Friday, July 22, 2011

Day 40: Now I know why they call it Rabbit Ears Pass

Day #40) July 22, 2011. Walden, CO to Steamboat Springs, CO: 58 miles in 5:02 hrs.

Hit the local pizza shop in Walden last eve for dinner, figuring that with the large pie, I could kill two birds with one stone and have za for dinner and for breakfast. The pizza was really quite good and extremely filling – coupled with a couple of Nut Brown Ales! Hit the hay at a recreational 10 pm with the expectation to be on the road at 6 am the next morning.

Woke at 4 am, feeling really groggy and tired from yesterday’s slog up Cameron Pass. No motel coffee maker, and nothing open for a hot cup of java, so I was jonesing in that dept. Got all the gear packed and then miro waved the 3 slices of za in the refrig. And wow, it was tough from the get-go getting pizza down at 5 am. Matter of fact the last slice felt as if I was choking down a doughball in a pizza eating contest. But I knew that there was really zero between Walden and Steamboat Springs in the way of places to get liquids and food, so I just had to pack it in for the long haul. Same for the liquids, where I filled up 3 bottles with water and carried the Gatorade that Dave had given me yesterday. With the way I consume food and drink on the road I figured that I had plenty to get me to my destination. What’s more I had one emergency Cliff bar and some Honey Stingers that Drew had given me.

Now there was no AC in the motel last night, but they did have a little fan that I’d set up at the foot of the bad last night to keep me cool. But as usual in the mts, once early morning arrived it was pretty cold outside. So I shut the fan down early in the morn. But when I closed the little window in the room this morning, I noted that it was really cold outside, like about high 40’s to low 50’s. This was going to be a very cold ride to get going at 6 am seeing that Walden is at 8099 ft in elevation. Put on my long sleeve polypro top and my vest. I put my headband around my ears and just went with skin on my legs and hands. Got outside in the early dawn, and damn – cold, cold, cold. Really cold! I mean it kind of was cold enough to tense me up muscle wise. Right from the start I realized that I should have taken some gloves out of my front pannier. But once on the road I just hate to stop and dig through gear, so I figured I had to suck it up and just clench my hands into fists and to blow warm breath on them every so often.

The first stretch of riding on Rt 14 W, 33 miles of nowhere land to the 9400 foot Rabbit Ears Pass, was a grinder of false flat and whoop tees. And from the gun, once I descended out of Walden and began the climbing, my stomach was rebelling in a big way with the za breakfast. It was like this monumental case of acid reflux that I felt all the way from my esophagus to my stomach. It was pure misery – and the thing was that I know better. And damned if I didn’t go ahead and do za for breakfast before a ride where I’d be putting in hard climbing efforts from the start. That was just pure stupid and thoughtless. Add to that the fact that from the prior two days of mt climbing my shoulders, my low back and my legs were just torched. On the plus side was the fact that the morning was cloudless and just staggeringly beautiful. To the west there was an alpine glow on the far mt range and all the landscape in front of me had this faint pink glow to it. Quite remarkable to ride through!

My hands were pretty much beet red from the cold, and I was switching out clenched fists and blowing on hands every few minutes. Legs felt good and feet felt good. Ears were moderately shielded from the cold by the headband. Now on one stretch of false flat I could hear coyotes barking of to the north, really raising heck out there on the high plateau. And that’s pretty much what I was riding through, this massive high plateau that was nearly surrounded on all four sides by mt ranges. It was either BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or ranchland. But it was a sprawling swath of endless flatlands – well, not exactly flat! I was having a beautiful ride on the one hand, and a horrible case of acid reflux and dead, concrete legs on the other. Even right in the middle of my shoulder blades, I was sore there. So it was like ecstasy and misery at the same time. Tried to just focus on the awesome ride and not on the rebelling body.

In the first few hours of the ride the air was calm, but around 8 am the wind just kicked up to a gnarly level, and fast. It seemed to be out of the SW, and at times it was a dead-on headwind that just took my physical ailments up a notch. Those were the times when I’d look down at my odometer and see that I was just working big time to maintain like 8-9 mph. On the whoop tee’s I was relegated to doing 4-6 mph, out of the saddle just swerving around on the berm trying to keep a rhythm. It was pretty bad strength wise. And it was there that I realized that my “easy” pass for the day was going to be a total *^&$^@%^@ of a climb. Because if I was suffering on the little stuff, how would I feel on the actual pass when the road usually pitches up sharply? No easy day today that was for sure.

