Seven days ago, my sister Erin and I embarked on an epic tour…
I leave Albuquerque on Friday morning, after a quick run. A fairly uneventful drive and only one pause to pull off the road and, shall we say, admire the scenery, lands me in Alamosa, CO about 3 and a half hours later. I help Erin with a few last minute details and we hit the road. Compass setting: North. Destination: the last two stages of the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge, a week-long bike race through the Rockies. We’re both excited; she a veteran fan and I a fervent neophyte. Friday’s drive is a Colorado tourist’s dream, along scenic roads, past multiple 14ers [translation: super-tall mountains], and through towns I’ve previously only heard of, like Buena Vista and Leadville (the highest town inAmerica, with an elevation of ten-thousand-mumble-mumble feet). We pass llamas along the way, which I pronounce a good omen. We stop at a Subway and grab supper for later that evening. A little before suppertime, we cruise into Frisco and snag a campsite at the first campground we try, a patch of land called Peak One that cozies right up to the absurdly pretty Dillon Reservoir. We pitch our tents and go for a walk along the reservoir, where we admire an extraordinarily vivid, wide-arcing rainbow. Erin is wary of the dark sky surrounding the rainbow. I blithely trot on and snap photos. We get back to camp, eat our supper, and then…it begins to rain. We retreat to the car and read for a bit, but the rain displays admirable tenacity. A good deal of scrambling, sprinting, sloshing, and swearing ensues, but we finally burrow in our respective tents. Big day tomorrow!
We get up, somewhat dry, and go for a shivery run around Frisco. Oh yeah, we’re in mountain climates now…we break camp and drive down the road to Breckenridge, Frisco’s better-known neighbor and endpoint for today’s stage of the bike race. After parking (and scoring free cowbells for riding the shuttle bus!!) we brace ourselves with coffee, wander around town a bit, and stake out a spot a few hundred meters out from the finish line. Let me say, if you have to just hang out for a couple hours, you could do far worse than Breckenridge. We revel in the prime people-watching: all sorts of fans stroll the sidelines, raucous costumed leisure riders parade along the road, and artistic folks produce sidewalk chalk and decorate the road with bright pastel messages of support. There are even guys who demonstrate cool mountain bike tricks to keep the crowd entertained. And then…they close the road. And then vehicles start coming. And then faster vehicles. And then helicopters swoop over us like predatory hummingbirds, and vehicles are hurtling by now, and sirens are wailing and the cyclists are coming and everyone is screaming and not really breathing and flailing whatever noisemaker they hold and WHOOSH!!!
Then it’s over, and we’re all panting and wide-eyed, saying “Did you see…?” “I think I saw..” “All I saw was a blur!” “I almost wet my pants!” …and then we meander our way back to the car, still wide-eyed, and get on Highway 70 Eastbound. Next stop: Denver.
We go for an early-morning run from our hotel through the neighborhood of Cherry Creek, fortified by a burgers-fries-shakes dinner at a nearby diner. The neighborhood’s plentiful green lawns and shade trees make us High Desert girls envious. We drive in to downtown Denver where again luck is on our side: the first public parking garage we see has open spaces, is fantastically convenient for our purposes, and costs a mere $8 a day. Jackpot! We explore the 16th Street Mall a little, then head up the street to the Grand Festival of Cycling encircling the State Capitol. We endure the scrutiny of the security folks (Heaven forbid someone should try to bring in their own water!) and immerse ourselves in the sheer glory that is live music, food, merchandise vendors, kiddie bike races, and FREE STUFF. Having left the mountain climates behind us, it’s stinkin’ hot out, but no matter – we sip our free juice, secure our baseball caps, re-apply sunscreen, and establish our vantage point. We find a great one, less than 200 meters from the finish line and just around a bend in the course. The cyclists start earlier today, so not only do we not have to wait very long, but the last part of the race comprises six loops around downtown Denver, so we get to see them multiple times. And when they go by….again, WHOOSH!! All over again! And it happens each and every time; it never gets one bit less exciting. After just a couple of the riders’ circuits, I’ve given up on trying to get a good photo, my right hand is cramping from gripping my cowbells so tightly, the sun is beating down, but the giddiness of myself and everyone around me doesn’t ebb for a second. It’s amazing. When it’s finally over, neither Erin nor I knows who won, but it doesn’t even matter. We stagger, partly from lingering adrenaline and partly from Vitamin C overload from all the free juice, back to the car and make the trek back to Alamosa.
Next year? We’ll bring sidewalk chalk.