So off we go, bicycle, wheelchair and all, to Denver and then Fort Collins for the MS Society 2014 Tour of Champions! We were flying the Peanut (aka Southwest) and that part went fine as usual, other than a 90 minute weather delay (pissing with rain in Houston). Our son James works at the airport and was good enough to greet us on the jetway and then escort us to to ground transportation. Unfortunately the bus transfer to Fort Collins wasn't quite so pleasant. Our driver appeared to be Matt Groening's inspiration for Otto, the school bus driver in The Simpsons, and the A/C on his bus (a 20-plus year old former Denver RTA vehicle) only worked in the front half. Susan was in the wheelchair area and was able to enjoy the ride in relative comfort, while I was in steerage with the peons, sweating my butt off. Fortunately my seat mates were a group from Dallas who were seeing the bright side and having fun.
I was planning to ride on Friday (the easier route) and take Susan, James and Sarah his girlfriend sightseeing in Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday, but when we woke up, neither of us felt very good. Turns out altitude sickness actually is a thing, and it made poor Susan feel terrible all day. I was lucky enough to get off with a mild headache but I wasn't in mountain-riding shape for sure.
By the evening we both felt well enough to emerge from the hotel room for dinner, and James drove up from Aurora to join us, which made it more fun. We agreed on plan B - scratch the mountain sight-seeing (if we struggled at the Fort Collins altitude, crossing the Continental Divide was probably not a good idea), I would ride the Friday route and the rest of the crew would investigate Fort Collins, definitely a fun little town.
So after a suitably high-calorie mountain climbing breakfast I left Susan in the safe hands of James and Sarah, tooled up and pushed my bike out into a gorgeous, cool and sunny morning. The ToC rides are fully supported, with SAG wagons patrolling the course and frequent rest stops, but I was riding the Friday route on Saturday and wouldn't get those benefits. Whatever, I planned to take it easy and stop whenever I felt like it anyway.
I had the route loaded on my GPS but at first I couldn't find the start. The finish was in plain view and I toyed with the idea of riding it in reverse, but then had the sense to look at the map on the website and worked out where I'd gone wrong. Off I went, having wasted about 15 minutes riding around the campus of Colorado State University (very nice too!).
The first few miles were through the outskirts of the city, with some gentle rollers to get my legs warmed up. Then came a long section due north that went past some of the university buildings, including the usual impressive stadium. This leg had some bigger rollers but my workouts with Kevin got me through in good shape.
And then...I turned west and immediately hit some stiffish climbs with no real downhill breaks. I was starting to blow a bit when I came to the one big climb of the day - an 8.8% slope with a couple of curves. I dropped into my granny ring, turned on my helmet camera and dug deep. I was on the granny gear pretty quickly and then out of the saddle, grinding hard, but I made it! At the crest I stopped to admire the view, which was worth the climb - a beautiful, narrow valley stretched out in front of me, much greener than the surrounding hills which looked pretty dry.
Time for the descent, but there was a 90 degree right-hander within a few hundred feet so I couldn't let her go. Once round the corner I let off the brakes and got a pretty good head of steam running until it was time to brake for a junction. The valley was a cyclist's dream - quiet, smooth roads, lovely scenery and lots of shade trees - but it didn't last very long. The route turned east, away from the mountains and back into flat lands not very different to Waller County.
Still a few decent rollers to negotiate though! The biggest climb left was long enough to force me back into the granny gear, and to my shame right after the crest I was passed by a couple on a tandem with a baby at the back, all three looking like they were barely breathing hard. Locals of course.
Back in the outskirts of Fort Collins, I detected a familiar smell from my childhood - the slightly sickly odor of a brewery. Sure enough, there was the New Belgium Brewery, famous for its Fat Tire ale (not actually one of my favourites though). Somewhere around here the route moved onto bike paths that didn't show up on the GPS and I was lost once more. I hit a busy intersection with College Street and worked out that if I headed south on it I should hit the university, which was pretty close to the hotel. Sure enough I was in familiar territory after a mile or so, and rolled up to the hotel in good time for lunch. My ride was a few miles shorter than the planned route but who's counting anyway.
After an excellent lunch at a real hipster hangout with superb beer, I was ready for a nap! The rest of the weekend was lots of fun, with a great party that evening. Many thanks to the MS Society for giving me a chance to ride in a very beautiful spot, and for treating both of us like royalty.