Figured that that 33-mile stretch was going to take me around 3:15-3:30 hrs to do, and after fighting my way up false flats and whoop tee’s and against a headwind, I did indeed cover that stretch of high plains in three and a half hours. Got to the Rt 40 W jcn at 9:30 am, and by then I had been relegated to using the little cookie a ton. Just had nothing in the legs. So at the jcn of 14 & 40, that was along the Continental Divide, at an elevation of 8772 feet and called Muddy Pass. That meant that I had another 700 plus feet of elevation to gain to get to Rabbit Ears Pass. Ouch! So I made the right onto 40 W and continued up a false flat – just spinning away in the little cookie. Came to one section where I thought I may have hit the next pass, but when I looked to the right and saw that the road just pitched up sharply on a switchback I knew that my little sufferfest was to continue for a bit more.

Did the switchback and then started up this long, like 2-mile rampart of about 5 or so %. Just dropped into my easiest gear and spun up, slowly and gradually. Finally made the Rabbit Ears Pass, and it was in no way as beautiful as yesterday’s Cameron Pass. Basically it was just a saddle in the mt. I was relieved to get over, thinking that I’d have a blaster down mt for a good 6-10 miles. But that was a pipedream. What it was was this long slog across the mt where the road just undulated up and down with plenty more climbing. I’d loose a hundred feet or so in a descent and then gain 50-70 of it back in a whoop tee climb. It was just crushing my legs. Ok, so on the bright side….cloudless, cool sunny day; beautiful alpine meadows surrounding me; and I was riding in the mts of CO! It all equaled out!

So I must have done like 3-5 of these whoop tee’s on the mt top and then I see a sign that reads: West Summit Rabbit Ears Pass 2 miles.” You mean there’s two passes? Yes indeed. So up again to the second pass in the little cookie. I probably spent like 45 min up on that mt top struggling to keep the pedals moving. Finally got to the second pass and that’s where I saw signs for trucks to check their brakes. Relief! Then another sign detailing a runaway truck ramp five miles down on the west side. That descent was going to be a screamer – and just what I’d been craving all that time. Turned on my helmet cam and began the descent, a beauty of a down mt of 7 total miles. It was one of those descents where you could let if fly for stretches and not worry about technical stuff (hard switchbacks etc.) – except for a patch of gravel across the road where there was damage. That section forced me to brake down to about 10 mph so as to not biff it in the gravel. Had I gone over it at the 35 mph I was maintaining, I’d likely have blown it in those 30-40 feet of thick gravel. It was pretty dicey. Got it going again and just totally enjoyed the amount of ele. I was loosing. That descent was just stellar, and off to my left I could see WAY the hell off the road down onto the high plains. Had to be a drop of 1000 ft down to the plains.

That descent took about 15 min to do, covering over 7 miles. For the last mile I could see the city of Steamboat Springs off in the distance. Once down, the road still descended in a false descent. Had to remove my poly pro and vest at the bottom because the temp had gone up at least 25 degrees. I mean it was hot down there. From there I had 4 more miles to get into downtown Steamboat. Felt pretty good to have all the climbing for today and really just softpedal all the way to Steamboat. Got a little motel in the downtown district, watched the TDF on TV as I removed gear and checked phone and email.

Once the TDF was over and after the shower and kt wash I headed down the sidewalks for some lunch. Now this is a pretty high end tourist town for sure, but it does have some real character. I can dismiss all the shit shops and tourista hangouts. There’s some great bike and gear places, and the choices of food is just staggering. Now you’ll think I’m crazy, but I had a taste for chinese, and that was just a block away. I figure that today I’m going to graze and try out a number of places with small meals. Did a little lunchen special at the chinese place and then got a gourmet cookie to go and then a red-eye coffee from a local java shop to bring back to the motel to drink while I work.

So this eve I went out for dinner and just did a splurge for the first time, going to this steak house on Main St and getting like a 20 oz Porterhouse. Just had to have some CO beef while I was here, and this place was just too tempting. Now at this place they let you pick out the cut of meat in a glassed in refrig, and then you take it over to a big grill to do yourself – with their tutelage of course on cook times and searing techniques. Did a wonderful salad bar, had a microbrew and then cooked my steak. Now I was just a tad worried about (&*^%$&^$ up an expensive cut of meat, but it turned out just fabulous. They kind of come around and check on you to make sure you don’t biff your beef!

Walked out of there just sporting this massive Buda belly. That about does it for today. There’s an outdoor concert down by the river, but I’m just too much of a party pooper to spend more time on my feet today. I’m pretty gassed from climbing mts for three days in a row. So in all likelihood I’ll be cashed out on the bed doing a bit of veging. Tomorrow is a short day to the city of Craig, and then I’ll shoot for Dinosaur for Sunday. That should put me in Utah on Monday.


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