Firecracker 5k

Things that made Ride the Rockies Day 5 Ridgway Loop one to remember:

  • Layover day in Ridgway so you didn’t have to pack your bag
  • Ripping tailwind that made the 15-mile northward spin on US550 a breeze
  • Magnesium chloride-treated dirt roads that meant no dust and a buttery smooth ride
  • Views of the Uncompahgre Plateau and San Juan Mountains that were so good you had to stop and take photos
  • The best descent of this year’s tour — and more jaw dropping views
  • The choice of going all in for the full loop — or calling it day early and saving your legs for Friday’s climbing heavy monster
  • A tough dirt road climb and descent to the famed True Grit house — and the most amazing field of yellow wildflowers you’ll ever see
  • A second chance to sail down the northeast side of Dallas Divide
  • The knowledge that you’re just one day away from finishing one of the most challenging RTR’s on record

It was all part of Thursday’s adventurous 58-mile balloon-and-string route that started and finished in Ridgway and served up just under 5,000 feet of climbing (if you choose to climb Dallas Divide for the second time in two days).

The day started with an easy spin north out of Ridgway along the banks of the Uncompahgre Plateau, then continued northward to Ridgway State Park. From there riders merged onto US550 before turning left into the tiny town of Colona at mile 15.

Then the real work began, as riders face a gradual 10-mile climb on County Road 1, which included those aforementioned 6.5 miles of smooth and dustless dirt road. But the pain of climbing was offset by ever-improving views, first of the massive Uncompahgre Plateau, and then the looming wall of the distant San Juan Mountains. It was truly spectacular.

A few miles after returning to pavement, a rollicking twisty descent plunged back down into the valley. Then after a few miles of easy country road spinning, it was decision time. Turn left for an easy day or go right and climb back up to the Dallas Divide summit, elevation 8,970 feet. Based on anecdotal observations, it was about 50-50, meaning those who choose to keep climbing had a lot more room to roam as they grinded their way uphill.

Up top, the route rolled past the summit sign, dropped a few miles down the far side, then turned left onto Last Dollar Road. More than a few riders grumbled about the extra (seemingly unnecessary dirt miles), but the reward was yet another bevy of beautiful scenery and a look at one of the filming sights used for the John Wayne classic True Grit. What an appropriate metaphor for this year’s tour, which has demanded its riders possess just such traits.

The 2021 Ride the Rockies wraps up Friday with a massive day in the high mountains of Southwest Colorado. Thanks to its approximately 7,606 feet of climbing, it is arguably the hardest — and perhaps the best. After a brief jaunt on flat packed dirt roads to avoid the traffic and narrow shoulder of US550 between Ridgway and Ouray, the route turns upwards for the first of three stunning climbs on the aptly named Million Dollar Highway.

First up is the trek up and over Red Mountain Pass, which is both brutal and breathtaking. It’s truly Sound-of-Music scenic here in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. Jagged peaks thrust high into the sky, waterfalls plunge down sheer rock faces, and the gaping Uncompahgre Gorge disappears into the shadows. There’s also a little less oxygen, with the Red Mountain summit marking the high point of this year’s tour at 11,017 feet.

A rapid descent to Silverton follows, before the road turns upwards again, this time for the back-to-back grinds over Molas (10,910 feet) and then Coal Bank (10,640) passes. Here again the scenery is sublime. No wonder some call this corner of Colorado Little Switzerland. From the top of Coal Bank it’s a mostly downhill spin back to Durango and the final finish line, where your finisher’s medal and a well-earned beer awaits.