Ride the Rockies—on a fixie
Well, it’s over. The ride was fantastic! Highlights include the road from Aspen to Maroon Lake and the Maroon Bells, Independence Pass (12,095 ft above sea level), Rabbit Ears Pass (over 9,500 ft above sea level) and Fremont Pass (11,000 + ft above sea level). It was a seven day, 450+ mile ride. (sorry the post is so long)
We flew into Denver on Thursday with the goal of using the couple of days we had to acclimate to the altitude—given we live outside of Washington DC. A good flight. On Friday, we drove to Boulder and rode up Flagstaff Mountain. Not a long ride, but one to test our legs. It is a five mile climb, and has its moments. We had no trouble riding up and had a fabulous day, with a clear sky. We felt confident for the ride ahead.
We drove to Frisco for the start. Rode up to the high school and got our packets and stuff, and then decided to ride to town for lunch. Ended up putting in about 12 miles—a few hills and a good time. We were getting excited about the ride.
Frisco to Steamboat Springs – 99 miles
It was a great ride early—cold, uphill—wore arm warmers, knee warmers and a vest. Very comfortable. After we got into the sun, it got hot and windy (in our faces, of course). A relatively uneventful ride. The climb to the east summit wasn’t bad. The roller-coaster ride to the west summit some 11 miles away seemed never ending. Once at the west summit, came the worst part of the day for me—an 11 mile downhill, with a 7% grade. I stopped three times on the descent to rest my arms (sounds silly, I know, but that’s what hurt on the downhills). I was glad to get off the hill and power my way to Steamboat Springs. Riding time 5:35 for a 17.5 MPH average.
Steamboat Springs to Craig – 44 miles
This was the ‘easy’ day on the ride. Relatively flat, some rolling hills. Appropriately, when we hit the first rest stop, they were playing “Rocky Mountain High”, which was really appropriate. There were 5 of us in our group, and I did a lot of the pulling today. We were flying. Right as we hit the town of Rifle, the ride director played a trick on us—put a really steep hill into the course—to get to the high school. 2:20 riding time—close to 20 MPH average.
Craig to Rifle – 90 miles
The second longest day—it had two major hills, neither reaching 7500 ft above sea level, but tough hills none the less. Our group got split at a light leaving town, so three of us played catch up to aid station 1. We then rode as a group to the next aid station. At that point, knowing we had a climb, and a downhill on the other side, I started off alone. I passed a few people and got into a rhythm, then joined up with a guy where we traded pulls for a while. We were joined by a couple (man and a woman) who pulled for a while, we rotated and then they pulled away. They were the only ones who passed me on that hill. I kept them in sight, about 50 yards ahead of me for the rest of the ride up the hill. I stopped at the top of the hill to refill water bottles and eat a banana, and off to the downhill section. One of my friends caught me about 2 miles from the bottom of the hill, and we rode to the next aid station together. The others joined us there about five minutes after we arrived. We started up the second hill together and kept together. It was windy along the ridge, but we worked together and kept a good pace. The last 16 miles into Rifle are downhill and false flats—I was dropped, as expected, but because of the high winds, did not lose much time to the others. Average 18.3 MPH
Rifle to Glenwood Springs – 36 miles
This was the shortest day, and it looked like it would be an ‘easy’ day, since it came after the long one yesterday. The road surface was terrible—lots of little rocks, not loose, but very rough road surface. Also a hill with a 12% grade! I surely didn’t expect that! Once off that road, we did around 8-9 miles on I-70—not fun having cars zoom by at 75+ miles per hour. I was very happy to get off the highway and back onto County Roads as we approached Glenwood Springs. I saw a woman riding a single speed bike –she had 42x18 gearing, but she could coast on the downhills… I was a little jealous of that. There was a fire that almost forced a route change, but it was contained away from the roads we were riding…we did see a lot of smoke from it though. Average speed 15 MPH.
