Day 1 of the Ride the Rockies (RTR) on paper was very challenging--the hardest RTR day ever said veteran riders. The distance of 90 miles combined with 10,000 feet of climbs and how those climbs laid out over the route guaranteed that it would be a very tough day.
As it turned out it was an awful day.
I left home about 6am cycling over to Boulder Canyon. This first leg climbed 3,000 feet to Nederland then over Black Hawk and Central City. A first day immediate climb of 3,000 feet is very hard on people coming from out of state. At Black Hawk there was an extended (about 5 miles) climb of 13-14%. Just to put that in perspective, I-70 out of Golden is a 6% climb. At 8,250 feet that is really a tough climb and a lot of rider energy was spent.
From Central City we descended to Idaho Springs which is 50 miles into the ride. On relative flat riding I will cover 50 miles in three hours plus or minus 10 minutes. I reached Idaho Springs a 6 hours and that was my plan.
Idaho Springs was tricky. The temporary bike path around the twin tunnel expansion was a lot of dirt and soft gravel and in places quite steep albeit short. But everyone is getting tired--we have already climbed 6,000 feet and there is 4,000 more to come.
And then things started to fall apart. As I was working my way to the aid station in Idaho Springs thunderstorms rolled in seemingly from every direction. With the thunder really loud I make as quick a stop as I could hoping to beat the rain. And for 15 miles it works--for me. Those riders behind me are caught in a hail storm and have to take cover.
By the time I get to Empire it is raining hard with a strong wind from the west--in my face. I have now climbed 7,500 feet and gone 60 miles and have to climb another 2,500 feet in the next 15 miles to the top of Berthoud Pass.
Then the rain turned to snow and the fog set it.
I reached Berthoud Pass after 8 hours of cycling (8.5 hours elapsed time) right on plan but plenty tired. I had not given any thought to the descent except that is wasn't uphill but as I pulled into the aid station at the top a highway patrolman waved me down and told me that was it for the day the descent in the snow and fog was too dangerous.
There are several hundred riders at the top and one or two hundred more stopped at Empire either because they had stopped or because the CHP stopped them. How to do you arrange transportation for so many people and their bikes on no notice. It took three hours to get buses there to carry the riders down. It was 35 degrees and snowing hard so we were cold. Fortunately there is a warming building where maybe 150 packed in. The EMT's were on top of it watching and treating riders that got too cold (mostly very lean women--I, with my protective walrus layer was never in danger).
Berthoud Pass was a pass too far. Normally I plan to get over the major pass by 12--11 if I can. But there was no way for me to go 75 miles and climb 10,000 feet in six hours. Only the strongest riders did and I have no idea how many of them did.
I have rode harder days with more miles and more climbs but never in these conditions. It was an awful day of riding.