By Gary Cannon
Earlier this year my friend Mike Bourland started encouraging David Krawczyk and me to go on the Bicycle Tour of Colorado this year. We both thought it would be a good idea and as fate would have it we both signed up to go. We had a vague idea of what this tour would be like and having finished it I can say it was all that and so much more. The BTC traverses three mountain passes and the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison for a grand total of 452 miles for the week. The tour was a week long with six days of riding. Day four was a day off in Crested Butte.
We departed OKC at 3:30 am on Friday June 25 for the long drive to Snowmass Village. It was about 870 miles and we made the drive in one day. We did it this way to give us at least one day to acclimate to the altitude plus do some sightseeing around Aspen. My wife, Suzanne, and Daves girlfriend, Michelle, Williams would be staying at Mt. Crested Butte while us boys rode the tour. I learned from some friends that a vacation actually begins the moment you get in the car, not when you arrive at your destination. Its all in your attitude. We stopped for breakfast, lunch, and dinner plus numerous times for breaks. We changed drivers about every two hours, which helps everyone to keep from getting bored. Upon arrival in Snowmass we finally located our condo at the top of a very steep climb. Was this to be a precursor of things to come? As soon as we left Denver the scenery greatly improved. You know. Snow covered mountain peaks and full rushing rivers and streams. It was gorgeous. The next day we had breakfast in and prepared to do some shopping and sightseeing in Aspen. Mike Bourland called on the cell and joined us for the day. We also located where the tour would begin and where we would need to take our bags and camping gear. Yeah, camping gear. This is an event tour somewhat like Freewheel where you pitch a tent every evening but they do provide a truck to carry your stuff.
DAY ONE: Snowmass Village to Leadville 73 miles. We loaded our bags in Mikes vehicle and he drove them down to the trucks while David and I rode our bikes down to the beginning of the ride. This tour began without much fanfare. No first timers meeting the night before and no opening day send off. Just get on your bike and start pedaling. I kind of like the simplicity of that. After loading our bags on the truck we were ready to roll. From Snowmass Village we pretty much descended down Owl Creek Road onto Highway 82 into Aspen for about 4 or 5 miles. Then the road started to rise ahead of us. And rise and rise and rise. This was the beginning of an extreme day of suffering for us flatlanders. The first days ride would take us over Independence Pass, which at 12,095 feet would be the highest pass we would ride. It didnt take long to realize that there just isnt enough air up there. Even when I inhaled deeply I still only got half a nostril full of air. Man, if I dont get dizzy and pass out this is going to be fun. Actually it was not that bad. While I could not keep the pace and speed I thought I should because of the limited air supply, I was able to get into a good steady rhythm and do the climb at a good rate. It was a steady 22-mile climb to the top at about 6 to 7 per cent grade. I did not see any signs posted so I can only guess at the gradient. It takes awhile to go 22 miles when youre doing it at 6 or 7 mph. Did I mention it is cool in the morning in Colorado? And the higher you go the cooler it gets. I started out with a long undershirt, wind vest, and tights. It wasnt long until I had to don my jacket. A good breathable and waterproof jacket is a necessity for this ride. We were constantly shedding or putting on clothing as the day progressed. Of course at the top of Independence Pass it was cold and I was wearing every bit of clothing I had with me. We have pictures of our bikes resting in snowdrifts to prove it. It even snowed briefly while we were at the top. After playing around at the top for a while it was time to begin the descent. Something we were all looking forward to. We were really starting to carve the curves when it started to rain. The rain gave the descent a whole new dimension. It is a long way down if you miss a turn and just ahead is a hairpin curve with a speed limit sign that says 10 mph. And you know what? It means 10 mph even on a bicycle. We would go through two more of these before reaching the bottom. Instead of a nice blast to the bottom with my hands on the hoods it was a tense blast to the bottom in the drops with two fingers on the brakes at all times. The ride down became almost as tiring as the ride up. It finally quit raining and David and Mike got