The next Queen stage?
Riding Lands End Road is worth the challenge
Riding a road bike on the dirt seems crazy to most people, but I love it. And with the inclusion of the dirt road up Cottonwood Pass in the 2011 edition of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, we now have a greater scope of route possibilities for the 2012 stop in Grand Junction.
Full disclosure: Grand Junction has not officially been awarded a stage, but I am relatively certain we will get one. Too many people are working too hard for it not to happen.
It was with this in mind that I decided to ride up Lands End Road with Tim Sewell and Todd Hegstrom to see if it would be an appropriate stage for next year.
We drove to Palisade and began what we thought would be about a 41⁄2-hour journey.
Our route took us from Palisade to East Orchard Mesa, south to Whitewater and then up Lands End Road to the top of Grand Mesa.
We left Palisade and crossed the Colorado River. We were immediately hit with a steep climb as we rode toward East Orchard Mesa.
I have ridden this part of the route many times, but I am always struck by the beauty and diversity of our valley. We zigged and zagged through the farmlands and passed orchards, vineyards and rows and rows of corn.
At Reeder Mesa Road in Whitewater we turned left and began our initial assault on the mesa.
Our ride had just started, but the wind began to blow and the skies to darken. The clouds on the mesa had a dark, ominous look. I’m not sure if I am optimistic or obtuse, but I was confident that we would be OK.
Reeder Mesa Road is the start of the Mad Cow Classic road race every spring, hosted by the Colorado Mesa cycling team.
Our initial climb began after five miles on Reeder Mesa Road. It climbs at a steep pitch and takes you from the scrub desert of Whitewater to the green pastures on Reeder Mesa. It is remarkable how much different the fauna is with just a change of 500 feet in elevation.
After nine miles, Reeder Mesa Road ends at Lands End Road and the climbing begins in earnest.
The road is paved for about the first three miles and climbs at a steady pace. We crossed a cattle guard and the road turned to dirt.
A small sign indicated that we had 30 miles until we reached Colorado Highway 65. This was a concern because we quickly realized that the ride was going to be about 20 miles longer than we anticipated.
However, our moods were lifted because the clouds had begun to dissipate and the temperature was mild; perfect riding weather.
The BLM must have done some work to the road, because the dirt was reasonably smooth and looked as though mag-chloride had been applied.
The climb up Lands End Road gives a clear perspective of how massive Grand Mesa really is. The road snakes its way through scrub oak, aspen canopies and lava fields.
We periodically stopped to marvel at the view of the desert below and the clearly delineated green demarcation of the city.
We climbed and climbed, and still the summit seemed to be far in the distance. After eight miles the road began to get rough, narrow and steep. I found my legs starting to ache as I slogged up the climb and wished I had another gear.
We were now in lava fields and large pine trees. The summit was close and my legs were starting to feel better. When I am approaching the top of a climb I always seem to find a second wind.
We were all nearly out of water and still had at least an hour of riding to Mesa Lakes Resort. Luckily, about a mile before the top, we spotted a conveniently placed pipe near the road.
Cool, fresh, mountain spring water was channeled into the pipe. We gratefully filled our bottles and washed the grime from our faces.
We remounted our bikes and rode the last mile to the top.
Epic and awesome might be two of the most overused superlatives in the English language, but these two words aptly describe the views from Lands End.
You truly get a sense of the mountain as a large table. It flattens out with grasslands, streams, waterfalls and a long cliff bend. I was distinctly reminded of Table Mountain in South Africa.
The road on the top is paved for about five miles as it heads east and hugs the edge of the mesa. The views are spectacular in every direction.
Unfortunately, the road quickly turns to dirt again; and even worse, continues to climb. It is smooth gravel, and steadily climbs to the highway.
After 7,000 feet of climbing on 20-plus miles of dirt roads, we finally hit Highway 65 and turned left toward Powderhorn. We were grateful to be done climbing and the dirt.
We briefly stopped at the Mesa Lakes Resort and then enjoyed the 20-mile descent to Interstate 70. The road is smooth and fast; an apt reward for the three hours of suffering on the climb.
No ride is complete without a strong headwind at the end, and Sunday was no exception. We had been on the bikes for more than five hours and my legs, shoulders, back and lungs were all aching. At this point we just wanted to get back to the cars and off the bikes.
The entire route was 89.5 miles, taking 5 hours, 45 minutes.
It was one of the most amazing rides I have done in years and has the potential to be the ‘Queen’ stage of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge. I can’t wait to ride it again.