I grew up in Grand Junction, Colorado, and went to junior high and high school in Fruita, Colorado. And — get this — I didn’t even own a bike. Certainly, it’ s understandable that I didn’t own a mountain bike. If I had, then Klunkerz would have been about me.
But, thanks to last weekend, I think I will always be angry at my younger self for not having owned a road bike.
Because last Saturday — 30 years after my family moved to Grand Junction — I finally took the time to ride the Colorado National Monument.
And it is about as tasty a road ride as there could ever be.
What Is the Colorado National Monument?
If you ever drive to or through Grand Junction, Colorado, there is one thing that dominates the background:
Yes, that dramatic sandstone backdrop is the Colorado National Monument. And there is a nice paved road that goes up one end — in Fruita — and comes down the other end — in Grand Junction — traversing along the top and giving you stunning views all along the way. Riding the whole thing is a 35-or-so-mile-loop.
And yeah, seriously, I’ve never ridden it before.
I just kicked myself again, for good measure.
Starting With Rocky
My brother-in-law Rocky and I started the ride together from his house. After checking in at the toll booth — they check to make sure you have working lights on your bike, both front- and rear-facing, because of a couple tunnels along the way — we started the climb from the Fruita side. Here’s the base of the climb:
It’s steep, but nowhere near as killer (either in grade or total altitude gained) as climbing the Alpine Loop.
It sure looks different, though.
You see how perfect that pavement looks? Smooth. Unblemished. Almost creamy, really. Well, that’s how it felt, too. Really, some of the nicest-feeling pavement I’ve ever been on. And on a road bike, that’s such a pleasure.
So about the time I got into my climbing groove, Rocky’s bike started ghost-shifting and having conniptions. In a few moments, the chain shifted all the way off the cassette, jamming between the cassette and the spokes.
That’s always fun.
I went back and noticed that Rocky’s derailleur problems were the least of his worries. He had a couple places on his rear tire that were completely worn-through; tube was bulging out.
I told Rocky I didn’t want to ride down the Monument with someone whose rear tire could — and probably would — go at any moment. Rocky agreed that it wasn’t really that great of a day to die, and turned around.
So now I didn’t have anyone I needed to impress with my climbing prowess. Which meant I could do this ride in full-on tourist mode.
I began stopping whenever I saw something cool, pulling out the camera, and taking a shot.
This happened pretty darned often.
The climb lasts three or four miles. I stopped often and wasn’t pushing hard anyway, so it felt like an easy climb. I expect that perception would have changed if I had really attacked the climb.
But you know, it was about 70 degrees and the scenery was beautiful and I was in no rush. So I just spun up, nice and easy. Loving the fact that I can call a climb like this “easy” right now.
‘Course, it’s still not a trivial climb.
Once you’ve done the big initial climb, the road on the Monument rolls a bit, but nothing severe — I remember it as feeling pretty much flat, leaving me free to look up and see stuff.
Riding, I thought to myself that I spend too much time on my bike focusing on my bike and how I’m riding it, instead of looking around and seeing where I am at the moment. When I consider that the bike — mountain or road — gives you the ability to see things slowly enough to notice them, and fast enough that you don’t just see one thing the whole day, I realize that I am sometimes a fool. I’ve got the fitness to carry me to see incredible stuff.
I need to take the time to notice it.
Oh, and to take pictures of myself, too.
I like this photo because it clearly demonstrates my head is larger than a major geologic formation (Independence Monument). That’s what happens when you’re a beloved cycling blogger celebrity type.
I also like the way my glasses reveal how I took the shot. In my right lens you can see my shadow — me holding the camera up at full arm’s length. In my left lens you can see the reflection of my arm holding up that camera.
And with all that work, I still didn’t smile. What’s my problem, anyway?
Rocky Catches Up
I figured that I was on my own for the duration, but Rocky is cleverer than that. He dashed home, swapped wheels, and rode up the Monument in the opposite direction. He met me at Cold Shivers Point, an overlook with a several hundred-foot drop.
I made sure to get a picture of Rocky. He always has such awesome helmet hair.
Actually, the helmet ridges in his hair used to be a lot more prominent than they are nowadays. I wonder what’s changed?
Finally, to make my feelings for my road bike perfectly clear, I got Rocky to get this shot:
You’ll just have to trust that I’m telling the truth when I say that I’m kissing the top tube, not licking it. I’m not saying that I don’t lick the top tube, just that I don’t do it in public.
A few days ago I asserted that anyone who isn’t a mountain biker should be envious of those of us who are. Today, I’d like to say that anyone who doesn’t love road riding needs to get their head checked.
The fact is, bikes are just really cool. I highly recommend them.
And I still can’t believe that I waited until now to do this ride.