Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ratings and Favorites

Ride the Rockies Report Card:

Route & planning:

First of all, RTR gets an A+ for safety. The route markings were excellent and included signs and road paint indicating road hazards from RR crossings to manhole covers over the whole 422 miles. This is so above and beyond the call. It must have taken them a lot of time and manpower to do this and we really appreciated it. In addition, they had a tremendous police presence on the course to keep motorists in line. The only day we felt threatened was the first day — a few motor-home drivers passed us way too close where there was no shoulder.

I've already mentioned the map book. That gets an A+ from a map-maker. It was really beautifully done.

The actual route had some components that I could do without. First of all, I recognize the tour's value to the Chambers of Commerce in the small towns. And while I would have preferred to stay in the "Rockies" I'm familiar with, it was interesting to see this part of Colorado. The thing I did not enjoy was that the only roadway options we seemed to have between these frontier towns were highways. I don't mind a short stretch of highway, but I do not enjoy spending 5 or 6 hours on a narrow shoulder in the hot sun being buffeted by the wind and the wakes and noise of truck traffic. I also don't want to feel pressured to get up at 5 a.m. to start bee-lining down an unscenic highway in order to avoid oil rig traffic later in the day. Cycle touring should be relaxing, you shouldn't have to work it like a job. My desire was for a relaxed and scenic adventure, some challenging climbs, plenty of opportunity for photos and visits to points of interest. We had a few days of that, and those days get an A. The other days get a C-.


The RTR staff gets and A+ for friendliness and a B+ for having the information you needed on the spot - for such a huge organization, they were pretty well informed.

The nurses at the St Anthony's medical tent were fantastic! They were caring and knew their stuff. And they were right about Lisa needing a longer nebulizer treatment and that she would have a lot of trouble during the night. A+


The shuttle bus transportation definitely rates an A+!

Food service:

The food situation was a different experience for me. Sierra to the Sea (STTS) is all inclusive, the food is excellent and there is always enough. But that's not hard to do for 150 participants. Cycle North Carolina (CNC) had a meal plan which contained a menu. Participants chose and paid for the meals they wanted in advance, or went out to dinner in town. The pre-planning allowed CNC food services to know how many people were eating. They never ran out of food (though the food was not very good). At RTR the options are a community meal, private vendors on site, or restaurants in town. All of it you choose and pay as you go.

We never ate a single community meal, the line was always long and by the time we were ready for either breakfast or dinner, they were either out of food or most of the choices were gone. Most painfully, the first day when I was sick and it took so long to make the ride - all of the vendors were closed and the community food was gone, we were exhausted and had to go into town and wait for a table in an overwhelmed restaurant.

Some of the vendors were good. Hub Grub was excellent, and they were usually at the first rest stop with egg burritos (I'm going to miss the egg & sausage burrito with salsa verde). Some of the vendors were awful - like the one with the $10 hamburger combo. At first I didn't like having to pay for food at rest stops, but I eventually decided that I do like the option of having real food - a burrito, a fajita, a smoothie - better than typical sag food.

Restaurants could be a problem in small towns and we sometimes found long waits and overwhelmed servers. Several people who had done this ride in the past said the community food service problems were unique to this year.

We give the food situation a C.


Most of the facilities where we camped were good. High schools are good places for events like this - there is clean indoor camping, restroom alternatives to the port-a-potties and flat ground with soft grass to pitch tents on. One of the problems I had with CNC was that it is held in October, during the school year, so high schools were only available on the weekends. Some of the mid-week campsites CNC chose were, well, indescribably disgusting.

RTR used mostly high schools, one middle school and a park (in Glenwood Springs where many people took a break from camping and stayed in hotels). The middle school in Rifle was a little small and the grounds lacked ample space for the tents, and the high school in Leadville was small, run down and had that vertical challenge. I think they deserve a B+ overall, though final impressions are often more lasting than first impressions and the Leadville situation did not leave us feeling warm and fuzzy.

The Best and Worst:

Favorite town:
We loved the people of Rifle, they did leave us feeling warm and fuzzy. Rifle is not a place I'd visit on purpose, but I'm happy to have had the experience. The best day we had was in Aspen, for sure. We had a great ride there and a fun afternoon. The 85° temperature was pleasant after several days of brutally hot temps. Sure, I couldn't really afford to spend more than an afternoon in a town like Aspen, but it was definitely my favorite stop on the trip.
Least favorite town:
Leadville. No disrespect to the people. They were, as in all the towns, very pleasant. It just doesn't seem like a good idea to take 2000 people to in a town with a harsh climate, limited motels and a small school facility, drastically reducing the options for campers who did not want to brave the cold. It was quite a letdown after Aspen.

