Sunday, July 5, 2009

Day 3 - Grand Junction to Montrose (with C.N.M. loop)

Long post ahead… lots of pictures following the wordy words…

The third day of BTC was like three days in one. Knowing we had almost 100 miles slated, Arron and I rolled out at 5:45 to get a jump on the optional loop through Colorado National Monument. With clear skies we hit the streets of Grand Junction following the trusty bright orange BTC road markings.

Something didn’t seem right to me, as we were heading away from the Colorado River and back onto the road we came into town on day two. We’re rolling along D Road (I think that’s the name of the road) and there is no way this is the right direction. At a turn we see another rider stopped and looking at a map. We stop and consult with him and it turns out we are on the route to Montrose. Well dang.

So we hop on this rider’s wheel (he’s a fast one with deep dish Edge aero wheels) and four miles later are in downtown GJ once again. We see fresh paint at a corner with “CNM” on it. Hey, look, they marked the loop route! Gee, thanks! Okay, this feels more like it. We’re riding toward the river and the Monument when we see a few riders ahead making a left turn. Being sheep, we follow them into the left lane. Another mistake. Those people are going to Burger King (mmmm….Croissanwich!), so we pass right by them and find ourselves crossing the river (good, right?) and on US-50. This is not right. We stop again, consult a CNM map (which we are not on at this time), then consult Arron’s handy iPhone map application. Yep, we’re on the wrong course.

So once again we cross the river and head back into Grand Junction to find the route. If I’d have looked a bit closer, I could have steered onto a riverside parkway that would have chopped off a mile or so, but at that point I think we just wanted to be where the route markings would be. Wishful thinking.

Twelve total miles later and one hour gone finally get back where the riders are heading out to the Monument. Across the Colorado River (again) and up to the East Entrance of the Monument where there is no one at the gate house to take our $4 or check that our bikes are fully equipped with headlights and tail lights. We’ve been warned that jackbooted patrols would be out validating operational front/rear visual devices on each bike, so I think we were a bit stunned when they did not emerge.

The ride up the eastern side of the park was excellent. Sunny skies and a twisting road up a canyon along the Serpent’s Tail trail, past Devil’s Kitchen and the Dog’s Tooth. After ~1,500 of climbing we were up on the rim. The views were spectacular and I’m sure I was driving Arron nuts with how many times I was stopping to take pictures. It was worth it. Riding along the canyon rim was fantastic. Views down the deep walls, over the wide flat river valley and across to the Grand Mesa did not disappoint. Any rider who skipped the optional loop (and there were plenty of them) truly missed out on a great ride.

After a while on the rim road we started to see riders pass us going the opposite direction and we once again questioned our navigational skills. Were these riders turning around at some point? We stopped right around half way through the loop to assess the situation and discovered that we were supposed to have ridden to the western entrance at Fruita. We had no indication of this from our maps, the road markings, or otherwise, so we kept on going toward the west. It was all downhill and a thrilling ride given the views. After the final switchbacks we found ourselves at the western gate. We paid our $4 there and the park ranger completely ignored the fully operational lights affixed to our bikes.

Then the day got hard. We were around 40 miles into the ride and had to wind our way down Colorado 340 back to Grand Junction, across the Colorado River (fourth time), through town, cross the Colorado River (fifth time in one morning!), and then onto US-50 (where we had stopped earlier to get our bearings). We’re now at mile 52 or so on the day and the sun is now beating down.

Ahh, US-50. How I love thee. I can’t begin to explain what a pleasure the next 60 miles would be like from G.J. to Montrose. Hot, dusty, headwind, heavy traffic. Ugh. While there was some scenery to be had, it was always on the distant horizon. The one ‘climb’ up to the second aid station wasn’t much. The road kept going and going. The wind kept picking up speed.

At the final aid station I heard Arron say something I’d never think to hear him say. He said he wouldn’t be opposed to hopping in a SAG wagon, since we’d already ridden 84 miles that day. I knew where he was coming from and with the temperature measuring 111 degrees on my cyclometer, I was momentarily tempted. But I threw my stock answer back to him: “I’ve got all day to ride the last 25 miles.” So on we went into the teeth of US-50. Past the town of Delta. Watching the miles imperceptibly tick away.

Off in the distance the weather looked like it could be a bit tricky. A dark cloud was passing to the south near Montrose. We weren’t hit with rain, but the front seemed to push the wind into our faces even stronger. With about 5 miles to go, Arron steamed ahead and my mph dropped. I was in my lowest gear rolling along at 7 mph. It was like the 2007 Sudden Century, but without the Will County scenery. For a mile or two I chatted with a guy in a Michigan jersey. Then the Montrose sign appeared. And then there were convenience stores on the left side of the road.

I kept glancing backwards to see if an opportunity to cut across the busy highway would present itself so I could get to one of the gas stations. I was craving chocolate milk. But traffic picked up and I didn’t want to stop to wait for a crossing. Nothing was on the right and it took me a mile or two to figure out why: train tracks running parallel to the highway. Dang. At mile 110 of this grueling day I saw a vision on the right side of the road. There was a Burger King. My mind immediately started thinking Large Chocolate Shake.

There were several bikes leaning against the BK, so I dropped in for the shake. I ended up with a Whopper and fries, to boot. Holy cow, were they tasty! An older gentleman from England (via Connecticut) sat down at my table. He was taking one final break on the route, as well. He had ridden only the G.J. to Montrose part of the ride, but said it had taken him the better part of the day to do so. Good on him for sticking it out.
Chocolate shake in hand, I rode the final mile to the high school in Montrose and pretty much just vegged out in our hallway digs for the night. Day four’s ride to Crested Butte was looming and the prospect of actual mountains to climb was giving me hope after the long slog from G.J.

Bunch o’ pictures from the C.N.M. loop. The camera stayed tucked away for the US-50 portion of the day.

Finally into the Monument.

Click on the map to see just how twisty the road is.

Not sure who these guys are. They got in my shot.

Getting started up the eastern climb.

A perfect morning to climb.

We were down there just a bit ago.

Arron makes his way up.

Blurry, but cool how road slices through the landscape.

Beautiful blue skies with unthreatening clouds.

Hey, there's a tunnel!

Arron had to find batteries for his Knog for this??

Getting near the top.

The serpentine road we just came up.

Looking back past Grand Junction to Grand Mesa.

Breaking for photo ops.


Canyon views from the rim.

The road did get near the edge at times.

Arron's in this shot. See if you can find him.

Ditto this one. Check out that drop!

At the western gate (where we should have entered).

1 comment:

  1. that was a 32 oz shake he was riding with!!!