Last week, while visiting old friends in Western Colorado, I was surprised to hear that the Roaring Fork River, which flows through the Roaring Fork Valley between Aspen and Glenwood Springs, had likely reached peak flow for the year. Mid May peak river flows are bad for business of all types, but I was especially curious about what it meant, if anything, for cycling.
Though I lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for six years, nearly seven have passed since I made Vermont home so I had also forgotten that roads in Colorado are much kinder than New England, that switchbacks and more reasonable grades abound and that regardless of the length of the climb, it almost never gets too uncomfortable to ride up. The always-smiling masses of Aspen pedal throughout surrounding roads and passes with compact crank equipped, Pinarellos and appropriately PRO-looking kits. (One doesnʼt see the same display of gucci gear or happy pluck on the pitches of Lincoln Gap, for example.)
It wasnʼt the bikes or the nature of the riding that was the most striking coming from home, however. It was the hair-dryer conditions. Now, my departure from Colorado has certainly reduced my tolerance for the dry air and heavy sun influence, but Western Colorado is, in most places, a high alpine desert. Irrigation is part of the culture. Sage bushes are the scent of the ride. There just ainʼt much water. Especially this year.
Hereʼs where the milestones get a bit nerve wracking. The Quiznos Challenge is still months away, months that Colorado Cycling advocate and race announcer, Mike Trecker, say could be very different by race time. “I really anticipate a different weather situation by the time the race rolls around.” Trecker then warned that should the dryness continue under these dry and often windy conditions, “preventing human started fires by careless fans would be a very large concern.” To say nothing of dryness for the riders or the possibility of fires in the tree lines plagued by beetle kill. The US Pro Cycling Challenge bills itself as Americaʼs toughest race. But that billing should be due to mountain conditions, not climate change concerns.
Furthermore, the dryness is a concern for much of the west, in fact. In the Gila National Forrest a blaze near the Tour of the Gila race courses is expected to burn for weeks. Riding through the arid west, I asked myself repeatedly whether my reaction to the low snow pack amidst the backdrop of lower rivers was just made more relevant to my own sense of anxiety about no water or whether the signs of drought extended beyond the west. Itʼs easy to curl up and ignore the ugliness of drier summers, especially when the riding is as beautiful as it is in Colorado. As with most things tied to bicycles, however, time will tell what the future of racing in Colorado will be like.