Colorado High Country 1200k: A Ride Report
I've never finished a 1200k. My only attempt was PBP in 2007, where I was sick before the ride, started going downhill (figuratively) the first morning, and nearly fainted at the control in Villaines. The next year we adopted a baby from Guatemala, and so I was semi-retired from randonneuring, doing a single 200k at best some years.
But then it didn't snow last winter, and I couldn't ski. So to stay sane I had to ride the bike, and so when the brevet season started in March, I was ready. The first rides went much better than expected, and soon I was wondering if a full series was possible, and maybe even more. I had lived in Colorado for eighteen years, and have keenly felt the absence of the high country ever since I moved to New England in 1998. I was immediately attracted to the Colorado High Country 1200k as soon as I heard of it, and it became the logical goal for my return to randonneuring. So I ended up on the waiting list, and checked that list far more often than I like to admit as I chugged through the brevet series. Optimism prevailed, and I bought a ticket to Colorado while still #1 on the wait list, and before my 600k. I was officially part of the ride right as I qualified, even though I'd promised myself during the 600k that if I finished that, I wouldn't have to start the 1200! Ah, the things we promise ourselves during brevets! Of course, even by that night I was wavering, and emailed JLE to tell him I'd qualified.
So I flew to Denver, and rode the bus to Louisville, and met wonderful randonneurs at the hotel and hung out in Boulder and generally had a good time, while trying not to think too much about the task looming overhead...
DAY 1, LOUISVILLE, CO to SARATOGA, WY, 220 miles
+10,500 feet, 14:48 riding time, 17:00 overall, 14.9mph moving averageOf course it was raining. How many times this season have I woken up in a hotel at 3am, quickly gotten dressed, and opened the door only to see rain everywhere? But this was different, as I was 2,000 miles from home, and the ride would be 1200 kilometers, twice as far as I'd ever ridden. I'm always anxious before brevets, but this ride was so overwhelming I didn't know what to think. But the solution to every randonneuring problem is to get on the bike and ride, so off we went at 4:05, on wet roads but not quite raining.
|Riders at the start.|
Photograph © 2012 by Ed Felker.
I was dropped within the first mile. Everything felt too fast. Lots of downhill on wet 4-lane streets through shopping centers, but with no cars in sight. Everyone had told me to take it easy on the first half of the ride, but I didn't want to ride the flattest part of the ride alone, especially not knowing what the wind would do. I never did see the leaders again, but I caught a ride with Brent and Beth on the tandem for a bit, and eventually fell in with Mordecai, Bill, and one other rider who's name (embarrassingly) escapes me. I dropped off on one hill, but was saved by a traffic light. But we were going very fast—19 miles the first hour, almost 35 miles in the first two hours, and so on. It was raining some, including very heavy rain as we headed through Loveland. Before that, we hit some traffic on US 34, including two cars in a row yelling at us. Luckily, that was the only bad feelings from motorists the entire ride. At some point on Taft Hill Road, I just gave up, and dropped off the little group. Too fast for my blood. But there were only ten more miles to the first control, at Vern's in LaPorte. I found lots of riders there, and didn't feel as left-behind.
* * *
The clock is always ticking. The sooner you get to the end of the stage, the more you can sleep. Riding faster is hard, but stopping less is something you can learn. A million things need to be done at the control--get the brevet card signed, eat (lots), take a “nature break,” adjust clothing, replace water and food supplies, touch up the chamois cream, throw away the accumulated debris from the previous segment, refold the cue sheet...
* * *
At Vern's, I drank some chocolate milk, ate part of a two-pound apricot danish, and bought some water. I needed to stock up, as there were no services between there and Laramie, Wyoming. I'd been a bit scared of this segment. Back when I lived in Colorado, I sometimes drove Highway 287 to Laramie, on the way to the Wind Rivers or the west coast. It always felt so desolate. Once I saw a funnel cloud, not so far away. Passing through all that nothing on a bike seemed daunting. But it wasn't hot, the wind was at our backs, and the terrain more varied and interesting than I remembered. Best of all, I was riding with fellow easterners Ed and Mary, on the tandem. They were great company. Just before the Wyoming border, at Virginia Dale, Jim Kraychy had an informal support stop with food and water, so we stocked up on water and bananas, and might have eaten a cookie or two. I stay with Ed and Mary up all the climbs, but then the road descends towards Laramie, and I lose them on one of the many descents.
|Behind Mary and Ed on the tandem, US Highway 287.|
Photograph © 2012 by Ed Felker.
