I had the opportunity to do some manly-man father-son bonding in June, when my wife Pamela reported that a big crunch at work over the whole summer was going to keep her in the office instead of on vacation somewhere with us. We decided to try to tackle the Bicycle Tour of Colorado, which is a week-long, fully supported bike tour for up to 1,500 riders. This year, the selected route amounted to 420 miles (and around 30,000 vertical feet of climbing!) to be covered in six days of riding, with a rest day included after the first four days. The big selling point for this year's route was that the Day 2 itinerary would take us up and over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park.
With my back and finger injuries in early Spring, I wasn't able to ride or, really, do any kind of exercise for most of March and all of April - not exactly a good training recipe for riding 70 very hilly miles a day several days in a row. At altitude. I wasn't too worried about Cameron's fitness because A) He was running track all Spring; B) Teenagers often seem to have a virtually unlimited energy supply; and C) He's a beast on a bike (Pamela often refers to him as Andy, as in Andy Schleck). I was mostly concerned with high-ish miles that many days in a row. In the weeks leading up to the tour, we were able to get out each weekend (once my finger healed) and do one nice long and/or hilly ride, but we simply didn't know what our bodies would do when doing four of those kinds of rides on consecutive days.
The altitude issue didn't worry us too much, as we had had experience with high altitude before, having backpacked a couple times a year in the Sierras since Cameron was 3, including tackling the John Muir Trail over the course of two summers. So we knew what exercise at altitude was like - doable, but you just have to slow down.
We were both kind of nervous about the day-after-day mileage, and talked at length during the 2-day drive to Colorado about how we were committed to making sure we didn't ride too fast on the first day, especially.
When we actually started riding the first day, we both felt great, but did well to rein in the horses and just cruise along at an easy pace. With 1,350 riders, though, it was difficult to know what was "fast" or "slow," since there were always lots of riders passing us and lots whom we were passing. We just kept clicking off the miles, though, and before we knew it, we had reached the beginning of the final descent into Estes Park, our stopping point for the night. We had finished the 55-mile ride almost two hours earlier than we thought we would!
The 65-mile Day 2 ride was crazy because of the weather (a blizzard!), and I will write specifically about that experience later.
Day 3 was an 80-mile jaunt from Granby to Steamboat Springs that included crossing the Continental Divide at Rabbit Ears Pass (elev. 9,426'). That was followed by a 90-mile day that took us to Glenwood Springs, where we got Day 5 off before the Day 6 70-miler. Day 6 was a simple route: ride 45 miles uphill (not too steeply), then 10 more miles uphill (steeply) to Vail Pass (elev. 10,600'), then coast 15 miles into the town of Frisco. The final day of the tour involved a climb of 11,990-foot Loveland Pass, as well as a 1,500-foot climb in 85-degree heat back to our 9,500-foot starting point in Central City.
All through the week, we talked about how we just couldn't believe that we didn't feel all that tired. We really expected, given our conditioning or lack thereof, to start out each day feeling sore and stiff and tired. But we never did. Ever!
With everything going so well both physically and mechanically (only one flat tire between the two of us over 840 combined miles!), it made for great fun. We were able to joke around a lot, as well as test our cycling skills by racing up a hill every now and then or joining other riders to practice our drafting abilities. Once, we both joined the same 30-rider 25mph paceline, but didn't realize it because Cameron had scooted ahead a few minutes earlier when I stopped to take off my jacket or something. We only realized it later when we described some of the riders to each other. "Wait a minute - I was in that paceline, too!"
We did well at developing a daily routine before and after the day's ride, and I was even a little surprised when I wanted to get up a little earlier than usual on one of the days for some reason, and he actually suggested it first!
It is often said and written that fathers and sons communicate well by participating in activities together, and this experience definitely confirms that notion for me. We would definitely do this again!
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