Best ride day: The ride from Glenwood Springs to Aspen was perfect. I have to pick that as the overall best. There was little to no traffic, we had that great stretch of trail, our legs felt fantastic and the scenery was beautiful. I loved the climb up Independence Pass and that would be my pick if not for the hideous other side of the mountain. I'll go back out there someday soon and climb it again, but ride back down to Aspen afterward.
Worst ride day: Day one was brutal for me because of my chest cold, but it had some beautiful scenery. Day 2 was not very scenic but it was down hill and I was playing with a demo bike. Day 3 is my pick for worst day. It started out so cold that it took 17 miles to get our legs moving, then it got so brutally hot, people were laying under vehicles at the rest stops to get out of the sun. The oil rig traffic was, as promised, no fun (though the state troopers did keep them in line), then the nasty, hot headwind coming into Rifle was a final cruelty. 90 miles on a hot highway is really not my idea of a fun bike ride.

Best meal: our most delicious meal by far was at Gusto in Aspen. But our most fun meal was the chicken we bought at City Market in Rifle. When we settled down in a hallway with our spread, a gentleman (Doug from Boston) walked by and asked where we got the food. When we told him, he sighed with a combination of exhaustion and disappointment. He had come in from the road and found the community food depleted, he was hungry and tired. We had more than enough food for the two of us, so we invited him to join us. He was a little shy about it at first, but the three of us enjoyed a perfect, healthy meal and a nice conversation.
Worst meal:
The $10 hamburger combo. McDonalds would have been a luxury.

Favorite experience: Climbing to 12,000 ft. The view, the sense of accomplishment and the camaraderie and encouragement among the cyclists on the way up.
Least favorite experience: Lines. Two thousand people means you have to stand in line for everything - to shower, to eat, to get coffee, to pee. As exhausting as it was to get up this morning at 4:30 AM for our early flight, it sure was nice to have no lines at the airport (except, of course the Southwest boarding cattle call).

Rating the Sherpa

Sherpa Packers is the second service I've used on a tour. At CNC, I used Bubba's Pampered Peddlers.

Like Bubba, Theo is a fun character. He's cheerful and he likes people. For this event he used a crew of high school kids who were raising money for their ski team. He made a point of telling us this was not his regular team. Perhaps as a result, some of the promised services were not quite delivered. Our bags were delivered to the tent only one day. There was no complimentary coffee — or if there was it was not presented in such a way that we knew it was there. We didn't discover the cell phone charging until the last day. There was always a table full of food and drinks, but it appeared to be for the kids and their supervisors. Somewhere nearby would be a pile or bag of towels and washcloths. The promised amenities could have been presented and delivered better.

"Better bike pumps for 2007" were promised. The only bike pump I was able to find was a real dog!

The baggage policy was emphasized on the website. To conform, I did not pack the duffel I purchased last year for bike tours. That duffel would have been easier to pack and keep organized because of the compartments and because it would not have been stuffed full. As it turned out, Kristin and Robbin brought the larger bags and the sherpa took them without an issue. Lisa packed the touring duffel, but also brought a small one to throw on the sherpa truck and lugged the big one to the RTR truck every day. That baggage policy was a limiting factor in preparing for the trip and had we known it wasn't enforced, we would have had a much easier time packing.

We also discovered that they were walking on the bags as they loaded them on the trailer. Several people had toiletry bottles broken inside their bags. Fortunately, our laptops were not damaged and when we brought it to their attention, the crew supervisor allowed us to remove the computers and put them inside his truck.

Everyone was friendly and the kids were always prompt and helpful when asked to do something. They also carried customer's bags up the stadium steps in Leadville (starting at 7 a.m. — we left earlier).

The tents were flimsy and made for fair weather. They were not adequate for the coldest nights. By the end of the week it sounded like half the people in Sherpaville were coughing and sniffling. The sleeping bags did have nice fleece liner bags inside them, but they were rated for warmer temps than we experienced in Steamboat and Leadville.

I have to say, Bubba runs a much better service. He buys good equipment. The 2-person tents are huge, you can stand up in them. When you get into camp, there is a cooler of sodas (and beer if you ordered it) and a table of snacks set up with camp chairs around it... in the shade of an EZ up! Oh what I would have given for some shade last week!