It – the kite incident – happened on the Saturday ride (which is normally a Sunday ride), rescheduled due to the Easter holiday and various riders having commitments. Some things seem surreal during and after they occur, the kite incident is definitely one of those events.
I’ve written a lot in past blogs about riding to Estes Park once per month, year round. Estes is about 32 miles west of the Front Range city of Loveland and sits about 2,500 feet higher than Loveland’s 5,000 ft. elevation. The route winds along the Big Thompson River and is one of my favorite rides.
Fourteen of us rolled out of my neighborhood on Saturday morning. We had some wind as we left, but nothing out of the ordinary for a spring day in Colorado. Due to some wardrobe adjustments, the group got split. Eight people were ahead of our group of six.
At about 9.5 miles into the ride, we enter a part of the canyon called “the Narrows”. As the name suggests, the path between the towering canyon walls is narrow. Between the walls, there is enough room for a two-lane highway to sit beside the river, and nothing else. Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep can often be seen gracefully maneuvering the rock ledges.
As our small group got into the Narrows, we saw one rider from the lead group coming back toward us. We heard her say, “Blah, blah, blah, blah….wind!” It is not unusual for the canyon to funnel the wind in this section, giving it added speed and some gusty unpredictability. Though it was windy, I didn’t think the wind was excessive.
Within a minute or so, we saw another rider coming back toward us. “Something, something, something…WIND!”
I’m riding along thinking, “It is windy, but it’s not that bad. Nothing more than we’ve encountered in the past.”
Two minutes later as I rounded a corner of the canyon, an extremely strong gust of wind blew me sideways toward the guard rail. All I remember thinking is that I needed to get off of my bike - NOW. I was able to get the bike to stop and I dismounted.
I decided to try to walk the bike through this section of the canyon, some 50 to 100 yards. While trying to walk the bike, a wind gust swept up my bike and threw it toward the guard rail. I felt like the bike was a kite and my arms were the strings. I have never experienced anything like that. I was able to pull the bike back to the ground and continue walking. In over 20 years of riding that canyon, I’ve never walked that section nor have I had my bike become airborne. Weird.
Some of the other riders walked as well and a couple of the guys got on their bikes and slowly pedaled, struggling to control their bikes in the gusty winds. We regrouped in a wider section of the canyon and continued riding.
The remainder of the trip to Estes was windy, but there were no gusts like we had in the Narrows. Four of us went all the way into town and stopped at the Notchtop Café for a bite to eat and something warm to drink.
As we watched the weather roll in, one of the other riders (Bill Frielingsdorf) asked me why I continued to push to Estes that day when I had turned around at the top of the switchbacks in less threatening weather. Good question.
I told him that I thought it was partially because I knew Scott Ellis was trying to get in a long training ride that day in preparation for an upcoming Ironman race. His Ironman race is in just a few weeks. A race goal looms.
When I turned around earlier in the year, in February, it seemed as though there was plenty of time to do long training rides. Now it seems that time is at a premium. Not only is Scott’s race looming, but my own goals seem too close for slacking.
It is funny how a slap of reality brings goals so close and fuels a desire for improved fitness. It was in March that I suffered through a century ride that we’ve done for years. It’s not that I don’t normally suffer on this ride, but this was unusual amounts of suffering. The kind of suffering that is up close and personal to say, “Your fitness is currently lacking. Pay attention.”
Now, a few days out from that windy Estes ride, I think about Bill, Scott and Ron Kennedy sitting around that Notchtop table. There is something, perhaps many things, not normal, average or ordinary about this group – including me.
It takes me no time at all to decide I like that.