Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June 15 - Estes Park to Fort Collins (45 miles)

Today was the final leg of the 2012 Ride the Rockies.  After a week of very early starts, several of us decided we would sleep in a bit before heading out on the final leg of this year's ride.  Due to a large fire west of Fort Collins, the ride route was diverted and shortened by 10 miles.

As we set out this morning we were greeted with a light wind running due north, which moved much of the smoke from the nearby wild fire out of the air.  We rode a brief climb as we headed north out of Estes Park past the legendary Stanley Hotel (inspiration for the Stephen King movie "The Shining) and then headed into Big Thompson Canyon.  The ride through the canyon was beautiful and all downhill!!!!  Rob and I rode together and enjoyed a high speed descent down the canyon and east towards Byers.  Eventually, we turned north and felt a tail wind for the first time on the ride.  After just over a 2 hour ride, we ended our 6 day journey at the ODell's Brewery in Fort Collins.  As we neared the finish line, the street was lined with cheering spectators and was a small reward for a long, hard, and very enjoyable ride.

What a wonderful experience for us all.  In the end, only 3 of the Toad's rode the entire route but all of us had a wonderful time and share many amazing experiences and memories.  Congratulations to Adam Pring, Peter and Julie Kerswell on completing the 437 ride from Gunnison to Fort Collins, Colorado.  Well done!

Thank you for following along and tune in next year as the Toad's tackle another Ride the Rockies.

Rob and Alan enjoying a beer at the finish

A beer and a big smile!  Peter and Julie at the finish

"The beer is great...and we won't be on our bikes tomorrow!"

Thursday, June 14, 2012

June 14 - Granby to Estes Park (63 miles)

I was feeling much better today and made the ride from Granby to Estes Park.  Due to traffic requirements with Rocky Mountain National Park, we had to be through specific sections of the park by specific cut off times.  As a result, we had to be on our bikes at Middle Park High School no later than 7 am, but the Toads were on our bikes before 6:30am.

It was a beautiful morning, a little chilly but beautiful; no wind, and clear skies.  We made our way along Highway 34 to Grand Lake enjoying the views of Lake Granby and Grand Lake.  You could tell that the prior days riding was weighing on many of the riders as the overall pace was considerably slower than in prior days.  We made each of the checkpoints well within the alloted time frames and were at the base of the climb up Trail Ridge Road before 9am.  Then...the fun began.

The ride up to the summit of Trail Ridge Road is 12 miles of 6-7% grade but the road surface is wonderful since it is not cleared over the winter and the roadway does not show the wear and tear of snow plows.  The day had warmed nicely and we set a nice cadence up Trail Ridge reaching the summit before 12 noon.  My personal goal was to be at the finish in Estes Park before 1pm and with an almost completely downhill ride into Estes Park, I might hit my target.

As we neared the summit, the wind was calm and the surrounding scenery was incredible.  Couldn't of had a better day to ride this amazing section of roadway.

The downhill was as and beautiful.  As we made our way down towards Estes Park you could smell the smoke from the fire near Ft Collins and you could feel the air temperature rise.  We also picked up a bit of a headwind, but it was very manageable.  I reached the finish at 12:45pm and happily gave up my bike for the day in return for lunch and a long nap.  Great day and I am really pleased that I was able to rebound and enjoy today's ride.
Rob on the top of Trail Ridge Road

Dave, Adam, and Bill at the summit of Trail Ridge Road
View from Trail Ridge Road looking towards Longs Peak

View from the top of Trail Ridge Road

June 13 - Leadville to Granby (92 miles)

The longest day of Ride the Rockies 2012 was the ride from Leadville to Granby.  The day started very early with many of the riders heading out before 7am.  The air in Leadville was a cool 35 degrees (warm for Leadville) with clear skies and a light wind.  After the short climb from Leadville to the top of Fremont Pass, the bulk of the ride to Granby was down hill.  But as the riders would quickly understand, the road conditions were generally poor throughout the ride.

After topping Fremont Pass, the riders had to negotiate a 15 mile descent to Copper Mountain along a roadway that was being prepared for resurfacing.  What that means to a road bike rider is that you are trying to control the bike and keep from having your tires get stuck in the grooved pavement at 30+ miles per hour.  Brutal.  Once the riders reached Copper Mountain, they followed the bike path from Copper to Frisco then down Highway 9 north to Ute Pass...the second ugly section of road.  The intial ascent on Ute Pass was paved and reasonable, but at the top turns into hard packed (or in many cases loosley packed) dirt road for 15 miles.  The road surface was very uneven and I understand caused a few crashes along the route.  As an added bonus, many riders encountered a real cattle drive and had to stop briefly to allow 4 cowgirls to move their heard off of the road to allow the riders to proceed.  Don't think anyone had planned for that unexpected adventure.  The riders finally reached Highway 40 just east of Parshall and were greated by a tailwind the remaining ride into Granby.  A great way to end a very long ride.

