Thursday, June 13, 2013

Death Ride Tour Stage 1

Death Ride Tour V
Stage One – Silveton to Telluride (73 miles)

6 months of training, preparation and worrying to be put to the test.

Day one of the Death Ride started out fairly casual.  I, of course, was freezing my tuchus off and was really nervous.  The town of Silverton, Colorado, sits at 9,339 feet.  My highest training altitude was at 9,341 feet.  Safe to say, I was already pushing my limits before we even began.

Yeah, I'm a desert weenie.
It was still fun to see so many other riders together in the mountains for one purpose.  The variety of bikes and gear was staggering.  I don’t think a single rider had the same rig as another.  There were fancy carbon bikes, simple aluminum frames, and even a couple steel frames with tube shifters (very classy).  Some folks were bundled up like me; others were already stripped down to short sleeves and bare legs. 

Almost 300 riders from across the country, from different backgrounds and with different gear ready to go in Silverton, Colorado.
Barry Sopinsky, event coordinator, decided to forego the phased start and so all 300 riders took off down the main street (and only paved road) of Silverton.  I was unsure of how fast I would ride compared to the other riders so I held back to the rear of the main pack. 
One street, 300 cyclists, you do the math.
Shouldn’t have bothered.  Although I was breathing heavily and my legs were already tired, I was easily spinning past a majority of the pack.  As we passed the sign for Red Creek Pass (our most significant and first climb of the day) I found that I’d caught up to the front 30 or so riders and was easily keeping pace with them. 

Then came the first turn and serious climb. 

The steepness of the climb was staggering.  In only a few seconds I was staring down from the switchback at other riders below us that were quickly shrinking away.  I tried to enjoy the view, but had to be careful.  The edge of the road didn’t always have any rails, there was no shoulder to ride on and the drop off was easily hundreds of feet straight down into the canyon.

Red Creek Pass was at the 10.5 mile marker, the serious climb started at about 5.5 miles, so we had a solid 5 mile ascent up into the mountains.  At mile 10 something snapped inside of me, I looked around at the beauty of the steep mountains, the trees, the clear and crisp air.  I was forcing air in and out of my burning lungs while thinking about the people that I was supposed to be riding for.  My legs were rubbery from the 10 miles of climbing and burning with lactic acid. 

I cried.

Summiting at 11,000 feet was a transcendental experience.  It was the highest I’ve ever cycled and the steepest 10 miles I’ve ever faced.  I also began to feel confident about the whole tour as I’d passed people on the climb that looked much stronger than me, and never got passed myself. 

I made sure to take a good rest at the water point, munching down some snacks and electrolyte drink.  By the time I took off, the pass was becoming crowded with other riders gaining the summit.

I sped off alone, speeding downhill towards the town of Ouray.  I like to think I’m pretty good at descending, and my heavy aluminum frame helps give me extra speed and momentum.  
Here I come.

There I go.
Waving for Char.
Halfway down the mountain, I ran into a strong headwind that reminded me of El Paso.  Other riders were slowing down to fight against it, but it was so natural to me that I just kept driving on through it, hardly aware of the inconvenience of it.  Farther down, there was road construction that had left gravel over much of the road.  I plowed through it with another rider that I had caught, both of us darting back and forth along the road looking for smooth areas free of loose rocks.
The winding road to Ouray.
At the far end of Ouray, I picked up a couple riders that I would meet again on Stage 2.  They were an interesting pair.  One was taller than me, thin as a bean pole, riding an aluminum bike with a single pannier hanging on the right side.  When we descended, he pedaled the whole time, never resting to coast downhill.  The other rider was as short as his partner was tall, riding a nice carbon Specialized bike.  Together we rolled towards Ridgway, picking up another rider along the way that gave us a nice 4-person paceline.

Pacelines are interesting and varied in their usefulness.  The purpose of a paceline is to give riders time to recover by riding in the draft of other riders until it’s their turn to take over the lead spot and “pull” everyone else along.  Throughout the Death Ride, I’ve seen pacelines that were both good and bad.  Some functioned only while downhill, some were composed of riders that obviously had been training together, some never lasted more than a couple miles before disbanding in a trail of broken hearts and tears.

We rolled along smoothly until reaching the Ridgway water/aid station.  By now it was starting to warm up and I followed up on my promise to Char, my coach, to take advantage of all the water points.

I left Ridgway alone to climb back out of the valley towards the Dallas Divide.  This was an unexpectedly difficult climb with plenty of headwind and seemingly never ending turns.  There was no idea how far or tall the climb would be until I turned a bend and found the red tent waiting about half a mile below the crest of the divide.
The road up to the 8,970 feet Dallas Divide summit.
In the heat I had pulled my arm warmers to expose my arms, rolled my vest up to cool off and half unzipped my jersey.  Not the coolest look, but at least it helped vent the heat.  I bundled back up for the descent down the backside, which, while not as steep as I had hoped, was cool and breezy.  My mistake came at the bottom when the climb to Telluride began again.  Instead of stopping to take my vest and warmers off completely, I assumed that it would be cool on the backside of the hill during the climb.  As a result, I quickly began to overheat, fatigue and altitude clouding my judgement and thinking.  Instead of realizing what was making my climb so much more difficult, I trudged onward, dreaming of cresting the hill for the short descent into Telluride.

Another lesson learned; I should have studied a map of the route to better understand where the climbs and descents were so that I would know how many miles to expect. 

I stopped at 68 miles just long enough to text Char before the batteries on my phone died (thus Strava only recorded 71 miles of that ride, missing the last couple into Telluride).

By the time I reached the top and could begin the descent, my legs were destroyed, I had been cramping on both sides since mile 50, I couldn’t breathe too deeply or laugh or talk out loud without a deep rumbling cough.  At mile 60 I had begun talking to myself (which is usually a sign of deep fatigue and dehydration), but by mile 70 I couldn’t find the energy to argue with myself anymore.

I had skipped the water point at Sawpoint, at the beginning of the climb, thinking that I had enough water and Gatorade (neither of which I had been drinking enough of) and that it was only a few miles to the end.  The result was a total degradation of my body beyond what should have happened in a 70 mile ride.
Coasting into Telluride on fumes.
 When I rolled into Telluride I barely had enough energy to smile for Char and then got lost downtown since I couldn’t remember where the finish was supposed to be, or the bag pick up, or the hotel we were staying at.
No idea where I'm going, but I'm making good time.
By a sheer stroke of luck, I followed a small group to the same hotel where Char had parked out Jeep and borrowed a cell phone to call her after I saw her ride by on her bike a block away, looking for me.

I was a physical mess, barely able to get out of my kit and into the shower. 

I had burned over 3,000 calories during the ride, and hadn’t done nearly enough to replenish those.  Char drug me downtown to stuff my face with whatever I could get into it.
Spanakopita, french fries and a protein smoothie = perfect post ride meal.
 Lessons learned from Stage One.

1.     Drink more than you think you need, finish at least a bottle before you reach the next water point, and use all the water points.
2.     It’s hotter than you think, and you’ll generate more heat while cycling than you plan for, so downgrade.  It’s much easier to recognize that you’re too cold, than too hot when you’re tired.
3.     Enjoy the descents, don’t push too hard on them unless you have the legs to carry you back up the other side.
4.     Riding in a group is easier than alone, don’t be afraid to slow down to keep a group together.  You’re not racing, and it can be more enjoyable to ride with others than alone.

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