My Colorado Dreamland

To say that I was excited to be done racing and on my way to Crested Butte would be an understatement.  We had a great time in Salida, but the Butte is a magical place.  I’ve had the opportunity to travel there on several occasions.  I’ve seen it by Jeep, mountainbike, dirtbike, snowboard, by foot, but never from the seat of my roadbike. Of course, we had to stop at the top of Monarch Pass to get a picture of the sign at the top proving that we were at 11,312′.  Altitude, it does strange things to people.

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We left Salida just as the sun was beginning to set. It made for a beautiful drive, but that meant we’d be arriving in Crested Butte in the dark.  I’d been there enough times that I was pretty confident that I’d be able to find us a good place to camp for the night.  We drove past the tiny “town” of Gothic and towards Schofield Pass on the semi rough dirt road.  Every other time I’d been back here I was in a 4 wheel drive vehicle with high clearance.  The Sprintervan has good room to the rocker panels, but only rear wheel drive.  No major ruts for me. If I saw something I didn’t like I was going to turn the bus around.  That’s exactly what happened.  No big deal, I had seen a couple options on the way in, I’d go back and check those out.  We pulled in to what looked like a day time parking lot, but there were a couple fire rings there, so we gave it a shot.  If nothing else I knew this was an incredible valley and a mindblowingly beautiful place to wake up.

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I’m almost always the first one of all my friends to wake up when camping.  I’m fine with it.  It’s quiet, and watching the sun rise and set are some of my favorite things.  I can’t ever sit for long though.  I like my coffee, and when the temps are in the low 40’s, it’s nice to move around a bit.  Larsen was lucky enough to rise just as the sun was coming over the ridge to our east.  He sat up, looked at the sun, looked at me and the coffee that was brewing in front of me and a big smile came over his face.

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As we drank our coffee and said our good mornings, we made sure to keep our voices down as Aaron was still in dreamland.  It didn’t take long for the coffee to kick in and soon Lars and I knew what had to be done.  I’m not sure when it happened, but along the way, restrooms were installed in strategic spots along the roadside.  Lars and I grabbed our road bikes and headed down the gravel road in search relief.  When we got back to the van, Aaron was all kitted up and ready to ride.  Mind you, it’s around 7:30am and the temps are still in the 40’s.  I asked him, “what’s going on with the kit?”  He thought that Lars and I didn’t want to wait for him and had already gone out on a ride.  We’d been gone about 10-15 min.

“No, dude, I was just about to cook some breakfast.”  Sit back and chill it’s going to be a minute until were ready.  “Where’s Lars?”  He’s down there in the creek getting refreshed.  These guys are too funny!

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About an hour and another pot of coffee go by and we’re ready to hit the road.  Aaron, as we know, is kitted up and ready to ride.  I suggested that he and Larsen should ride from camp and I will drive the van back into Crested Butte where we could park it for the day and start our ride together from there.  The first section of road was a little rough, so I took it slow in the van.  I figured that I would be on top of the guys in no time.  I roll through Gothic and there’s no sign of them.  These guys are flying!  Once I get past the small town, its hammer down until I see them.  It’s a very scenic dirt road on the way back to Mt. Crested Butte and there was a shot that I wanted to get for the guys.  You never know when or if you’ll all be back there again together.  I managed to catch up to them and get to a good spot to take a photo.  Not bad for the time I had. What an awesome mountain valley with the snake river running out of view.  Have I mentioned this place is a dreamland?

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More vitamin G.  The Jack’s Cabin cutoff road was a fantastic ribbon of brown dirt threaded amongst the green valley floor.  This was a pretty much empty road with the occasional car coming by every few minutes.  I was looking forward to the road that goes from Almont to Taylor reservoir, CO highway 742.  It turns and rolls throughout the forest, always with a creek on one side.  The gradient rarely exceeds 4% which is perfect for me.  The three of us take turns on the front, setting the pace and sharing the workload.  It’s so nice to ride with these guys.  Nothing really needs to be said, an elbow flick or a look over the shoulder and the rider in second position knows that his time is coming.  No increase in pace, just smooth power. I pull off and Larsen comes through for a turn on the front.  An hour of this goes by and we find ourselves climbing up a steep pitch to see Taylor reservoir before us.  It would great to keep going over Cottonwood Pass someday and spend the night in Buena Vista, but this time we need to get back to the van in Crested Butte.

