How’s your Aspen?

It’s only a 3 hour drive from Denver to Aspen, but I don’t seem to make it more than once or twice a year.  Over the past few years and through the magic of Instagram, I’ve met a handful of good people that live there.  Having lived in the mountains myself for 4 years, I know how many friends say they will come up to visit, but somehow or way it doesn’t happen.  I’d been talking with my friends Erik and Iain about getting up there and doing some riding, so I pulled the trigger.

My Sprinter van had been in the shop and took a bit longer to get back than I had thought it would.  This pushed me back a couple of hours but it was no big deal.  I was in no rush and figured I’d take advantage of the delay and catch the sunset on my way up.

Leaving Denver, I got caught in a bit of rain as I approached I-70 west.  Five minutes later, sunshine.  I love you Colorado!  An hour later, the sun was beginning to set and I was nearly to the top of Fremont Pass.  The light was just right and I had to pull the van over to capture the moment.

alpine glow

climax

I must have stayed in this spot for 45 minutes and then this happened…

purple haze

Cycling and photography have both taught me patience.  You can’t take short cuts in training and sometimes you have to stick around for a few extra minutes to get the shot.  I try to roll with the punches the best I can.

The sun and light were gone so I pressed on towards Independence Pass.  It was going on 11pm as I approached the top of the pass.  There is a big parking lot up there and I thought it would be a great place to be greeted by the sun in the morning.  5:30am, like clockwork, I woke up and rolled out of van.  Once again, the light was perfect.  It wasn’t hard to get moving.  The temperature was in the low 40’s and I had been dealing with the upper 80’s for days in a row.  It felt great!  I got some coffee going and starting looking for something to shoot.  Surrounded by 360 degrees of awesomeness, it was a bit tough to focus.  No pun intended.

on the bubble

7am and I’m supposed to be at Erik’s and ready to ride by 8 I’d better get moving!The Sprinter van does a lot of things well, but cornering is not one of them.  I took the safe approach and showed up a few minutes late.  Thank God for mountain time!  Most people that know me, know to give me a few minutes.  I generally make up for it during the ride.

Erik and I rolled out of Snowmass and began the grueling 20 mile descent to Basalt.  Along the way, we picked up Neil, a friend to Erik and Iain.  Neil had just picked cycling and had already competed in a couple of road races.  New riders are always fun to ride with.  I like their enthusiasm and if they’re willing to learn, I’ll teach them everything I know.

We rolled into Basalt and that’s where I met Iain from Aspen cycling tours for the first time.  Super nice guy, but I already knew that.  At the bottom of the canyon, we encountered a brief road closure and 4 became 5 as another rider that was already waiting, joined us.  We got on to riding along the Frying Pan river, climbing steadily up to the Ruedi Reservoir.  I played around a bit with Neil and our new friend, entertaining them with my best Froome impression.  I few super high cadence moments and my legs began to feel it.  Those two pressed on while I sat up and waited for Iain and Erik.

dam

The three of us kept climbing until we reached the top where we found Neil waiting for us.  Our fifth had been pushing on and Neil felt obliged to keep pace.  Anytime you’re doing a 6+ hour ride in the mountains, pacing is everything.  It can be really tempting to attack climbs early in the ride, but you’ll almost always pay for that later.  We all had chatted about that on the way to catch back on to him.  So on we went, paralleling the frying pan as it snaked it’s way towards Hagerman Pass.  This was the greenest I’d ever seen Colorado!  We’ve had a ton of moisture this spring and the hills were really showing off.

dark aspen copy

 

fern

This is roughly were we topped out. 9,454′ and 52.4 miles from where we left early that morning.  All we had to do now was turn around ride back to Erik’s house.  The temps had been rising but I hadn’t really noticed that too much.  Trying to keep up with Iain took up most of my thoughts.

Iain copy

two aspen copy

Even though the profile showed that we would be heading downhill, the boys assured me we’d almost certainly be facing a headwind.  I was up to the task.  We all started off together, but almost immediately Neil got separated and had fallen off the pace.  Whew!  That’s going to be tough by yourself.  I guess you’ve got to learn sometime that you’ve got to hold a wheel, even on a downhill.  Luckily for him, I was about out of water and when I saw the fire station had a hose bib, I pulled over to re up on H20.  A few minutes later, Neil rolled up.  “Never lose the group on a descent”, he said.  Lesson learned.

No more pics at this point as we all rolled in a paceline back towards Basalt.  4 became 3 as we dropped of Iain and began the 20 mile, hot climb back to Snowmass.  It was so hot, but Erik had the promise of cold beer and snacks once we arrived back at his place.  This was the only motivation I needed.  I’m a snack guy.

6:20:43, 105miles, and 8,303′ climbed.  What a great ride!  Always fun to ride with friends you don’t see very often and make new friends along the way.  I couldn’t wait to see what day two had in store for us, well, maybe after a shower, a couple beers, and some serious snacking.  Big thanks to Amy, Erik’s wife, for taking care of us with what may have been the coldest beers and tastiest veggie tray ever!

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.

I'm dirty