On the road: The escape from the blast furnace | AspenTimes.com

On the road: The escape from the blast furnace

I’ve never been so happy to punish myself on a steep mountain climb as I was Sunday.

I was returning to the Roaring Fork Valley from Iowa, where I participated in three days of the legendary Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, better known as RAGBRAI. The ride across my native state celebrated its 40th anniversary this summer. More than 10,000 riders joined in the shenanigans.

I won’t get into all the details; suffice to say it was hot and humid – unusually hot and humid, even for Iowa in July. I had arranged to just ride the first three days with four friends. We were part of a larger group that hammered through the entire seven days.

I didn’t feel cheated in just three days. Temperatures were near or above 100 degrees each day. The heat index, which factors in humidity, hit the 110s. Riders reveled in their feat, at least the ones who weren’t trucked off to hospitals for heat exhaustion.

July 24 offered a glimpse of riding through hell (no offense intended to the pleasant farm towns we passed through). In addition to the blast-furnace conditions, we rode most of the day into a stiff headwind that felt like dragon’s breath. The standard route was 82 miles that day with an optional loop that boosted it above the 100-mile mark.

Riders couldn’t drink enough liquids, or at least I couldn’t. I knew it was ungodly hot when my brother-in-law – a guy who has never met a beer he didn’t like at any time – didn’t even suggest we stop at a beer garden.

After Tuesday, I had to abandon the ride and visit friends and family in a different part of Iowa. RAGBRAI was fun despite the heat, but I was glad to be back in Colorado on July 28. So glad that I celebrated with a ride up the east side of Independence Pass bright and early Sunday morning. I hit the road by 7:45 a.m. and rejoiced in the fact I had to wear my lightest windbreaker. The temperature was in the 50s when I departed Twin Lakes, and it never topped 65 while I was riding. It was mind-numbing to think that I was riding in temperatures that were almost twice as cool as a few days before.

I had never tackled Independence Pass from the east before. I was pleased to cruise along with relative ease compared with the west side that I was more accustomed to. The road was shedding the last water from an early-morning shower. The 2,800 feet in elevation gain over 17 miles was a treat because there was so little traffic.

I was never happier to see the summit – not because the ride was hard but because I was back in the mountains. Give me a climb in the cool, thin mountain air over the superheated flats and rolling hills of the plains any day.

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