When I signed up for this ride, it was the third and the sixth (and last) days that intimidated me. The first two days were both about 70 miles (115 km) with about 3,600 feet (1100 m) of climbing. These would not be considered “easy” or even “moderate” cycling days by any stretch of the imagination. However, they still pale in comparison to these more challenging days. The official ride for day 3 was 102 miles (164 km) with 6,500 feet (2 km) of climbing. The first 62 miles (100 km) were a fairly steady climb from Cortez to the top of Lizard Head Pass!
The first 20 miles, from Cortez to a small town called Dolores were pretty similiar to the first two days.
It was after passing through Dolores that, for the first time in this ride I truly felt like I was in the mountains. The ride followed up the Dolores River into a canyon that felt far more reminiscent of my many other Rocky Mountain experiences.
The further I went, the more amazing the scene in front of me got!
I was genuinely in a canyon, once again encountering random buildings and imagining what life would be like living in a house like this.
Only this time, I was not focused on the fact that these people lived so far from the nearest town. I was focused on the scenery. Does a person who was born in a place like this understand how spectacular the place the live is? Or is it just all they know? Or, do they think the grass is greener on the other side and stare at images of skyscrapers and other big buildings in their spare time?
A little over halfway through the climb, along with many of the other ride participants, I stopped to get Ice Cream.
This Priest Gulch Campground quite possibly gave me the best deal on ice cream I could imagine. For $2.50 I got a vanilla swirl that went pretty much as high as any vanilla swirl could go. I was almost worried I had consumed too much!
With the level of challenge on a day like this, it is hard not to pay attention to the little things that may make the ride easier or harder, even if they occur on a very small scale. Would this ride have been more or less challenging had I done it alone? On one hand, when riding with a group of people, there is often the opportunity to “draft”. This is when you ride behind someone going the same speed as you, letting them push against the wind. It makes the ride easier for those in the back of the pack. This is how cycling teams work.
However, on this day, there were a few incidences where one of the teams would be passing by me on the left while I quickly caught up to a slower or stopping rider in front of me. On several occasions I had to hit the breaks, which is always heartbreaking on days that feel like they will require nearly all the energy you have.
However, I would still say, overall, the big group is an advantage.
It was also after this ice cream stop that the tall peaks began to appear on the horizon.
After two days of hot lower elevation riding, I felt like I had entered a different ecosystem.
Two things I was not impressed with on this ride were…
- Serendipity Catering: The morning of the third and first extremely challenging day of the ride, I arrived at headquarters for breakfast at 5:45 A.M. only to find out that the catering service the ride had hired had essentially flaked on providing breakfast that morning. At the time, the organizers were unsure if they would return. As far as I knew, they didn’t return and I still do not know what happened.
- The town of Rico: I arrived at the aid station in Rico a little bit before noon, 50 miles into the ride. I had hoped to grab a quick bite to eat at one of the local shops only to be told the power was out in the entire town. I guess this is one town I will never explore.
The final ten miles of climbing were kind of a mix between flatter sections and sections that were really intense.
But the top of Lizard Head Pass was amazing!!!
I had worked hard all morning, pedaling from 6,100 feet (1.85 km) to 10,200 feet (3.1 km) in elevation. That hard work made this unbelievably beautiful setting in front of me so much more sweet!
As an added bonus, I finally got to eat lunch, although I did have to wait in a pretty lengthy line to get it.
I did not follow the official route all the way into Norwood. Instead, I rode right into Telluride to my hotel. This ride started with a descent from the top of Lizard Head Pass.
Required another climb.
And then a descent into town.
Despite having lived in Colorado for nearly nine years, this was my first time in Telluride, a town with a unique flavor.
Many other riders had done more miles and gone faster than me. If I had to guess, I would say 70-75% of the participants had done “better” than me that day. But, for many, rides like these are not about competing against each other, they are about the experience. At the end of the day, I was still quite happy having completed the first of two extremely intimidating days. This ride is special. Being barely in the third quartile of ride participants here still likely puts me in the top 2-3% of the population as a whole when it comes to cycling. But, for me, it is not about feeling better than anyone else. It is about getting to the top of that mountain pass under my own power and experiencing the world from the seat of a bicycle rather than behind the glass of an automobile or airplane.