The best part of the stop in Granby (other than several of the Toad's got to sleep in their own beds) was the amazing party that the Granby Chamber and many wonderful volunteers and local vendors put on for the riders.  The weather was incredible, the music, food and of course beer was excellent.  This was by far the best party of all of the towns we have visited along this year's ride.  Congratulations goes out to my wife Laurie for coordinating an awesome event.

I wasn't able to ride today as I was still feeling rather crummy.  I am hoping to rebound for the ride from Granby to Estes Park over Trail Ridge Road.

June 12 - Carbondale to Leadville (85 miles)

Day 3 brought the toughest terrain of the ride thus far including an amazing climb up Independence Pass.  The grade of Independence Pass rivals the greatest climbs of the Tour de France including Alpe d'Huez in France and I have heard some refer to the climb as the Alpe d'Huez of the US.  Professional cyclists dread this climb with its 25 mile, 7% endless grade and 12,000' summit.

The day began with a gentle ride out of Carbondale along a bike path that lead northwest out of the city.  At about 25 miles the trail turned into a dirt path that was very difficult to navigate and not quite what many of the riders were used to when riding a road bike.  The road then shifted into the 25 mile climb to the summit of Independence Pass.  As riders neared the summit and the grade increased, riders were seen literally falling over as they attempted to keep the pedals moving and reach the peak of the climb.  Many others riders were seen walking their bikes or flagging down SAG vehicles; many riders dropped out before reaching the summit.

But for those that braved the climb were treated to the decorations of the King of the Mountains stage in the Tour de France.  The red and white polka dot decorations lined the route and the top of the summit.  It was pretty amazing to witness.

Not that the climb to the top of Independence Pass wasn't enough, as riders descended the peak towards Leadville they encountered strong headwinds, sections of very poor road conditions and yes, more dirt roads.  It was a long day to the finish, but was an amazing day and sense of accomplishment for those that endured the torture.

For me unfortunately, I came down with a stomach bug and had to abandon the ride at 25 miles.  Hopefully, I will be feeling better for Day 4.  Other wise, all of the Toads made the trek from Carbondale to Leadville without incident.

Ryan and Rob at the summit of Independence Pass
Rob on the climb up Independence Pass
Church in downtown Leadville
Ryan cathcing some flying protein

Alan and Kaylee at the start of Day 3
Ryan in line for the bathroom
On the climb to Independence Pass

Monday, June 11, 2012

June 11 - Hotchkiss to Carbondale (68 miles)

Another beautiful day on Ride the Rockies 2012.  Although today's route was a bit shorter than yesterday, we had a pretty good climb up to the summit of McClure Pass (8,755') and it certainly took more than many of us were expecting.  The steepest part of the climb was the last 5 miles that pitched up over 6% grade and made your legs scream.  Of course, if you are a semi-professional rider or 20 years old, it wasn't as big a deal as I make it out to be.  When you look at the map of today's ride, it makes McClure Pass out to be a blip on the radar...but don't be fooled.  When we finally reached the summit, we had all thrown out a few prayers and an occasional four letter word wishing, hoping, begging for the end of the climb.  After a rest, some water, and a PB&J at the summit, we sailed down the descent at over 40 mph towards Carbondale.  The saving grace of this lovely little climb was that the last 22 miles were all down hill...and man did we need it.

The downhill section followed parallel to the Crystal River and what an absolutely beautiful view it was.  I often found myself staring more at the river than the road (not advised for a high speed descent) and wondering many times why I didn't have my fly rod with me.  I apologize that I didn't take any photos of the Crystal River as selfishly I wanted to finish the ride and get off my bike for the day.

Tomorrow is the major test of this year's Ride the Rockies as we ascend Independence Pass ion our way to Leadville.  The ride will climb 50 miles from Carbondale to the summit of Independence Pass (12,095') before we descend towards Leadville.  I am told by an ex-professional rider that this is one of the most difficult climbs in the world and is not a welcome event for even the top professional riders.  Needless to say, having not been a professional rider or even a mid-tier rider, this will be one of the greatest personal tests I have ever undertaken.  I will let you know how it goes tomorrow.

