HARDSCRABBLE OR BUST!
by Mark Johnson
Hardscrabble on a triplet?. No way! The echoed sentiment expressed by a select few at the mere suggestion. The sweet smell of a challenge would soon be contagious.
Jim Turner, seemingly lifetime president of the Lawrence Bike Club, peaked my interest resultant of his 1995 recruitment efforts. "Too much was a happenin," as they say, not to mention no one seemed too excited about the prospect of sitting on their butt for 10 hours cruising the scenic western Kansas plains. Not so this year as Sue expressed excitement at the prospect doing an unfamiliar and potentially scenic century.
Hardscramble? NO! NO! NO! "Hardscrabble" stated the gent at the Octoginta whose car sported familiar green and white Colorado plates. "There is actually a pass called Hardscrabble," he continued.
We finished one of our many Tuesday evening rides with our tandem buddies (extended family), Jay and Sandy Sanders, when I remarked about our upcoming September 22nd Colorado adventure with only 3 days until departure. I suggested they join us. Jay "the fly"
(about the only guy on a single we cannot drop while on our tandem [we got to know him by default that way starting in 1992]) hesitated a mere 18 hours before calling. If recollection serves me correctly Sue suggested the triplet. At this point we had ridden the triplet with Jay only two or three times and at no point on a century much less in the Rocky Mountains!
I quickly called several of the Lawrence crowd in search of someone who had ridden it before to try to figure out the gearing needed and what we would need in the way of BRAKES on the way down! Everyone was loading up the Lawrence rental van and the
club trailer when I first called. I finally reached Jim, the pres, and learned of his miserable experience the first year with a 50 something low gear and a better experience with a 38 inch low the following year. He assured me the switch-backs were on the way up and it was pretty much flat-out going down.
Having never run an auxiliary drum brake around "these here parts" on the triplet and having ridden a tandem in the Rockies a few times, I was a little uneasy about going without one. But being very short on time and the prospect of carrying another 2 pounds up the mountain (I can be a gram weenie at times) made the decision easier.
Hardscrabble is definitely a century. No Kansas grid work road system exists in this part of Colorado for shorter options. But then you don't need one. You see -- you climb for 20 miles from Florence (located 35 or so miles west of Pueblo or southwest of the Springs) which is at 5,000 feet to 9,000 feet in 18 miles and it is down hill for 80 MILES! With the exception of a 1.5 mile or so blip west of Royal Gorge.
The ride is on Sunday and is held the same weekend as their Pioneer Days celebration. Quite the social event I must say. A few of the cowboy boot stomping locals of all ages really get into it with full dress costumes, games, country western bands in the park, cookouts and craft booths of all varieties.
Anticipation of leaving shortly after 6 pm directly from my Lawrence office was nixed by the needs and arrival of a new patient in distress before closing. Dedication to my patients
and chiropractic resulted in an hour delay. It was going on 7:30 while filling the twin tanks of the old Ford van when Jay (who had been so patient) was heard to say, "Let's just get on
the turnpike and floor it!"
We drove to Goodland, slept several hours, and headed southwest across eastern Colorado. We arrived (gaining an hour always helps) in the A.M., checked into the motor inn, walked the Pioneer Days event in the park and registered for the ride at the Hardees. You are on a triplet? No way! I have never seen one before! No one has done that before! Sound tiring yet? A well deserved nap was in order before meeting the Lawrence group, some 23 or so, at the local Italian restaurant. They put us in the basement of this fine establishment but then these guys had been there before. The wait passed quickly as the abundance of merriment and socializing (biker stories) diverted the mind from
hunger pangs. The food was good and plentiful.
The start was 6:30am to 8:30am. The general consensus of the Lawrence crowd was to wait until the sun came (a visual aid) and hopefully the chill in the air would leave shortly thereafter. 7:00am seemed to be the target time of most. Being fashionably late, it was 7:30 by the time we got our act together (we ate cardboard pancakes at Hardees) and headed out. The chill lasted only a mile (until we reached the prison) as the steady slight
grade (average of 14 mph) warmed us up. About 8 miles into the climb with a few teaser flat areas (and some that looked flat) and an occasional down slope we were congratulating each other on our 14+ average. We had previously heard it was 2 hours to the top depending upon your physical condition. Then the grade increased to 8%, you know the ones with the signs showing a silhouette of a truck standing on its nose. A welcome sag was strategically placed at the maximum wheeze point. Having stopped we realized many of the 700 or so riders had started while we were eating that stuff at Hardees evidenced by the food and potty lines.
