I remember waking up, stepping outside of the RV and watching dusk roll into the valley below me. The mountains on each side glowed red, orange, magenta and all you could see were trees, mountains and sky. It was quite spectacular...where are we? Kent and Willie had ridden across the valley floor out of South Fork and we were parked at the top of the second climb in the Rockies, a 9400 ft. peak. We were waiting for Willie to finish up the climb, and I hung around outside for a bit enjoying the view of the Valley as night settled in. It was in the 40s and cold, so I loaded up with clothes knowing that about 1/4 mile up, I would begin a 13 miles, 2500 foot descent into the next valley.
Now, before some of you get too excited about a wild descent, remember it is cold up here! As I began the descent, I realized that 40mph was about tops...it was too cold to go any faster! As JV noted about Wolfe Creek, the descent was actually pretty boring...a basically straight road down into nothingness.
We had some tricky turns at the bottom - we needed to make a right turn onto a small road after crossing a bridge. To make things more difficult, it was quite hard to understand these directions over the PA at 40mph! Somehow, we managed to make the turn, which put us onto some fun, windy roads heading into the very small town of La Veta. Even though it was midnight and there wasn't a soul in sight, I stopped at all of the stop signs before beginning the climb up the final ascent of the Rockies.
Remember I mentioned that I had bulked up for the descent? This now cost me as we began to climb. I just kept unzipping and unzipping....I had been on the road for over 40 minutes now, and was really wondering when reinforcements were going to show up (I bet they missed the turn after the bridge, or something like that). We couldn't blast music over the PA because we were in a residential zone, so it was me and the road...up, up, up. The PT wasn't working for some reason, so I was going on feel...all I know is I rode 20 miles at 23.1mph, climbing a total of 934 feet.
For a minute, let me give you a glimpse of what the inside of the van looked like during this pull. I was getting so sweaty during each pull that I was basically stripping in the van, sitting in just my shorts for 10 minutes, and then putting on a new set of clothes for the next pull. I had my wet stuff spread all over the van in hopes that it would dry out quickly in the heated air! It actually worked and I had dry clothes for every pull, but it sure looked comical!
JV and crew finally caught up and we began working our way up the climb. I volunteered to give JV the next descent as it was dropping into the low 30's as we got closer to the 9900 foot summit, but he wasn't going for it! Actually, it was a good move...he's the stronger climber and there was a team coming up from behind. We rode back and forth, back and forth, to the top. 2.4 miles at 167w and 7.5mph, another pull of 1.5 miles at 166w and 6mph. The plan was for me to descent to the plateau about 7 miles down, JV would ride across the 7 mile plateau, and I would continue another 10 miles down the descent, with JV taking the last 10 miles into the RV (reportedly parked at mile 51 of the section).
This is bloody cold! I loaded up even more with thick tights, a long sleeve undershirt and a thick, long sleeve windproof jersey, a balaclava, wool socks and full fingered gloves. But it was so cold I could only do about 32mph! At one point, the road shot straight up for about 100 yards. I had to shift into my small chainring and dropped the chain. As I got off the bike, I realized that I could also grab another jacket from the van. After that, I was good to 50mph! Woo hoo! Bombing down the dark mountain, van can't keep up but I've got that Surefire light on high. That turn is coming up a bit quickly...but I don't dare grab too much brake...hope there is nobody coming up the other side as I am definitely using the whole road for this turn! Phewww....maybe I shouldn't be doing 50... Short climb up to the plateau and JV takes over.
We set up for my next pull at the end of the plateau. Note, because we are in the mountains, we have no radio reception with the RV or the other van. JV passes, and I take off on a beautiful trip down the canyon. The road isn't nearly as steep now after the first mile or so...I'm soft pedaling at about 35-40mph, hoping that no deer jump out into the road. The road is windy, so I keep the light on high and can see just fine. JV should be up ahead....there's his van, but no JV out front...keep pedaling...
It's quite pretty through here, so I am just enjoying the ride. JV's van passes again so I assume they are setting up ahead. There is the van and JV is scrambling to get to his bike as I zoom past again! This is getting kind of funny... Finally, a couple miles further, JV and I do a successful exchange and I hop back in the van. At this point, I hear that the RV is actually at mile 61, not 51, and I find out later that JV is pretty fried. After a couple miles we do an exchange and a couple things happen:
First, nobody is communicating to me what is actually going to happen. Also, my light seems to be dimming a bit...switch it to low to get a bit more life out of it, but it is not going to last long. After a few miserable miles (I'm tired too...it's 4am), my crew finally tell me what's going on and I slug it out to the RV. My light dies 100 yards from the RV and I literally roll to the RV in complete darkness. No crashing, just frustration...get some food, shower and go to sleep!
Bombing into La Veta
Climbing out of La Veta
Bombing down towards Trinidad
The home stretch!