Cyclists wiped out by Wolf Creek Pass … after riding 60 miles | AspenTimes.com

Cyclists wiped out by Wolf Creek Pass … after riding 60 miles

Many of the 2,000 cyclists on Ride the Rockies had an unexpected heaping helping of humble pie to start off the 2002 campaign.

The riders in the annual bike tour through the heart of the Rockies started off with a 99-mile day – normally nothing too tough for most of the hardcore riders. But this one had the added twist of a 15-mile, 2,500-foot grunt up Wolf Creek Pass after the pack had pedaled about 60 miles.

The ride started innocuously enough. The first 60 miles climbed gradually from Alamosa to South Fork through agricultural lands and scenic, though deathly dry territory. Just when the riders’ confidence soared, so did the terrain.

Wolf Creek Pass is as pretty as any in the state, but many riders didn’t notice. Instead of gawking at the forested peaks and ski slopes of the Wolf Creek ski area, they were desperately searching for some sign the ride was about to ease up. It did, but it took a toll. The sag wagons that regularly patrol the route and pick up people to tuckered to continue stayed busy.

Most riders, of course, wouldn’t call it quits and instead grunted it out. But the roadside was littered with people taking breaks after particularly tough stretches.

At the summit, the consensus seemed to be that the pass wouldn’t have been particularly tough – if it didn’t come at the end of what would have been a long day’s ride. Even strong riders admitted they couldn’t wait for the grade to ease. Only liars acted like it was no problem.

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The sag wagons stayed surprisingly busy even at the top. Some riders who had made their way to the 10,850-foot summit called it quits and caught a ride down to Pagosa Springs.

Other riders were drooling at the prospects of the payoff – rocketing down the east side of the pass. Their glee soon turned sour. Highway 160 was in so rough of shape that it made the Rio Grande Trail between Aspen and Woody Creek, a mountain bike route, look smooth by comparison. Bikers who let ‘er rip did so at their own peril.

But Ride the Rockies folks are a tough bunch. Once off the steepest part of the pass and into the friendly environs of Pagosa Springs, they put the tough day behind them.

Day two in the 489-mile route wasn’t nearly as tough. But it also had an unexpected twist. The 67-mile route between Pagosa and Durango had to be altered because of the Missionary Ridge fire raging northeast of Durango.

The blaze has destroyed 10 homes but is threatening hundreds more. About 1,700 homes have been evacuated in the rural subdivisions within and along the 38,000-acre fire.

The ride was scheduled to skirt the south sides of Vallecito and Lemon reservoirs, but the fire spread into that area Sunday and forced the ride to stick to the heavily traveled Highway 160 all the way into Durango.

The haze was apparent throughout the relatively easy 60-mile ride. Riders with difficulty breathing – for reasons other than Wolf Creek Pass the day before – were urged to take a bus for the last leg from the town of Bayfield.

Once in Durango, riders found themselves sharing the high school grounds with firefighters or sharing hotels with evacuees.

Durango residents seemed as gripped and grateful to the firefighters as Glenwood Springs was a week before.

From Durango, the ride makes the big climbs up 10,500-foot Coal Bank Pass and the 10,800-foot Molas Divide while en route to Silverton. The route is only 51 miles long but far from the easiest of the campaign.

Nevertheless, many riders aren’t expecting the same problems they experienced on Wolf Creek. The climbing starts immediately Tuesday, not at the end of 60 miles.

That was reason enough to let the good times roll in Durango.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scoopc@sopris.net.]

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