I dragged my butt out of bed on the third day of the ride. This was the day with the 20 miles of continuous uphill climbing and some of the longest steepest grades. Many times over the weekend I had pushed the thoughts (and doubts) about the ride from Durango to Silverton out of my mind. I’d worry about it when I got there. But holy cow, I was tired. I decided to go with mind over matter. So long as I keep a positive attitude, it’s gonna be great! Besides I can sleep when I get home.
The third day of the ride is the same ride as the Iron Horse Classic. The Iron Horse Classic is a ride that started in 1972 wherein a group of cyclists would race the Steam Locomotive from Durango to Silverton. I really didn’t think there was any chance that I would beat the train especially after the two days of riding I had just experienced, but it was nice to think that I might without any real pressure or expectation.
The morning was beautiful. Lows in the the high 40’s which would quickly be on their way to the 50’s. Since most of the day would be climbing and any descents would not be until well into the afternoon, I opted for a Texas cycling wardrobe: jersey, shorts, fingerless gloves. It might be a bit chilly in the morning, but I would not be hauling a pack of unworn clothes up the mountain. I mean I just spent $500 on wheels to save 9 ounces, why would I want to carry unnecessary clothes (Note: when you try to Google things that weigh 9 oz the results are generally given in the age of a fetus – I didn’t think that would be helpful here, so no picture).
We started off in town, in front of the hotel with the train.
The first bit of the ride was a nice warm up through the neighborhood. Then we would continue on a flat course for the first 16 miles or so before beginning the long incline. The group rolled rather slowly through the neighborhood which had plenty of stop signs and stop lights. But once we got on Highway 251 I settled in and gained some speed.
I wasn’t paying attention to much else but the road before me, but after a little while I fella came up next to me and said, “You look like you could use a break.” Huh? When I glanced back I saw for the first time that I was pulling a pace line (who knew?). He got in front of me and I was more than happy to draft. Apparently, the way they do a pace line in Colorado is each time a new person takes the lead they gain a bit of speed, at least that is what it felt like. Several times I questioned the wisdom of staying in the pace line where we were averaging 21 miles an hour prior to starting a 20 mile incline, but you know how I hate to leave that draft.
By the time we got to “the bridge” at mile 16, the area where the flat ends and the incline begins and kind of an unofficial stop where pretty much everyone grabs some nutrition, I has breathing heavy and a bit nauseated. Yeah, maybe I was going a bit fast.
I asked, “Are we ahead of the train?” Because surely we were beating the train at this point and someone answered, “No.”
Well, I guess I wouldn’t be beating the train today. (Spoiler Alert: Yeah, not even close)
As soon as we crossed the bridge there was a switch-back to the long climb. I got in a comfortable gear and started grinding it out. I recognized a bike up ahead. There was a gal who had been pulling the pace line really strongly for a good long time and although it looked like she had taken her jacket off, I was certain I recognized that bike. I slowly picked up my pace until I was gaining on her (and by slowly, I mean it took me two miles to get close enough to her to talk to her). “Hey, were you the gal pulling that pace line?” “Yeah.” She replied. “Nice job! You were killing it!” I told her. She said,”I was just trying to catch up to my boyfriend. I didn’t even know you were all back there.” Classic! Then apparently she had to go catch her boyfriend again, because she left me in her dust.
Just about this time, something weird and inexplicable happened. I cannot explain how, but from out of nowhere I rick rolled myself. Somehow, this song that I have not heard in months got stuck in my head — as I was climbing the first 13 miles of the big hill. I didn’t have the energy to fight it, so I hoped it would just play itself out… hopefully in minutes and not hours.
I do have to say that this climb was not nearly as bad as I had imagined. Periodically I would switch into a harder or easier gear just to keep my legs fresh, but I could totally do this! (Never gonna give, never gonna give never gonna give you up…).
I passed a few folks; a few folks passed me (different folks), but this was doable. About half way up that hill there was an unofficial rest stop. The advice I had gotten from more than one person was to stop at every rest stop and refill my water bottles. You never know when you are going to run out and you really don’t want to run out in the middle of a 7 mile hill. So I stopped, filled my water bottles and had a snack. Feeling bold and poking karma in the eye with a sharp stick, I said to the other rider at the stop, “Ya know, this really isn’t too bad.” Then I headed back out onto the climb.
Whenever I would encounter another rider on the route I’d ask, “Where’s the train?” The train was long gone and we were not gaining on it. At the rate I was riding, I have no idea how anyone could possibly beat this train although word on the street is that it does happen.