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I think all three of us were having an amazing day on the bike.  Nobody was talking about their backs hurting or legs being tired, we were just riding our bikes and having a great time doing it.  “Well boys, down to Almont or back the way we came?”  We all needed water and food so Almont was the logical choice. I don’t remember how long it took us to get there, but we were flying!  It felt like a TTT.  We pulled into town and the only thing that made sense was to sit down, have a beer and some food(devil fries for me).

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Turned out that the fries weren’t the best choice when we still had to ride 20 miles back to the Butte.  I wasn’t feeling that great and Lars had used up most of his pulling legs on the 50 miles we’d already put in.  Aaron to the rescue! That dude must have sat on the front for around 15 miles until he had pulled Larsen and I back within sight of the van. What a hero!

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I felt like a jerk, but once we got back I started to feel better.  “Anybody want to ride up to the resort?”  Larsen said he was done, but Aaron was game.  We set out for about another 15-20 minutes trying to get up and back before the rain showers that were closing in beat us to the van.

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Mission accomplished, we needed to find another spot for the night where we could cook some dinner and start recovering from the 75 miles we’d put on our bodies.  I knew just the place.  It’s only a few minutes out of town along the Slate river.  Lots of places to camp back in there, even more if you have a good truck.DCIM102GOPROWith our bellies full and camp determined for the night, we took advantage of the vanlife and each had a session with the recovery boots that Lars had brought with him.  If you’ve never used a set, they are amazing.  They use air pressure to get lactic acid out of your legs and help to speed up recovery.  I have since purchased a pair for myself and never take a van trip with out them.  I felt pretty good about our first day in one of my favorite places in Colorado and couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen the next day.

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Colorado Crit racing

At the van, precrit

So there we were in Salida, staring down the barrel of a tough crit.  I had finished 6th in the TT and Aaron had placed a few spots behind me.  His back injury was bothering him and he was also at the disadvantage of using a standard roadbike with clip on aerobars.  Nonetheless, we had both given our all, and it was now time to turn our focus to the days’ event.  Salida sits at 7,083′ above sea level and is surrounded by majestic Rocky Mountain peaks on all sides. The crit course takes place just South of the downtown area and incorporates residential streets, a city park, and a few blocks that take in a small section of commercial real estate. It’s a really fun course that has a long false flat climb up the back side and a handful of fast flowing corners. Two years before, I competed there as a relatively new racer, and had taken sometime off from training just previous to going down there.  Between too much rest and the altitude, I got crushed! I got to the start late so I was forced to be at the back. I worked too hard and after 25 min I was cooked. I think I managed to hold on a few minutes longer, only only to get dropped. I hit my lap timer and after the race I saw that my average HR was 190!

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Back to 2014, I wanted to prove to myself that my first performance was not the type of bike racer I was today.  I got a good warm up, got to the line early, and had a great sense of confidence.  The race started fast, as they all do, and after 15 minutes I was feeling in control and in a good position.  I tend to race towards the front of the group and sometimes OFF the front.  My plan was to sit back, and see what some of the other guys from the other teams were up to.  I noticed the boys from Primal and Sports Garage had some teammates up front laying down the pace. Both teams had strong riders that were capable of winning this contest.  Since I only had two other guys with me in the race and I hadn’t seem either of them yet, I stayed put.  The skies had begun to get darker as the storm clouds were rolling in from the west. With around half of our race finished, the rain started to fall.  Slowly at first, but with big drops.  I don’t mind racing in the wet, I grew up in Illinois and rode in the rain there all the time.  I could sense that some of the guys were getting nervous.  This was great news for me!  The game plan changed a bit then for me.  I was going to race to be safe but not let any moves get up the road.  With just a few laps to go, my confidence was shaken a bit when I felt like I wasn’t going to have the legs to do anything at the end.  I hesitated for a second or two and a gap opened up in front of me.  It doesn’t take much, just a few feet and you start to question if you have what it takes to close back to that wheel.  I told myself that I didn’t and sat up.DCIM100GOPRO

