Cooked. Spent. Exhilarated. Relieved. Satisfied. And yes, sometimes frustrated. All these emotions sum up the experience that was the 2021 Ride the Rockies, which wrapped up Friday with an exceptionally challenging 83-mile ride from Ridgway back to where it all started in Durango. In between was a massive day of climbing in the high mountains of Southwest Colorado, including ascents of Red Mountain, Molas and Coal Bank passes, which together make up the beautiful beating heart of the Million Dollar Highway. It’s truly among the state’s, if not this country’s, most stunning landscapes — and no doubt best seen by bicycle. It was brutal and breathtaking. Jagged peaks thrust high into the sky, waterfalls plunged down sheer rock faces, the gaping Uncompahgre Gorge disappeared into the shadows — sometimes just feet from where our wheels rolled. Total elevation gain was north of 7,600 feet, the most of any day at this year’s 6-day, 418-mile tour, which dished out more than 28,000 feet of climbing. This is only my second full RTR, but given the unrelenting heat and a century ride baked into the middle of the week, I have to believe this was one of the hardest editions in this illustrious event’s history, which dates back to 1986. But at the end, after the last riders trickled past the finish line at the La Plata County Fairgrounds and sweat was washed away and beer flowed and food served, what I witnessed was the soul of this event then and now: an amazing and welcoming community of friends new and old all bound together by a shared loved for cycling and all that it encompasses. Young or old, fast or slow, newbie or veteran, e-bike or traditional two-wheeler, it doesn’t matter. It takes a special kind of person to embrace such an endeavor. I’m proud of what all of us did this week and you should be, too.