70 miles in a day under your own power is a long damn way… unless you’re on a decent road bike, surrounded by a couple thousand of your closest pals, and have well-stocked and enthusiastic aid stations every dozen miles or so. Then it’s merely a long way. Full spandex and weird, uncomfortable shoes required, natch.
I’ve been doing a lot of riding this summer between lunch rides and commuting (occasionally by a 20+ mile “scenic route”) so I thought I’d set myself a semi-casual goal of riding the big Buffalo Bicycle Classic with some co-workers in early September. It’s a fund-raiser for a CU scholarship fund and usually attracts 2000+ people. There are various distance options from a crazy 110 mile epic with huge elevation gain to a modest 35 mile loop around the roads I normally ride anyway. Seth and I opted for the not-quite-crazy-but-still-long 70 mile option up to Carter Lake and back.
Coming from a trail running background, several things were weird for me about the whole concept of a long, organized charity ride. First, it’s not a race. People rolled out of the starting line whenever they felt like it and kept up whatever pace they liked. Second, it was fully supported and “in civilization” the whole time; my natural tendency to pack full emergency mountain gear (bivy bag, headlamp, calories, water purification, etc.) was useless here. Then there are the differences between road biking and trail running: more constant level of effort, lower impact, more specific muscles used, etc.
We rolled out at 8am and made good time north through Boulder and along the shoulder of US-36. The day was crystal clear and promised to be more of the low-90s hot we’ve been having. Off 36 and into virgin (to me) terrain, we flew down St. Vrain Road and finally put together the first successful pace line of the day. Things were going well. Through Hygiene, north across Rt 66 and into Larimer County. Mostly we were rolling through nice farms on straight-as-an-arrow country roads.
At mile 27, we turned west and began the big event of the day, a climb up to Carter Lake. I’d never been there before, but people spoke reverentially of the steep climb up to the top. Meh, I ride up NCAR on my lunch hour. How bad can it be?
It wouldn’t have been bad… except that I had to go and get feisty. You see, there was a guy we’d been leap-frogging for 20 miles wearing a polka-dot USA Pro Tour jersey. The polka dot jersey in a stage race is like the yellow jersey except that instead of the one worn by the overall leader, it’s the one worn by the best hill climber. Now I believe that it’s damned cheeky to wear something like that if you can’t act like you deserve it.
With the prelude to the big climb over, I saw Polka-Dot a couple hundred yards ahead and decided the game was afoot. He did climb pretty well, no doubt about it, but I slowly reeled him in. There were three big switchbacks on the climb and, given one more, I would have had him. As it was, I finished probably 20 yards back at the top of the climb, legs shaking, heart hammering, panting (and grinning) like a mad man*. Perhaps this wasn’t the smartest way to ride in the middle of the largest ride I’ve done in fifteen years, but it was awfully satisfying to push myself as hard as I could go at least for a few minutes. Seth caught up to me a few minutes later and we proceeded with a nice traverse half-way around the shockingly-low Carter Lake.
We’d been out for two hours now and it was officially hot. After the descent to Pole Hill Road (fast!), we loaded up on ice and oranges and headed back south. Strangely, the crowds we’d been cycling with, including the occasional pace line, were now almost entirely gone. Did I mention it was hot? And what seemed like a level bit of road was unduly difficult. Oy. Really, 30 miles more?
But things improved. Traffic and speeds picked back up again. We had some blissfully shady sections back through Hygiene, and soon we had only a dozen miles to go. I was trying to keep the average speed up in the 18s where it had been hovering all day, but it just simply wasn’t going to happen. We finally rolled back into Boulder and down Folsom as the odometer ticked over the 70 mile mark. The final short, steep climb up Folsom to campus and the finish line was a final opportunity to leave any remaining leg strength out there on the course. Done! 71.5 miles in 4.5 hours.
The post-ride party was excellent with good beer, great food, and a big, shady tent to sit down and enjoy it in with our fellow spandex-clad campadres. All in all, the ride was expensive ($95), but for a worthy cause and very well supported. A good day worth of fun and a good excuse to get up a little earlier for a few weeks and get in some training rides. I’m still an on-foot, mountain guy at heart, but there is something very satisfying about speeding along as part of a big group on smooth pavement. Many thanks to Seth for pulling the pace and keeping me motivated. Our styles and speeds turned out to be quite complementary and doing this ride solo would have been a lot less fun.
*I note with some pride that I was the 20th fastest person on Strava to ride that segment out of 300 or more who rode it today. On an aluminum bike with entry-level componentry. I’m pretty pleased with that.