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I came around the next corner and I saw Larsen, he yells at me to get my ass up and get back in the race.  By this time I was like 10-12 seconds off the back and already exhausted.  Something came over me and I gave absolutely everything I had to catch back on.  Holy Shit! I can’t believe I did that! Now I have to hang on for the the two fastest laps of the race, ouch.  I was so motivated after chasing back on that there was no way I was going backwards again.  The pace picked up and even though I was on the back, I was still in the mix.  One last time up the false flat, two corners to go, and then we start sprinting downhill in the rain to the finish line. I moved up a couple spots on the “climb” and was sitting about 10th.  We all got through the first corner, but on the second one, the guy in front of me lost traction with his rear wheel and I had to change my line in order to stay upright.  By this time the guys at the front had already opened up their sprints, and any chance for a top 10 was out for me.  I sprinted to a 12 place in a race that I had previously had been dropped from, raced this year in the rain, and chased back after almost getting dropped again.  I was pretty happy to have finished where I did after learning that more than 60% of the field had pulled out due to the weather.

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I guess the moral of the story is, never give up on yourself!  If you do the training and believe in yourself, all things are possible. So I didn’t win the race, but I did come away with the feeling of racing well.  This was something that I felt was a bit of a turning point for me.  In the races to follow, I showed more patience and continued to get the results that I was capable of.

In 2015, I’ve got plans for this race. I can’t wait to get back to Salida. This year I want to see more of the town and look forward to having more teammates to race with.  I like the feeling of having unfinished business and hope I have the opportunity to do something about it.

Strengthening the bond

July of 2014 and a few of my stronger teammates from Thump cycling had traveled to Bend, OR to race in the Cascade Cycling classic. I had thought about going there with them in a supporting role, but I had a few things that were keeping me close to home. We had a somewhat local race here in Salida, CO (2 1/2 hour drive from Denver), that I decided I would go and race the TT and crit the following day. The road race didn’t really suit my strengths, so I figured that would be a good chance to skip out and go play somewhere else while I was down there. Another teammate of mine, Aaron, was just recovering from a crash a few weeks previous and said he’d come down and race those two events with me. I was planning the trip for the two of us when another mutual friend, Larsen, said he wanted to join us as well. Not to race, but just to ride and to support his friends. How awesome! What was going to be 5-6 days in a van by myself, turned into an adventure with some friends that I had never really spent any time off the bike with.

I’m a pretty easy guy to get along with, a lot of times I can just go with the flow. Aaron is a better guy than bike rider, and he’s one of the strongest guys I’ve ridden with. Larsen was maybe the only wildcard for me. I had only ridden a few times with him, but had always had a great time so there was no real reason for me to think this trip wouldn’t be incredible.

We all met at my place, loaded up the Sprintervan, and headed for the mountain town of Salida.

Outside Salida, Colorado on bike

The three of us pulled into town with just enough time to get in a quick spin and check out the TT course before we raced it the next day. We quickly got changed and headed out to the open roads. What an amazing place! Quiet roads and an unencumbered view of the collegiate peaks.

views of the collegiate peaks

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As we rode along the barbed wire fence lined roads, the serenity of my surroundings were brought to a violent end as Larsen attacked out of nowhere. I didn’t need to follow him and probably shouldn’t have, but we all know how fun it is to chase your buddy down or at least try.

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Larsen and I went back and forth a few times trading pulls and making each other hurt. I was wondering who was going to give up first. I decided to throw in the towel citing that I needed to save some for my time trial. Larsen is also a very strong dude, but has chosen to take a break from racing as he has a very busy work schedule that doesn’t allow him the time he needs to train. It’s great to be able to have friends like him in my life. He can be competitive if he wants to, but does’t need to turn every ride into a race.

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The whole time we were messing around, Aaron stayed true to his pre race routine and didn’t allow himself to be distracted. This is probably why he is a better racer than I am. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very disciplined when it comes to my training, but I can get sucked into “showing people how strong I am”. In 2015, that’s something I’m working on more than anything else. As Aaron finished his last interval and was cooling down, Lars and I caught on to the back of his wheel and we rolled back to the van.

“What an awesome ride”! I was taken a back in the beauty of this place. I knew that I was going to have to come back here again and explore these roads and the incredible mountain biking that Salida has to offer. Always playing the roll of the den mother, when we got back to the van, I told the guys to make sure they stretched before we loaded up and looked for a place to camp for the night. I was discovering that these guys had really easy personalities to get along with so I suggested that we take a photo “for the ladies”. This is what we came up with. Good thing Aaron and I are already married, Lars, good luck buddy.