I rode the last 20 miles into Laramie alone, but still going very fast. More than 120 miles by noon? That was good for my morale. Laramie of course was still ugly. I rode through bumpy nasty streets, there was a big bridge over railroad tracks, and then I finally stopped at McDonalds. A double cheeseburger, fries, and a coke—yummy! Lots of fellow riders were there. Then I went across the street to get water and some V8. It's getting hot. Then off towards the Snowy Range on Highway 130. Desolate, false flat, hot, hard to find a rhythm. I rode with Fred for a bit. A larger group passed me, I try to hang on but can't, so I drop back. Seems to take a long time to get to Centennial, at around mile 150, right at the base of the big climb. There's a combination bar and store; I hang out for quite a while drinking Pepsi and eating potato chips and fearing the road ahead. 3,000 feet of climbing in ten miles, up to 10,700 feet. How will I handle the altitude? I moved away from Colorado fourteen years ago.
The road was steep right away, but it did feel good to be in the trees again! But I chugged away, and slowly made progress. By the top I was really feeling the altitude, but the scenery was just stunning, with a row of snowy peaks to the north, and beautiful open forest to the south.
|Dave in the Snowy Range.|
There was a quick descent, and then another steep uphill, where my lungs nearly exploded. At last I reached Mirror Lake, chatted with Fred for a bit, and then started down. What a descent! I'd sit up as tall as I could, and just cruise at 35mph for what seemed like forever. As I passed Rorie she stopped suddenly, with a bottom bracket problem. But she got going again. Down and down. At the bottom a bigger group formed, including Ed and Mary. Then we reached the turnoff to Riverside. We're eight miles from the hotel, but had 28 miles to ride. Nasty rollers, expansion cracks in the road, I was very discouraged. It was slow going, and I'd have to ride back over everything. I leapfrogged with Fred. I finally gott to Riverside, and thank goodness the store was open! Coke and chips. Going back was easier than I anticipated.
|Me and my shadow.|
Really cruising as dusk falls, I pushed to make it in before 9PM. I just made it, as both tandems passed me on last stretch.
|The last few miles into Saratoga, WY. |
Photograph © 2012 by Ed Felker.
The hotel seemed nice. I got my card signed, and then Paul Brown offered me a baked potato! I devoured it with lots of butter and salt. Food first, then everything else. Go to room, take bike to room, shower, organize gear, expect another person but it never happened. I was in bed by 10:15, but didn't fall asleep for a long time...
A day to be proud of. I survived the biggest climb, did the longest day and was done by dark. Of course, there's more than five hundred miles to go :)
DAY 2, SARATOGA, WY to STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO, 200 miles
+8900 feet, 15:30 riding time, 17:34 overall, 12.7mph moving averageUp at 3:15, wolfed down a breakfast burrito, and was off at 3:46. I could pedal, more or less, which was good after the intensity of the first day. But it soon became apparent I couldn't pedal very fast. After Riverside, it got much worse, and I was more and more discouraged. Headwinds, endless rollers, those god-forsaken cracks across the road that you hit fifty times a minute—it was no fun. I was even starting to worry that I'd miss the time cut at Walden, or at least have a very long day. A ten-mile-per-hour average on a 200 mile day would get me to Steamboat at midnight, not a pleasant thought. The whole morning was the low point of the entire ride. Contact points were hurting, I was slow, I'd likely be short of sleep the rest of the ride, and I thought I was the last person on the road. Negative thoughts in the desolate landscape were a bad combination. I'd latch on to small things—just get to the Colorado border, get to the next mile marker.
|The lonely road.|
I finally made it to Walden with some time to spare, had something to eat, and headed east on Highway 14. I was still discouraged, and the rollers still seemed more up than down, but now it was hot and trucks were nearly scraping me off the road.
