I am not particularly a fan of labeling my cycling adventures as “epic”, but sometimes, if the shoe fits, you just have to put it on and ride with it. All I can say about the inaugural “Old Man Winter Blues Bike Rally” is EPIC, EPIC, and EPIC! But before we go there, let’s go back a space. Cycling, and particularly gravel cycling is a community of friends, and it’s good to have friends in AWESOME places. In fact, I will submit that EVERYONE should have a Colorado contact. I, being particularly blessed, have two – and they both happen to be amazing riders and friends. Thank you Regina and Karen for your hospitality, it was so amazing to share this ride with you!
No road trip would be complete without a super cool sidekick, however, so I enlisted the support of one bad ass rider who is known as “Big Dave” to those of us who know and love him (I suspect other people who do not know him probably call him “Big Dave” too). Last Friday morning I picked up David in Stillwater, Okla., we loaded up his brand new Surly build, and we headed West across the plains of Oklahoma to find some mountains to climb. On a rare and extremely warm day in February we survived the seemingly endless journey across the panhandle of Oklahoma with caffeine, gas station sandwiches, and a mix tape with great tunes, albeit REALLY bad segues. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the song stylings of Rammstein and Gwen Stefani as much as the next gal; I just don’t often get the itch to play them back to back. A few gratuitous photo-ops and a few minor route revisions and we finally reached colorful Colorado!
The ride, which began and ended at the Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colorado, was as challenging as it was beautiful! The course, featured 58 miles of mixed terrain, which included a fair amount of pavement, a lot of super smooth gravel, and about three miles of single-track trail that was mostly covered in snow and ice. Add in nearly 5,000 feet of climb (and descent) through breathtaking canyons and this ride was one for the ages. Old Man Winter didn’t make an appearance this year, but Old Man Wind certainly made a strong showing. While I enjoyed sunny skies and temperatures in the low 60s, I could have managed without 20 mile per hour sustained west winds. Gusts in excess of 40 through slot canyons made climbing a living Hell on Earth while descending was sketchy at best and, unfortunately, treacherous for some riders who were caught off guard at inopportune moments.
It has been a long time since I have done sustained climbing like this, and I have never done so on my gravel bike. I definitely could have used few more low gears through the 2,000 feet of ascent through Lefthand Canyon, and my legs were like Jello when we made the turn onto the single-track Rowena Trail.
Bike selections were everything on this course and it was hands down the most eclectic field I have ever seen. Road bikes, 29ers, cyclocross rigs, and fat tires shared the road that day as all of us plotted how to attack a course that threw a little bit of everything at us. For three miles, we all shared a breathtaking journey along a single-track jewel that wound across an icy mountain ridge.
The fat bikes and mountain bikes seemed to be winning the day on that pass as they rode effortlessly. The roadies looked lost as the trudged through the snow carrying their now useless steeds. A few cyclocross riders managed to ride some of the trail and I admit, I got braver (or rather the fear of falling began to outweigh the pain of walking) as time went on. In the end, we all persevered and continued on to a sweet descent, and it seemed like the worst was behind us. It wasn’t…
For those of us who didn’t study the course carefully, we were slapped hard with yet another serious long climb. This time we headed uphill directly into the wind for over a mile of paved road with sustained climbing in excess of 10 percent grade. I cramped horribly as I stood up in my saddle to attack this cruel challenge and with the most logical rationalization that I could muster, I determined it was in my best interest to walk… I have NEVER walked a hill and felt almost ashamed in doing so. As riders passed and asked if I was OK, my humiliation grew. Fortunately, my rationalization was actually sound, and I found some (barely) revived legs to motor home over the last 20 miles. I gained all of the ground I lost, and more – and ultimately I had reasonably strong showing. Still, this ride humbled me in a way that I have never felt before.
I have ridden over three times as long and climbed more than three times as much and never, EVER, considered giving up. The thought of calling SAG was real on this course, and I feel just a little lucky that I even finished. Perhaps it was the knowledge that hot food and some amazing craft beer were only a few miles up the road. All I can say is that for an inaugural event, Oskar Blues really did it up right! Well played Colorado, well played… This ride truly was EPIC! Next mission: Time to make a few contacts in Wyoming:)