Ride the Rockies – Hotchkiss to Carbondale
Well, I’ve certainly got to admit that day 2 of Ride the Rockies was a little more in line with my expectations. Lots of scenery, lots of climbing, awesome downhills, and did I mention, mind-blowing scenery.
The day started out deceptively easy from Hotchkiss. Except for the dad-gummed ever present wind, we left town under nearly perfect conditions. From the moment we left town, we were climbing, although the grades started out at 1% and stayed that way for a long time. As we cycled toward the little town of Paonia, we could see the foothills in the distance with their promise of hardship.
The town itself seemed to be built around the cherry orchard industry. The green line of trees in the picture above is the start of huge cherry orchards, many that looked like they were nearly ripe for the picking. Unfortunately, it was too early in the day to dawdle, so I didn’t get a chance to see if I could find any to eat.
Leaving the first rest stop, things began to get a little serious, with sustained climbs being the norm as we headed into the foothills. At this point, they were still relatively easy, but for the first time I began passing riders. As we approached the coal-mining town of Somerset, we rode over a little hump that really began to spread out the field of riders, with the stronger ones passing me by, but since I seem to be about a middle of the pack rider with these people, I was passing a lot of them with ease.
The rest stop in Somerset was in a little park with a gorgeous view of the mountain over our shoulders. It was tempting to sit a while, but since the day was early and I was still feeling pretty good, I moved on.
The road continued to go up, but at a pace that was deceivingly easy. The scenery started to get spectacular (at least to a country bumpkin like me) and I was just pedaling along with a big old grin on my face the entire time. We had an 18 mile stretch with only one serious bump, about half-way through it. As I was peaking out over that little bump, I ended up riding the same pace as a young lady (comparatively speaking) who was a really strong rider. We picked up another guy and enjoyed a really fast rotating pace-line almost all the way to the next rest stop. It was fun, but I really can’t tell you what the scenery looked like during that time. I decided I probably enjoyed the scenery rather than the race, so I doubt that I look for any more pace lines this week.
After the rest stop at mile 39, things got pretty serious as we began our final assault on McClure Pass. With five miles of pretty hard climbing, at one point I thought it looked a little bit like a death-march up the mountain. As far as the eye could see was a line of cyclists, cranking up the mountain slowly and steadily.
If it weren’t for the scenery, that five miles might have been really long. As it was, by the time I got to the top, I was feeling it pretty badly and was more than glad to stop for a picture under the sign.
After resting a few minutes, I started down and pretty much had my mind blown! Talk about fast! Talk about beautiful! There was no way to take it all in when you’re flying down the mountain that fast. I felt like I was flying, but some of the more experienced mountain riders really cut loose and passed me by like I was standing still. I, on the other hand, preferred to make it down alive, so I made good use of my brakes.
At this point, I was about 15 miles from Carbondale and the road was a gentle downhill the entire way. It followed the North Fork of the Gunnison River, so there were several more really nice views before we finally got routed onto a bike path for our final approach to town.
As I pulled into the Carbondale High School, I looked over my shoulder and discovered this one last picture that needed to be taken.
Not a bad view to go to bed by, is it? Tomorrow is our hardest day, so I’m hoping for some good rest tonight.
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