quite a bit ahead of me. Then my bike computer started acting up so I stopped to fix it. This happened two more times and each time I tried to fix it I got separated even more from my compadres. And then it started to rain again. And now it is raining and sleeting. Or is that big sleet or small hail? I only thought it was cold before. Now I am really getting cold. Fortunately I was only about a mile from the town of Twin Lakes when the sleet started. I made it to the general store in Twin Lakes and waited out the rain and sleet with a lot of other cyclists. It finally stopped raining so I proceeded to Leadville which was still 21 miles away on a slight climb with a bit of headwind. At this point my spirit started to flag a bit. I thought I would never make it to Leadville but finally I did. The route was well marked so I had no problem finding the high school and locating the luggage trucks. But guess what? I couldnt find my bags anywhere. What gives with this? Well, I guess my only option now is to find David and Mike and hope for the best. With 1500 riders on this tour and most of them camping, finding David and Mike was not going to be easy. I did get lucky and found them in a short amount of time and they had my bags. Good guys those two. They carried their bags and mine to our campsite which is no easy task and for which I am very grateful. And now it is beginning to cloud up and looks like more rain so David and Mike help me set up my tent. We just got it finished and my gear tossed inside when it started to rain again. After the rain quit again we went to town to find dinner. We passed up an Italian restaurant because of the line and found another place that looked promising. When we went in to give them our name and check on the wait the lady asked, in an interesting way, if we had seen their menu. Of course we had not so she gave us one to look at. The only thing on the menu was filet mignon with baked potato and salad. The only choice to be made was what size filet you wanted. It was also very reasonable pricewise, so we decided to stay and endure the 30-minute wait. We had a Fat Tire at the bar making the wait pass quickly. Considering we had no lunch, dinner was wonderful. The steaks were well seasoned and very tasty. Not having lunch is no big deal because there was plenty of food (fruits and snacks) at the Aid Stations. This would not be our only day to skip lunch. Back at camp we settled in for the night. Leadville, being at 10,500 feet, was quite cold that night. I think the temp was about 37 degrees that night. Thought I was going to freeze.
DAY TWO: Leadville to Salida 59 miles. This was our first day of going through what would become the morning routine for the next few days. We awakened around 4:30 am, got dressed, and went to the breakfast buffet. The BTC has a number of meal options and you can get breakfast, lunch, and dinner if you want. We opted for breakfast only. We had also had breakfast the day before in Snowmass. After breakfast we went back to camp to take down our tents and pack up all the gear. And then we had to drag, carry, or roll our bags to the luggage trucks. Man, I was tired before I even got on my bike. Did I mention that Leadville sets at 10,500 feet? Everything from Leadville is downhill including Salida. There were a few places where the road would rise a little but it was indeed downhill all the way to Salida. This was a very welcome change after yesterday. On the outskirts of Buena Vista we stopped at a coffeehouse and I had a cup of Boogey Bobs coffee and a biscotti. It was just the sugar and caffeine charge I needed and quite tasty. As we were leaving Buena Vista I discovered I had a flat. We pulled into a parking lot and fixed my flat and got back on the road. Again we were cruising along at 20+ mph. Just outside of Salida we found the headwinds again. That put a little damper on things but we still made it into Salida in time for lunch. We found our bags and set up camp and then inquired about where to eat some lunch. We found a nice little caf where the locals eat and had a good lunch. After lunch we strolled around Salida and ended up at a nice cool shady park by the Arkansas River watching kayakers doing their thing on the rapids below. Did you know the Arkansas River is crystal clear in Colorado? We even visited the local kayak shop located next to the river for a thumbnail lesson in kayaking and a look at the boats up close. Pretty interesting. Dinner that evening was nothing to rave about. We probably should have gone back to our lunch place but we didnt. Oh well. It was edible and pasta and would be needed tomorrow. My bike computer messed up again today and so I lost all my data for day two.
