How did it all start? How DID it all start? I must have been messing around on the internet looking at bike ride schedules, when I happened upon this ride: The Death Ride Tour. A three-day bike ride through the Southwest Colorado Mountains. As most of you know, I do love to ride my bike. I really like to ride hills. I also like Colorado. However, this ride does have the word “Death” in the name, which would go into the negative column.
I studied the elevation map:
Seemed reasonable. Now who could I sucker int— I mean convince to join me?
But first a short word about the real purpose of the ride: The ride supports finding a cure for ALS (or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), which is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. But you are probably more familiar with it as the reason all your friends were dousing themselves with water in Facebook in the Ice Bucket Challenge last year.
In the 80 years since Lou Gehrig had this disease, there has been practically no progress in the medical field. While about 5,600 people are diagnosed each year (similar to MS diagnoses), only 33,000 Americans have the disease because they lose their lives in such a quick & devastating fashion (2-5 years). Folks with MS can live 20 years or more after diagnosis. With no known cure for ALS, a physician’s role is centered around making the patients as comfortable as possible. Yet, ALS doesn’t get the attention cancer does. (The DEATH RIDE Tour…Ride To Defeat ALS is a registered 501c3 Non-Profit and all the proceeds are donated to the ALS Association, Rocky Mountain Chapter and the War on ALS, Blazeman Foundation. Just saying… ).
So it was a tough course for a good cause. I put a shout out on Facebook to see if anyone else was interested (everything seems much more reasonable when one of your crazy friends joins you). I just so happen to have such an insane friend, and soon Judy Roessner and I were signed up and making travel plans. We shipped our bikes to the condo we were staying in via BikeFlights.com, which eliminated the need to drag our bikes all over the airport and find a car that could hold two giant bike boxes, but did cause many sleepless nights as I imagined what my bike might be going through:
I contacted the ride director, Barry Sopinsky, to see if there was a ride group flying into Durango, CO to drive out to the ride start in Silverton, CO together, because I could not see renting a car for a week only to have it sit in Silverton for 5 of the 7 days. Barry was quick to reply, “Just fly into Denver [which is much cheaper] and we’ll drive you out to Durango with us!”
So this man who I did not know just offered to be in a car with Judy and I for a 7 hour ride. See, you all know what he was getting himself into, but he didn’t. What if we weren’t as funny and charming as we are? Luckily, Barry, his wife Debra, and friends Kelly, Dan, and Skip are all as crazy as Judy and I and we laughed all the way to Durango telling inappropriate jokes, peeing on the side of the road, and relating ridiculous stories. Good times!
When we got to Silverton we met the young bearded bike mechanics, Zach and Thompson from VeloSoul Cyclery in Denver, who graciously offered to put our bikes back together. After digging through 56 tons of bubble wrap and foam tubing, they were able to locate my bike in the box and put it together again.
We headed to dinner, where I expressed my reservations about being a sea-level gal who likes to climb short steep hills, out in altitude on 4-6 mile climbs. While Barry encouraged me, Thompson, who was sitting next to me, was heard to say under his breath, “You’re gonna die.” …
I also met a fella named Matt from BH Bikes and WarmFront. He offered Judy and I thermal bibs that keep your chest warm and have a velcroed collar so they are very easy to remove and stow when you get too warm, then replace if the weather should change. We said “No.” but he insisted that we try them and give him a review. He would find us again the next night. So we relented.
Day One: THE ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE
I woke up with the sun at 5:30 on Saturday June 6, 2015, the first day of the ride. It was raining…hard. Today we would be riding over Red Mountain Pass, then the Dallas Divide and finally into Telluride.
I grabbed a bit of breakfast, got dressed , when I looked out the window at 7:00am. Beautiful sun! While standing on the front porch of the condo, I hollered to Judy “Hey, It looks pretty nice out here!” A couple of cyclists walking by replied, “Barry says it’s a go if you want to.” (As if there was any doubt).
We readied our water bottles and other nutrition, debated over what to wear – the rain/windbreaker or my “real” riding jacket? Arm warmers? Base layer and bib or just bib? Long pants?
As we discussed our clothing options it started to hail. Judy went out to get pelted and try to get a picture. I stayed inside and put on every item of cycling clothing I owned. By the time the ride started at 8:00am, there was a steady rain that did not let up for pretty much the entire day… Well, there was a point when it was not raining. We’ll get to that later.
As the group set out, Judy immediately had a mechanical issue and we had to stop and fix it. It was an easy fix, but put us a bit behind the large group, but that was ok, it truly was a ride, not a race. We headed out of Silverton and almost immediately started climbing.
It was a slow grind and totally manageable. Judy and I stayed together and got some pictures as we went because this was a ride and not a race:
Since we have been training in the rain all month, riding in the rain was no big deal. The climbing was not so steep as to worry about traction (even though Judy was very concerned that I might slip, roll 5 feet and fall off the cliff in the photo above). Then the rain got fluffy and white! Too cool! Dressed warmly and riding up hill in the snow was actually a lot of fun!
So fun, so novel!
After another hour of riding in the wet snow, it was becoming less fun and novel. But after ten miles of climbing we made it to the summit!
We stopped for several minutes to take pictures at which time I determined that it was kind of cold. Judy said she heard it was in the 20’s at the summit. I do know that it was at least in the mid-30’s. Either way, we were already wet from having been rained on, and the snow was not letting up at all. I questioned the wisdom of attempting a descent down winding mountain roads in the freezing snow…but Judy was having none of it (even though there were a ton of warm SAG vehicles that could have taken us down).
What could possibly go wrong?
We started the descent and it was immediately much, much colder than the climb. Other riders were turning back, but the Texas girls? Hell, no!
