Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Day 3: Things die out here

Distance: 90 miles
Feet of climbing: 4,400
Weather conditions: Sunny and hot, winds out of the WNW at 25 mph, high of 97 degrees

Keri and I are at the Rifle Public Library for two things: air conditioning and a wireless connection (Bluetooth internet connection is wonderful in a pinch, but it’s reaaaallly slow).

It’s 6:20 p.m. and it’s still 97 degrees. We’re camping at the Rifle Middle School up the street and about 1,500 tents are crammed onto the sports field with no rhyme or reason. Should make for an interesting journey to the Port-a-Potty in the middle of the night.

Today’s ride was hot but awesome. Many times during the past three days, I’ve been struck by the harshness of the landscape. It looks just as you would expect the Wild West to look: rocky and dry, with tumbleweeds dancing across the horizon. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a tipped over stagecoach and skeletons.

As you can see from our opening photo, we found the skeleton.

We were on the road by 6:15 a.m. We followed Route 13 out of Craig along the backside of a mountain. It was unbelievably cold in the shade of the cliffs. About 10 miles into the ride, the wind kicked up, making us worry that this would be a long and miserable climb. But it passed again and would blow off and on during the ride, but not relentlessly.

The first 26 miles were up and down. Both of us felt like our brakes were rubbing. We even stopped several times to make sure they weren't. I suspect we did not eat enough after the ride yesterday. It was an easy ride and we weren't hungry, so we got busy doing other things and didn't eat until dinner. Bad idea.

Trying to make up the calorie deficit, we devoured breakfast burritos at the 26 mile aid station before the climb up Nine Mile Gap, and pasta salad and an "energy wrap" (peanut butter, honey, raisins & bananas in a flour tortilla) at the top of the climb. Ride the Rockies uses vendors at the rest stops. It means the choices are better than bananas and oreo cookies, but you have to pay for the food. They do provide bananas or oranges for free.

The approach to Nine Mile Gap was a relatively easy grade for 14 miles until we reached the gap and aid station at 7,485 feet.

After devouring our "lunch," we hit the road for a fabulous 10-mile descent from 7,500 feet to 6,200 feet. There was no wind on this side of the pass, so we sailed down at speeds of about 36 mph on the steeper grades. We kept the speed at about 25 mph for another five miles or so until we reached the town of Meeker. We stopped at an Ace Hardware for bungee cords and use of a clean bathroom (the port-a-potty lines had been ridiculous at all the rest stops).

After Meeker, we started the next climb – a steady 20-mile ascent back up to 7,500 feet. Road construction, aggressive tractor-trailer drivers and winds of about 20 mph controlled our speed. The entire climb took about 2 ½ hours.

Then, the moment we had been waiting for – the 16-mile descent into Rifle. It was sweet, for about 9 miles. The first part was steep enough to really bomb down fast in an aero-tuck. When the grade leveled out we kept powering down, but suddenly we were faced with a stiff wind blowing up the mountain. I don't know the speed of the wind, but it was so strong that we had to work to go 13mph on a significant grade. What a buzz kill!

As we came into town, we spotted a City Market grocery store on the left and swung in for some juice and stronger sunscreen. Once inside, we decided we should go ahead and get some dinner. Dinner has been a bit of an issue at times. The community dinner often runs out of food by the time we get to it and the restaurants are packed with long waits. And we wanted something healthy. So we gathered some greens, tomatoes, pasta & artichoke salad (really delicious!), a pear, some dinner rolls and a whole roast chicken. Yup, we bungied that chicken to the back of my bike!

So, we had a healthy dinner, got the shuttle to the library, and in a few minutes, we'll be looking for a bar to have our daily Fat Tire before turning in. And tomorrow we ride to the Hotel Colorado!