DAY 3: Salida to Crested Butte 92 miles. The book of maps that BTC gave us states YOU MUST HAVE WATERPROOF RAIN GEAR WITH YOU TO GO UP MONARCH PASS. We began the day at about 4:30 am with the usual routine. You know breakfast, packing, and loading the luggage on the truck. Salida sets at just over 7,000 feet so we started the day almost one and a half miles high. About the first mile is a fairly gentle climb but no sooner had we started and my bike computer messed up again. Im beginning to see a new bike computer in my future when we get to Crested Butte. This will be the third day Ive lost all my data. At any rate, the climb gently increased until about the 12-mile mark. This marked the beginning of the climb up Monarch Pass at 11,312 feet. I found Monarch to be a long grinding climb that did not fluctuate much. Mostly I used my third chain ring to maintain a fairly good spin averaging about 7 mph. When I started getting tired I simply went to the middle ring and a much higher gear and stood on the pedals awhile. I did not stand to gain speed. I let my weight move the pedals and maintained about the same speed. This seemed to allow some muscles to rest and others to work in the different position. It also allowed me to make the summit non-stop. There was more great scenery on the way up. You know the drill by now, clear rushing rivers and streams, wild flowers aplenty, and great snow peaked mountains. It was cool at the top of Monarch Pass but not cold and so far no rain. They were repaving the downside of Monarch and I had some concerns about that that proved to be unwarranted. They told us when we came to a line of cars to just go around them on the right side to the head of the line. The construction crew had been alerted to allow bicycles to proceed to the front and go first. We started the descent and in less than a mile we came upon the line of cars and the construction crew. We proceeded to the front of the line and waited while other cyclists made it through. After a short wait we got the go ahead from one of the construction workers and off we went. There were about 200 cyclists in the group I went with and the best part is they let only bicycles go and help up the cars. It was mostly down to one lane all the way down but it didnt matter because there was no traffic from the other direction. We just kind of cruised from one side to the other. My biggest concern was the actions of the other cyclists. I managed to maneuver toward the front. We had not gone far and I got a chance to break clear from the main pack by going to the right. I was in the clear with only about four riders ahead of me so I let it rip. I hardly had to touch my brakes on the way down. At one point I was coasting along at 49 mph. This was a real exhilarating adrenaline rush; I mean great fun. I did have a faint memory of a time in Utah doing this very same thing when my handle bar clinch bolt broke. This time there were no mechanical failures. Man what a ride. At the bottom it was still slightly downhill into Gunnison and getting much warmer. I stopped to take off my leg warmers and this young lady went whizzing by saying Yahoo and humming the theme from The Stripper. That young lady sure made this old guys day. We were not far from Gunnison when a strong headwind started coming up. David and I struck up a really good relationship with the rear wheel of a tandem that was moving right along. On the road the tandem train got longer but on one downhill the tandem really started putting the pedals down. David and I were the only ones managing to stay on all the way to Gunnison. We stopped at Subway in Gunnison for lunch and waited for Mike to catch up. Mike had gotten dropped from the tandem train earlier. After lunch it was just 14 miles into Crested Butte. The winds did not seem to bad until we were about 3 or 4 miles from town and then it was gruesome again. We finally made the high school in Crested Butte, found our bags, and called the girls to come get us. The girls were staying at a condo in Mt. Crested Butte and we were going to spend the day off with them. It was a relief to not spend another night in a tent. And guess what? It started to rain again just as the girls were arriving to pick us up. We loaded our bikes and bags in our van and off to Mt. Crested Butte for the night. After arriving at our condo we unpacked and then it was time for a nice soak in the hot tub. Does life get any better than soaking in a hot tub in the mountains? After the hot tub it was back to the condo where the girls had fixed Lasagna, garlic bread, and salad for dinner. We had fudge from a candy shop in town for dessert. It was a great way to end the day.
DAY 4: Day Off in Crested Butte. It was time for a much needed day of rest in Crested Butte. After breakfast in the condo we headed for town for some shopping and sightseeing. I did find a bike shop and purchased a new bike computer, which I installed later in the day. We had lunch at a place that made the biggest burritos I have ever seen. Not only were they big but good too. After lunch I had a wonderful massage in town and then back to the condo for a nice nap. Crested Butte is a nice little turn of the century town with a lot of things to see and do. BTC had blocked off some of the streets to traffic and there was going to be a party later that evening. We were so tired we did not make the party plus the girls fixed another great meal. It was baked chicken, green beans, fried cabbage, macaroni and tomatoes, and ice cream for dessert. Great stuff Maynard!
