Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Day 7 - Buena Vista to Glenwood Springs via Independence Pass

Another huge climb loomed for the 103 mile final day, along with the start of the drive home to Illinois, so Arron set his alarm for 4:00 am hoping we could get a jump on the day.

I slept like junk the night in Buena Vista. I thought I heard an alarm sound and next thing I know Arron’s telling me it’s 4:30. Alright. Stumble around getting ready/packed and when I find my phone, the time reads 3:45 am. Seriously? I mean, really?? Yes. Arron’s phone somehow kicked ahead an hour, so we’re up and ready to go but it’s still pitch black outside. We loafed around getting the bikes ready and then parked it in the cafeteria to wait for some daylight.

Is it 5:00 am, yet?

Around 5:30 we headed north on US-24 out of Buena Vista. Temps were between 45-50 degrees as the massive Collegiate peaks to our left kept us in shadows for an hour.* Mounts Yale, Columbia, Harvard, Oxford. All the schools Arron and I turned down to study in the heart of Illinois.
*edit - I realize now that this sentence would make sense if the sun rose in the west. Duh.

A headwind and a steady rise along the headwaters of the Arkansas River kept our pace slow. We could see sunlight on the mountains to our right, but only occasionally would we get any of its warmth when the sun popped out between peaks. At mile 20 we took a left turn onto CO-82, which we’d follow all the way back to Glenwood Springs.

Along US-24 with the early risers.

At the first rest stop we met up with Portage Park and his crew (whom we had dubbed Team Budvar for the jerseys they were sporting on Day 2). Five of us headed out from the stop with La Plata Peak on our left and Colorado’s tallest peak Mount Elbert on our right. Both mountains top out over 14,300 feet. Soon it was just Portage Park, Arron, and I. Then Portage Park took off up the valley.

Mt. Elbert cloaked in clouds

More Mt. Elbert
The pass is open for business.

Arron and I rode along the incredible valley winding around the south base of Mount Elbert. The forest was thick with pines and firs as we passed the gate that closes the pass for most of the year. The elevation kicked up to 10,000 feet or so and soon we saw the road take a sweeping left turn and like a scar cut across the side of the mountain in front of us. I knew I’d be on my own for the ride to the top of the pass as Arron found his legs and took off ahead.

The view from this part of the climb was spectacular. The rock face sloping up on the right and a drop off to the left getting bigger by the pedal stroke as I passed the official ride photographers (“Remember Blue and 8:40!” they holler). The air chilled considerably and a waterfall of snowmelt loomed up ahead, but the road switched back before we got that far. I was riding pretty steady passing a few people and getting passed by a couple of wicked fast riders along the way. After one switchback I heard Arron’s voice from up above, but didn’t understand what he was saying. At least he was within earshot and I’m not totally dropped like on Cottonwood and Grand Mesa!

The climb went on for a long time, but seemed to go by in a blink for me. Soon painted on the road I read: “Fajitas: 3 Miles” and eventually “Fajitas: 1 Mile.” At this point the trees are nowhere to be found and then Cowbell Cathy is there at the final switchback yelling: “8/10 of a mile to go!! You’re so inSPIRing!!” Thanks Cowbell Cathy! You’re pretty inspiring, too, standing there all day by your lonesome cheering on the riders.

Snow fields are popping up and I see a couple of figures dancing around on the side of the road. It’s Portage Park and Arron. Arron’s got a camera in hand, so I upshifted to a bigger gear, jumped out of the saddle, and rocked it to the apex of Independence Pass. 12,095 feet and the top of the world as far as I was concerned. I let out a huge “YEAH!!” as I glided into the second rest stop at the top of the pass.

Top of the pass meant time for requisite photo op at the elevation sign. It was cool to get a shot with both of us on the final day. Thanks for waiting, Arron! Load up on some salty snacks from the food tents and we’re ready to basically coast down to Aspen.

The descent was dramatic. The top portion sliced across the mountain with a huge left turn visible from far away. Sketchy pavement with tons of bumps and holes (many marked in orange by the BTC crew). And it was cold downhill. Arron was out front and all over his brakes and I was doing my best to stay a good distance back without burning up the rims.

When we got back into the trees the road curved, narrowed, and just kept on going down for 17 miles. There was tons of traffic, much of which was trucks w/ campers crowding the lanes, so there was nowhere really to let it all hang out and fly as was the case coming off of Cottonwood Pass the day before. My top speed on the day was a mere 42.0 mph. When the signs said “Road Narrows” they meant it. Outcroppings to the right, steep drop offs to the left and only a guardrail to keep things in perspective.

Just before Aspen was the third and final rest stop of the week. We got there so fast, but it was a welcome break. I needed it to relax my tensed body and shaking legs/toes. Arron hops of his bike and just says, “My brakes are CASHED.” Crazy stuff.

The last 50 miles of the ride went through the town of Aspen and continued along Hwy 82 all the way to Glenwood Springs. Even though we were on a busy divided highway, this ride was completely opposite of the Grand Junction to Montrose slog of day 3. For one we were cruising ~21 or 22 mph for much of the way following a river to our right and great mountain scenery all around. The final 20 miles did seem to take forever, but soon we were back at Sopris Elementary and our 2009 BTC was at a successful end.

All the bags were laid out in the parking lot and ours were right at the front. No searching, no problem. We did run across our old buddy Gun Show in the lot. He was hopping out of a car gushing to his companion about what a great ride BTC had been. Yeah, right big guy, next time try riding all of it! There’s no way no day that he had ridden the whole 103 miles of Day 7’s route. Then again, we saw tons of people hopping the SAG vans throughout the whole week. For us it just did not compute why they were skipping some of the best parts of the route. I guess that’s their business and they can post it to their blogs, right?

Anyway, Arron went to get the car, we piled everything in, stopped at Wendy’s to refuel (Double with cheese, big fries, big Dr. Pepper!), and then hit the road for home. More on the ride home in a post to follow.