Glenwood Springs to Aspen – 44 miles (+ 20 miles to go to Maroon Lake)
The longest day—summer solstice. Another ‘short’ day of only 44 miles, but we added 20 more to go to Maroon Lake. Although only 44 miles, we climbed about 2200 ft. There was one tough spot that I heard reached 11%, and as luck would have it, we got stopped by a traffic cop so he could let traffic flow on the road, so we hit the hill from a standstill. Not a real big deal, but on a fixie, momentum is your friend—maybe even your BEST friend . Part of this ride was on a well paved bike path—actually very pleasant, as we did not have to contend with cars (although the on-coming bikes were an issue). We got to Aspen in 2:30. We went to the high school and got our bags and ‘claimed’ our sleeping spots in the gym. We then went back out to the bikes to do the ride to Maroon Lake. It was about 9.5 miles up the road, with about 1500 feet of climbing on it. I was surprised at how long the hills were and how steep it was. I was not expecting this tough a ride. Once at Maroon Lake, we went down to the lake shore, took some pictures and took off our socks and shoes, and stepped into the water…it was COOOOOOLD!!! Unbelievably cold, but my feet sure felt good when I got out. There were 2 wedding parties in the vicinity. One bride and groom were walking along the trails near the lake, and on the way down, about 4 miles down the hill, another couple was getting married in a field. The ride to Maroon Lake was definitely one of the highlights so far of the ride. The true test, however, was tomorrow… (average 18 miles per hour)
Aspen to Leadville – 61 miles
No doubt about it, I was worried about this day. Not the longest, distance-wise, but the first hill is 22 miles long… that’s a LOOONG way. We left the high school in Aspen (what a nice High School) at around 6 am. Quite a few people had left before us. Almost immediately, we were passing people. We were going slightly uphill as we went through town, and then suddenly the road started pointing up… and up, and up. My goal was to stop at the first aid station to get Gatorade and a banana (we had no breakfast this morning), use the bathroom and keep going. Goal was to keep the stops at a minimum. I was feeling good, riding a good rhythm. The five of us were still together. After about a mile, one dropped back. The rest of us stayed pretty close together. It seemed the road was unrelenting…still going up, and getting narrower. We were passing a lot of people. Suddenly, ahead on the right, I could see a grouping of vehicles and bikes. The first aid station. I was glad to get there because I was hungry. Grabbed Gatorade then headed for the bathroom, and after I got a banana and was back on the bike. We decided we would regroup at the next aid station, so it was to each his own. I took off in front so I could get some pictures of the guys. They all went by me and then we regrouped and kept going up. The road got narrower and the view was fantastic. There were a couple of little (very short) sections where it felt like we were on a flat, but the effort was still there. The road widened for a bit and then narrowed again. We were still climbing pretty well- averaging around 10 miles per hour. The second aid station appeared and we stopped again, to rest the legs and to eat some oranges. We had been told the toughest part of the climb was between aid stations 1 and 2, so in theory, the worst was behind us. We started up again, with one of the others taking the camera. zWe stay together for a bit, but then the guys start to pull away from me. I am getting tired. I decide to just concentrate on my pace and to keep moving. I am still passing people, but my speed has dropped—to around 8 miles per hour. I concentrate on just turning the pedals. I keep moving up. I look above me and seee the road does a big turn to the left (we are above the tree line here) and pauses in the sun, then hooks back to the right in the dhade—a big sideways U. At the top, it goes around a corner. I stop for a minute at the closed end of the “U” because of the sun. No more than a minute and I’m back on the bike. Determined that I am going to make it to the top. I pass a couple of people, and the road keeps going up. It seems to be getting steeper. Maybe it’s just fatigue hitting me. I afinally reach the corner, and go around, in the sun. Suddenly the road kicks up—my speed drops below 6 miles an hour for the first time all day. I look up, and at mile marker 61 are two of my friends…waiting for me so we can get an official picture from the tride photographer of us all cresting the hill together. I take off my vest and gloves, and we let a group of people go by so there are no distractions and we go up. The ride photographer shoots 4 or 5 pictures as we go by. Another 50 yards or so and we are at the aid station. I get off my bike and hold it over my head in front of the sign that says “Independence Pass 12,095 feet above sea level”. I felt great! We had made it up in a total of 2 hours 40 minutes, including 22 minutes off the bike… not too bad. We savored the moment. We walked over to the scenic overlook to see the view. We [probably spent 40 minutes up there before deciding to head down. Of course, with a 17 mile downhill, the others left me in the dust. But there was a strong wind, so I was able to cut my losses. They couldn’t descend as quickly as they would have liked. We got to the aid station at the bottom of the hill and stopped to remove arm warmers, knee warmers and vests. It was getting hot. The last 22 miles into Leadville were not easy. It was a gradual uphill with a very strong wind. We pace lined it in, the four of us, with an occasional ‘extra’ who would join for a while. We were really glad to get to Leadville. We quickly showered and headed into town for a big meal. What a great day! (average 13.5 miles per hour for the day)
Leadville to Frisco 52 miles
The last day. Two of the guys had a 4 o’clock flight out of Denver, so we had decisions to make. We all wanted to do the whole ride, so we started really early. We woke up at 4 am, got a coffee at 5 and were riding right around 5:30-5:40. The ride does a 20 mile loop around Turquoise Lake. This was easily the prettiest road we did all week. It was beautiful, and there weren’t many riders doing the loop, so we pretty much had the ride to ourselves. Very pleasant day. Once around the lake, we got on highway 91, and suddenly there were cyclists everywhere. The road took us over Fremont Pass, which wasn’t too bad, although it was windy. Then, from the top, it was a ‘screaming’ downhill into Frisco—Twenty miles worth. Again, I was dropped, as my speed actually hit 37 (way too fast on the fixie), and I contained it at around 28-30 for the majority of the descent. We got to Frisco, collected our pins and certificates, and rode up the hill to the high school to get the car. We loaded the bikes in, came back to Frisco and found a parking spot on the road opposite the baggage trucks. Grabbed our bags, and we were off to Denver—to my son’s house, where the bike boxes were. We got the bikes broken down, packed and the two guys took off for the airport. I spend the rest of the day and Sunday with my son and his family before heading back east. (Average 16.5 miles per hour)
What a wonderful trip! The ride was fantastic, the weather held for us, the organization was good, the volunteers always cheerful. It was a wonderful experience, and one I think everyone should experience at least once.
KHS Flite 100 track bike, with a carbon fork, Scott mountain bars (old style), dual brakes 48 tooth chainring and 18 tooth cog.