In the Saddle: Ride the Rockies bandit |

In the Saddle: Ride the Rockies bandit

CARBONDALE – Hooking up with the Ride the Rockies tour as a bandit rider Sunday brought back a flood of memories, mostly good but a few bad.

I took the opportunity, along with some other locals, to ride from Carbondale to the summit of McClure Pass, which was just part of the day for official riders. Day one of the 2009 ride kicked off in Glenwood Springs and ended in Hotchkiss. About 2,000 riders made the 56-mile leg of what will eventually be a 380-mile tour, which starts and ends in Glenwood Springs and will land in Aspen on Thursday afternoon and remain overnight.

I decided to tag along with the tour Sunday because the power in numbers is a real treat on Highway 133, at least for the cyclists, probably not so much for motorists. It’s also kind of cool to hook up with riders going at whatever pace you prefer. If you want to go slow and chat up the rider beside you, no problem. If you want to test your legs and lungs in a fast-paced line, just wait. One will inevitably whoosh by.

The camaraderie also is pretty cool. You can meet a lot of nice people, and it’s always amazing and inspiring to see an elderly couple on a tandem bike, a young kid pressing his or her limits or a disabled cyclist grinding up the steep grade of McClure Pass on a hand-cranked bike.

The weather was perfect for the climb up the pass, cool and slightly overcast but little threat of rain – at least before noon. Aid stations, with food and drink, were set up in Carbondale, Redstone and at the top of McClure Pass. By the looks of it, some riders were unprepared for the grunt up the pass. Dozens of riders pulled over along pull outs, and others were huffing and puffing at a slow pace. Those familiar with McClure had a big advantage knowing that it is relatively short, despite the steepness.

Clearing the summit made me wish I was descending to Hotchkiss, then looping back through Gunnison, Salida, Leadville and over Independence Pass in the following days. Probably my favorite part of Ride the Rockies is checking out new terrain and discovering more about the towns along the route. Gunny and Salida are actually kick-ass little towns, as I have discovered on previous tours.

Then I saw the long lines for the Port-a-Potties and came to my senses. That’s the tough part, especially for a part-time hermit: Ride the Rockies means lines for bathrooms, lines for showers and, always, always, lines at the best bars.

If you’re planning to ride the Rio Grande Trail on Friday, you’ll be sharing the paved portion with 2,000 other cyclists heading from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.

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