In the meantime, here are a few photos from today...

Ryan sleeping on his bike before the Day 2 ride
The Toads head out on Day 2
View of Mt Sneffels

Rob, Peter and Adam attacking the climb

Sunday, June 10, 2012

June 10, 2012 - Day 1 Gunnison to Hotchkiss (78 miles)

What a wonderful day for riding...except for the 10-20 mph head wind we had to buck all 79 miles from Gunnison to Hotchkiss.  Despite the windy conditions, the day was beautiful and filled with amazing scenery as we ascended from the Gunnision valley up and over a 3,077' climb and then down into Hotchkiss.  The number of riders was incredible.  In many places we could see mile after mile of multi-colored bike riders snaking their way along the route to Hotchkiss.  The views of the Gunnision River, the gorgeous mountain ranges, the crystal clear blue skies made it clear to all involved...that this is why Texans come to Colorado.  ;-)  Although the climbs for the day were not overly difficult, there were times we asked each other if the uphill sections would ever end.  Fortunately...they did and we enjoyed a screaming descent into Hotchkiss. At the end of the day, we burned over 4,000 calories and welcomed the chance to eat large quantities of high-carbohydrate food...after all, that's why we endure all of this.

Despite the unfortunate set back last night for Bill Aplin, we all made it to the starting area by 7am for a team picture before setting out to Hotchkiss.  As the rest of the team was riding to Hotchkiss, Bill and Dave were searching bike shops in Colorado Springs for a replacement bike for Bill.  Incredibly, they found a replacement bike exactly like the one that was damaged and Bill and Dave made it back to Hotchkiss in time for dinner.  Great recovery!  We will have a full team for the ride tomorrow.

Tomorrow's ride takes us from Hitchkiss to Carbondale.  The ride will begin with 44 miles of steady elevation gain and then tops out on McClure Pass at 8,8843' above sea level.  Should be a good ride. 

The Toads Less Raveled (Left to Right)
Peter Kerswell, Rob Gillespie, Julie Kerswell, Mike Hulley, Alan Findley, Ryan Kunisch, Bill Aplin, Adam Pring, Dave Aplin
Adam, Rob, Alan, and Peter at one of the Day 1 aide stations.
Aide Station Chaos

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ride the Rockies 2012 begins in Gunnison, CO on June 10, 2012 and ends in Fort Collins, CO on June 15, 2012.  The ride snakes through the Colorado mountains over a 442 mile course and 24,000' of elevation gain.  For more information on the ride please visit

2012 Route Summary:
June 9 — Gunnison – Registration
June 10 — Gunnison to Hotchkiss | 79 miles | North Rim of the Gunnison National Park
June 11 — Hotchkiss to Carbondale | 68 miles | McClure Pass – 8,755 ft.
June 12 — Carbondale to Leadville | 83 miles | Independence Pass – 12,095 ft.
June 13 — Leadville to Granby | 94 miles | Fremont Pass – 11,319 ft. & Ute Pass – 9,165 ft.
June 14 — Granby to Estes Park | 63 miles | Trail Ridge Rd./RMNP – 12,183 ft. & Milner Pass – 10,758 ft.
June 15 — Estes Park to Ft. Collins | 55 miles | Glen Haven, Masonville & Horsetooth Reservoir

June 9, 2012 - Registration in Gunnison, CO.

We arrived Saturday in Gunnison to register for the ride and enjoy a few pre-race carbohydrate-rich beverages.  Most of the day was spent driving and then standing in line to obtain our ride packets and learn about the many important items we needed to know ahead of the start on Sunday.  The level of coordination to pull off such a large scale event supporting 2,000 riders from across the US is amazing; lodging, shuttle buses, on-route support, aide stations, food, entertainment, medical support.  It is an impressive coordination effort and very evident that a considerable amount pf planning and preparation went into this event! 

Although windy, the beer garden in Gunnison was a lot of fun and was a good kick off for the week long ride.  Unfortunately, the day ended on a bit of a down note when one of our riders (Bill Aplin) had his bike damaged beyond repair after it made contact with a low overhang while attached to the roof rack!  A bummer for sure, but Bill and Dave Aplin already have a plan to obtain a replacement bike in the morning. 
Peter & Alan in the Beer Garden

Rob, Alan, Julie, Peter, Mike, and Ryan enjoying some pre-ride festivities