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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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