Another mile down and I could no longer feel my hands on the brake levers, but the brakes weren’t working all that great anyway. My entire body was shaking. Did I ever mention how I hate the cold (why do you think I moved from NY to TX)? Judy, seeing my deteriorating state, called it then and we flagged down two SAG vehicles to take us to the bottom. OMG, I was so cold! I do have to say, I was never so happy to have accepted that fleece Warmfront Bib, because as cold as my extremities were, and damn they were cold, my core was not in near as bad a shape and my chest never got cold. Then and there Judy and I agreed that we would be buying our bibs and needed to find Matt after the ride.
The driver of my SAG vehicle (a Toyota Camry) was Irina, a Russian lady and apparently a stunt car driver. After I got into the car and was sure I was not going to freeze to death, I was suddenly certain that I was going to die in a fiery explosion as the Camry careened off the side of the mountain. I tried to assure myself that she probably drove in these conditions a lot in Russia but by the same token, I kept my face buried in my hands and gauged how she was driving by the screams of the other passengers. She did get us safely off the mountain.
I hooked up with Judy a few minutes later where we holed up in a coffee shop, whose owner allowed us to use his space heater to warm up and try to dry out some of our soaked clothes. We hooked up for the first time with Sean and Jeff from Primal-Audi Men’s racing team. They were just really nice guys. We talked about home and Colorado and we were there for a good long time trying to figure out how to dry our clothes and best continue in the cold rain. I rode to a local sporting goods store and purchased some “water-proof” (that part was a bit optimistic) fleece lined mittens because I was not going to be able to get my hands back into my soggy frozen gloves. But let me tell you, mittens are the way to go! (Also, I later found out that the driver of the van Judy was in feared she may have hypothermia, so while she wanted to continue on down the mountain, my pathetic state probably saved her life).
The guys headed out and Judy and I headed out a few minutes later. While it was still raining it was not snowing, and the temperatures were warmer off the mountain. I have no shame for taking that SAG the ten miles down the mountain (or 8 1/2 of those miles)! We learned later that a lot of the folks who rode down the mountain were done for the day thereafter, but we still had some fun hills to climb!
The ride into Ridgway was not so bad: flat to down hill, but not nearly as cold and my hands were warm in my mittens.
Once in Ridgway we started Dallas Divide Climb, it had finally stopped raining.
I don’t know if this was in fact the longest most miserable climb or if it just felt that way, but dang, it did suck!
After what seemed like forever, I was at the top. I knew that Judy was right behind me, so I ate some fig newtons and spoke with the local riders as I waited. These crazy people were going to take a SAG to the bottom of the Dallas Divide?! After all that hard climbing?! What kind of idiot would give up that sweet, sweet downhill?
Judy arrived, refilled her water and nutrition and I told her about these strange folks who were taking a car to the bottom of the hill. She scoffed at the ridiculousness of such a decision and within minutes we were flying down the 2-3% grade. What became readily apparent was that (a) we were still wet and (b) holy shit is was cold on the descent! This descent was long and sweeping so there was no real fear of careening off the mountain, but within minutes my whole body was shaking once again. Oh, and to add insult to injury, the rain that had let up a bit started again. This descent is some 13 miles long! Apparently THESE little nuggets of information was what the locals knew and what Judy and Red did not. Even the Primal-Audi guys sagged down that hill (Woo-hoo we’re tougher (or more stupid) than race guys!)
At the bottom of the hill was a little convenience store where we holed up, once again, trying to get warm. We drank a cup of coffee, then another trying to stop the violent shivering. Judy’s hands were freezing in her wet gloves. While my mittens were wet, they were still keeping my hands warm so I just wrung them out, but my legs were shaking. Once again we discussed our incredible luck of sitting down for dinner at the table with Matt (the bib guy) the night before. Several other brave hill descending cyclist joined us and we discussed the very real possibility of sagging it in. We still had 13 miles and one more climb before we would be done for the day.
A fella with shorts on (God bless him) asked us if we knew the SAG situation just as one of the ride vehicles pulled up. They did not have room for any riders/bikes but assured us a SAG was on the way. Judy and I decided to solider on, but told the guy in shorts that when the SAG passed us to make sure we were ok.
Judy stuck her gloves in the microwave for a minute to warm they up, put them on and off we went. Once again being off the descent made all the difference in the world and after a few minutes we realized we would be alright.
We started the last ascent of the day up to the Telluride. The best thing I can say about this hill is that it wasn’t the Dallas Divide. I was huffing and puffing up the incline, which seemed to go on forever. I was really thirsty, but having a hard time grabbing my bottle while I was climbing, so finally I just stopped so I could take a big swig and a few breaths. I got back on my bike only to realize was less than 100 yards from the summit.
YAY! I made it. Once again, Judy was right behind me and we rode into Telluride together. We got lost trying to find the hotel (well, really, it was bound to happen at some point), finally found it and were able to get cleaned up and into warm dry clothes. We headed over to the ride dinner where we sat with Sean and Jeff. I was literally too tired to chew. I felt like I should eat some more and was jealous watching Jeff eat and chew with ease. I was determined not to fall asleep into the plate, but I just didn’t have the energy to eat any more.
Barry took a moment to explain why he put this ride together, then we went around the room introducing ourselves and explaining why we were there. There were many heartbreaking stories of folks who were there for friends and familiy who had been diagnosed with ALS.
I was exhausted and after dinner headed back to the hotel where all I wanted to do was sleep, but realized I really needed to do some laundry so I would have clean dry clothes to wear the next day.
Judy and I finally got to bed at about 10:30 after washing our clothes but too tired to wait for a dryer (so we hung them up all over the room). Then, as exhausted as I was, I slept like poo, but woke up at the first day light for day two: The ride to Durango.
But, my family understands: