Thursday, April 19, 2012

Guest Blog—Picture Rock: Scenes from Life in a Colorado Mountain Town

Picture Rock: Installment Three


By EZ Ryyder

It’s going to be a long, hot day in the saddle.  My water bottles are filled, my tires are pumped up to 120 psi and my chain is freshly lubed.  I’m drinking a mixture of whey protein and tart cherry juice waiting for the group to gather at the market. 

It’s only 9 o’clock but the sun feels warm on my face.  The breeze is light and blowing out of the southwest under a big, blue Colorado sky.  The snow is still heavy on the divide and it captures most of my attention.  I’m looking for cloud plumes coming off the ridge, an indication of wind up high, but don’t see any. The first green shoots are emerging from under winter’s dead grass and before long, the straw colored carpeting will all be green.

I’m pretty content sipping my juice and waiting.  

Jeff comes roaring in from the south pulling a freight train of a peloton. Two by two, the riders peel off the shoulder, into the parking lot and dismount.  A few push their bikes over to the rack and disappear into the market while a few more just stop and lean across their top tubes.  After topping off water bottles and snacking on protein bars, we point our bikes towards the canyon and start pedaling. 

We’re flying along on Main Street as we pass Redstone Coffee.  There are more bikes out front and riders drinking espresso under umbrellas from the sidewalk tables.  We nod as we zing by. 

Six miles into the ride we enter the mouth of the canyon.  The river cascades down from the divide between sandstone cliffs the entire length of the canyon.  But we’re still at the bottom and as we begin the climb, we’re all in our big rings and chatting easily.  Passing Nelson Ranch on the right, we see a small herd of mule deer grazing on the hillside.  I always expect to see a mountain lion crouching in the bushes, stalking the deer but never do. 

As we sweep around a long, arcing, left hand turn the gradient increases and we rise out of our saddles as we power over the top only to drop back onto our saddles as the hill drops away below our skinny tires.  The pavement is buttery smooth and we pick up speed and coast down to where the canyon narrows.  That’s the last downhill.  The next 12 miles are all uphill to 9,200 feet.

Pretty soon Jeff drops the hammer and it’s on.  A gap opens up and we all pick up the cadence so we don’t get dropped.  It’s getting harder to talk and ride so the conversation tails off and is replaced with the whir of the chain and the chunky clunk of shifts from one gear to another.  No squeaky chains in this group. The smell of pine and new growth fills the air and the sound of rushing water fills our ears.

Damn that gap! I’m falling off the wheel so I pedal harder and faster.  My breathing and heart rate quicken and sweat starts to form on my forehead.  I wipe the perspiration with the soft part of my glove and try to will my bike back onto the wheel that is now about 10 feet in front of me.  Alberto Contador seems to dance lightly in his clips when climbing.  I can’t say that’s what I’m doing but I am out of the saddle and stomping on the pedals.  Within a couple of seconds I’m back on the wheel but Pete and Joey fly by me on the left. 

The walls of the canyon are closing in as the incline steepens.  On the left, raging whitewater careens over boulders in foamy chaos.  Ponderosa pine scent mixes with wildflowers growing by the side of the road.  We haven’t been passed by a car going either direction in the past 30 minutes so we are startled to hear the high rev whine of a pack of street bikes coming up quickly behind us.  As they rocket by, the piercing sound of their exhaust bounces off the rock face in the Big Narrows. And then they are gone around the next bend and I hear my own rhythmic breath going in and out.

I’m drifting to the back as we near the top and turn south on the Peak to Peak.  It’s flat for several tenths of a mile but then we hit our first downhill.  I shift into my big ring, tap-tap-tap-tap through my gears and ramp up the cadence anticipating the steep decline.  Ten more pedal strokes and I tighten into a tuck.  My hands are in the drops and I lower my back so it’s so flat that you could set a tray of wine glasses up there.  Except they would blow right off. 

The wind is howling in my ears and tears are forming in my eyes.  I blink them away and steer around Joey to the left and slide into Pete’s draft.  He is pedaling at a good clip and I’m coasting but I’m catching him.  Rather than brake, I sit up a little and that slows me enough that I can follow effortlessly. 

I zoom along like this until I feel guilty and then rise to my feet and blast by Pete as if I were shot out of a cannon.  I’m going just over 50 MPH and I see Jeff up ahead of me but I won’t catch him before the next hill.  And what a hill it is. 

At the base of the last climb, I settle into a steady rhythm and pace myself so I don’t blow up.  If I tried to catch Jeff, I would bonk for sure.  We are now 40 miles into the ride and The Wall is right in front of us.  The Wall is a section of the road that is almost a mile long with a 12% grade.  The fact that you hit it at 9,600 feet above sea level only makes it worse. 

Pete and Joey pass me for the second time and our whole group is getting stretched out and shattered by the climb. Four more riders slip by before we reach the summit.  There are six riders still in pursuit but they won't catch us.

We are just above tree line and 12,000-14,000 foot peaks stand sentry to the west. There is a bit of a Chinook crosswind pushing us from the side but it won’t be there long. 

Our reward is a 16-mile descent back into Picture Rock.  It is literally downhill all the way to the brewery.  The road is smooth, curvy and we are flying, swooping and charging our way back to town. 

I pass the four riders and only Jeff, Joey and Pete remain in front. Tradition dictates that the first one to the brewery eats and drinks for free.  The next two riders get free beer.  The rest pick up the tab. 

Jeff won’t be paying for food and if I can catch either Pete or Joey, that cold one at the end will be that much more satisfying.

© EZ Ryyder 2012

EZ Ryyder spends his time a little bit farther down the road.  Past the city limits.

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