...Of my wife! The day before our 7th anniversary we rode the Ironhorse. Here is her report. I think hers is an awesome acheivment.
We have just gotten back from Durango, CO for the memorial day weekend and it was a weekend to memorialize for sure, at least for me!
Anthony and I rode in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, ride from Durango
to Silverton. This ride got its start originally 32 years ago when some
bright person got the idea to race the train from Durango to Silverton
on bikes. This is a 50 mile distance, which in road biking terms, is a
walk in the park. However, the two mountain passes that you have to
climb to make this is quite a different matter... but I digress....
As I said, the origins of the race/ride were to race the train. The
train makes the distance in about 3 hours. Once upon a time, this was a
challenge for road bikers... not so much anymore. Bicycle technology and rider fitness have improved by leaps and bounds. The Durango Silverton Narrow Guage Railway is a relic from another century. It is one of the few remaining narrow guage railways left in the country. Its route is one of the most beautiful in the country as it winds its way through the San Juan mountains and skirts the Animas River. Quite breathtaking, I recommend it if you are ever in Durango.
So, now, the Iron Horse is a annual favorite event in Durango.. and, I
don't know how many years it has been since the bicycles have routinely "spanked" the train. This year's race winner completed the course in 2 hours.
We did not do the race. We did the "fun" ride that started one hour
after the racers took off. Putting "fun" in quotations is no exaggeration. I include a link to the course and the website so you can
peruse just what exactly I'm talking about.
This is a 50 mile ride that climbs two mountain passes, Coal Bank Pass (10,660 ft) and Molas Pass (10,900 ft). You start in Durango at 6600 ft.
Silverton is at 9300 ft. So, you get the picture, this is a
heckuva lot of climbing....
I decided about a month ago to do this ride with Anthony. I did not do
any particular training. In fact, I tried not to think about it very much for fear of losing my nerve. I have been riding this spring, mostly mountain biking with a few road rides thrown in there for good measure. About the hardest thing I have climbed on a road bike here in Austin is Mt. Bonnell, which at a 12% grade is pretty darn tough, but it is a quite short distance, at maybe 200 yards. Climbing the two passes meant a steady climb of 4 miles each, not counting the more minor "hills" preceding them.
The day was beautiful, sunny, dry, nice temps... a cheerful crowd. We
have me and Anthony, our friend Key Jobson, who lives there and who we
stay with whenever we go, Chuck from Austin, Gerald, also from Austin, Chris and Eileen from Colorado Springs, but recently from Austin.... We take off, the boys, of course, head to the front of the pack. Me and Eileen already agreed we would do this at our own pace and set off at a more moderate pace, chatting and catching up. Soon, Eileen and I hook onto a train of girls that are riding a quicker tempo and we take advantage of their draft for as long as we can. We come to one of the first steep hills, Eileen drops off (unbeknownst to me) - I hang on.. the second more considerable hill comes up and I get shelled too.. I have a loooonnnggg way to go yet and don't want to kill myself keeping up with a bunch of girls that are faster than me.
So, at this point, I'm riding by myself but still surrounded by happy
cyclists all just out to have fun. We haven't come yet come to the "mother of all "hills" - Coal Bank Pass. If you are looking at the map at
the site, things start to get interesting headed towards Hermosa Creek..
When we get to Purgatory, we are about half way. I'm pretty happy, I'm
at 24 miles, I'm halfway, I've done some climbing and I'm feeling pretty
confident ("I can do this!!!!") HAH!!!! I haven't seen NOTHING yet!
At the point we get to Purgatory, they have closed the road to vehicular
traffic. Which is great, now I can really concentrate on the scenary,
which is spectacular. At this point, the road is still relatively wide
but quickly narrows down to a two lane highway on windy mountain roads, i.e., no shoulder to ride on - so its great they've closed the highway.
You will see on the map a sharp turn at Cascade/Lime Creek, this is when
the serious climibing started - 4 miles to the top of Coal Bank pass and I have now entered the hallucinatory stage of the ride - well, soon to be hallucinatory. At times, I was only pedalling 3-4 miles per hour, the going was so steep and so relentless. With a four mile climb, that means it takes an hour to do... I stopped often to rest. Others would stop and walk their bikes. I was determined not to do that. I would stop and rest but then would get back on and pedal some more. Making deals with myself to not stop until I got to that next plateau, that next mile marker. With no traffic on the road, I could ride in the middle of the road which had the illusion of being the shortest route. Most of the time I had my head down, watching the double yellow line to make sure I was steering straight. I got to know that yellow line really well. This was about the time I started to feel, a little dizzy, a little
lightheaded/hallucinatory and wondered if I was going to be able to make it. I hadn't felt this way on a ride before (nay, any sort of physical
endeavor, for that matter). That's when I knew the altitude was having
Finally, finally, I got to the top of Coal Bank pass (oh, by the way, towards the top, I was passing snow banks...). I was elated.. a guy told me that was the hardest part, the next pass wasn't as steep... I knew that I had conquered the beast and the rest would be, if not cake, then some sort of baked confection that I could handle.
The early part of the day had been sunny and hot but at this point, as
is wont to do in the mountains, it turned cloudy and cooler with a
definate wind kicking up. After re-fueling at the rest stop at the top
of the pass, I took off and bombed the three miles down the other side
and prepared to take on the next challenge. The guy was right, at the
bottom of the climb (Molas Pass Summit - 4 miles, the sign said), it
didn't look as steep, but then, it started to rain, and thunder and
lightning, and me without a rain jacket ("it was so sunny this morning- I won't need it!"). I rolled down my knicker length shorts and rolled down my arm warmers, which I had taken off during the heat of the
morning, bowed my head and started grinding up the hill again. Later in
the day, I learned that Eileen who was behind me still but close enough
to encounter this same weather, decided to bail. She and another rider
hitched a ride to the top of the pass, then got out and road the rest of
the way (downhill) to Silverton. This was simply not an option for me.
Yes, it was true that Molas Pass was not as hard as Coal Bank. That is
*not* to say it wasn't hard. The last 3/4 of the last mile to the top
had to be the hardest, probably due to weather, timing, my fatigue and
feeling like the end was so near. I pedalled my pathetic little 4 miles
an hour to the summit, raised my hand in victory and said "woo hoo!" to nobody (I was alone at that time) and prepared for the final descent
into Silverton ( a blessed 7 miles away and all downhill).
On the downhill from Coal Bank Pass and Molas Pass, riders were braking,
which bemused me. I was going hell for leather and passing people left
and right. Oh, btw, they had opened up the road again at 12:00p - at
that time I was still climbing Coal Bank.. So I was dealing with traffic
too (but, CO motorists are very respectful of cyclists, I must say). At
times I was going 40 mph down the last downhill. I was hunched over and
gripping the handlebars like my life depended on it - which, I guess it
did, really. But, it was thrilling. For the first time in my life, I had
a glimpse into what those guys on the Tour de France must experience.
I made it into Silverton in 5.5 hours. By comparison, Anthony made it in
3 hours, 15 minutes. And, like I said, the guy who won the race, did it
in 2 hours. I am slow, but persistent!!!!!! I was so happy to see Anthony at the end!
I deliberately did not find out much about this ride beforehand. I knew
enough about it to know that if I knew much more, I wouldn't do it. It
was the hardest thing I've ever done.
I often see myself as someone who takes the path of least resistance, if
its hard I won't do it, I prefer the easiest way. Perhaps that is why I
keep hurling myself at these impossible tasks, to change the construct I have of myself. I don't know when I'll have amassed enough evidence to change my mind about myself. But, in the meantime, I'm having some amazing experiences!!!!!
Thanks for reading!