DAY 5: Crested Butte to Hotchkiss 108 miles. This is our longest day. The day started at about 9,000 feet, descended to 7,500 feet then back up to over 9,000 feet. After breakfast we proceeded into the cool of the morning at about 7:00 am. The ride back to Gunnison was mostly downhill and the wind was not a problem. We turned west out of Gunnison on highway 50. We encountered much the same scenery as I mentioned before but add some large clear mountain lakes. We had gone about 30 miles or so and had stopped to take some pictures when I decided to use my bike to do some stretching. With my hands on the bicycle seat and stem and arms fully extended I was enjoying a good stretch when a young lady went whizzing by and slapped me on the rear. The six girls riding behind her thought that was really a hoot. I wonder if it was the same yahoo girl from earlier in the week. At about mile 55 we turned northwest and started the climb to the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It was more beautiful scenery somewhat reminiscent of the canyons in southwest Utah. The climb was kind of up and down but mostly up. I would manage to go about 7 to 12 mph for the next 17 miles, which takes a while. We finally reached a very well appointed aid station at the top. There were very large cookies and smoothies for sale plus the fresh fruit and other goodies provided by BTC. Thank goodness there were a lot of good things to eat up there because it was going to be another day without lunch. Aside from a fishing resort or two and some camp sites there was nothing commercial going on in this neck of the woods, not even a convenience store. From this spot at the top of the rim it was downhill for the next 36 miles into Hotchkiss. As we went down into Hotchkiss the temperature went up. I think it reached the mid to high 80s in Hotchkiss which felt really hot when compared to the previous days. Mike managed to contact an old childhood friend, Jeff MacGregor, in Hotchkiss who owned a coffee house/sandwich place. I had a very good Asiago cheese bread and southwest turkey sandwich and chips for dinner followed by chocolate fudge cake and coffee for dessert. BTC sets up a beer garden in every town we stay in but Hotchkiss is to be our first and only visit to the beer garden. We had a brew and visited with some of the other riders before returning to camp and going to bed. It had been a long day and we were all tired.
DAY 6: Hotchkiss to Glenwood Springs 81 miles. This proved to be a really tough day. We left Hotchkiss riding into a strong headwind for about 36 miles. The terrain was up and down and the going was difficult. We then began the arduous and steep 6-mile climb up McClure Pass. Not only was the climb steep but also it was hot, in the mid to high 80s. It was all I could do to keep the pedals turning. At this point I started to have fond memories of my recumbent. My butt was sore and my back and shoulders ached. Six miles is a long way when you are traveling at 4 to 6 mph. On the way up I spotted a grizzly bear. The bear came within about 20 feet of me, stuck its nose in the air and took a whiff. I guess it decided I had been basting in too much sunscreen and would not be all that tasty before disappearing into the countryside. My escape plan had the bear come any closer was to do an about face and go back down the mountain. Finally, I made it to the top and hooked up with David and Mike again. After a long break we began the descent. It was still into the wind but much easier. On the way down we stopped in a nice little restaurant in Redstone for lunch. It was great! Wonderful sandwiches with fresh fruit and chips and fresh brewed iced tea. We sat on an elevated deck out back enjoying the breeze and listening to the Crystal River flow by. I could have spent hours there. We had to endure more headwinds going into Glenwood Springs but thank goodness it was mostly downhill. By the time we made Glenwood Springs I was beat. We got our bags and even found a nice shady spot to pitch our tents. After taking a shower we were lounging around contemplating a trip to town for dinner when this enterprising young man with an ice chest came by to sell us a nice cool drink. He even had beer. Man was that ever good. We then caught the shuttle to town for an excellent dinner at a nice Italian restaurant. When we got back to camp I made the mistake of looking at the next days route. It was only 39 miles but it was along a fairly busy highway with about 2500 feet of elevation gain. My butt hurt and I was extremely tired but David wanted to finish the tour since we were this close. I went to bed planning to finish but not looking forward to it.
DAY 7: Glenwood Springs to Snowmass Village 39 miles. This turned out to be a pretty good day and my concerns proved to be unfounded. The map was not entirely correct. We paralleled highway 82 using roads through the towns and highway access roads most of the way. We were only on the highway for about ten miles before turning toward Snowmass Village for the last two miles. The climb was not that bad or at least not until the turn toward Snowmass. The last two miles was a pretty good climb. The day was warm but not terribly hot. After arriving in Snowmass Village where it all began, I found my bags and retrieved what I would need for a shower. I got cleaned up, filled out a tour evaluation form, and then called Suz only to discover she was almost in Snowmass. I gave her directions on how to find us and within minutes she was there. In no time at all we had loaded our bikes and bags and were headed home. It has been a really great tour but Im glad to be headed home.
The 2005 Bicycle Tour of Colorado was one of the best-organized tours I have ever been on. It included three mountain passes plus the climb up the rim of The Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I dont know how many total feet of climbing this was for the week but it was a bunch and a grand total of 452 miles in six days of riding. The scenery was spectacular and the weather cool. Sleeping in a tent at night was no problem. The aid stations were the best I have ever seen. They offer a meal option of breakfast, lunch, or dinner or all three if you want. You can campout and hoist your own gear or use the Sherpa service and they will pitch a tent and spread your bedroll for you. There is also the Alpine service with accommodations in hotels and BTC shuttles you and your gear back and forth. For prices and more info visit their web site at www.bicycletourcolorado.com. Good friends on bikes on a really great tour. Does life get any better?