When I first got interested in cycling long distances I would never have imagined something like this existed. I thought it was too obscure of an interest. In High School, I recall enjoying using a very basic bicycle to go to friends houses, stores, restaurants and movie theaters. Then I thought it would be neat to travel from town to town by bicycle, go further and visit interesting places. As a map enthusiast, I was motivated by looking at a map and seeing the distance I could cover by bicycle.
Now, I find myself in an organized bike ride with over 2,000 other cyclists.
They talk about the same things. Places they had traveled by bicycle. Which “climbs” are the most challenging. Experiences like foul weather and flat tires, the kinds of things only people who have traveled by bicycle can relate to.
Unlike any other bike tour I had been on, this one was organized. Each day had an official start and end point. Aid stations were set up to provide cyclists with food, water and restrooms. Routes were planned and signed and there was a headquarters in each town where the rides began and ended every day.
The six day ride would also be the biggest challenge I had ever taken on when it comes to cycling. The official route was 418 miles with over 28,000 feet of climbing. However, there were many options along the route for people to shorten their ride. Day 5 was completely optional.
One thing I realized about cycling a long time ago is that it is a very individualized activity. Everyone rides at their own pace and has their own style. Some are in it for the speed, to achieve the fastest time possible. Others are more about the scenery and the experience. Some prefer to take frequent breaks, while others are more slow and steady.
Throughout the week, I would regularly encounter cyclists that I would pass on the highway repeatedly, as I would move at a faster pace but stop more frequently to take photos or just get my butt off the seat for a while. I also tend to be faster going downhill but am a slow climber. I encountered some cyclists that would pass me going uphill but I would pass on the descent.
Events like these cater to each person’s individual styles. There is no one start and finish time. There is a range of times. Even then, many cyclists leave outside that range. On day 1, the “rolling start” was from 7 to 9 A.M. Yet, probably due to the anticipated heat, I saw many cyclists leave before 7. Before the ride I signed up for “waves”, indicating my departure time each day. I forgot what “waves” I had signed up for and it did not seem to matter too much. I just left when I was ready.
Riding in the Rocky Mountains is challenging because you are pretty much always either going up or down a hill.
The hills on day 1 were relatively gentle. It took me 18 miles to get to my first climb. This part of the ride entered the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, and at about the halfway point I found myself in the tiny town of Ignacio.
The roads here were nice and it was interesting to encounter far more bicycles than cars for pretty much the entire route.
The town of Bayfield, where we left the Southern Ute land was also quite small. It was here I realized that these large cycling events have different implications than the self organized cycling I typically do. When biking alone or with a few other people, it’s advantageous to find towns with amenities like gas stations and restaurants to stay fed and hydrated. On this tour, the organized ride just needed to set up aid stations in large parking lots. It changes the dynamics and potentially alters which routes are possible and which places can be explored.
After Bayfield there was a climb that got intense for a brief period.
Still, on this day I did not feel as if I was in the thick of the Rocky Mountains. It felt more like rolling hills with the mountains off on the distant horizon.
The day ended with a major descent back into Durango and some pretty uncomfortable heat.
I ended the day feeling decent, but knowing that the hardest parts were still to come.