Ride the Rockies Day 5

Words: James Selman | Photography: Dan Sharp | Date:


Having some experience at altitude, I figured day five or six would be the time when things might go south a bit, boot straps would have to be tightened and a push would have to be made. Having not trained as well as expected the two months leading into the ride (an April Achilles issue) this would possibly occur sooner depending on the climbing done and effort expressed.

Day five arrived in Durango after a big day of climbing, a good 7K (or was it 10K?) along with some heat and headwind all rolled into one. We had a great night of fun breaking Bread (link) with some friendly folk in Durango the night before, in some ways reminiscent of the host rides of last year, with Ben’s friend John joining up with us in the morning to skirt some of the road and hit some gravel outside of Durango. This was to be the theme of the day; the night before, a former class rider named Drew suggested we take another county road that ran along the river into Pagosa Springs.

Ah, yes. Yes, we should.

Packing up camp appropriately at Ft. Lewis College, home of many great riders, mountain and road disciplines both, we hit the morning fairly casually, but only after Rob at Bread energized us with more stories and sustenance. After following a few miles and minutes with our new 2400 plus friends from Ride the Rockies, we diverted left into the wood and Colorado dirt. Instantly it seemed as though a weight was lifted. It was nice to be off the beaten path and the shade and coolness that the trees gave us was welcomed, as it was evident it was going to be a hot day.

This type of riding, as Mr. Joe Staples likes to point out, is like caffeine to my soul. Maybe it’s my mountain bike roots, but there is nothing finer to my head and hands, eyes and ears, lungs and heart than dirt and gravel under my tires, especially when they are narrow and full of life, testing you with agility and the exponential fun that is possible at any rise or fail of the terrain.

This little rolling section was maybe five or so miles, and at its end we were back on the RTR course. It had been just a short Americano. John took a few monster pulls at the front through some amazing farmland before pulling off to a round of thank yous and hugs, and then we found
ourselves once again on level with the huge populous of riders advancing up the road.

In looking back over the route, and the previous event years, I discovered this edition was the longest, the first time it exceded 500 miles in its 25 year history. And in the end, with this diverted day, we’d make it longer. But I think it was clear we needed a day like this. A day to reflect. A day to feel the country. To feel those around us and why we do what we do, away from it all.

This is an unwritten rule of the Continental. Sometimes making things harder than they should be, but knowing we need to find some other form of truth, something more basic, a new set of laws governing discovery.It leads to a kind of quiet, riding unknowingly and yet knowing of something elemental. Even if it meant more time in the saddle under the hot sun, and not knowing when exactly or in how many miles, we would eventually arrive in Pagosa. We would have to.

Miles 25 to 65 were slightly open, slightly rolling and slightly uneventful, all under the bright sun and with the big hills of southwestern Colorado surrounding us. Excitement was building, as we knew we were getting close to our second diversion of the day. We saw water to our right, and we waited impatiently for the sign: County Road 500. At this point we would divert once again from the set path.

The legs seemed good and the head welcomed the relief of so much Vitamin G to restore it. And almost as soon as we started out, Carey got a shout from a man in a pick-up, so she hustled over and grabbed on the door.

He was curious why we were riding this road, all alone.

It’s a long way to Pagosa, he said.

40 miles, he said.

Why not stop at my ranch, have some Pepsi and rest.

Carey let go and told us of our new goal: Pepsi at Jose’s.

We set off. It was an amazing landscape we were in. The river. The trees. The emptiness. The very cocoon of riding we find so joyful, and now the bonus of a new friend to discover.

The ride to Jose’s place was seemingly longer than expected, and then, after a few spirited rollers, suddenly, it was there. Jose is a happy but lonely man, and I hope we filled his day a little with our unexpected presense. We learned of his wife, his only and longtime love, and the house we were in that he had built special for her, her recent passing, and the garden he cultivated for her remembrance. Our time with Jose on his porch, drinking the Pepsis he so generously shared with us, reminded us of our own loved ones; it left us a little sad, but filled us with the warmth of his discovery, reminding us that meeting & being with people is the best part of living. Simple talking, not burdened by the distractions of technology—how cleansing it was to be out on the road.

Refreshed by the stories of his life and the literalness of caffeine, we thanked him and headed off. Ben and Pete joined us after emerging from there own version of refreshment, a dip in the cold river running alongside Jose’s property. Climbing out of the ranch, we didn’t know exactly how many more miles there were for the day, but we weren’t really bothered by it. There was seemingly no danger, no sense of anything outside of the moment as we rallied rollers and loose cambered descents, dust and teeth, smiles revealed, the world away.

Day 5 turned out to be a different kind of bootstrapping day, a day to push more. It is a folly of this kind of riding, over and over, which we do, that makes us happy. And as we crept toward hour six, we begin to finally wonder, was it another 10 miles or 20? Was Jose right or was his brother, who we ran into on the road just outside the ranch?

The van was gone as well. Bottles were near empty & food supplies low. A little concern was a short-lived notion, as we suddenly found ourselves carving down a long wide hillside, hitting asphalt, a bend, and then, dropping over and into our familiar campsite, the day ended all at once. It was as if the chapter we had just written ended with a jolt. Only then, amid a whispering sense of relief, did the heat, the l05 miles showing on the computer, the scant six hours in the saddle, and the surprising 6200’ of climbing start to feel real.

In keeping with the day, we chose against routine, avoiding the shower trucks and letting the roaring river wash away or rather seal the day. It reminded us why we live, for days & moments like these, all the while looking in front of us, hoping & anticipating, content with the knowledge that we would be prepared to fully enjoy the next day presented to us.

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