Here are some simple tips for cycling Grand Mesa from the parking lot at the intersection of I-70 and Hwy 65, a 29 mile, 6000 ft. climb.
Cycle with Friends – In our case we rode with our tandem-riding friends, Randy and Nancy. Aside from the magical thinking, “If they can do it, we can do it,” both Nancy and Randy are great conversationalists who make the miles melt away.
Find a hill with a coffee shop – The tiny town of Mesa has a lovely little coffee shop called Blink as in “if you Blink twice, you’ll miss it”. It’s perfectly situated about 10 miles into the ride, just before the hill gets really steep. There’s nothing that says “We can do it” better than a strong, delicious cup of coffee.
Make a plan for stops and refueling breaks – We learned a little tip from some German cyclists we met in Laos. With loaded touring bikes they stop every 150 meters (450 ft.) in elevation climbed and have a quick snack and drink. For the Grand Mesa ride, Eric and I agreed to stop every 700 ft climbed (we were riding unloaded, light-weight road bikes). This gave us a goal and a concerted time to take pictures and chat.
Eat an elk burger while listening to live music – OK. I admit this was an unplanned, lucky bonus, but finding a rustic restaurant/old hunting lodge about 3 miles from the summit made us determined to repeat this ride some day in the future.
Make snow angels – I’m very jealous that I didn’t think of this fun (and sweat removing) idea. But, I will definitely copy Randy and Nancy for the next ride. But seriously, the idea of making snow angels proves my most important point for surviving a climb.
HAVE FUN ON THE UPHILL.
The added bonus of the climb is the downhill, which, in this case, was 24 miles of no pedaling, reaching death-defying speeds 40 mph for Eric and me, and 47 mph on the tandem.
Although we chose this ride for training purposes for Ride the Rockies, we will definitely repeat the ride just for fun!
Gateway to Naturita, Norwood, Nucla – (195 Miles, 6800 feet)
With just over two weeks left before Ride the Rockies, we had the good fortune and fun to take a three-day, two night cycling exploration of Western Colorado with two friends who also needed to train for their upcoming ride Bicycle Tour Colorado.
To keep things simple we credit card camped so we could focus on miles and elevation.
Day 1 – Gateway to Norwood 70 miles, 3425 feet
While unloading our bikes and putting on our cycling clothes, we had the good fortune to meet an inspirational group of veterans dressed in cycling gear and riding tandems. After further questioning we learned the stoker on each tandem is a blind or visually impaired veteran and the group was honoring veteran’s with this special Memorial Day Ride. They had a planned a very ambitious ride taking them over to Moab, but they also had a very nice support vehicle to carry their water and snacks.
Speaking of water, there are no services for 50 miles so I carried 2 1/2 liters in my Camelback and 2 full bottles on my bike. As it turned out, I could have saved my lower back and tush because at milepost 91 (about 20 miles out) there is a cool, shaded spring with delicious Colorado spring water.
Continuing another 10 miles at milepost 80 there is an historical landmark called the Hanging Flume, which, according to the placard at the site, compares the Hanging Flume to the Great Wall of China. I got a chuckle out of this.
At 50 miles on the odometer we arrived in Naturita where we inhaled chocolate milk, electrolyte drinks, and a 6-pack of ice cream bars. The first 50 miles had been a gradual incline with a tail wind. The last 20 would be our “real” climbing for the day.
Arriving at Norwood, elevation just above 7000 feet, I was in love with the cool, fresh mountain air and the scenery of large farms, cattle grazing and the snow-capped peaks of the San Juan Mountains to the south and the La Salle Mountains to the north east.
After a quick walk up and down the 2-block long main street we were a little surprised to notice how few things were open for Memorial Day weekend. Settling on dinner at the Lone Cone Cafe, we shared the only pieces remaining of the Friday night prime rib special and called it a night.
Sleep came fast.
Day 2 – Exploring the few paved roads around Norwood ( 50 miles, 1700 feet)
Both coffee shops were closed on Sunday so we settled on grocery store breakfast burritos on the bench in front of the store.
Our morning ride was on Road 44Z towards the inactive volcano Lone Cone. This road challenged us with the steep, unrelenting grades and beautiful views. The downhill was fast, fun and energizing so we challenged ourselves by adding some more elevation with a down and up of Norwood Hill, another nice hill climb.
After a late lunch of grocery-store sandwiches eaten on the patio of the closed Happy Belly Deli, we headed in the opposite direction towards the Thunder Mountain Trails with the intent of getting more climbing and miles under our belts.
A BBQ dinner with other guests at the Hotel Norwood and a few locals including Phil who is in the process of opening a bicycle shop in Norwood, and two female travelers from Florida made for an unexpectedly, lively evening.
Day 3 – Norword via Nucla and back to Gateway (76 miles, mostly descending with a good climb in the middle)
Feeling fortified with a real espresso and hot breakfast from the “open on Monday” Happy Belly Deli we started out descent back to Gateway. We did make a slight detour on the Nucla loop because we’d learned from our BBQ that Nucla had started as a utopian society in the late 1800s and, as such, has some quirky history. We also learned about the famous pharmacist Dr. Don his pharmacy as featured in the New Yorker Magazine so we had to make a stop.
After Nucla the ride was basically downhill back to Gateway. Good training, interesting, sites, and fun companions made this training ride a success.