I rode on and started noticing a rhythmic tweet with each pedal stroke. If I sped up my pedal stroke — tweet..tweet..tweet. If I slowed — tweet…. tweet…. tweet. Yeah, after riding for days in less than optimum conditions my blackened caked chain and gear cassette needed some oil (actually a really good cleaning and oil). The longer I rode the more frequently the tweet came until I was certain I was an extra in an Alfred Hitchcock movie being chased my a flock of seagulls.
Once I got to the top of that incline and started on the flat (kinda felt like a downhill actually) portion, and there was an official rest stop. I stopped for water and nutrition and noticed that Zach and Thompson, the bike guys from Velosoul had set up a mechanic station there. I asked if there was any point in adding lube to such a filthy chain. Thompson offered to do a quick degrease and re-lube for me. Excellent, because the squeaking was driving me crazy.
I snacked on some melon and fig bars and refilled my bottles while he cleaned up my bike. I walked over to see how it was going and saw Zach trying to help a guy who had broken his rear derailleur lever clean off his bike…and of course in the highest gear* on his cassette. Suddenly a squeaky chain seemed like a pretty good problem to have (and, I didn’t even have that problem any more).
* For those of you who may not be aware, a high gear moves you a long way for each push of the pedals so you can go faster on flats and downhills, but it makes it more difficult to climb hills. That’s where he broke his shifter… on this ride!
I left the rest stop with my cleaner, non-squeaking chain and got to enjoy a respite on some nice gentle downhillish and flat roads into a town that was called Purgatory, then changed to Durango Mountain Resort, but now allegedly is called Purgatory again. Anyway, I could not find a sign welcoming me to Purgatory which is why there is not picture of me under the Purgatory sign. Sorry.
Upon leaving Purgatory I did see this sign:
What could possibly go wrong?
This was the beginning of the 6 mile 6-7% climb of the Coal Bank Pass. It became immediately clear to me that that 2-5% graded hill was just a warm up. This climb was unrelenting and twisting, so you could only see a short distance in front of you, until you turned the corner to see…more hill.
I don’t know if it was good that I had no idea how long this hill went on for before I had started climbing. I at least had hope that it would flatten out around the bend. Ahh, blissful ignorance.
At this point I started singing “Slow Ride” in my head. Slow ride…. Take it easy…. which was pretty much my strategy (unfortunately, I only know the 5 words of the lyrics).
Also, as twisting as the road was, you could hear RVs and trucks pulling trailer coming up behind you, as you hugged the cliff side of the mountain and pass you with about 2 feet clearance, as you mentally pictured the 108 year old driver looking through the steering wheel. Good times!
At about 5 miles up the hill, Kelly was parked on the side of the road yelling encouragement. “You’re almost there!!! Only about a mile left.” Thing is, when you are riding at really really slowly, a mile can be a really long way. I had no idea how long it would take to reach the summit. After several turns, I made yet another turn and the heavens opened up and the angels sang. It was the summit!
I had purchased a new bike saddle right before heading to Colorado. As much as you NEVER want to get something like a new saddle right before a big ride, my old saddle had completely broken down and was no longer a possibility for this long ride. The new saddle was much better and had comfortably gotten me through the first 2 & 1/2 days of the ride, but I don’t think a saddle exists that would have saved my booty on that climb. My ass was killing me!
I looked at my watch and saw that it was 11:50am. I turned to a volunteer and confirmed that the train had arrived in Silverton 20 minutes ago. Yep. And I still had to get over the Molas Divide. I guess I won’t be beating the train this year. Oh, well.
I took a good long break at the Coal Bank Pass and tried to massage some of the numbness out of my butt on a large rock (hey, you do what you gotta do).
Kelly told me that there was only on 4 mile climb left, then a swift sweet downhill into Silverton. After the brutal 6 mile climb, 4 miles sounded totally doable.
I rode the terrifying downhill switchbacks to the base of the next climb. While I was white-knuckled and literally wore out my brakes (yes, I really need new brake pads), the locals were flying down the hills. In my defense, I generally have no fear of hills when I can see the bottom or know what is around the next curve. I assume the locals know these roads, whereas I would come flying around a curve at 40 miles an hour only to find a sharp turn and steep drop off.
I do have to say that the next climb up to Molas Divide was not bad because I knew I only had 4 more hard miles. Because Molas Divide was so close to Coal Bank Pass a lot of folks did not stop at the summit, but far be it from me to miss a good photo op:
I got back on my bike and coasted pretty much all the way to Silverton. There weren’t so many switchbacks and blind curves on this section so it was not as harrowing as the previous downhill.
