Ride the Rockies with Guide Sue Clark

Tennessee Pass Day 1 | Sue Clark
Tennessee Pass Day 1 | Sue Clark

This month we chatted with Adventure South NZ guide Sue Clark. Sue recently joined 1999 other riders in the 'Ride the Rockies' event - a 6 day, 700km cycle through the Colorado Rockies. From breathtaking canyons and lush valleys, to mastering new road rules and battling with altitude, Sue tells us all about her incredible experience. 

The very cold Starting Line! | Sue Clark

It seemed a good idea at the time when the alternative was staying home in our winter and layering up with arm warmers, leg warmers, booties, thermals, long-fingered gloves and wool socks for any ride. ‘On your Right’ was my first mistake. Riding on the ‘wrong’ side of the road caused much confusion when attempting to pass other riders and the mass of volunteer marshalls and State Troopers (nice uniforms, they just need to smile a bit!) at all intersections definitely prevented carnage as they helped rewire my brain’s Southern Hemisphere turning autopilot.

The road rulebook was only one new language we had to master. Having ridden overseas mostly in Europe I was looking forward to being able to chat fluently with fellow riders in the same language. It turns out, however, there are 52 different languages spoken in the States – whilst they may share the same written words the audio is completely different and we all entertained each other with our accents and colloquialisms.  

Sue & bikes Oak Creek Steamboat Day 2 |  <i>Sue Clark</i>

Riding the Rockies was a visual feast which words struggle to really illustrate but I’ll try to paint enough of a picture to tempt some of you to trot over in the future. Big vistas, towering canyons, lush valleys, snow capped peaks – just mile upon mile of breath-taking beauty. The views helped take my mind off the 20km + climbs often ending in passes over 3000m where I felt like I was breathing through a straw.

The fruit, hydration drinks, gels, flapjacks and other tasty goodies were all a welcome sight at each Aid Station but an oxygen tank was the major aid I seemed to be missing. We had flown into Colorado 5 days before the start and tried to acclimatize to the altitude with some great road and mountain bike excursions around Boulder but we knew it wasn’t ideal preparation given our usual sea-level habitat. Fortunately Ride the Rockies is billed as a non-competitive event, reflected in the 2 hour rolling start window, lack of any timing measures and the only acknowledgment of each day’s finish was being greeted by a casual ring on a cowbell.

All this meant there was no pressure, internal or external, to smash ourselves each day but instead we could ride at a steady pace and really soak up the experience. In fact the only element of competition we witnessed was a father and his son trying the better the time they spent in the Aid Stations each day enjoying the various community food stalls and musical entertainment – by the last day I thought they had the balance sussed with 5 hours cycling and over 3 hours in the Aid Stations.

Bridge at Basalt Battle Mountain Climb Day 1 |  <i>Sue Clark</i>

6 days of blue skies and sunshine were only slightly marred by occasionally having to pedal going downhill as the wind tried to blow us back up and one rather chilly morning when we failed to foresee our first 25kms would be in a valley deprived of any sunshine. The first toilet stop of that day took some time as the various functions required to negotiate using a portaloo were badly hampered by my non-functioning fingers. But really our complaints were few.

The event was well organised and supported and a truly fantastic way to see a stunning chunk of Colorado. My thanks to Paula and John Straw for inspiring me to tackle this great adventure, to my pals Catherine and Ronnie who joined us on the ride from NZ and my partner John who chose to support us from a motorbike! By the end of the 6 days we had adjusted to “On Your Left”, could interpret most of the 52 languages and were less in need of an oxygen tank at the Aid Stations.

Sue is just one of a whole team of guides, doing extraordinary things every day. When you book with Adventure South NZ, you can be confident your guides are experienced and knowledgeable and just plain awesome.


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