Royal Gorge

CAÑON CITY, COLORADO

The day began with meeting the Ride the Rockies bus at 6:00 a.m. for transport to Salida. I stayed in the Super 8 in Buena Vista and was surprised the hotel had the breakfast nook open for us so that we could grab something to eat.

After retrieving my bike from the bike corral and pumping the tires (my rear tire, setup as a tubeless, has been losing 40 psi per day but that’s another story as we continue to dial it in), I followed five riders out to the street- US 50. I thought the five were a group.

We began so slowly I thought of passing them but decided this would be a day to relax. Soon were rolling along in a pace line. A woman sat on my wheel and we had seven riders rolling along as one. It was cool with temperatures around 50 degrees.

Arkansas River
Arkansas River

After a few miles I saw a gap opening between the third and fourth riders. If the gap opened up, the front three, my free ride, would be gone. In an instant I took off and passed the two riders, bringing the woman with me. Just like that we were five riders. And two of the original seven riders were dropped.

This was a perfect stretch to ride. It trended downhill and followed the beautiful Arkansas River. It was this segment we were supposed to do two years ago but missed due to the Royal Gorge Fire.

Recycle Tent at Aid Station
Recycle Tent at Aid Station

We rolled past the first rest stop although the woman stopped at that point. And we kept rolling. The front three were rotating and we picked up two more. I finally told them to let us do some work too. I moved to the front. By the time we reached the second stop we had covered 22 miles in 53 minutes. We flew.

It was OPEN today to cyclists
It was OPEN today to cyclists

I had eaten a Brat on top of Cottonwood Pass yesterday and it just seemed like a good thing to do at Aid Station #3. Here I met Lori the Medic and rode with her. At one point we lost contact as I had stopped for a photo op but I caught her on the slopes to the Royal Gorge.

Royal Gorge Bridge
Royal Gorge Bridge

This was a steep climb. They called it “The Wall.” Colorado doesn’t have many steep climbs, just long and gradual, but this road was as though it was lifted from the Appalachians and dropped here.  The road turned up quickly and lots of people were walking. It really wasn’t very hard although many people struggled with it. You all are invited with me to ride back East.

Royal Gorge Bridge
Royal Gorge Bridge

We got to the Royal Gorge. I rode across the deck – it is 1000′ down to the Arkansas River. I took a few photos and then left. The Medic had disappeared and I never saw her again.

Royal Gorge Bridge
Royal Gorge

After a little climbing out of the gorge it was a seven mile descent to Cañon City. I know because I rode this last year on my own. Three miles out of town the riders turned onto a road called Skyline Drive. I kept going straight on US 50. Not only was this an official alternate route I thought I might take a train ride if I got to town early enough.

Royal Gorge Bridge
Royal Gorge Bridge

I went to the train station looking for bike parking but didn’t see any. I wasn’t just going to leave my bike so I headed to Sonic. There I met Michelle Hancock, a rider with the “Naked” (sponsor) team. My friend, Lisa Smith, rides for them and said to tell them all hello. Michelle stared at me. She must have been thinking “worst pickup line ever.”

Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive

We were both feeling pretty good about finding the alternate way to town but when I had passed Skyline Drive I thought I might regret not turning on it. Before the turn I pictured it as a parallel frontage access road. Gratification that I made the right choice soon turned to regret as I saw these riders climbing next to the road where I was descending.

I could see them climbing this hillside as I rolled down the road – they going up and me going down. US 50 is a divided highway and there really wasn’t a safe turnaround option or I would have.

Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive – Credit: Facebook Page of Ride the Rockies

After lunch at Sonic and checking into America’s Best Value Inn, I decided I would ride back out on course and ride Skyline Drive. I did not regret it. What a hidden gem. It was about a three mile uphill ride from the prison in Cañon City to the turn onto Skyline Drive. But from the top one could see valleys on either side. It is a one way road and today was closed to traffic.

After riding it I went back and rode it again. It was that fun. People were astonished to learn this was my third trip into town. My regret was not that I didn’t ride it the first time but that I didn’t go back for a third time.

My night would not go so well. My stay at America’s Best Value Inn two years ago had been nice. This time, my room, 134, smelled of smoke. I have a sensitivity to it – my eyes burn. They would burn all night.


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