When I got into town, some nice law enforcement agency had put one of those big electronic speed limit signs with “Your Speed” appearing as you go passed it. Surely, I am not the only one that had some fun trying to exceed the speed limit on the way into town. 🙂
Judy came in a little while after I did and we had a great lunch (I was starving), then spent a good while cleaning our bikes up enough to take them apart and ship them home (via bikeflights.com). By the time we were done everything in the downtown area was pretty much closed, and we were hungry again. He had dinner with a group of Death Riders, then got to bed at about 10:30pm, where….
Holy crap! I could not sleep again! How is this possible? I could hear Judy gently snoring in the next room and I wanted to get up and stab her to death (not because she was loud, she wasn’t, she just sounded so peaceful).
Day 4: Heading home (because this, too, was a harrowing adventure)
After a very fitful night I woke up at, surprise! 4:45 the next morning and laid in bed until 5:30am. Judy had to make a quick stop in another state on her way back to Austin so she was flying out of Durango, but I would be making the drive back to Denver with the wild bunch.
We left Silverton at 8:00am. We stopped for breakfast along the way, then headed to Denver. I slept periodically in the car and otherwise enjoyed the scenery along the way. As we were getting close to Denver, due to road construction we got stuck in traffic for two hours. Like, not moving traffic. So, after awhile we all had to use the restroom, but we were on a big highway without any shrubery in sight. To take our minds off of our full bladders Dan took over DJ duties and we all sang along to the dance music on on Deb’s play list.
My flight was scheduled for 9:00pm and it was about 6:30 while we were sitting in the traffic jam that my phone started ringing. When I answered it it was a Southwest Airlines’ recording telling me my flight was delayed until 11:35pm. What!?! [insert choice cuss words here]!! Well, with the traffic delay this would just give me enough time to get to the airport.
Once we started moving again, I decided to torture everyone with some of the songs on my play list (Shambala – Three Dog Night; Afternoon Delight – Starlite Vocal Band – oh yes, I have all the classics!).
We got into Denver a bit before 9:00pm and figured we would get some dinner then drop me off at the airport. Apparently, I was a lot hungrier than I thought. Once I started eating I could not stop! But it also put me in a pretty good mood (which would definitely come in handy later).
They dropped me off at the airport at 10:00pm, where it became readily apparent that a LOT of flights had been cancelled (lots of unhappy people). There were two folks in front of me in line. Both of their flights ended up being cancelled. Eek!
I approached the counter attendant and asked “Austin 11:35?” “So far, not cancelled!” she said. Woot! I got my boarding pass and checked my big bag. I was going to throw my backpack on the checked luggage belt, but the one brain cell that was still operating said “Don’t. Your prescriptions.” So I kept my back pack.
There was a delayed flight at my gate. Apparently, the plane was ready to go and they were looking for a crew. One guy was really angry, actually comically angry, about it. I mean, throwing a fit is going to get you what, exactly? There are 100 other folks there dealing with the same exact delay but acting like adults. Yelling at the gal behind the counter (who has been being yelled at by various folks for the past 2 or 3 hours) isn’t going to make the crew get there faster. But go on and be your bad self. At least it was entertaining to watch for the rest of us.
My flight didn’t leave Denver until after midnight (that’s 1:00am Austin time). I should have turned into a pumpkin long before then, as my bedtime is normally 9:00pm Austin time.
We landed at ABIA at 3:00am (did I mention I had been up since about 5:00am the day before), so I was fairly close to delirious at this point and I am fairly certain I was looking like Bill the Cat.
I disembarked the plane and followed the rest of the zombies to the luggage carousel. Round and round it went. Folks picked up their bags, bags came down the shoot. Then bags stopped coming down the shoot. Then all the other folks had left with their bags…
After all the luggage had be collected and everyone had left, I was standing there still waiting for my bag. I went to the little Southwest Airlines room behind the carousels and asked “Where’s my bag?” The guy said, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…” as he filled out a form. I really have no idea what he said, as I was too busy worrying that I had taken too much time being the last person in the airport that the shuttle buses might have stopped running. My car was in Lot G. While you may not know exactly where Lot G is, be assured Lots A through F are between the airport and my truck. I was thinking I might have to call a cab to get to my car if the shuttle buses had stopped running…or sleep in the airport until the next bus shift came on.
I was relieved to find that the buses were still running. Of course I could not remember what row of Lot G my truck was in. Just get me to Lot G. I’ll find it.
I didn’t get home until after 4:00am. I left the truck in the driveway as I did not have the energy to walk across the yard from the garage,. When I got into the house, I dropped my backpack on the floor, fed the animals breakfast, then went to bed where I slept like a rock for 6 hours. Yay!
(Southwest did get my bag, unscathed, to me by 7:00pm that evening).
The best conversation came the following Saturday while I was on a group ride in town:
Fellow Rider: So. You didn’t die.
Fellow Rider: What a gyp.