Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day 2 - Hotchkiss to Grand Junction

Monday morning was clear and cool with temps starting out in the upper 40s / lower 50s when we set out from Hotchkiss. This was slated to be a 90+ mile day with a massive climb up the Grand Mesa.

At the end of the main drag of Hotchkiss the road tilted up in a rude awakening to the legs. This was kind of unexpected, as I was thinking the climbing would be reserved for miles 20 to 40. In any case, as the sun started peeking out from the east, we found the road rising and falling across little bluffs and mesas. The landscape felt a bit more western with sage growing in rocky fields.

Early on we climbed up a cool looking road that sliced up and left. It looked harder/steeper than it was because of the view, but would have been something middling in western Wisconsin. At the top I stopped to take some pictures back toward Hotchkiss showing that we had gained some good elevation since the start of the day.

A few miles later we saw the same hill. At least it looked like that same hill. The road slashed up and to the left on a bluff. Other riders were asking, “Didn’t we just ride this hill?” The approach was a bit different, so we knew it wasn’t the same, but from a distance a sense of déjà vu was creeping in. (IIRC, the roads were called Rim Rock and Heaven’s View, respectively).

Around mile 16 we got a good view of Grand Mesa in the distance. It doesn’t look serious, but that may be due to it lacking some sort of striking peak. It did look massive. And we still had a decent little descent down to Cedaredge before the real fun started.
On the descent Arron put his Paolo Salvodelli hat on and came flying by me Il Falco style. Granted, I had braked a bit too hard into a blind right corner, but he could not be stopped. Next thing I see is him hollering “Inside!” to a guy in front of us. Whoa! No worries, as nothing ill happened, but it was a good point to discuss at the rest stop at mile 20. The sun was out and not a cloud in the sky, so we took the opportunity to ditch arm warmers, knee warmers, and vests for the coming climb.

As we left Cedaredge the road just smacked us with deception. It didn’t look steep, but it slowed us down significantly. We pedaled along to the base of the Grand Mesa. The climb just went on and on and on through forest of fir and aspen trees. I had unzipped my jersey and about halfway up needed to stop and zip it back up and throw on the vest again. As I did this Arron kept on going. He was cooking up the mountain. He’s got serious high altitude ability and I didn’t see him again until the summit.
I stopped two more times on the way up. Once was ostensibly to get a photo op and another just a mile from the top. I don’t wear an HRM, but know that if I can hear my heartbeat all the way up in my ears that I’m in the red zone. Each time I stopped this was the case and I was glad of a short rest to let my brain stop pulsing in my skull.
About 3 miles from the top I encountered Slacker Sue (aka Sagwagon Sue), one of the many characters we met during the week. There is a general store along the route and I saw a woman unload a bike from a van. She hopped on and started riding up the mountain. Huh? Hang one a second here. I asked her if she skipped much of the climb she said yes and had hitched a ride with a couple who were heading over the mountain. Are you kidding me? The thought of this was foreign to me. Why would someone show up to Bicycle Tour of Colorado and skip riding parts of it, especially on a perfectly golden day like we were having? It didn’t compute for me and in some ways didn’t compute for me for the rest of the week whenever we saw a Sagwagon van loaded with bikes fly past on the route.

I had loafed enough on the climb that it was perfectly reasonable to expect that Arron had taken off from the summit aid station without me. As luck would have it, when I got to the top he was just getting ready for his photo op with the summit elevation sign. I rode right up with my bike and joined him. He had been there for 15 (or more) minutes. That’s patience.

Arron doing some sort of Dave Zabriskie impression.

The descent off of the Grand Mesa was incredible. 20+ miles of pure downhill bliss. We stopped just after the start of the descent to get some pictures of the valley below and canyons off to the west. As we left the photo op I heard an odd noise whistling through my ears and quickly discovered that I had not buckled my helmet straps. Eek. A quick stop to snap it in and I was back to chasing down Arron.

The cross wind on the descent was pretty tough. We were buffeted side to side and at one point I was at 49.5 mph when a big gust knocked into me. I tacked into it and stayed upright. We passed Powderhorn ski area and enjoyed excellent views of the Grand Mesa’s bluffs from which we had just come and the canyons leading to the Colorado River where we would be shortly.
As the grade slackened through the canyon along Plateau Creek, the headwind kicked up a little. With the gradual downhill we kept up some good speed and at one point hooked up with more characters, dubbed Team Budvar for the jerseys they were wearing. The leader of this motley crew was a guy from Chicago we named “Portage Park” for the neighborhood he lived in on the northwest side. He was a strong rider and pulled us along in a pretty fast paceline past the gulches and cliff walls. At one point it was just me and Arron hanging on his wheel. The rest of Team Budvar had been left in the canyon dust. Portage Park slowed to wait for his crew and we pedaled on to the final aid station of the day, which was right at the end of the canyon.

At the aid station I ambled over to the medic car to see if they could get me a hit of sunscreen for my face and arms. A nice lady went to get the sunscreen, but her partner medic started to chew me out that I should be carrying my own and that the sunscreen they had in the car was only for emergencies. Seriously? Really now. It’s mile 70 of a 94 mile day. Anyone with a sun emergency is not going to be helped out by applying sunscreen. Not wanting to dip into their precious supply of Banana Boat, I refused the sunscreen and headed back toward the food and bikes. As with each day’s stops, there was a DJ playing tunes and I noticed he had an assortment of sunscreen on his table. I asked if I could use a bit and he said that’s why he brought it, even paying out of his own pocket (but that when it was gone, it was gone for the week). Very cool, Mr. D.J. Very cool. Thank you for helping me in my time of need.

The final leg of the day put us on I-70 for four miles. It sounds worse than it was, but aside from the higher speed of traffic, being on the interstate was no less or more stressful than riding a two lane road when two cars decide to pass at the same time. Colorado state motorcycle police, who were along throughout the week, were rolling along in the right lane helping to keep traffic to the left lane somewhat, and though they don’t prevent anything, we stayed inside the rumble strips on the shoulder and cruised along with the Colorado River roaring to the right of the guard rail. It was a relatively quick transfer and we jumped off at an exit to the final 20 miles into Grand Junction.

We caught on to a paceline to keep our speed up into town and after a while I just wanted to cruise along, so dropped away. The temp on my cyclometer showed a balmy 100 degrees, but it was a dry heat. After a bit of maneuvering through the city we reached GJHS and our digs for the night.
We hopped on the BTC Shuttle Bus to see if we could get a ride to the nice little downtown for some dinner. The driver said he didn’t go that way, but Arron convinced him to take a detour to drop us off. We ended up at the Rockslide Brewery on a recommendation of Dave S., who used to be a weatherman on the TV in Grand Junction. It was a good choice.

Check out the nachos appetizer below. I had the Chicken Capollini entrée (grilled chicken and zucchini over angel hair pasta) and a stout. Recovery at its finest.

Some JANKY nachos.

A walk back to the school, a visit to the REI to get Arron’s Knog light some fresh batteries, and then a Heath Blizzard at the DQ and I was ready to call it a night.

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