July 8 and 9 I joined our work team and rode in the MS150 bike tour in support of Multiple Sclerosis. About 2,500 people rode in the two day tour, and traveled from Denver to the Royal Gorge Bridge in southern Colorado. Despite biking to work daily I’ve never ridden this long a distance in two days, so on the second day it felt great to complete the steepest and most difficult last 15 miles up to the bridge and back. We did 80 miles the first day, and the second day did 70 miles.
I was told that last year it was over 100 degrees both days, so when I arrived at the high school starting point in south Denver Saturday morning I didn’t mind that it was damp and cloudy. I met some riders in our team, and we rode south through the hills of Highlands Ranch and Castle Pines, through some parks and trails in Castle Rock, then east into the country where this guy watched everyone pass by.
Every 10-15 miles there was a rest stop, staffed by volunteers who kept everyone filled up with sandwiches, powerbars, gatorade, water, and moral support. Being my first long bike tour I was impressed at how organized everything was, and in addition to the mountains of food provided there were plenty of bike mechanics cruising the route to ensure everyone’s bike was in shape, volunteers directing riders at certain intersections, and support folks in case someone needed a lift.
Unfortunately by late morning the light rain turned to a heavy constant shower, eventually soaking my clothes, shoes, socks and gear.
We kept going and arrived at lunch in a large park. Many people chose to ride in the support vans to Colorado Springs, and I pondered this for almost an hour trying to stay dry under a tree while eating my turkey wrap and soggy cookie.
Brief happiness was found under a hot hand dryer in the park restroom. After warming up a bit I found the rain had let up, and since I was already wet I kept riding south the remaining 30 miles to Colorado Springs. After a few more grueling mid day hills the country roads gave way to the suburbs and wide arterials of Colorado Springs, and the smooth ride into town through the old neighborhoods felt great. It was completely downhill the last 20 miles of the first day, and the muted sun and lifting clouds made the ride into Colorado College very enjoyable.
The first day’s finish line was at Colorado College, where we had pasta, beer, and relaxed while comparing stories of how wet and soggy we were. It also started raining again.The next day we started at 6:30, and headed south out of Colorado Springs. The weather was much more forgiving than the previous day’s melee, and the crisp cool air and dry roads made for a comfortable climb out of the city.
Our route traveled from Colorado Springs south on highway 115 west of Fort Carson near Cheyenne Mountain and then to Florence and Canon City. After Canon City riders had the option of continuing up highway 50 looping around and over the Royal Gorge Bridge.
The initial leg riding on highway 115 south of Colorado Spings was a thorougly enjoyable ride, traveling up easy grades with a tailwind, and flying down the canyons. Eventually 115 met highway 50 in the open plains of southern Colorado, and we rode the busier highway 50 into Florence.
The local police and volunteers along the way were great about patrolling the route, and the heavily trafficked roads seemed relatively light this Sunday morning.
A few of the rest stops along the way made peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and I tried them for the first time. I can’t remember ever eating so much in a single day – At each stop I ate several sandwiches, powerbars, bananas, and kept filling up on water, and still burned it all off.
Thanks to a tailwind I rode the 50 mile stretch from Colorado Springs to Florence in only four hours. Lunch was served in a big park, and with the sun shining and weather getting warmer I kept riding another 10 miles and arrived in Canon City before noon, which allotted plenty of time for the most difficult final stretch: The climb up highway 50 to the Royal Gorge Bridge.
For those unfamiliar with Colorado, the Royal Gorge Bridge isn’t exactly a necessary conduit of transportation infrastructure: rather it’s a tourist attraction built in 1929 over a beautifully rugged span of the Arkasas River, almost 900 feet in the air. Those wishing for taffy shops, bungee jumping, petting zoos, and helicopter rides can find it and more at the bridge, along with t-shirts and fudge.
After riding uphill for six miles near the entrance of the bridge, our route continued PAST the entrance and back downhill on highway 50. (This downhill portion was actually torturous, knowing we would be climbing UP again). We then entered the road leading to the back entrance of the bridge, and again climbed uphill through some amazingly scenic open areas. Our climb back up to the bridge was the steepest and most difficult. Known as the wall, all but the best riders walk their bikes up a few portions of this stretch.
Around 2:30 I arrived at the top of the bridge, and enjoyed the moment, and actually happy to be surrounded by tourists and old time jamboree bands.
As I rode the final downhill leg on highway 50 back into Canon City the sky turned ominous once more, but I made it back before the storms, and met up with the rest of our team.
We were provided another great dinner of barbeque and chicken. I was happy to find out that everyone from our team rode the loop up to the bridge and back, as it’s the most strenuous and difficult portion of the entire ride. And after riding for 130 miles, it is definitely a taxing part.
Despite the sogginess I had an excellent experience these two days, and everyone involved, both riding and volunteering, was in a great mood. Even with the rain, flat tires, and difficult climbs, the commiserating was all good natured, and met with support by the crew and other riders. Looking forward to next year!