Firecracker 5k

Which one was the Death Ride again?

Maybe. Somewhere. Not here.

Maybe. Somewhere. Not here.

Was it the three-day bike endurancefest that overlapped briefly with day one of Ride The Rockies near Cortez? Or is it this bike tour, which baked under cloudless, 90-degree skies for three days? Is it this one in which riders caught sporadic, incomplete news about the wildfires, prompting rumors in the food lines, aid stops and shower trucks about the route being changed? Is it this one, which finally brought us some cloud cover today, which later produced several tornadic microbursts of wind that uprooted dozens of tents, sending many of them into the air like helium balloons?

Is this the true Death Ride, the one in which I am caught in a downpour in downtown Salida, seeking someplace, anyplace, that has some wifi, where I can write this dispatch so I can get back to a campground that is drenched and where I may, or may not, find our tent where we left it?

Maybe this isn’t the true Death Ride — a separate event that puts riders through an intentionally punishing three days. But Ride The Rockies 2013 will become known as the most gruelling of them all: One day after riders completed a 92-mile leg, tour organizers have changed the Day-6 route, originally planned for 60 miles, into a 93-mile marathon — the longest day of the tour. When we roll into Colorado Springs on Saturday, the 546 total miles will make this the “longest tour in our 28-year history,” according to the helpful fliers that were handed out to riders this afternoon.

The route was changed because of concerns that U.S. Highway 50 may be closed during the day Friday due to the wildfires in the Royal Gorge. It’s understandable: Even if it were open, U.S. 50 runs through the middle of an active fire scene. The last thing firefighters need to worry about is 2,200 vactioning cyclists pedaling through.

So, tomorrow we’ll get up a little earlier than we had planned, slather on an extra helping of chamois butter, and will ride a southern loop around the fire: through Westcliffe, over Hardscrabble Pass, through Wetmore and Florence to Canon City — which we hear is planning a hell of welcome for RTR. I only hope we can arrive early enough to enjoy the hospitality. It’s going to be a long, long day in the saddle.

Yeah, we did that.

Yeah, we did that.

That means we’ll have some extra miles to meet some new folks. Like the man who sidled up to me and Kathy on our tandem on the lower portion of the climb up Wolf Creek Pass on Thursday morning. He asked us how he could get his wife interested in riding a tandem without them ending up in divorce. I wasn’t sure whether we were giving him bike advice or marriage counseling.

Or, like Jim and Suzy, a tandem couple we meet during various bike tours, who have lots of advice for us, a couple of newbies.

Or, the guys from Palm Springs, who we met in the pancake line. The Coachella Valley is great for cycling, they say — as long as you’re back home by 9 a.m.

We’ve had some nice moments along the way during the week. There were the free baked potatoes provided by the Colorado Potato Committee in a shady park in Monte Vista. Our son Joseph put it this way: “Just¬†right amount of awesome!”¬†One of the farmers serving the spuds told me that the northern San Luis Valley is the nation’s No. 2 source of fresh-shipped potatoes. Who knew? Thanks, Mr. Friendly Potato Man!

Good Lord. The band is setting up here in the tavern in Salida where I’ve found a wi-fi signal. Better speed this up.

The carnival next to RTR base camp in Alamosa. It was a pleasant place to take a stroll with your sweetie.

The carnival next to RTR base camp in Alamosa. It was a pleasant place to take a stroll with your sweetie.

Another memorable moment: the sunset over Alamosa, where a carnival was lighting up the night, while the band played from the RTR stage.

Maybe the highlight of the week so far was on Wednesday, when we got this text from Joey, who rode ahead of us all day: “Woohoo! I’m done with the longest ride of my life!”

And there have been some not-so-fun parts of the tour. I’ve lost count of the times that riders have hooked on to our back wheel for some drafting. Single bikes are drawn to tandems like mosquitoes to campers. We don’t mind offering a pull to other riders, but so far this week, only one rider has offered to return the favor to us. Not cool.

Also not cool in the least: People who walk through the gym after the lights have been turned out for the night — with bright headlamps shining from their foreheads.

But these are pittances. The rain smells good, and Lord please send some of it to the fires. The road tomorrow will be long, but we’ll make some new friends even as we all commiserate about our aching backsides (rider modesty has gradually decreased as the week has gone one). When we finally at the end, we’ll have something we can point to: We will have ridden farther than any Ride The Rockies tour, ever. And that’s something.

The band is cranking up. Gotta go.