Firecracker 5k

Since I am (relatively) new to Colorado, my wife — a native of Fort Collins, CO — felt that I should experience more of Colorado than just the eight host towns and the numerous communities that we would roll through (or stop and rest in, as the case may be). She felt I needed to experience the I-70 corridor and a few key spots that she’s loved for years, too.

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Stopover in Glenwood Canyon.

We headed out on Friday morning — without the kids, a first for us — and stopped for an adult, leisurely lunch in Boulder before skipping up Rte. 6 and down into Idaho Springs. We followed I-70 all the way over to Glenwood Springs, happy to be slowed by construction traffic as I repetitively tapped her shoulder (she drove most of the way) pointing out the amazing geology and ever changing canyons that she’d seen dozens of times but which were to me…well, beyond description. I used a lot of adjectives that wouldn’t be appropriate for this blog.

After topping out at McClure pass, gazing over the early evening sunlit Aspen groves, we decided to push on and try and make it to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, just outside of Montrose. That was definitely the second best decision. The first was leaving early and taking our time getting to Telluride.

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Black Canyon sun rise panorama.

After catching the sunrise flood the Black Canyon, we rambled about the side roads, stopping to enjoy the overlooks (and river-side road at the bottom of the canyon) before setting out for the last hour and half to Telluride. Coming in to Telluride from this direction was the third best decision. We passed the archetypical scenes of Telluride: aspen groves spilling down the mountain sides, streams cutting across cattle lands and cyclists filling the shoulder.

We got in before the crowds, set up camp, and I headed out for a quick 20 mile warm up ride to loosen my car-tightened legs. A loop up to the airport and then out up the last summit before Lizard’s Head’s Pass and back into 25MPH winds and I was back into Telluride for a dinner date with my wife before she kicked off the next morning, right behind me.

Up until this point of my RTR experience, I’ve had nothing but excitement for what lies ahead, gratitude for everyone who’s helped to make it happen (all the Denver Post and RTR staff and volunteers, and especially my wife, kids and mother-, father- and brother-in-law who all chipped in to help watch the kids in my absence) and absolute awe for the sheer beauty of the state I know and (luckily) get to call home.

***

Sunday morning came earlier than I expected. And it came on much, much colder, too. Like, it hurt to get out of the tent and sleeping bag cold. Getting into my riding kit was nearly unbearable. As I poked my head out the tent door, I noticed most people were getting up – many in only riding bibs and jerseys, no leggings or jackets – most tents still in some state of disassembly, but I still felt I was on the early side of things. I wasn’t.

I dropped my bag off at the “Late Truck” (which would lead to my first lesson of Ride The Rockies), posed for a photo for my wife before she headed back to Fort Collins and hit the road, hoping the climb just outside of Telluride up to Lizard Head Pass would help warm me up.

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The view climbing Lizard Head pass.

Disclaimer: I am not a very fast rider. I am not slow, but I spent the majority of the first climb repeating the words “on your left”. It wasn’t until the descent down from Lizard Head Pass that the groups really began to splinter. By the next rest area, the pace line I had joined were passing very few people any more and the ride just wound on down the road into Cortez.

Along the way up Lizard Head Pass, I got to chat with a few other cyclists, and again, most conversations started with “Asheville?” I met folks who had done RTR numerous times, folks who were with me on their inaugural ride and folks who had section-ridden RTR over the years, never having enough time off of work to do the whole ride.

After stopping off at two aid stations, I rolled into Cortez less than four hours after I started. I averaged 20MPH thanks in great part to the other riders in the pace lines (and the long descent). I found a perfect spot for setting up camp, next to another rider I knew from Fort Collins…only to find out that I arrived two hours before my bag. Lesson learned: Don’t ride faster than your bag (or better yet, get up earlier and get your bag on the “Early Truck”).

While standing in line for lunch at the gyro stand, a woman from Golden and I struck up a conversation while her husband scouted a place to sit. We chatted about our lives in Golden and Fort Collins, respectively, and somehow the fact that I was blogging about this as part of the Peak Pedalers blog came up. The guy behind us said, “Oh yeah, I’ve read your stuff. You’re the Flying Frenchman.”

Finally, a conversation didn’t begin because of my riding kit.