I. AM. SO. BEHIND. I have a couple posts in my queue that I’ve yet to finish writing let alone hit publish on. But I’ve been living life, ya know, and I’m OK making that a priority. Today I’m getting my act together and sharing my long weekend adventures in Steamboat at the end of June. I hope you enjoy.
There’s one thing I think about when I’m deep in the pain cave, freezing my ass off, or melting under an afternoon sun on a bike ride or long run, and that thing is a shower. I think about peeling off my weathered layers, hobbling into the shower, letting the warm water hit my head and roll down my back. So on Saturday morning a couple weekends ago, when I was bent over my handlebars in the middle of a secluded dirt road in the pouring rain, I was definitely thinking about that shower. My hands, my toes, my eyebrows I remember specifically—every bit of me was frozen and worried about how I’d get back to town. It was June 22ndand I was on a Rapha Cycle Club trip in Steamboat Springs for the weekend previewing some of the roads we’ll be riding during a 100-mile gravel race in August.
But if we back up, things really started going wrong on Wednesday, the day before I left for my long weekend trip to this northwestern mountain town.
About a month ago my gravel bike start creaking. With every pedal stroke the bottom bracket would crunch and crackle in distress and I knew it was time for service. In preparation for this trip to Steamboat, I took it to my favorite shop in town for a tune up. A special part needed to be ordered before they could fix it, and when I called the day before I was supposed to leave to see how they were doing, the service guy simply told me whoever was meant to put in that order “dropped the ball” and the part was never ordered. Shit, I thought. Now what?
I told him (ok, whined a little) about how I was leaving the next day for Steamboat and now I had nothing to ride. I asked about their rental gravel bikes, knowing full well they had an entire fleet available. Without missing a beat he said, “We do! Let me check your size and we’ll get you hooked up for the weekend, no charge.”
Saved!! I was having visions of cancelling my trip or desperately borrowing an ill-fitting bike from a friend.
“We have a Salsa Warbird in your size,” he said. “I’ve got you booked Thursday through Sunday.”
The Warbird was a bike I considered buying during my gravel bike search. But with a little coaxing from my co-workers and a steep industry discount, I picked the Ibis Hakka. Probably for the best, too, because I was able to roll right into CX season with it and it’s been so fun riding ever since.
On Thursday morning I picked up the Warbird and got on the road to Steamboat around noon. I’d been checking and re-checking the weather all week leading up to Thursday and it didn’t look good. Thunderstorms were predicted all day every day Thursday through Sunday. I almost didn’t go, but I had everything booked and packed and I really just hoped for the best. Either way, it would be an experience.
Just like my trip to Santa Fe, the drive was beautiful.
^^^ Somewhere near Kremmling, CO. I stopped to get a Gatorade, get some gas, and stretch my legs.
We had a mix of sun and rain showers the whole way, and when I pulled into Steamboat about three hours later, I could tell a big storm had blown through. Dark clouds were still hanging around in the distance. I walked around the cute main street for a bit, popping in and out of the shops, but decided to head to my hotel in Craig, CO before the rain started coming down again.
Craig is a teeny tiny town about 50 mins west of Steamboat Springs where the main attraction is a Super Walmart and a rundown restaurant and bar. I always love experiencing these sorts of towns when I travel.
On Friday morning I woke up to more rain, which I knew was in the forecast, but was hoping and praying would pass over more quickly than the weather reports had predicted. Spoiler: it didn’t.
After a run on the treadmill gym and a little hotel breakfast, I made the hour drive back to Steamboat. That was one of the low points of the trip; I was grateful for a place to stay, but I think next time I’ll splurge on a place closer to town.
The rest of the Rapha group wasn’t supposed to arrive until that evening, so I spent the morning and afternoon tourist-ing the best I could in the rain (and snow!!!). One place I accidentally stumbled upon was Fish Creek Falls. It’s just a few miles outside of town into the mountains. I wasn’t prepared for hiking in the rain, but I was curious what was just down that little dirt road, so I walked maybe a quarter mile until I reached a beautiful rushing river and waterfall. It was truly breathtaking. The water was so fast and so loud—it was the only thing I could hear. I couldn’t stay long without proper cold weather gear, but when I’m back in Steamboat for the race in August, I’m going to make a special trip here to hike further down the trail. I bet it gets even more beautiful.
^^^ Steamboat Springs got snow on the first day of summer. Yeah.