Standing on the road holding the bike, I could not believe the effort required to keep it from rolling down the mountain. "Check this out" I said to Jay, "Try to hold this thing!" He
used the brakes and said "no problem."
One rider was heard hollering and asking if "Bill McCready (owner of Santana Cycles) was paying us to ride the event on one of his triplets. We also heard the first of what was to be repeated multiple times throughout the day, "We heard about you guys!" "I bet it will be a blast going down!" We did not hear much of anything once on the other side for obvious reasons.
The steepest part of our climb was in a 1:1 ratio, i.e., 32t rear and 32t front. About 1.5 miles of the climb would have been better with a 28t front sprocket as a cadence of 70 was a struggle to maintain. We paced ourselves by loosely following our strategy of running a heart rate of 160 or so. There were times we started to blow up by hitting 170 and 180 just to keep the gear turning. 2 hours and 20 minutes later we were rewarded with an awesome view of the snow covered mountain range, a Kodak moment we could not pass up.
It was time to boogie, "Let the fun begin", I exclaimed as we mounted up. Scrolling through the computer I discovered our earlier 14.6 mph average had dropped to a dismal 10.0 which does not quite ad up for you math wizards but that is what it said.
Awesome hardly does justice to the smooth sailing decent experienced while turning our 60t x 12t (had to remove the 11t for the climb) at 45 mph mile after mile. We arrived at the next sag, discovered more lines, said to heck with it and headed into town for a Coke. As we headed north to U.S. 50, the terrain flattened out to familiar light rolling cruising terrain. And then the grade steepened as we spun out our high gear at 46 mph. A 35 mph curve sign loomed at an alarming rate causing me to glance at the computer which was all of 2" from my face while in a full tuck. I thought, wow a figure I have never seen before while clipped to pedals! I momentarily feathered the brake while sitting up catching the wind which dropped our speed immediately from 58.5 into the 40's., slower than needed for the under rated curve.
The effort put forth (evidenced by a heart rate monitor check) was starting to wear on the now less than dynamic trio. Wrapped up with the sensation of speed we found ourselves working harder than ever with heart rates up in the 180's and occasional 190's. Sue was averaging around 160 for the whole ride! Her best effort ever! The only time any real braking was needed was for the stop sign at U.S. 50 highway which was no big deal. A sag was soon to come. It was a relief to get off as the speed and increased concentration also takes its toll. We consistently spent considerable time at the sags as the friendly riders and atmosphere of the event led to more socializing.
Back on the road again! Sue had fun (when she had enough thin Colorado air to do it) blowing her new train whistle as we passed other tandems. We passed single bikes so fast and so often it seemed futile to blow and blow!
The cruise down highway 50 following the Colorado river was enjoyable. But all good things must end which is exactly what happened west of Royal Gorge as we SLOWLY churned our way up a 1.5 or so mile grade. Another sag at the top and no lines! Most
of the riders were behind us at this point evidenced by a computer average closing in on 18 mph up from 10 mph. Leaving the sag we headed down the other side. What goes up must go down. We spun out at 46 mph, tucked down, and proceeded to experience cross winds, nothing severe but at 58 mph it felt a little spooky to more than one of us. Sitting up and letting the wind catch us with the hands on the hoods provided the additional stability we were looking for.
We joked that the post ride meal would likely be a hot dog as we cruised the last few miles into Florence at 28-30 mph. We showered, checked out of our room 2 hours later than first anticipated and headed over for our hot dog or whatever meal.
The “whatever” turned out to be a barbecue beef sandwich, a bowl of cauliflower, broccoli and or carrots, a baked potato with choice of trimmings, potato chips (for the salt lover in you), ice cream and punch. Not bad for $25 bucks including a T-shirt! Ranks right up there with the Hotter'n Hell for value.
We left town at 5:00pm our time, each getting about 3 hours sleep in the bed we hauled, and arrived in the metro about 3:15 am. Sue and I crashed at 4:30am after dropping Jay off in Bonner getting a total of 6.5 or 7 hours of sleep. (Sue was a little shy of that!)
We highly recommend this rewarding ride and plan on doing it again. The increasing participation within the Lawrence group speaks for itself. Jim Turner (pres for life?) would love to get 30 or so together, can the van idea, and move up to a charter bus!
If you do it our way, you may want to take Monday off from work.