AXC - The bike

AXC - The bike

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Asterisk Day*

What is pride, what is accomplishment?

For two days in Colorado, I got to ride without luggage (aka: unloaded.)  The spouse of one of the riders spent a few days with us and rented a pickup truck, and we had the opportunity to drop our gear in the truck and ride free. 
This was actually my idea/suggestion, although I still struggled with the decision of whether or not to take advantage of it. 

Finally, I decided 'why make this harder than it needs to be?'

Seeing this early on in the day, someone asked me; "Do you feel like you're cheating?" And the easy answer is 'No.' 
That same night, we stayed in a hotel instead of camping, was that cheating? What about when we eat in a restaurant instead of cooking our meals?
But those are just comparative arguments, not really answers. The real answer is; Where are the rules written that I am cheating? Is this a race, a contest, or test? Who am I trying to impress and what am I trying to prove? Do I get extra points or unlock an accomplishment by riding with my gear when I don't have to? 
The real truth is that there is only one 'rule': finish the ride. Dip my back wheel in the pacific and have ridden across the country. I'm doing this for fun, not bragging rights, and I answer to nobody but my own conscience. 

But this is where the idea of the asterisk came from, tagging the mileage of the two days (52 miles* and 45* miles) as if they need a foot note explaining that I rode these days unloaded. This is tongue in cheek, as I don't think I need to justify or even qualify the decision. 

And yet, I'm writing this down and spelling it out. Who am I trying to rationalize this to; the other riders, you, my readers, or myself? I think maybe nobody, it's just a thought exercise in order to understand my motivations better by writing taking the time to write them down. 
Certainly I took the 'self supported' tour instead of the van supported or even fully supported tour because this meant something to me. I like the idea of carrying my gear, being self sufficient, camping and 'roughing it' as much as we have. But taking a two day break and riding unloaded, that doesn't take away from anything, in fact, it made more enjoyable for having the comparison. 

Ultimately, the object of this trip is to have fun and have the experience of it. Sure, at the end when I tell people about it I'll surely have a sense of pride in the accomplishment (is that bragging?), but I'm not doing it for that reason. 

It helped too that this was two long days of climbing; nearly 3500' on the first day and about 4500' on the second. (And y'all know how much I love hills!) We reached the highest elevations of the whole trip on these days. So why not take advantage of a lighter load? I'm already pedaling up long hills with thin air!

The days ended up being spectacular. The climbs were mostly gentle uphills of 5 or 6% grade that we just dropped into a low gear and spun for an hour or more at a time. Not the hard and steep climbs of Kentucky, or the persistent ups and downs of Virginia. The views were fantastic, the weather was great, and just in general it was all around enjoyable. And it was made all the more-so because I wasn't dying going up the hills. 

'Asterisks day' number one was a beautiful day, with a fair bit of climbing. We had just come off a much needed rest day after riding for 9 days straight. Most of the group went rafting on the layover day, but I just wanted to take it easy. 

So, feeling refreshed and a little excited at the prospect of riding unloaded for the first time in months, I was ready to tackle the day. 

Another unique element of the day was that we had a 'sag wagon.' A car that was traveling with us and stopping along the way with food and water. This came about when a friend of one of our riders wanted to come out and ride with us for the two days from Royal Gorge up to Breckenridge. Sarah rode with us, while her son Logan drove the sag wagon. Some of their friends from back home had donated all sorts of food to stock up the car for us, and Logan stopped every 12 miles and waited for us to get there. 

This was all the more fantastic because there was a warning note about the route that not only were there no services for the 50 miles we were riding, but that the high altitude and dry air necessitated lots of extra water. Instead of having to carry that, we had someone waiting for us with water, cold sodas, gatorade, and snacks!

The first 12 miles were very beautiful, and there was one really big climb. At the top of the climb, the car was waiting for us and it was like an oasis! 

We all stopped and spent a long time just chilling, drinking gatorade, and there was a large box of fresh, delicious grapes. It's also fun when the whole group stops together and we can just hang out and relax. 

