Colorado High Country 1200k (750 miles)

Brian Burke #7357

I won the lottery for this ride in mid January. There were 120+ applicants with 50 riders selected. The ride itself is designed to be ridden in 4 stages of descending mileage each day. Also, some of the highest passes are ascended. On day 1, riders summit the east side of Cameron Pass, CO (10,276'), day 2 was Snowy Pass, WY (10,847') and Rabbits Ear Pass, CO (9,426'), day 3 was Gore Pass, CO (9,524') and Willow Creek Pass, CO (9,683'), and day 4 was the west side of Cameron Pass for the ride back to Louisville, CO. Overnight stops in order are: Saratoga, WY (mile 224), Steamboat Springs, CO (mile 421) and Walden, CO (mile 602). In retrospect, not personally knowing or researching the 'Front Range' weather was a large underestimation.

When I began making plans for this excursion, I had the opportunity to invite my 21 year old daughter, Carrie, to accompany me. She jumped at the chance to explore Colorado (by rental car) and legally support my ride.

We arrived in Denver on the Saturday before the Tuesday (July 15) 4 am start. My high school / college buddy is a practicing attorney in Colorado Springs came up on Sunday to take in a Rockies game at Coors Field. Carrie also had a friend from high school join her to explore downtown Denver for the day. Monday was all about ride logistics. Building of my bike became an issue when my steering mechanism ('headset') wasn't functioning properly. So it was off to the local bike shop for inspection. After seemingly a nonchalant correction my bike was ready to go. Or so I thought.....

At the start on Tuesday morning the skies were clear and the temps were cool (~50*). This is my second 'randonee' (1200k). These rides begin with the fastest riders racing from the start. I am not one of those (though many of my friends consider me a good cyclist, there are some seriously strong ultra athletes who ride bikes). So by happenstance, I settled into a comfortable pace with another rider (Richard Strom) who is the founder and CEO of EO Gears, a company that specifically makes bike accessories for ultra endurance cyclists. In fact I had used his bags for last year's London-Edinburgh-London 1200k. Though we separated after some miles, we would see each other throughout the next 4 days (where he would remind me that I was not properly using the bags as intended!).

The climb to picturesque Cameron Pass is 42 miles along the Poudre River. The weather was mostly sunny. My only complaint was the swarms of horseflies that started attacking every inch of open skin as I slowly made my way to the peak. The biting was unabated until the clouds moved in and rain began. So a solo wet descent was an omen of things to come. By my arrival at Walden (mile 150) I had experienced intermittent rain, hail, sun and 30 mph gusts of crosswinds. My lunch date with Carrie was her disbelieving comments on the ever changing conditions and that she was glad to be in a car! Mine was the weather (of course!) but also that after retightening my headset, the looseness was no better. The crosswinds continued as I made my way to Mountain River, CO for the northern turn to Saratoga. I arrived at our overnight destination at 7:45 pm.

Day 2 was the most memorable. The weather forecast called for showers in Laramie starting at noon. With a 4 am departure and even with the summit of Snowy pass, I planned on being in the Laramie control by 9:30 am to meet Carrie. So not taking all of my rain/ cold weather gear was a decision that I would regret.

At the summit of Snowy Pass (a 30 mile climb) the weather turned ugly. Clouds moved in with hail and a driving rain. As I made my way down from the top, my loose steering was worse and becoming a danger. Unfortunately, I still had 4+ hours of riding in cold temps ( high 40s*) with improper apparel before I can have it fixed. When I arrived at the Shell Station in Laramie, my daughter found me sitting on the floor, stripped of my wet clothing, eating a chocolate muffin and shivering uncontrollably. I was in a state of hyperthermia. After getting my headset fixed at a bike shop in Laramie (the ball bearing was mistakenly put in upside down at the bike shop in Colorado) and changing into proper clothes, I was off to Walden. As I approached the Colorado state line, I caught up to Peter Hoeltzenbein, a German national who resides in Calgary. Rather than ride alone, I proposed that we ride the rest of the day together, which he gladly accepted.

We arrived in Walden (again) for lunch with Carrie. The weather had improved to on/ off showers and cool temps. This is when I began to start with a intermittent, nagging cough. Peter and I rode well together until the approach to Rabbits Ear Pass. I began noticing above 8000' feet I would become short of breath and start coughing? I hadn't any problems on the previous day with a higher summit, so I deduced I must becoming down with a chest cold. So I told Peter to go on to Steamboat Springs without me. A storm on the mountain revealed a perfect half circle rainbow but made another descent slow and wet.

As I approached the overnight, I was surprised to see a friend in my local Rotary club taking pictures on the side of the road. Tom French had driven 40 miles from his work in Colorado to see me finish the day! I can't put into words how much Tom buoyed my spirits after a very difficult day. Carrie showed up to tell me that she had to protect 3 riders in our rental car caught between Walden and Steamboat in a pea sized hail storm! After eating and enjoying Tom's questions about the ride, I was off to shower and get ready for another day.

Day 3 was more like I was expecting. Peter and I left Steamboat in a group of 5 riders at 5 am. Two regional randonneurs were with us. Luke Heller who is the RBA for Western Carolina and Barry Meade who is from southern KY and I had ridden with in Tennessee. The weather was cool with patchy fog but no rain (yay!). We rode together until after sunup when Peter and I picked up the pace a bit. We then meandered along the Colorado River for the ascent to Granby Lake before returning to start of the real climb of the day, Willow Creek Pass. This climb begins with a short steeper climb then a quick descent before a 23 mile gradual ascent to the summit along Willow Creek. The sun was welcomed but as I was making my way, I began to suffer from 'hot foot' with each pedal stroke. A parking area along the roadside finally convinced me to get off my bike and soak my feet and head. At the summit, the obligatory pictures of the Continental Divide were taken as Peter, David Oliphant (also from Alberta, Canada) and we all arrived within 10 minutes of each other. My coughing was now accompanied by wheezing. Peter then dragged me to the our last night overnight in Walden where we arrived just before sunset. At the hotel I was really suffering and looked the part (or so I was told). I was in such bad shape, that Carrie had to help prepare me for the next day's ride. When I got to my hotel room, I was pale and sore with a persistent cough.

After a fitful night of poor sleep (~3 hrs) , I decided to take a long hot shower, dress, eat and leave at 4:15 am. I was fortunate to meet up with Kerin Huber from Santa Cruz. We talked as we rode slowly in the dark and made our way to the last climb of the ride, Cameron Pass. We split up at the base of the climb but surprisingly I felt better as the miles passed by and with the sunny, warm temps (mid 80s). After a quick food stop, I continued with my solo ride back to Louisville and finished just before 3 pm. At the hotel the event organizer, John Lee, logged us in and presented our finishing medals with pictures. Later that evening, we had a celebratory dinner where a large group of us enjoyed each others company and shared our cycling stories.

Some final thoughts on CHC. First, though the climbs are not steep they are remote, long and at high elevations. Add to the fact that the weather is quite temperamental, this makes for a difficult tour. Being prepared for every type of possibility is necessary. Anticipating the weather should not be a consideration! I finished everyday before sunset. An important factor for staying 'on time' everyday. The ride is extremely scenic. I saw moose, elk and variety of avian. The mental challenge was far in excess of the physical. I learned something about myself as did the others who completed CHC 2014.

Brian Burke #7357

PS. Lastly and most importantly, I am proud to say that through a fellow Rotarian (Jane Graves), we were able to raise over $1300 in local sponsorships for our Wee Books program in Dawson County. Though there were times I questioned my judgement for doing this event, knowing that I was part of a bigger cause helped justified my (in)sanity for riding CHC!