Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tour de Colorado Part VII: Steamboat Springs to FC

Leaving Steamboat on the 4th of July was another scorcher. I had intentions of going over Buffalo Pass (10300ft) by dirt road, but it was still closed due to snow. So I simply started grinding up and over Rabbit Ears Pass (9426ft).

Of all the passes that I went over, I would always place a Road34 sticker on the elevation sign. I knew that I was getting close to home when I hit the Rabbit Ears Pass sign and there were 2 Road34 stickers already on it. I'm assuming that was Mitch & Schuyler, who had done this ride before me. I still threw one more up there!

Pretty much after leaving Steamboat, things started getting rougher out on the road. I had enjoyed sunny afternoons and great (although hot) weather for the last 3 weeks and had taken it for granted as the norm. I don't know if it was the area I was in or the time of year, but the rest of the days after Steamboat were barraged with afternoon thunder/lightning storms and for the first time I experienced rabid mosquitoes. After Rabbit Ears was a lot of hot dusty grassland and farmland and the mosquitoes were UNBEARABLE. Giant swarms of them would descend upon me while I was still moving on my bike and bite every inch of exposed skin. They were even biting through my shirt. It was a nasty, nasty surprise and almost drove me to insanity. What was I going to do? I had no spray. I had been fine up to now. This fucking sucked. Bad. When the little bastards landed on my forearm I would mindlessly slap them and kill 4 or 5 of them in one slap, leaving little smears of blood all over my skin. I was getting PISSED. Also, I could see off in the high country black/grey clouds coming over the mountains to meet me. I dealt with this shit like I dealt with everything else on this trip. I pedaled harder. If I was climbing, I was moving to slow to do anything about the mosquitoes. If I was on flat or descending, I could pretty much outrun them.

Next as I was out in the middle of nowhere, the lightning started raking across the sky and striking on the mountains very close to me. I had all my rain gear, but I didn't have the balls to pedal through lightning. I pedaled down a dusty old road to a ranch that I saw in the distance. There was a ranch hand there who let me check the radar on the weather channel and even gave me an entire can of bugspray. It turned out that this storm was going to last all night long. I ended up opting to go out by his horse barn and set up my camp under a log shelter that they had built to park snowmobiles under. As I sat in my tent eating apples and clif bars, just listening to rain, thunder, and wind I drifted off to sleep around 7pm.

I awoke in the early morning chill around 3am. So cold I could see my breath. I opened my tent door and looked out into the blackness at millions of stars. It was stunning. I was rested and just decided to get rolling. Riding under the stars in the early morning was the BEST. No mosquitos. No heat. No storms. Just beautiful stars, cool conditions, and the implicit promise of a sunrise to come. As the waning blackness began to indicate hints of turquoise, the temperature would slowly rise and I would remove layers of clothes. Soon the sun was beginning to show itself from behind the snowy eastern peaks and all of the wet cattle ground I was surrounded by began to steam. I still think about how this scene repeats itself up there every single day of our lives regardless of us being there to witness it.

Once the sun broke and the morning was upon me, it almost felt like a whole new day from when I started out. This is a great time of day for viewing wildlife. I saw elk, deer, and this moose out enjoying the morning. I even got a huge shot of adrenaline for breakfast when an aggressive farm dog came ripping out of a driveway in full stride ready to tear my ankles off. I outran the little shit though.

At this point, I knew it was all downhill to my house. I just stood up straight on my pedals, leaned my head back and started gliding down Cameron Pass (10276ft). Such a FUN ride. I was hooting and laughing and going fast as fuck. I even let my eyes drift to the surrounding canyon walls for extended periods of time. It was a weekday morning, and I had the entire road to myself.

I've driven this canyon so many times I thought I knew it all. But I was wrong. Biking it, I felt like I was learning every nook and cranny. The most impressive of all was Poudre Falls. It was mind boggling. The Poudre River was at one of its highest flows of the year and it was RAGING through the falls. For those of you that saw the river this year, you can imagine how much water was barreling through there. The awe inspiring power was really demonstrated in a section of the falls where the ENTIRE RIVER goes through 2 canyon walls about 10 feet apart. THE ENTIRE RIVER GOING THROUGH A TEN FOOT GAP! It was unreal. It was loud. It was violent. I laid flat on my stomach on the rock above this section and hung my head and arms down as the water was exploding below me. I can't believe I didn't even know it was there for all these years!

Anyone who mountain bikes with me knows how I must've felt when I passed Dadd Gulch.

Instead of taking the easy downhill route to my house, I decided to add about another 1000ft of climbing and take Old Flowers up to the top of Rist Canyon. Anyone who's driven this road knows that the west side is a nasty climb. The 90lbs bike made it a real kick in the crotch. Ugh.
On the bright side, when I hit the top, there was physically not a damn INCH of climbing between there and my house!

I ripped down Rist Canyon's last 3000 feet of vertical dangerously fast knowing at the mouth of the canyon sat Vern's diner, and inside Vern's diner was breakfast. Breakfast which consisted of a stack of pancakes, chicken fried steak & eggs, coffee, water, toast, and 3 delicious Budweisers. I could barely handle the anticipation, let alone when I sat down to eat it. I almost burst with joy!

I rolled the rest of the way to Fort Collins and grinning ear-to-ear I turned down my street. My Street! My "Little Colorado Loop" was over. I was so excited to get back to the creature comforts of home (easy chair, showers, netflix, WATER). I raised my arms like a Tour de France rider crossing the finish line and pumped my fists toward the sky. Serenely happy. And then I did what I had always set out to do and ceremoniously made the final right hand turn into my driveway. Sick.

As I straddled my bike in my driveway and thought about the "little loop" I had just completed, I was amazed I did it with no mechanical failures of ANY kind. Not a flat. Not a chain skip. Nothing. That's unbelievable considering I could get a flat simply riding downtown. The Surly Long Haul Trucker is the real deal. Love it.

Before doing anything else, I immediately turned my bike around and pulled out of the driveway. Without changing a thing, I biked straight over to see my buddy Woody and grab a 12 pack. I was going to relax like no one had relaxed before.

Once home, I didn't bother to unpack. I cracked a few beers, took a long shower, and with a swirling beer buzz I shouldered up my golf clubs, got back on my trusty bicycle, and headed to the golf course. Hell, it's still summertime, ain't it?

Thanks for riding along. See you on the trails!
Zness da Pness

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