So 64 miles isn’t considered a long day by Ride The Rockies standards. And 3,000-feet-plus of climbing isn’t a huge climb. But if people were expecting an easy day on Monday’s route from Cortez to Durango, they were in for a nasty surprise.

Because with temperatures reaching high into the 90s, any climb can become a tough climb, and a medium-length ride can feel like a never-ending road trip from hell.

As the child of Norwegian immigrants, I’m acutely aware of heat. I don’t like it. I turn my AC on in March, I ride in short sleeves in April, and I try to hibernate through the entire months of July and August, if possible. So when I heard what we were in for in terms of temperature, I announced to my riding buddies that I wanted to leave a little earlier the next day. Like 4:00 am early.

It didn’t help that this conversation was taking place in a tiny motel room in Cortez, where the heat was still in the 90s at 8pm and the ancient air-conditioning unit was making noise and nothing else. We were stifling. I had grabbed the bed closest to the AC unit in hopes of nabbing little whiffs of cool air, and I was suffering.

But 4:00 am was deemed a little — what was the word? — INSANE, so we got on the road at about 6:15 the next morning. And I am so glad we did, because it was almost unbearably hot by the time I was making my way up Mancos Hill; when I turned around to snap a few pics, I noticed a fair amount of misery on the faces of passing cyclists.

So an easy day, it wasn’t. And with 85 miles ahead of us tomorrow, I may push for a 3am start.

Team Cortez

We were making our way up through the farmlands around Cortez early Monday morning, just waking up and relishing what cool breezes we could catch before things turned wretched. Lots of rolling hills, beautiful horsefarms and cute little houses.

We came up over one rise and were greeted with two things: a 90-degree turn, and two women in bike gear, hooting at us and ringing bells. One of the women had dragged a stationary bike out to the turn, and was pedaling away, shouting encouragement and ringing bells at the same time.

I had to stop.

Team Cortez, showing a little love and pedaling for RTR cyclists.

Team Cortez, showing a little love and pedaling for RTR cyclists.

“We’re showing solidarity with you all!” announced the woman on the exercise bike. “We’re Team Cortez!”

Evidently, Cortez has its own cycling team. It is comprised of these two women and three other people, and if they are as hard-core as they are enthusiastic, then they probably do quite well on any circuit, small as they are.

When she wasn’t pedaling a stationary bike on the corner, Rayna Hale lived in the house that sat right behind her; her dogs were outside, either barking furiously at us, or barking because they worried that their owner had totally lost it and was dragging all the household furniture outside. Who knows – maybe their dog beds would be next?

But as the cyclists approached the corner, Team Cortez’s efforts were rewarded almost universally with smiles, laughs and sometimes stunned expressions. It was actually quite a sweet gesture, and made me wish, as I slogged up Mancos Hill, that they would greet us at the top with bells and vigorous stationary pedaling.