I’ve Never Suffered So Much, Part VII: Aspen to Crested Butte

10.28.2011 | 7:43 am

A Note from Fatty: I love Joe’s perspective on suffering. I think I understand it, sometimes. Sometimes, in fact, I even have it. Sometimes.

I’ll be back Monday with (what I consider to be) a big announcement.

Have a great weekend!

joesuffering.jpgDoes anyone else have suffering games, or is that just me? When I’m riding a good threshold pace (about what one can sustain for an hour) math becomes fuzzy. This is a 78 mile race, we have gone 52 miles, how much longer?

This comes as a surprise to many who know me as an aerospace engineer.

Around my 5-min max I have trouble constructing sentences, and rather communicate using wheezes, grunts, and moans. A nice game for criteriums is what I like to call “The Name Game.” It’s easy, just spell your name. J-O-E. It’s what I ask myself when the race becomes truly difficult and I’m in danger of getting dropped. As long as I can spell my name I can go a little bit harder.

There have been times this was not possible.

Aspen to Crested Butte

I take issue to Fatty’s writing assignment title because it was “I’ve never suffered as badly…” I want to write about a time I suffered greatly. I decided not to write about a race, but rather my favorite ride ever.

My parents were visiting and I was riding from Denver to Durango, the best part being my mom was driving, so I never had to stop at gas stations or carry my own stuff. Not to mention the fact that point-to-point rides are the highest reverence to cyclists; the bicycle was, after all, designed to travel. I was on the third day of my trip and after watching the Tour stage and eating roughly 5 bowls of cereal, 3 bowls of oatmeal, 2 yogurts, and toast, I grabbed an English muffin for the ride and departed the hotel in Aspen bound for Crested Butte.


The first 30 miles were uneventful, some rolling hills and then false flat downhill to Carbondale. I felt unmotivated to ride and didn’t feel like I really want to be out at all, especially for this 107 mile journey.

After a hard left turn south I was riding false flat uphill for 20 miles along another river. This was a place I hadn’t been in CO before and the scenery just got better and better. When I hit the base of McClure Pass, a 3 mile, 1200 ft climb, I started drilling it, race pace. Now I was coming into this ride and loving it!

After eating a Powerbar (confession, I LOVE Powerbars) and grabbing two new bottles I continued the next 20 miles downhill into a valley where I made a left turn onto County Road 12.

The next 35 miles were the best of my life.

After I passed a few buildings, the road narrowed and turned to dirt. The first eight miles entailed being stared down by the 12,000 ft peaks in front of me, but little climbing to reach them. I was like a child on Christmas Eve, just waiting to start the climb!

Climbing is the best part of cycling. Packs shatter, there is no draft to hide behind, riders come unglued, and every emotion — from the excitement of the leaders’ battle, to the sympathy for the sprinters’ gruppetto — is released.

Hills are not in the way, hills are the way!

My wish came true abruptly as the road kicked up to 12% in the first series of switchbacks. The dirt road climbed 2300 ft over the next 10 miles and went through cattle ranches, dense trees, and openings with stunning views.

The road was narrow and windy, but the lack of traffic made it possible to utilize the entire road. For some reason it’s just fun to ride up the left hand gutter of the road. Any cars passing were yelling encouragement, honking, and giving thumbs up. The dirt was also the perfect consistency: soft, rocky, and bumpy enough to know for certain you are on dirt, but hard and smooth enough to stand occasionally and maintain control of the bike.

The suffering was real, but I was having so much fun I hardly noticed it.

A four mile downhill stretch had me drifting through corners and led to another 5 miles of climbing.

The last two miles were pavement, and they were terrible. The suffering was catching up. Without the distraction of riding on dirt, my mind wandered to, “Wow this is really steep” and, “Don’t cross the yellow line.” After gaining the summit I was a little confused how I had beaten my mom to this point, as she was driving.

There was no cell phone service so I bombed the seven mile descent into Crested Butte. It turns out my mom has a little fear of heights and was more than freaked out driving up that narrow mountain pass.

Our hotel was at the ski resort at Mt. Crested Butte, another two miles from town and the location of the finish for Stage 2 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. I rode out of town and charged onto the climb.

I was having the best ride of my life and was going to pretend I’m Levi attacking the final stretch, inspired by Phil Ligget’s voice in my head. I blew by another rider and was in full race mode. The hotel was in sight and I shifted into a higher gear to accelerate.


You know when you are watching the breakaway in the Tour and they start attacking each other near the end, and one guy seems to come to a complete stop as his bike turns 90 degrees to the side, and he throws his whole energy willing the bike to go forward and not to coast back down? That happened.

Cracked, blown, unglued, whatever you want to call it. This was not a bonk; a bonk is when one runs out of energy. I could have delivered a freight train of sugar to my legs and they would have said no more.

There were no stairs into the hotel lobby and I rolled into a very nice spa on my bicycle at an embarrassingly slow pace, cross-eyed and drooling. I tried to ask where to find food, but I think it came out as, “Where, store, here, town, food, fire truck, dirt road.”

After a few tries at a sentence my mom saved the day and showed up with a car full of food, drinks, and most importantly a hotel reservation.

It was my favorite suffering of all time.

