Monday, June 8, 2009

Elephant Rock Century circa 2009

I lived in Colorado during the summer of 1989, staying with my sister Barb while I worked as a summer clerk at a downtown Denver law firm.

One of my most vivid memories from that summer is riding the Elephant Rock ride. It was held on the grounds of the Air Force Academy, just north of Colorado Springs. It snowed; and rained; and bone chilling sleet blew sideways and knifed through my jersey.

My sister, brother in-law and niece and nephew rode with me that year – we did the “family” ride. Hmmph. Whoever plotted the course didn’t have an 8-year-old boy on a bike with 20-inch wheels in mind. As I recall, the route was all uphill – except for the screaming downhill that was so steep it freaked out my nephew and he had to walk it.

Fun times.

Notwithstanding that inglorious introduction, in the intervening 20 years I have ridden the Elephant Rock nearly every year – at least 15 times, I think. I have ridden in 105° heat, torrential rain, wickedly painful hail, and wind, wind, wind.

Yesterday Phil and I headed out for another go at the Rock.

Usually, the earlier you get on the road, the less likely you’ll get caught in an afternoon thunderstorm. We were moving a little slow, though, so we took off at 730 am.

The crowds were thick, but not as bad as I’ve seen in other years. The problem is that all the courses share a few miles, and the riders doing 7 miles aren’t used to riding in a crowd – and the riders doing the 100 miles aren’t used to riding with unskilled riders – bad things can happen.

Pikes Peak in the background - clear skies in the morning, but dark and scary as the day wore on.

We made it through that mixing zone unscathed, and starting ticking off the miles. We managed to catch up with a group of about 7 riders coming out of the first rest area and we hung on to the back of their train until they turned off for the 62 mile course and we took a left onto the 100 mile route. We cooked along at 20 – 22 mph for that section – sweet.

Having enought Porta-Potties - priceless!

The wind picked up as we headed off on the extra loop for the century. I was nearly blown off the road 3 separate times. Good luck and a little bit of bike handling kept me upright. Those demon side gusts are not my friends.

Phil rode really well. The Wife Beater (WB I, as we call his Sampson) is paying dividends. He is able to put more power to the pedals and is much more comfortable overall on the bike – it all translates to speed and confidence.

That said, I also had a great ride. We finished in under 6 hours – I know that is a personal record for me. The temperature was just a bit cool (mid-to-low-60s, with a cool wind), which probably helped some. I felt fine when we finished, not completely cooked and miserable, which has been my experience on more than one occasion after finishing the Elephant Rock.
We wore our Hawaii jerseys in honor of Lowry's birthday - happy birthday!

For several years the Elephant Rock was my kick-off to the cycling season. Looking back, those were the years I really suffered!

We have ridden 4 centuries already this season, as well as some other 6 to 7 hour efforts. The Elephant Rock just felt like any other long work out – nothing epic about it – and that is exactly what I hoped for.

Convert to Skirt guys at one of the aid stations. Interesting . . .

So, I think our fitness is really good right now. The focus is going to be on doing more intense efforts and more back-to-back long rides (going hard and long both Saturday and Sunday). Climbing and work at altitude will also be critical.

Right now Phil is at the bike shop picking up Wife Beater II (his Santa Cruz Blur XC Carbon - Sweet!!. . .) Photos and specs to follow. . .

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