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2014 US Pro cycling challenge

Ann and I kebler pass

It’s rare that my wife and I get to have a week off to ride bikes and follow the pro peloton around the beautiful state of Colorado.  In 2013 I, with a couple of friends, thought it would be a great idea to follow this race around for its third year running. The year before, I went to a few stages. I was up on Independence Pass the first year that they raced over it, and it was a bit of a mad house. I loved it! I was hooked. I needed to figure out a way I could manage to follow the entire 7 days.  In 2012 we purchased a Sprinter van and I have been converting it into an adventure mobile ever since.

Ann at KOM

Back to the 2014 race.  One of the most beautiful places in Colorado is Crested Butte.  I was lucky enough to be able to ride from CB to Aspen about a month before the race came to town.  The USPCC would be racing in the opposite direction that I traveled. Kebler Pass is amazing. It’s a dirt road that winds through huge aspen tree groves with a valley floor filled with gigantic ferns. I’ve never seen another place like it in Colorado. I rode it when it was dry. The race came through amidst a thunderstorm that included heavy rain, hail, and much lightning.  It was incredible to be in the forest, just the two of us, when the race rolled through.  I got so excited! It’s like I was a kid again.  The racers looked miserable as it was in the high 40’s and they were soaked and racing on muddy roads.  What incredible conditions! I was so pumped that I temporarily forgot that we still had to ride 20+ miles back to the van in these same conditions.

Racers coming through

My heart sank a bit, not for me, but for my wife.  Riding when wet and cold is bad enough, but then you throw in muddy roads and unsure weather conditions and things get real, quick.  Before the entire race even passed through I said, “we need to get out of here!” These were in my top 5 worst conditions I’ve ridden in book.  It was cold and getting colder, and the rain was just about to soak through our clothing.  Ann and I jumped on our bikes and headed towards the van, against the race.  Any other circumstance and I would have never done this.  These guys deserve the respect of the entire road.  As we soldiered on, Colorado State Troopers and race officials yelled at us to get off the road. I didn’t listen.

I could see in the eyes of the riders that they were in survival mode. They had raced almost 100 miles and then got hit with this.  They looked miserable!  I just concentrated on moving forward and staying out of their way.  After about 15 minutes of riding, the clouds started break and the sun emerged.  By the time we got back to the Sprinter van, our bikes and bodies were covered in the dirty aftermath of Stage 2.  I gained some real respect for those guys that day.

I’m so glad that Ann and I got to experience something like that together, but hope that we never have to again.

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Trail riding trial

Riding the new “Little scraggy” trail with Schatzi
Riding the new “Little scraggy” trail with Schatzi

My wife and I had just adopted this beautiful German Shepherd, and since it was such a nice Colorado fall day, I decided to take Schatzi out for her first mountain bike adventure. This was to be the first time that we allowed her to be off leash, so I was a bit nervous about how it would go. She was around 20 months old and full of energy. I knew that on foot, I would have no chance of corralling her if it came to that. I had been to Buffalo Creek a few times over the summer and had heard of a new trail that had been constructed over the past few months. This was to be the proving ground.

Schatzi decided to take the lead on this section at Buffalo Creek, Colorado
Schatzi decided to take the lead on this section at Buffalo Creek, Colorado

I have had German Shepherds in the past, but this was going to be new for the both of us. I parked the van, unloaded the bike, and got Schatzi on her leash. We hit the single track and I released her. She took off like she was shot out of a cannon. I just kept riding along and within a few seconds, she fell right in line behind me. It was a great feeling to see her be free, just the same way I feel when I’m on two wheels. We continued on for a few miles at a pretty easy pace, enjoying the views and experiencing the new trail before us.

It was awesome to see her be able to run free and enjoy being a dog. The new trail was fantastic as well! I found the narrow single track winding through huge boulders and evergreen trees made me feel small and alive at the same time. The drive to and from the trail doubled the time spent riding my bike, but it was well worth it.

I’m looking forward to the warmer months and the chance to get back out there again. Just like riding with good friends, this experience brought us closer together and will be one that I remember for a long time to come.