Greg, Dan and I leave Gunnison on the first morning at a ridiculously late 8:00 -- we even saw a bit of the opening ceremony.
A say we saw a bit because I was antsy; literally pulling Greg by the arm away from the speeches and toward the pedal strokes.
Little good it did. The wind that I had been dreading was in full force just outside of town as the three of us jumped onto a train of about four other riders, whooping with joy.
Later, when the road and wind and sun wore us down, the feeling would leave me, but those first few miles contained all the rushing joy of the first day of summer, when school has been let out and I'm ten again on my BMX bike.
"I'm so happy!" I gush like a loon. Greg -- affable, unflappable Greg -- retorts, "We're so glad Sean."
Greg is a mutant. With fewer than 500 miles in the saddle this year, he'll push through the next week with a combination of grit, natural talent and wheel sucking. He'll do fine.
Dan, also from San Diego, is whip thin and should kick our asses on the hills, but he's suffering in the wind this morning. Our merry trio breaks apart after Aid 2.
We all "go our own pace" up the main climb of the day (for me that's code for "incredibly slowly") but I link up with Greg after lunch and end up riding with him most of the way down the descent.
That is, until he eyes a tandem passing buy and hammers to link up. I spot his move five seconds too late and after 20 seconds of going cross-eyed, I realize I can't bridge up.
That's ok, one of the best parts of Ride The Rockies is the scenery, which is easy to miss if you're constantly in the red zone, so I sit up and enjoy the rest of the ride, and that feeling of school's out summer fun returns just when I needed it most.
Early morning back roads near Paonia and I'm out early with a head wind runny nose. It's another day of wind, flowing like water down canyon as we climb up Hwy 133. Man, this is harder than it ought to be. Pedaling squares. Blame the wind. Blame anything but my lousy form.
A herd of cattle, a real Colorado peloton, take to the highway, and they're surprisingly spry, willing to share the road with us, know exactly where they're going. Women on horseback, watching the herd, wave and smile, reminding me how far from home I am.
Coal country near Somerset. Lonely train whistles in the night and tall black piles. A working town. Pickup for sale.
A grind up to Paonia State Park, the wind abates and the scenery opens up to the range above. Up ahead there's trouble as the road tilts up. Play time is over.
McClure pass is steep and unrelenting. The day has turned hot and the relatively tiny bump on the elevation profile doesn't jibe with what confronts me. WTF, I'm dying here come mile 4, praying for an end. Finally, it relents. Salt stain patina on my jersey like a road map of the past 5 miles. Find shade before pushing on.
Fast descent, staying loose and relaxed as Agent Orange's warnings fly by. Down into the canyon, down along the Crystal river, and I link up with a tandem with a limpet on its wheel. I happily sit in and we rock it all the way to down to town.
A legit day is over, but the real challenge has not yet arrived.