Today was supposed to be the hardest day of the entire tour with a 90 mile ride up and over Grand Mesa outside of Grand Junction, CO. Grand Mesa is the largest mesa in the world and after riding over it today I would definitely agree.
Knowing it was going to be a long day, my dad wanted to get an early start. That meant waking up at 5am and leaving on our bikes by 6:45am. Ouch. The only benefit of leaving this early is the nice cool temperatures and the lack of traffic. After the first two days of Ride the Rockies you quickly realize that even if you wanted to sleep in you couldn’t because everyone else is getting up at 5am and making quite a racket.
We left Grand Junction and headed east, riding beautiful quiet roads through the wonderful orchards of Clifton and Palisade. After a short 3 mile stretch on I-70, we exited onto the road that we would be on for the next 45 miles to the top of Grand Mesa. The road followed a river valley for 15 miles to a small town with a large aid station. That was the last flat road until the last 4 miles of the day. Now the real climbing was about to begin.
My sister, dad, our friend Marge, and I all took off together. Marge and I rode together for the next two hours. My dad dropped back and Carrie stayed with him to keep him company. Being pregnant I have to be careful about keeping my heart rate down. It isn’t hard to do because as soon as I start going too hard my belly starts cramping. My body knows exactly how hard it can go, and does a good job of telling me when I’ve gone over that limit. So I rode very slowly compared to what I’m used to, however still faster than a lot of other riders so I can’t complain. The hardest part about the climb up Grand Mesa is the wide open road with very few switchbacks. It can be mentally challenging when you look up a long hard climb and you can see riders for miles and miles ahead of you. I’d much rather be on a small narrow road with lots of tight turns. Keeps things more interesting. When you’re suffering for hours up a climb, any kind of mental stimulation helps.
The entire top of the mesa was covered in thick dark clouds. I think all of us knew what was coming. After riding in the rain the last two days I had everything I needed. Doesn’t make riding in the rain any easier or more fun however. With eight miles to go before the summit the weather fell apart. The fog rolled in and it started raining with temperatures hovering in the 40’s. It was damn cold and pretty miserable. I felt like I was in Europe again. Ugh! I was surprised at how unprepared some of the riders were. They were in for a world of hurt once we started going downhill. I was riding on my own, too fast for Marge and my dad and too slow for my super fit sister. It was good to go my own pace and not have to worry about anyone else.
The top of the climb is not obvious. The road meanders up and down for a few miles before starting down the big descent. Miraculously the weather cleared and the sun even came out just as I pulled into the aid station. How wonderful! Before looking for food I took off my wet sweaty job bra and put on a dry undershirt, hat, gloves, rain gear, and booties to keep warm before the big descent. Then it was time to eat. Dad and Marge finally arrived and joined in the festivities. The aid stations on Ride the Rockies are amazing. They have music playing and all sorts of food vendors offering everything from hamburgers to brats, fajitas, pancakes, crepes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and cookies. It was fun listening to the stories of the riders coming up the big climb as they sat and ate. Everyone had some epic experience.
After 30 minutes on the summit we decided it was time to head down. The clouds were moving back in and the last thing we wanted was more rain. The 30 mile descent off Grand Mesa is one of the best I’ve ever done. Beautiful wide open roads with very few turns. We got lucky and missed another downpour by 15 minutes. The roads were still wet but no rain. Lucky for us! After 20 miles we hit the next aid station at Cedaredge. The temperatures had warmed up considerably so we took layers off and got down to shorts again. Still another 10 miles of descending.
We finally got down to the valley floor, made a right hand turn, and had a stiff headwind for the last 4 miles of the ride into Delta. We pulled into the finish area at 4:45pm. Unbelievably long and hard day! Definitely the longest climb I’ve ever done! We were all exhausted. After setting up our tents and taking showers, we wandered over to the community dinner. The locals of Delta were out in force with a huge spread of Mexican food. It was a wonderful end to an epic day.