Part 1: Juniper Pass

The morning started off chilly: 43 degrees when we left our Airbnb, high on the side of a mountain at 8400′ elevation. The Start Line temps would be a little warmer.

But just barely.

At 5:43am, in the darkness, we parked under one of the multiple parking lights at King Sooper, a grocery store with an odd name just about a mile from the start. There were groups of cyclists who were prepping for the day as well underneath the many islands of parking lot lights. We borrowed a pump from someone in our own island of light, who was happy to oblige. Excitement filled the thin Colorado air. Jessi and I were anxious to get the ride underway.

At the start – 5:43 am

Just a mile later, we met up with John McLarty, a FL friend and exchanged photos and well-wishes.

Right out of the crowded gate, where almost 5,000 riders would pass though in just a matter of about 2 hours, we started our first climb. Only 15 miles to the top of Juniper Pass. The gradients were not steep, just constant. I focused on keeping our watts manageable so that we could endure the 10,500′ of climbing that awaited us for the day.

Jessi had just flown into town about 17 hours prior, with no time to acclimatize. Moxie has been at elevation since the beginning of August (thanks to Steve, who drove her out for me), so she was more than ready for the challenge ahead. BillyD and I arrived in CO on August 16, so I felt prepared for the altitude.

With much excitement, and a little bit of nerves, Jessi and I set out for the first Pass. Two hours and many calories later, we made it. The chill in the air was genuine: it was 41 degrees at the top of Juniper Pass, but the scenery took the sting out of it. We stopped for photos, grabbed some food from the terrific volunteers and relished the moment. We were 1/3 of the way done!

Elev: 11,155 ft – Juniper Pass

The descent was fast – and cold. I had been warned by a friend that the descent would be sketchy… not because it was that technical, but because of other riders who would fly by, not announcing their intentions to pass. I found this to be true from the get-go, so I feathered the brakes for the entire 15 mile descent as I stayed in the right side of the road. Every so often, I would check behind me to make sure Jessi was nearby. She always was.

Huge winds blew through some of the canyons, pushing us several feet to the side, heightening our awareness and keeping us focused. Some riders were visibly shaking in the cold. Not only their feet, legs and bodies, but their shakes sent shivers through their bikes as well. I politely shouted “Left side!” so they would know I was putting them behind me. Jessi ensued perfectly.

On a 15 mile descent, even with disc brakes, my hands grew weary. I had to hold one brake at the time, while shaking out my other hand. Jessi has clinchers, making her descent more disconcerting. She later stated that she watched me and did what I did. That made me smile big.

Two hours to climb.

35 minutes to descend.

Bring on the next pass.

Part 2 coming soon.