My husband and I just returned from Colorado and our first Ride The Rockies event. We are still a little shell-shocked from the ride. And very much missing the Rocky Mountains. This was the 2nd time that I’d been to Colorado and while I loved the state before, I’m kinda infatuated with it now!
I’m thankful that I got to experience Ride The Rockies as a Peak Pedaler. It forced me to put my thoughts to paper/computer and it has given me a recording of the event that I’ll be able to look back on and reference for next year. I’m glad I got to share these with you and I hope that you all found some humor in my struggles with the thick air I breathe here in Hawaii!
Something that has really stuck with me about the ride in the last few weeks (and as I find myself telling folks that ask me about the event) is how amazingly well this thing is organized. I love logistics; I love the planning, and the mapping, and the organizing. Just how do you plan to move AT LEAST 2000 pieces of luggage every day for a week? How do you clean, move, and then set-up the port-a-potties from Aid 1, Day 1 to Aid ??, Day 2? How do you know when to shut down Aid 3? How do you know how much water needs to get trucked up to Aid 5 at the top of Rabbit Ears Pass?
Someone or (most likely) someones got to be in charge of all this. And yes, while Ride The Rockies has had 28 years to get the 29th year perfect, it still amazes me how fantastically organized this event was. Yeah, yeah, yeah Day 1 was a big test of that organization and yes some things could have been done better. But looking past the wrath of Mother Nature, I think the Ride The Rockies crew did a truly fantastic job, day after day after day.
So for me, I’d like to put a super huge shout-out to the Ride The Rockies organizers, volunteers, crew, EMTs, police, and whomever was out marking the roads with slogans from the day before – MAHALO. You all did a fantastic job and I’m seriously impressed with how well this event is run.
Now – for those folks that are reading this and STILL trying to decide if they should or could do Ride The Rockies, I say this:
If you, like me, are Stuck at Sea Level, be smart about your training. Do not skimp. Do not avoid hills, head winds, or heat. All these things will force your heart to work harder and that is exactly what it will be doing when you get to Colorado. Unless you can arrive a few weeks before the event, you will be playing the “Where the hell is the oxygen?” game on the ride and it’s just part of life. You will breathe heavier, your heart rate will go up, but your speed will be crap. Once you see where your body settles in, it’s ok. It’s NOT impossible. And it’s really not that HARD. It’s just different and slower. You can push to get up to the same speeds you had at home, but remember, you have to wake up and do this all again and again and again.
DO NOT IGNORE THE GEAR LIST! Plan for the worst! Maybe you will get lucky. We didn’t. Understand that when they say “mountain weather can change at anytime.” THEY FREAKING MEAN IT! Oh, and packing your rain gear in your luggage doesn’t help you at all when the sleet starts on the ride. Carry the stuff with you. Use a back-pack if you must (yuck!) — we used the Pika bag from Revelate Designs. We had cold weather gear, rain gear, hot weather gear, extra socks, food, towels, sunscreen, money and our phones in these bags.
If you live in cold weather, train in it. We don’t have that luxury so the cold was what essentially took us out on Day 5. We learned that you can’t EVER have too much cold weather gear with you.
While a triple is great, it’s not necessary. I had a hard time making the decision to stick with my compact crank with an 11 speed 11-32T in the back. That’s really the best road-bike gearing ratio you are going to find without going with a triple crank up front (you can find some better but it’s not possible with my Ultegra 6800). And while my gearing was hard work, I still made it. Slowly. But I made it And honestly, if I had a triple, I probably would have been slower as I wouldn’t have worked as hard. They only time I really wanted a triple was going up that evil little hill out of Central City.
EAT. I put a few pounds on during taper week. It happens. I wasn’t pleased. But once I got past Day 1, I was so thankful I had extra fat on my body! I didn’t eat at all of the aid stations on Day 1 mostly due to the cold and rain. But I learned that lesson quick – eat WELL at the aid stations. You are burning 2000, 3000 calories while you’re in the saddle. One sandwich isn’t going to cut it by Day 3. You are not going to be happy. This is not the time to watch your calorie intake. Food is fuel. I’ve never eaten a cheeseburger that fast in my life. Ever.
Expect an emotional breakdown. Hey, it happens. Day 1 cut me to the core. Let it out.
Speaking of core – DON’T skip core training! Every stabilizer muscle on my body was sore to the touch after Day 1. Who knew you used your pecs so much when climbing 10,500′? I do now.
Squats and lunges are essential if you don’t have long sustained hills to train on. Our longest hill is about 4 miles. Hahahahahahahaha oh that’s funny when you compare it to anything in Colorado. My knees took a real beating from Day 1. So much pressure for so long in that position. Squats and lunges will strengthen those muscles and make it so that you can sit down on the toilet after a long day of climbing!
