I’m usually a one water-bottle bike ride kind of girl, which means the stakes are low, the climbs aren’t too high, and it’s a 15-minute rescue for my boyfriend if something breaks down (including me). So, when I was invited on a group bike trip that involved 150 miles of riding with 8,000 feet of climbing over the Continental Divide in two days—a "Tour de NoCo"—I said "no." Then I said it twice more. Not because I didn’t think I could do it, but my modus operandi for over-long endurance rides in the past is to under-train and then hope like hell my legs don’t fall off. I usually survive, but have to avoid stairs for a week.
But this ride, I was told, would be “fun,” we’d “go slow,” and I “could do it.” I can't say "no" more than three times in a row, so I caved and met up with Iconic Adventures, a Steamboat Springs-based custom tour group. They had the logistics nailed. Each evening, we received a detailed schedule and map, and they went over the the particularly hard stretches, ensuring us we could always hitch a ride in the sag wagon if we got tired.
Day One was a 60-mile ride from Steamboat Springs to Walden that involved crossing Rabbit Ears Pass, a nine-mile climb up 3,200 feet, on our locally-sourced Moots titanium bikes. I rode Lookout Mountain in Golden a few weeks before, so I would understand the pacing of a sustained climb. I’m sure the views up Rabbit Ears were beautiful and the mountains stunning, but for the first half of that climb, my memory was mostly of staring at gravel, unzipping my jacket while simultaneously veering into the middle of the road, and the general dismay and hopelessness that comes with realizing you’re in over your head.
But then, like an oasis, Joe Solomon of Iconic Adventures was at the crest of the hill with a spread of Honey Stinger waffles and chews, M&Ms, Gatorade, and all kinds of other goodies for the exhausted and dehydrated. A support van followed behind us to scoop up anyone who was too whipped to finish. It was like running a marathon—if you were Beyonce. The minute you pulled over, a sports drink was in your hand and a peanut butter sandwich at your beck and call. When we finished, we grabbed food at River Rock Cafe in Walden, then they shuttled us to Devil's Thumb Ranch, where my pre-ordered massage for my stiffened legs was waiting and the hot tubs were more majestic than the mountain views.
Sufficiently tired, we began Day Two deciding that instead of the 90-mile bike ride to Fort Collins, we’d amend the ride to end about 50 miles earlier—a delightful perk of customization. We began at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, fueling up once more before we began the 12-mile and over 4,000-foot climb up Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuously-paved road in the U.S. Being in the back meant I had constant use of the sag wagon, which was there to fix any mechanicals and supply us with more food. We stopped when we needed to and slowly pedaled our way up to the 12,183-foot summit—a huge and maybe tearful accomplishment for some in our group; an accomplishment I'm not sure all of us could have completed without our support crew.
I realized these customizable trips are like having a wedding planner for your most epic adventures. Everything's organized for you ahead of time—you just need to show up and take the leap. That way you can focus on the journey and not who has the car keys. And if you've planned it right, there will be happy tears at the end. And ibuprofen. LOTS of ibuprofen.
—Image courtesy of David Epperson