Friday, June 25, 2010

High Altitude Road Ride: The Return of The Asthmatic Snorkler

Diane is still smiling, as usual, after a few miles of climbing at Mt. Shavano. Knickers and arm warmers were the order of the day!

Last year I reported my struggles in riding at Salida's 7000' altitude. First note, it's hard to realize that I've kept at this blog for that long! Anyway, I've come back from Colorado in each of the last couple of years with my tail tucked between my seat stays, first due to injury, then due to a seeming total inability to ride at altitude. I suffered and gasped and was taken aback as to the limiting affect of the thin air, which I don't really notice at that level while boating or while engaged in other nonaerobic activities. Anyway, this year went a little better. First, Diane and I did a mountain bike road ride that climbed moderately for about 4 miles and we both fared better than we had previously. I guess it's just the result of another year of fitness, but I felt a little bit redeemed. I had not become a monster on the bike, but at least I felt that I could hang at a moderate cruising pace. With that in mind, I let Kent Davidson lead me on a ride in the river valley that culminated with a 7 mile climb up Poncha Pass. Poncha is a "baby" pass in comparison to the longer Independence Pass and the longer and much steeper Cottonwood Pass, both of which are in the 12,000' range. Poncha climbs a little over 2000' at an average of 6% grade, topping out at 9000'.

Kent showed me around some of the valley county roads, which are fairly flat and carry little traffic, but you just have to put up with the scenery.

When I saw the sign that said "Poncha Pass 7 Miles", I knew that I was going to be at work for awhile and encouraged Kent to ride on while I settled in at my own pace. I resolved several things as I climbed, one of which is that I'd have to break down and buy a compact crank if I rode out here often. The altitude wasn't really slowing me much, but as my lower back tightened, I had the impulse to step off the bike for just a moment to stretch, but I bullshitted myself up the mountain..." Ok, I'll stretch after that guardrail...OK, after this steeper stretch..." and soon enough, I spotted Kent announcing that I was at the top.

Inevitably, we had to start climbing. It was my longest sustained climb ever, I'll readily admit. The gradient was fairly moderate, only complicated by a few steep pitches and incessant headwinds.

I love to fly down hills, but on the long descent I was a little intimidated by the buffeting winds and the amount of sand on the side of the road we'd just climbed (Kent assured me that the downhill side was clean. I trusted him, but he'd ridden it recently to access trails in training for the Leadville 100 and I had not!), so I seldom got over 40 MPH. Higher speeds were easily attainable. The 7 mile ride down took something over 12 minutes, while my ride up had taken closer to 55 minutes. We headed back into Salida, having ridden about 45 miles, and called it done. I still aspire to climb the higher passes, but I have a way to go and that will have to wait until next year. For now, I'm just glad to know that I can get around out there.

We finished up the ride by meeting Diane at the Boathouse Cantina for a lunch of tacos and a cold local I.P.A. Note the view of the whitewater play park, the site of the Hooligan Race. This town is just very cool!

Back at our cabin, Diane led us on a little hike and some chilling with the pups.

The core of FIBArk is boating on the Arkansas, with the country's best rodeo boaters showing their stuff in one of the more popular spectator events.

Here's a view from the "F" Street Bridge of the Boathouse Cantina overlooking the play park.

Rodeo riders and play boats are lined up at the launch ramp

Jackson Kayaks are hot with the hole riding crowd, as founder Eric "EJ" Jackson has been a champion of one whitewater discipline or another as long as I can remember. The whole family goes on the road promoting the business as pro boaters and competing in events. Above, 16 year-old Dane Jackson throws a dynamic aerial loop as his sister Emily looks on between rounds of the Hooligan Race. The Jackson clan is legendary in the whitewater world.

But it's also a bike town, with the valley being mostly flat and everything you need a short pedal away for most folks. Cruisers rule on "F" Street, the main drag.

Life is good in Salida, but be prepared to breath a little harder!


rmooney said...

I am jellous of the climb, I can't wait til I get to spin up my first colarado pass!!! nice jersey btw

JBar said...

A buddy picked that jersey up for me in Rome and it's one of my favorites. The guy obviously has some style!
Thanks, Robert!


Jess-ee-ka said...

I loved Salida and FIBArk too! I went there last year and was missing it this year - so I was very happy to read your post via the ACC message board. A goal of mine is to enter the Hooligan race with AR boaters on the AR river. Looks like lots of fun! Thanks for sharing.

JBar said...

We Arkies were represented by Michael Fisher and his good-sport Mom, Laurie, with the Lower Arkansas River Redneck raft. They live at Clarksville and have a place in Salida. Come up with a plan and maybe we'll join you!