Days 18 & 19: The Hardest One-Day Ride of My Life
Updated: Jun 10, 2022
It was about 10 years ago when I decided this would be the route for my dream ride. It starts with the ACA’s Western Express trail, (before continuing onto the TransAmerica Trail) which its website describes thus:
The Western Express Bicycle Route connects San Francisco, California, on the west coast to the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail in Pueblo, Colorado. It provides a shorter mileage option (468 miles less when compared to the TransAmerica Trail) on a central cross-country route but challenges the rider with extreme weather and riding conditions, as well as logistical obstacles. One's efforts are rewarded, however, by experiencing some of the least visited and most magnificent areas of the American West.
On Day 18, we faced the extreme riding conditions and logistical obstacles described above. I knew this was the case 10 years ago and asked Chris if she would be sure to help me through this ride which would be 125 miles long, about 8000 feet of climbing, and zero services along the way. I knew this would likely challenge me physically and take about 12 hours to complete. With no water along the way, I would have to pack lots of water to make it. Or, I would need someone to help me through this day. THANK YOU Chris and Lori for meeting us at mile 50, 75, and then being there and available over the last 50 miles. I would not have made it without your help.
Day 19 was tough, but mostly because it followed that brutal day 18. We had dead legs coming into Dolores, Colorado. It was worth the ride because Dolores is a cute little town (nicer than Blanding) and a good place for a rest day.
Before I get into the details of the ride and my many thank yous, I must recommend a book. A week or so ago Wynn recommended The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (along with a couple of other books). I knew I had already downloaded A Gentleman in Moscow by the same author. I figured I would read the book I already had before buying the other one. Over the last few days I finished that book. It is a great listen and I highly recommend it.
Day 18: 124 miles, 8000 elevation (about 4 wheeees and 0 aarrgghhs).
Today was just a very hard and challenging ride. Knowing we would have about 10-12 hours of time on the road, we left at about 5:45 a.m. In hindsight, we think the best strategy would be leaving as early as possible--maybe even midnight or 1:00 a.m. We were afraid to ride in the dark, but as it turned out, even with our morning ride we had two cars pass us in the first 3.5 hours. Leaving earlier might have avoided so much time in the mid-day heat.
The first 19 miles were a gradual climb, which was followed by 20 miles of gradual descent. Bruce and I were both surprised that this day was about as beautiful as the previous few days. Somehow we expected less. At mile 40, we started a pretty steady climb for almost 60 miles. Fortunately, our wives met us along the way to give us cold beverages and allow us to hop into an air conditioned vehicle. At 100 miles (or so) in, we had a much appreciated ten mile descent that ended at this giant wall. We climbed the road below the wall figuring we were about to hit a 19.9% grade (according to Ride With GPS), and were therefore pleased to only have a few 10-12% grades thrown our way as we went through a slot in the wall. Bruce and I rode together most of the day but less so in the last 30 miles as we each handled the hills the best way we could.
At 110 miles, we thought it would be relatively easy to ride those last 14 miles into Blanding. But we failed to anticipate the 7-12% grades (for .5 to 1 miles) that came up at miles 117 and 120. UGH! I struggled my way into Blanding and was happy to see my hotel. I ended up lasting longer than my Garmin which gave up at mile 118! I tended to take fewer pictures as time went on. For one reason, the scenery did not change as much as previous days, and also because were were just pushing on.
Day 19: 84 miles, 4537 elevation (2 wheeees and 2 aarrgghhs)
I woke up to my first flat -- a hotel flat, where a slow leak showed up the following morning. Bruce has had this twice and Dave has not yet had a flat. I was already slowed by lack of routine (I have a morning routine but with Chris here, it is a bit out of sync) and just being beat from yesterday's ride.
Today's climbing was different from previous days. First, while I had two wheeees, I discovered a new form of aarrgghh. This is a great descent ruined by heavy traffic and/or dirty shoulders. Mostly we had a wide shoulder, but there were a lot of semis on this stretch.
Normally we have had long climbs that may last 5-10 (or more) miles. Today was "rollers" where you mostly climb 500-1000 feet elevation and climb for a quarter mile to a mile at a time before rolling down the other side of the hill. In theory the day was not supposed to be too hard compared to recent endeavors. In practice, it followed the hardest one-day ride of my life--so today was tough. Fortunately at about mile 70 Chris called. Besides telling me that our Airbnb was cute, she also told me there was a craft brewery in Dolores that got great reviews. That, and knowledge that the next day was a rest day, inspired Bruce and I through those last dozen miles.
So many thank yous...
Today my topic is an overdue thank you that was driven home by events from the last few days. Even when you think a ride is a pretty solitary effort you are reminded that dreams rarely happen without lots of support.
My wife Chris has been a fantastic partner on this adventure. It is certainly not easy when your husband tells you he is off on a two month bike trip. I am not there to help around the house. Plus, I ask her to drive 10 hours to come meet me in Utah--and help me through this difficult day. She will also see me next week in Pueblo, Colorado (a few hours from Fort Collins). Later she plans to drive out to Virginia to meet me at the end of the ride and drive me home. She has offered to meet me anywhere or drive me anywhere at the drop of a hat. Wow! What a woman. I am very fortunate to have that kind of support from her.
There are others who made this trip work. While I am technically not paid for the summer, I usually work at that time. It helped that Dave and Kim made sure no extra work flies my way.
Also, I am revising my textbook this spring and summer. Normally that is a very busy time. Tanks to so many people at McGraw-Hill, who adjusted their schedules to fit mine, I am able to take this trip without having any book revision stuff hanging over me or interrupting me. When I started the book revision I had a new production manager. I was worried how she would feel about me doing this in the middle of the revision. Then Fran told me her mother Elaine had done a similar trip (the whole TransAmerica Trail) via bike more than 30 years ago. Fran understood and worked hard to make it happen. Other people adapted their schedules to make this work. So thank you Kelly, Jen, David, Sarah, and Brianna who all made this possible by working around my needs -- and for making sure the next edition of Essentials of Marketing is the best one yet.
There are many others supporting me on the ride. Dave and Bruce helped organize the ride as we worked together to figure out the route and a plan. And their company has been appreciated on this first half of the ride. Jeff and Sage offered bike maintenance tips that give me (not a very knowledgeable bike mechanic) advice on the ride. Zach gave me a great bike fit -- I have had few aches or pains in spite of long hours on the bike.
And so many readers of this blog have made posts, sent me emails or texts, or just read the blog. It is motivating to hear from so many people and to get your questions or read your tips or book suggestions.
Stories and pictures
Day 18: The tough climb had its moments…
It was much more beautiful than we anticipated.
There were also some great man-made images...
And after a while, the best image was seeing Chris waiting to give me cold water.
Day 19: The day after...
Into Colorado (first picture), into Dolores (second picture), into our Airbnb, and of course that little brewery that motivated Bruce and I.
We do have a rest day in Dolores before a long ride tomorrow to Ridgway.