The San Juan Mountains may have been mostly stripped of their veins of gold ore,
but, Fall Aspens bring out the gold, offering visual riches to us all.
There’s more gold to be found, though, if you’re brave enough.
The Annual MOUNTAINS TO DESERT RIDE offers cyclists an opportunity to “go for the gold” in a challenging and inspiring century race that takes the mind and body on an incredible journey, from the towering snow tipped mountain tops of Telluride to the awe-inspiring red canyons of Gateway, Colorado.
This year, Mother Nature decided to amp up this 100 mile test of endurance and create an even more rigorous physical and mental test of the intrepid athletes. Heavy rain and and sleet pounded the town delaying the start, where ominous clouds blocked out even a glimmer of the dawn and lightning flashes lit up the mountains.
Our BootDoctors’ Team gathered in the dark, outside the dimly lit exterior of the shop on Main street for a group photo, (understandably declining to strip out of their waterproof protection for a photo op) and smiling bravely for the camera.
Veterans of the race, Max Cooper, Ricky Willis, Tony Jakob, Mike Messer and Chris Cox, offered advice to the newbies, Mike Follen and Craig Sieving. Heather Knox, a former medal winner, joined the group with experience to share. Holly Taylor-Cox, a 2 time racer, bid them farewell, then headed to Norwood to jump on her bike for the lesser distance, yet equally weather challenging 72 mile race.
The first leg of this race is a sort of elimination stage as the road descends about 1,000 feet in 16 miles, followed by the most grueling accent of the course. This year the riders, blinded by rain, fearlessly navigated rivulets of rushing water and mud as they raced into the dark with thunder and lightening flashing around them. Some found their brakes compromised by the incessant water and just held on for dear life, reaching maximum speeds in downhill.
The front peloton, with Max Cooper leading the charge, whipped by the first AID station. The volunteers watched in amazement as the cyclists zoomed by, seemingly oblivious of the chaos that nature had surrounded them with. Their sheer athleticism and determination was astonishing.
Some riders following in a later waves stopped and gratefully drank shots of hot cocoa, stuffed hand warmers into gloves with fingers barely able to grasp and squeezed streams of water out of their clothing. Then with a smile and a wave they headed off into the rain to tackle the task ahead.
Having survived the opening harrowing descent, like in a rollercoaster ride, the riders immediately pumped their soaked and freezing legs to keep up the pace as they ascended the narrow Norwood Hill for a non-stop steep climb. Focussed on the wheels of the bicycles in close proximity, the riders determined to avoid a perilous pitch down the cliffs below them towards the canyon or a sudden collision with a random rock that had fallen from the cliff on their uphill side. Still, the rain continued to pound them, soaking them through all their layers.
The optimists hoped that this deluge would let up and the sun take command of the day again once they reached the plateau in Norwood. No such luck.
Still they carried on. Finally, a few succumbed to the relentless soaking and freezing cold and had to abandon the race. Ricky Willis, a veteran endurance racer, was forced to stop as the brutal conditions pushed him to the brink of dangerous hypothermia. Another rider had to stop and have a hair dryer warm up her almost frost bitten toes.
Only after 80 or so miles did the skies start to clear and some semblance of sanity return. The landscape surrounding last leg of the journey brings some distraction from the suffering muscles, sore behinds, aching necks and shoulders as gorgeous red walls wrap the winding road and huge cottonwoods line the river dancing along side the road.
Pushed to their limits, the Team members still radiated their enthusiasm as they crossed the finish with very impressive times and placement, starting with Max “the crusher” finishing first.Tony ca in second, despite missing the turn to the finish and adding some miles to his race! Craig put in an impressive showing, with sixth place in his first ever M2D race; Mike Messer came in 20th. Chris Cox and Mike Follen, in a show of great sportsmanship, road the entire race together, encouraging and cajoling each other to finish 38th and 39th. Holly Taylor-Cox was the 12th woman to cross the finish in the 72 mile race.
Our team was very proud of their accomplishment, to not just endure but to overcome extreme circumstances to finish this challenging race.
As soon as they can sit comfortably again, we should see these amazing athletes in the saddle again, crushing the trails and roads around us.
Photo Credit: Melissa Plantz Photography