About the Author: I’m a bike-racing rocket scientist who is not nearly as cool as that title sounds. I live and play in Colorado but I’m from the great state of NH. I’ve ridden coast to coast, rode a 7:32 Leadville 100, and rode the Tour of the Gila. Basically, I’m a bike nerd and my name is Joe.


  1. Comment by Liz | 10.28.2011 | 8:11 am

    What an excellent way to wrap up the suffering stories! Thanks, Joe. Yes, I play those games, too.

    This story is a marvelous segue into my suggestion for Elden: for one of your future guest blogger stints, can you make the topic “my favorite local ride (complete with pictures)”? It seems there are Team Fatty members all over the world, and I would love to experience all their great rides vicariously. Also, if I ever get lucky and can travel to some of these places, I’ll know where to ride.

    Thanks everyone for the great suffering stories!

  2. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 10.28.2011 | 9:14 am

    Liz idea sounds like a great one! I to love to vicariously enjoy all the rides that find their way into this blog, even if I will never get to them.

  3. Comment by evil3 | 10.28.2011 | 9:49 am

    That is a suffering story that I would love to have, really too me it didn’t sound all that bad.

    Of course I know exactly what it is like to have my legs say no more (when push past the bonk stage). Just riding on a flay road sucks as you can’t do a thing about it.

  4. Comment by Dave T | 10.28.2011 | 9:50 am

    Joe very nicely written story. I wish I could enjoy climbing like you describe. But for me the only reason to climb is the descent. Being a true fat cyclist gravity is my friend going down hill. Liz that sounds like a great topic for future posts.

  5. Comment by AK Chick | 10.28.2011 | 10:46 am

    AWESOME!!! I still hate hills! :) I’m with Dave T, the ONLY reason to climb a hill is to bomb down the other side (even though that terrifies me I still love it). The elevation profile on that ride almost made me throw up.

    Love these guest posts! There are a LOT of talented riders and writers in the Team Fatty bunch. Such an honor to be part of such a dynamic group!

  6. Comment by AK Chick | 10.28.2011 | 10:48 am

    Oh, and I LOVE Liz’s suggestion of photographing our favorite rides! I don’t know how I would choose just one of my ride to write about.

    I’d love to see them complete with photos! Fatty: Please, please, please?!?

  7. Comment by KM | 10.28.2011 | 11:31 am

    As a almost clydesdale (190ish most of the time….don’t judge me!), I do think that hills are “in” the way. If it was up to me, I’d just blast tunnels through them all and power through. But I secretly do enjoy a long grinding uphill sometimes.

  8. Comment by Stephen G | 10.28.2011 | 11:41 am

    Great story Joe! I have enough trouble getting over the south Florida draw-bridges let alone climbing in Colorado.

  9. Comment by Heather | 10.28.2011 | 12:10 pm

    Nice to meet ‘cha, Joe. LOVE the term bike nerd….I love bike nerds :)

  10. Comment by Hautacam | 10.28.2011 | 12:25 pm

    Most excellent Friday post! Also, another great T-shirt slogan for Twin 6 (along with TimJoe’s “riding is not suffering; NOT riding is suffering”):

    “Hills are not IN the way. Hills ARE the way.”

    Thanks, Joe and Fatty!

  11. Comment by Tom | 10.28.2011 | 12:50 pm

    Great suggestion on the “favorite ride” guest post idea.

    Better suggestion on the “Hills ARE the way” T-shirt idea.

    Thanks for the story, Joe.

  12. Comment by Obstinate Roadie | 10.28.2011 | 1:36 pm

    I play the “Calculate the Exact Percentage of this Interval that I’ve Completed” game. Near the end, I play the “Let’s Trick Myself Into Continuing By Pretending That There’s Less Time Left Than There Actually Is” game. For instance, I’ll say to myself, “3 minutes left. That’s close to 2. Only 2 minutes to go!” I don’t know why I should fall for this ruse, but somehow I always do.

  13. Comment by DLavis (Calgary, Canada) | 10.28.2011 | 1:56 pm

    I concur – what a fantastic series of guest posts and a great one to end on! Thanks Joe, thanks Team Fatty, and of course, thanks Fatty for making it all happen! I was really hoping my own submission would have made it on but then as I read each days story that actually shifted to hoping that it WOULDN’T be posted, because it was just not of the same caliber. But I can still share it with family and friends, so thanks for the incentive to write it up.
    Oh, and I would buy that “Hills are not IN the way. Hills ARE the way.” T-shirt too. Nice!

  14. Comment by DLavis (Calgary, Canada) | 10.28.2011 | 2:03 pm

    P.S. I forgot to mention that I do the math trick too. I swear I can sometimes kill 10 minutes with ugly sweaty face-contorting mental math gymnastics just trying to figure out how many km I have left in a ride.

  15. Comment by nh_joe | 10.28.2011 | 2:35 pm

    Thanks for the comments guys! I wish I had some pictures, but I forgot my camera and honestly the solidarity contributed to the ride, never stopping to take pictures to show someone else. Here’s one I found online:

  16. Comment by Anonymous | 10.28.2011 | 4:21 pm

    I rejoice at Fatty’s standard M-Th posts, but I am consistently saddened by the dearth of posts F-Su. Perhaps the “My Favorite RIde” series could me on cloud 9 all week long! What say ye, FC?

    Well, for what it’s worth, today is a Friday. – FC


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