Following that, we had a gradual downhill that was fun and not too steep so we could pedal pretty easily for a mile. Of course that didn't last, and we started our really big climb for the day. We went back up to 9300 feet, and climbed for at least an hour. The grade was only 5 or 6%, and unloaded it felt straight up easy. The only limiting factor was the thin air at elevation that had me breathing heavy and panting. 

The climb was actually pretty fun, even though there were points where I had to work a bit. The view was great, with rolling hills and some exposed rock that hinted at the mountains to come. Off in the distance we could see the silhouette of the mountains, and a few snowy peaks closer by. After climbing for a while, we finally crested the first pass. There were a few of us riding together, though by the time we got to the top we were spread out a little bit. As each of us crested the hill, one by one we blurted out the same thing 'holy $#!7"! The mountains just came into view as we got to the top, and it was stunning.

We sat at the top for a few minutes and just enjoyed the view. Then when we finally got back on the bikes and rolled, the sag wagon was just a few hundred yards down the hill. So we stopped again and took a bit of a break. The rest of the group caught up to us, and we sat down and ate our lunches. We all sat facing the mountain range, not talking a whole lot, it looked a little bit like we were all sitting there watching TV! Only, this was something that just couldn't be properly captured and conveyed by any camera. 

We rolled into Hartsel, CO that night. I felt pretty fresh despite the climb and the 50 mile ride. There was a nice tailwind for the last 2 miles to the ranch we were staying at, which was a fun way to cap off an overall good day of riding. 

The ranch we stayed at was just gorgeous, the rooms were very nice, the beds were comfy, and there was a large common room for us to sit and relax in. And to top it all off, we had a magnificent feast prepared by a few of our riders who took advantage of the full kitchen. It was an all around perfect day. 

Asterisks day number two; we started off with a great breakfast, and took our time leaving because it was a bit chilly in the morning (high 40's, low 50's). We were climbing for most of the morning and early afternoon. Even though it started off with a very gentle incline of maybe 2-3% grade. 
The views off to the left were still breathtaking, and we just plodded along for the first 12 miles until we ran into Logan and the sag wagon again. And again, most of the riders grouped up at this point and we had a good snack. 

From there, the climbing got a bit steeper. We were heading to Hoosier Pass, the top of the continental divide and the highest point of our trip at 11,539 feet! There was a sign that said "4 Miles to Hoosier Pass", and I was feeling pretty good! 

I was a little out of breath from the elevation, but I felt strong and confident. At about 2 miles past the sign, I caught up to two other riders, and one of them was looking a little queasy, and at that point she actually pulled over to take a breather. She was having a hard time with the elevation, and we stopped with her for a while to catch her breath and feel better. From there, we rode for 10 minutes and took a 5 minute break, and did that all the way to the top. We all looked out for each other, and she was a total trooper. 

Finally we reached the top, 11539 feet, and nearly 4500 feet of climbing just for that one day!

At the top, John was shooting video on his Go-Pro (as he is prone to do) and filmed us all rolling in. Then he did little 30 second interviews (which I will attempt to attach). 

Coming down from the pass, there was an awesome 4.5 mile downhill that started off steep and then leveled out into a nice fast descent. The fast bit was somewhat trecherous, as there were steep switchbacks that I had to slow down to be able to make the turns. Everyone else was talking about the nice views on the downhill, but all I saw was the pavement I was staring at intently! But once it leveled out a bit, I could put the bike in the fastest gear and pedal easy at about 25 mph and just fly all the way into Breckenridge!

Then, to finish off two fantastic days, I have a couple friends from back home who moved out to this area several years ago. I got in touch with them before the trip and arranged to meet up while I was here. We had a great meal together and caught up a lot. It was just great to see them, and tremendously cool how I arrived here! I rode my bike to their house!! (Well, I will actually ride right by their house the next day!) 

In all, the Asterisks Days were some of the best and most enjoyable of the trip, which ultimately had very little to do with riding unloaded, and everything to do with all the regular things that make this trip so great; beautiful scenery, enjoyable riding, great people, and tremendous kindness from unexpected places. 

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