Enjoy the ride and the landscape of Arches National Park
Moab is known around the world as an outdoor playground; it boasts excellent Jeeping, climbing, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and, of course, road cycling.
So this past weekend when I was invited by Chip Chilson, owner of the Aspen Sports Institute, to be a guest speaker/rider at his fall camp, I jumped at the opportunity.
The camp was a four-day affair focusing on training techniques, racing strategies, bike technology and nutrition. The featured speaker was Tour de France color commentator Bob Roll.
The plan for Saturday was to ride an out-and-back through Arches National Park. However, when I awoke to a steady rain and temperatures hovering in the low-40s, I began to have second thoughts.
I was not sure I wanted to suffer for three hours with the likes of Jelly Belly professional Alex Hagman, Colorado Mountain States Cup Champion Dave Ochs, Elite Masters Champion Chris Brown and Roll in the wet and cold.
So I made an executive decision to have a late breakfast and join my kids in the pool and hot tub at the Gonzo Inn.
By noon the weather had stabilized, so I called Chip to see if anyone was still waiting to ride. It turns out no one else wanted to get wet either, and a group of about 20 was getting ready to leave.
I put on about five layers of wool, polypropylene and Lycra and met up with the guys on their way out of Moab.
The roads were still soaking wet and a light mist was falling as we pedalled north of town. The gray, ominous-looking clouds did not give me much comfort, either. I was excited to get a good ride, but I began to question my sanity.
From the entrance gate of the park, the road is approximately 18 miles of rolling terrain to the turn-around at the end of the park.
The climbing begins right at the entrance with a roughly two-mile climb out of the valley. As we crested this first climb, we were more exposed to the wind and the elements. The snow-covered peaks of the La Salle Mountains to the southeast were immersed in dark gray clouds. The snow level looked to be about 6,000 feet and the wind had a cold winter bite.
This road is deceptive in a car. It does not appear to be too hilly, but on a bike you quickly realize there are no flat sections. The road undulates the entire way, which makes it hard to get into a rhythm and to recover. In fact, by the end of the ride we had climbed about 3,500 vertical feet.
We stopped at the Balanced Rock view point to enjoy the landscape and allow the rest of the group to catch up.
When we got rolling again, everyone was pretty cold and the intensity of the ride increased. My heart rate was now in the mid 170s and my legs were starting to sting.
I began playing games with myself to push on with the group. I would break each climb into 30-second efforts, telling myself, “Just go another 30 seconds.” When that 30-second session was over, I would start counting to 30 again.
My heart rate was now pegged in the high 180s and low 190s. Our group had deteriorated to only five riders and I could no longer assist at the front. I was glued to the wheel in front of me to give myself as much shelter from the wind as possible.
The Park Service website indicates that more than 2,000 arches are housed in Arches National Park. However, the only arches I saw were the rear wheels of the bikes in front of me. This is pretty much how I saw Europe nearly 15 years ago.
I must have built some good karma with the cycling gods, because I was praying for headwinds on the climbs to slow the group down, and sure enough, each time the road kicked up, we faced with a stiff headwind.
The pace continued to increase until the sprint at the turnaround.
We rode a hard, but steady pace on the way back. I was nervous about the climb up to Balanced Rock, but luckily we had a headwind there as well, which provided some shelter and slowed the group down.
The sun finally made an appearance and the pace slowed to a manageable level. I actually had a chance to look around at the magnificent sandstone formations.
When I got back to the Gonzo Inn, I looked at the stats from my heart rate monitor: 2,292 calories burned, 191 max heart rate, and an hour and seven minutes above 165. In other words, it was a hard day.
The ride, however, just made the margaritas and the conversation with cycling legend Bob Roll all the more enjoyable.