After lunch and a little more sightseeing by car, my next stop was Moots to meet the Rapha group for a private tour of the facility. Moots is a local bike frame building company doing absolutely beautiful work with titanium. Their process is dialed, and they only let the most perfect frames go out the door to their customers.
They do mostly stock frames, but they produce a handful of custom builds as well. It was pretty incredible seeing the step-by-step process, the machines, and the nuances of working with titanium.
The whole group really loved the tour and had a million questions along the way. If Moots frames weren’t triple my price range, I would consider buying one in the future to support these guys, since 99% of their process and materials in based in the United States.
I headed back to Craig shortly after the tour and got ready for a day on the bikes on Saturday.
We ended up pushing our start time from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. to let the day warm up and hopefully beat some of the storms. But…well…the rain only held off for so long. After a welcome intro from the Steamboat Gravel team, our group of maybe 30 riders headed off from downtown and onto a long and winding pavement road that eventually turned into gravel. Within the first five miles, I knew the day was going to be painful.
I was pushing my pedals with everything I had just to stay with the group, and drafting wasn’t helping much. I think I made it 10 miles with the pack before getting dropped and splitting off with two other women who were also hoping to stay together. (The Warbird was also much heavier than I expected. They gave me an aluminum frame with Shimano 105 components, which added a significant amount of weight I wasn’t used to after riding my carbon Hakka with a lighter groupset.)
^^^ We enjoyed some off and on sunshine for about an hour and a half before the weather turned nasty for the rest of the day.
This is one of my biggest pet peeves as a rider. If a group is going to hammer at 20 mph from the start and not let up on the gas the entire ride, then there should be two or three separate groups with separate ride leaders, especially when riders aren’t familiar with the roads or the route.
Us three women made the best of the situation, though, and stuck together even when the weather started to turn. As we got to a fork in the road on part of our Trout Creek loop, the clouds opened up and freezing rain dumped all over us. Right then, we made the decision to turn around and head back to town since we’d already lost the group. We’d been climbing for over an hour at that point and I was thankful for a descent, but the cold really started to seep into…everything. My fingers and toes went numb almost immediately and mud kicked up into my shoes. And we still had 30 more miles back to town.
I knew I wouldn’t make it that far. But I also knew we were in the middle of nowhere with no service, so I pulled over under a tree to catch my breath and THINK. That’s the shakes set in because not only was I cold, but I was also panicking.
The three of us regrouped and decided to essentially suck it up and head back to the main road to flag down a ride, which…was completely foreign to me.
Hitch a ride? I thought.That’s a new one.
I’d never stuck a thumb out and hitched a ride before. Ever. But I was desperate for warmth, a hot cup of coffee and that shower. Ohhh that shower.
Not a minute later, a truck pulled over, packed our bikes in the back and gave us a lift to a nearby coffee shop where we eventually had service and hitched a second ride from a friend of one of the women in our group.
Thirty minutes later, I was sitting in the back of a hollowed out Nissan X-Terra squished between muddy and soaking wet bikes on the way back to downtown Steamboat.
^^^ Packed like sardines in the back of a stranger’s Nissan. Good times.
It wasn’t the day I’d hoped for. It wasn’t the weekend I’d hoped for. We’d cycled just 42 of the planned 140 miles. My fitness was well below where I’d thought it was. But I was still happy I went.
You’d be back home in Boulder maybe riding the same roads you always do or maybe not even riding at all, I thought as I drove my soaking wet self back to my hotel in Craig. Even though it didn’t work out like you hoped, this is better than anything else you would’ve done this weekend.
When I finally finally made it back to my hotel, I peeled off my tights and sports bra littering the floor with rocks and dirt, I melted into the steamy hot shower I dreamed about eight hours earlier. The best.
Our Rapha ride leader sent out an email that night letting us know Sunday morning’s ride was cancelled. More mean weather was rolling in, and she suggested we get a jump on our drive home.
Fine by me. I was satisfied. With 42 miles, with wriggling out of a scary situation, with saying YES to a weekend that was easy to say no to in the face of bad weather.
On Sunday morning I got in another treadmill run and hotel breakfast before getting on the road around 10 a.m. The drive was slow and steady and snowy up on the pass out of town, but the drive was one of the best parts of the trip.
I’ll be back in August for the big race, and I’m only hoping we get sunshine instead of snow! 🙂