Speaking of toilets….DON’T WEAR BIB SHORTS! Bibs are fine for us in Hawaii when we have just 1 jersey to get off. But when you have 5 layers on top and it’s 35 degrees and windy and you can’t feel your fingers and you MUST pee and you are on the side of the road the LAST LAST LAST thing you want to do is take everything off just to pee! (This is where my breakdown happened.) Of course there are bib shorts that don’t require you to remove everything, but for the ladies, it’s not easy to find, nor easy to do anyway. So just skip them.
Speaking of shorts…the chamois will dictate your immediate mood on Day 2 as you sit down on your saddle for the first time that day. Do not skimp on your chamois, your shorts, your chamois cream, or your training with all of these. And expect your training shorts to wear out before you actually get to Ride The Rockies. Mine did and I had to find new shorts the week before the ride!
Bag Balm. (Or, as we discovered in Boulder, Dr. Naylor’s!) The wonderful Medical Tent had Rx bottles filled with Bag Balm. Heaven.
Don’t worry if you don’t make it in time to see the featured speakers. We tried that for the first few days and there was just no way we could: A. get water, re-lube, pee, and eat a little at every aid station; B. Enjoy some of the ride by looking around a bit; C. Stop to take off or put on clothes as the weather dictated; and D. Stop to take a photo here and there. We even left before or by 6am and still couldn’t manage to come in before 6pm. On the shorter days that didn’t involve snow we managed to get in before 5pm and found that everyone was pretty much in zombie-land setting up tents and waiting for showers.
Know that once you do arrive at your hotel/head quarters/tent site that you will have a lot to do. We brought two sets of cycling clothes so we had to do a load of laundry every other day minimum. Add that to the time you spend preparing for the next day (charging devices, laying out clothes, setting aside extra food, really looking over the route), eating dinner, cleaning up, re-packing everything, labeling bags, and checking in with family and friends via social media — it doesn’t leave much time.
If cool weather destroys your view of life, don’t tent camp. Opt for indoor camping or spend the extra bucks for the hotels.
There is no shame in NOT riding on the optional/rest day (if there is one). But if you don’t ride, don’t spend 8 hours walking around the town either! Be smart with your rest day if you need it.
Fantastically awesome and oh so patient Bike Mechanics at every aid station and at base camp in the morning and night. Service is free. Parts are not. They are fantastic to watch and unlike you, they aren’t generating body heat while riding their bikes. They are freezing their tails off in the sleet, snow, wind, and rain. Fill those tip jars. They will keep you riding.
We saw a LOT of flat tires. And we were some of the few that weren’t riding 23c or 25c tires. We were on 35c Marathons — heavier, higher rolling resistance, lower psi. And we had disc brakes. So on the 7+ mile downhills, we didn’t have to worry about a blow out due to our rims heating up. And we still had stopping power in the rain and snow. We didn’t have any flats. But our tires are pretty badly sliced up from the ride.
Bring along your own food — just in case. Having an extra Gu or Honey Stinger isn’t going to weigh you down. And if you get stuck on a pass or have a breakdown because you can’t get your freaking bib shorts off, a little sugar will make things just a little less sucky.
WATER. Drink it. Especially those of us that are oxygen challenged. If you are drinking water, drink more. I’m serious. We took salt tablets and those helped us immensely!
If the guy is out at the aid station playing music and running a contest for a shirt – PLAY ALONG! It’s the best event shirt ever in the history of anything and you worked hard to get there!
And finally, the last bit of advice I have for anyone that is thinking about trying Ride The Rockies: after the ride, stay awhile. Enjoy what Colorado has to offer. This is, ultimately, why this event is so widely supported by the communities: we spend money. And while some of the locals will cross the finish line, drive home and then go back to work the next day, those of us coming from out of state should take the time to play tourist. Not only is it a fantastic vacation, it’s really a great way to detox from the ride. Come down from the high. Relax. Recover. It’s still early in the tourist season, so many things aren’t super crowded. We rented a little cabin in Estes Park for the week and hiked our Loveland-Pass-climbing-glutes off in Rocky Mountain National Park. And unlike the last time we visited, we could hike like little goats, having nicely adjusted to the lack of oxygen at 9000′.
So there you have it. Should you do Ride The Rockies? Yes! Train smart, have the right gear, and expect it to be VERY hard. If you do that, you’ll love it. Will I be back next year? YES YES YES. And the perk that we Peak Pedaler’s got (that I swore I wouldn’t use back in March) was an automatic entry to the 2015 Ride The Rockies event. I will be there, I will be better prepared, with realistic expectations, warmer gloves, hotel reservations, cash in hand for pancakes, and cycling shorts that aren’t bib shorts.
Mahalo for reading! If you want more in-depth info you can follow my blog at bethebager.com I will be writing up a day-by-day ride report that will act as our notes for next year!
Aloha! Denise AKA Stuck at Sea Level