Shannon specializes in short tours, so his Colorado base tour is three rides, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with an optional Thursday ride. Four rides sounded good to me, so I arrived in Boulder Wednesday afternoon, had dinner with Shannon, and was ready to roll on Thursday.
Fellow Bicycle Sport Shop rider, Brian (now given the sobriquet "Flyin' Brian) and I met with Shannon on a gorgeous morning. We let the commuters get to work before starting out on several of the myriad bikepaths in and around Boulder. This network of paths should be the envy of any town wishing to encourage cycle-commuting. Anyway, we did a clockwise loop ending up at the foot of the famous Flagstaff climb. A quick photo stop then off we went. Boulder's elevation is 5,430 so altitude was already a factor in my lack of ability. Even so, I found a good gear and a tapped out a nice rythym at 75 rpm that held my heart-rate below the 90% level. All too soon, with an increase in the grade, I pushed over 90% with some ragged breathing. According to my Garmin, we started around 5,400 feet and I ended at 7,250. That was at a rest stop just before some heavy grade sections. Since I was already struggling, I saw no point in going further. Brian and Shannon continued on to the top while I took in the scenery.
When they returned, I mounted up and enjoyed a thrilling descent. I hadn't grabbed my brakes so hard since my coast-to-coast ride in 2001. The switch-backs required rapid slowing, then a few quick strokes to get back to speed. Once at the bottom, we continued down city streets back to the hotel. Shannon has this route at 33 miles and 3,850 feet of climbing. My computer had me at 27.4 miles and 2,625 feet. The temperature was in the mid-80s with very little breeze. We had a few hours to wander Boulder, however, given my exertion, I just rested. Later, we met our third rider, Gary, and went to dinner.
An interesting aside: all three of the cyclists are vegan (technically I'm on a plant-based diet which is slightly different, but just say vegan since most people are familiar with what that entails). Plus, Jeremy, Shannon's sag driver/helper for this ride, was vegan for ten years and still maintains a healthy diet. Therefore Shannon did some research and found us vegan-friendly restaurants to replace the ones he usually uses. Check-mark for Shannon. For the record, dinner was at Leaf
Our Friday ride started in Raymond, a 30-minute shuttle from the hotel. I opted to start without any cold-weather gear, a mistake. It would warm up, but I started out cold. I think the real blow was seeing brilliant sunshine just across the creek, about 30 yards away, while we went up the climb in deep shade. Thankfully, there was no wind. We were riding the Peak-to-Peak Highway (not a real highway, but a very popular cycling road), but would detour up to Brainard Lake, a very pretty little out of the way lake.
I suffered up the climbs, yesterday's Flagstaff having taken a toll, but did reasonably well all things considered. Brainard Lake is quite a jewel, at an altitude of 10,300 feet. Jeremy did a full-immersion dip in the chilly water (video available upon request). We cycled around the lake then prepared for the downhills, first down from the lake, then down into Nederland. The road from the lake was a bit rough, so speed was tempered. But once on the highway, we could let the wheels run. The speed limit on this section was 40mph, and a good, smooth shoulder. There were very few cars, so I did a lot of riding in the traffic lane. However, one white car came into view (rear-view mirror), so I moved over to let him pass. He first stalked me, then came up next but wouldn't pass. I sat up and eventually he got ahead of me, so I again moved into the traffic lane and stalked him (I would say tail-gated, but there was some distance between us). About this time Shannon passed on my right (he shouted "on your right" but since I'm deaf in the right ear, didn't hear him) and moved closer to the car. Then the car pulled away. My computer says I was only doing 36mph but it felt a lot faster. I suspect the driver just didn't want to exceed the speed limit, as shortly thereafter, the sheriff came past. In any case, this was a really fun descent. I had this ride at 31.4 miles and 3,763 feet of climbing (which is short, since we know 10,300 for the lake and my top was only 9,800).
We changed out of bike gear, then took the short drive to the Sundance Cafe for lunch, eating outside enjoying the sunshine and great weather. After lunch we drove to Vail and our accomodations at the Vail Mountain Lodge. Wow, what a place!
Once again, I found myself needing to rest rather than explore Vail. Once again, Shannon found us a vegan-friendly establishment for dinner. Friendly or not, they were pretty slow (or, relaxed), so we had plenty of time to rehash the day's ride.
The Saturday ride was from Vail to Breckenridge on mostly the bike path. Bike path or not, we are talking another 4,500 feet of climbing and another 10,000 foot summit. My lack of speed was beginning to wear on me. The one thing you don't want to do when cycling at altitude is "go into the red," that is, over-exert yourself. You can do this lower down and take a few seconds or so to recover, but with thin air, there is little or no recovery. Therefore I closely monitored my heart-rate and breathing. My energy-level was low. After a brief stop, and changing to a dry base layer, we hit the bike path for the descent into Copper Mountain. There was some sort of cycling event which included climbing from Copper Mountain. By the time we got on the path down, the only cyclists coming up were suffering: heads down, wobbling. We didn't dare blast by them for fear of an accident. Therefore, the descent was more muted than it could have been, but still a lot of fun. We continued down into Frisco for lunch. There was a festival going on here also, and Frisco was booming. The ever-resourceful Jeremy got us situated at the Butterhorn Bakery and Cafe. Still finding vegan meals.
After lunch we circumnavigated Dillon Lake and cycled up to Breckenridge. This last 22 miles includes several miles of more-than-I-wanted incline, short stop, a descent, then a more moderate grade to the finish. Rather than hold up the group, I opted to skip these first miles, do the descent and climb into town. It was on the descent that I hit 45mph on the road. No cars passed me. The rest of the way into town on the bike path was of the 1-2% variety. I ended up with 49.8 miles (out of 52) and 4,928 feet of climb. Our stay was at the Beaver Run Resort, another quality room. Or, rather, rooms. My suite included a jacuzzi tub, which I almost immediately utilized. Again, Shannon eschewed his normal eating establishment and found us one with suitable vegan dishes.
The Sunday ride was a short 15 mile climb up Mt. Evans. After a shuttle to Echo Lake, we started up. I got a headstart since I knew my pace would be slow. Still, for the first few miles, in the trees, I held steady. My pace was good, breathing ok, heart-rate within reason. Keep in mind we started at 10,000 feet and would top out over 14,000. We started with some breeze, but once I got above the tree line, it was quite strong. I overheard one person say 35mph. My breathing became labored and even on a slight grade with the now strong wind whipping at my back, I still couldn't push my smallest gear over 5mph. Several times the wind came from the side and pushed me several feet. It was time to call it a day, and with Jeremy parked just up the road, I packed it in with 4.8 miles and 1,452 feet of climbing. Brian had zero trouble, other than having to wait for Gary and Shannon on the cold and windy summit.
To sum up, Shannon has put together a terrific package of rides, restaurants, and resorts. He rides with the cyclists, and counsels and cajols as needed. Anyone considering doing a tour should check out his website. I'm already signed up for the Big Bend in November.
As for me, my enjoyment of this trip was somewhat tempered by my inability to keep up a decent pace. Given my history of climbing in Georgia (discounting the climbing done more than five years ago), and recent HHH ride, I was somewhat surprised with my lack of energy. Still, I had fun in the sun and can't wait for the next adventure.