty tired of being on a bike at that point (8 hours total rise time) so we threw the bags and bikes in the car to head to this hotel. So there are 6 of us here in two rooms and the other five will be heading home across I-80 tomorrow. I get to drive back up 14 through the Poudre Canyon going the other way tomorrow on my way to Dinosaur National Monument where I will camp tomorrow night. So stay tuned for that Chapter and Good Night All!

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