Stage 4 Wrap: Snowmass to Carbondale

Kim Sharp-LeybaJason Sumner

More than any single stage, arguably the hardest part of completing an event such as Ride the Rockies is recovering from one day to the next. Sure it’s tough pedaling over Monarch or Independence Pass. But stack those types of efforts on top of each other and the challenge gets exponentially harder.

The human body (especially older ones) simply don’t snap back to 100% without adequate rest. But by their nature, multi-day events such as this don’t permit that needed downtime. And that’s part of the allure. Can you overcome the fatigue of repeated back-to-back efforts and make it to the finish line?

Fortunately for this year’s Ride the Rockies riders, stage 4 from Snowmass to Carbondale offered some semblance of an off day. At just 33 miles with only one significant climb, most riders were able to complete the trip in under 3 hours. That left plenty of time to wander through a nearby farmer’s market, get a massage, or simply take a well-deserved nap.

Much of the day’s route was on the Rio Grande Trail, a flat 42-mile multi-use rec path that connects Aspen with Glenwood Springs and runs through Carbondale. Other sections of the route traced quiet country lanes with minimal auto traffic. And even the sharp climb of Upper Cattle Creek Road wasn’t too terrible, lasting a shade less than 2 miles.

Total climbing for the day was 1211 feet, or 4568 less than the previous day. And of course there was plenty of superb scenery, highlights including the (literally) Roaring Fork River, lots of glowing green pastoral countryside, and the looming snow-capped figure of Mount Sopris on the south side of the valley.

Add it all up, and hopefully legs (and minds) will feel a little fresher when the tour resumes dishing out difficulty on Thursday. Indeed, stage 5’s southerly run on State Highway 133 from Carbondale to Hotchkiss will be yet another leg beater, covering 65 miles with nearly 4000 feet of climbing.

Much of that effort will be focused on the ascent of McClure Pass, which starts around mile 21 and gains 1200 feet in 3.5 miles over an average grade of 6 percent. Top climb times will be in the 30-minute range, while the majority of the riders will take at least 15-20 minutes longer. The good news is that the McClure Pass summit is only 8770 feet, or 3325 less than Independence Pass.

Once over the top, it’s essentially all downhill, as you speed past the Paonia Reservoir, pass by the mostly defunct coal mines around Somerset, and catch glimpses of the peach orchards in Paonia proper before wheeling into the finish town of Hotchkiss, which sits in the heart of the fertile North Fork Valley on Colorado’s Western Slope. And once again the weather looks all but perfect, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s.

~ Jason Sumner