Slowly, very slowly, it got better. As we gained altitude, the sagebrush gradually turned into irrigated grazing land, full of cattle. “Eat Beef Every Day,” the signs said. And there's some feeling of accomplishment merely from finishing some part of the day's miles. “Only a hundred miles to go” hardly feels like an optimistic statement, except in this business. Muddy Pass and US 40 arrived without a monster climb, and on Rabbit Ears I saw several fellow randonneurs, which always cheered me up. The climb wasn't that bad, and the meadows and forests were beautiful, although traffic was heavy. I much preferred the climb to the descent, which was just too long, too steep, and too unrelenting to be much fun. But covering seven miles in fourteen minutes helps the average speed.
Steamboat Springs felt like a furnace. Lots of traffic, and no handy bike lines through the innumerable right-turn lanes (Boulder/Louisville had spoiled me). I stopped at a bike shop to get some chamois butter, went to McDonalds for some fat, salt, and sugar (lots of randonneurs there), and finally stopped at a convenience store for water and V8. It wasn't a very efficient stop, but lots needed to be done, and I was afraid of the heat. Did I mention I was, due to poor planning, wearing a black jersey? I rode through Steamboat's yuppie downtown, and then ugly industrial zones, with the heat radiating from the pavement. A tailwind was probably more of a hindrance than a help, as moving didn't cool me down. Lots of traffic and the heat made for an unpleasant ride all the way to Hayden. Filled up with liquids at the control there, and then had to ride five miles back up US 40. But it was after 5PM, and not quite so hot, and the road back didn't seem quite so bad (traffic was probably all the people who work in Steamboat, but couldn't afford to live there). Right past Hayden Station (a giant coal-fired power plant), we turned onto County Road 27, and all of the sudden the cars were gone, and the world was quiet again. The roads were soaking wet; storms were afoot. It rained a bit the first few miles, never enough to stop and put on a jacket, never cool enough to be refreshing.
The glory of the High Country 1200 is the constantly changing terrain. By this time I felt like I'd been in fifty distinct landscapes, and Twenty-Mile Canyon, as this area was known, was one of the most interesting. I'd do a big climb, only to come around a corner and lose most of the hard-won elevation in a 40mph descent. I came across a huge coal mine, and then started what I could only assume was the big climb.
|Coal mine on County Road 27.|
The cue sheet noted a 7,800 foot high point before the next control, so I was trying to keep track of my altitude. But the big climb ended, once again, in a big descent. It was psychological warfare, with my expectations being no match for the physical reality of the road. Two feet up, one foot down. I was counting off the miles, knowing there would have to be a huge climb ahead, but eventually I was running out of miles! We were up in the forest again, and finally a sustained climb appears just as the miles run out. Two miles from the control, I'm on top, and a corkscrew descent takes me to Oak Creek. 8pm, and twenty miles to go—my day has turned out better than I could have thought, and after too many miles on US 40, my faith in the beauty of Colorado is restored.
There were lots of folks at the store, and there was news. There was three miles of loose gravel on the route to Steamboat, due to road contstruction. JLE had recommended an alternative route, but we weren't clear on where it started, and Rod's wife (who was supporting him) hadn't even found it in her car. But I have 42mm tires at 45psi, so I wasn't too worried about the original route. It was a fast descent, and I finally reached the construction, which was nasty at first, but not bad once I got used to it. I went slowly, as I didn't want to experience an "involuntary deflation incident).
Soon enough the pavement was back, and I descended into darkness, and, eventually Steamboat Springs. I was at the hotel at 9:20PM, far better than the midnight arrival I'd feared in the despair of the morning.
I had a pulled pork sandwich, started some laundry (graciously put in the dryer by Dottie), and was in bed at 10:30. Once again I didn't sleep for a long time. Was the altitude affecting my sleep? I probably should have listened to my more experienced fellow riders and had a beer before bed!
DAY 3, STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO to WALDEN, CO, 182 miles
+8300 feet, 14:55 riding time, 17:21 overall time, 12.2mph moving averageUp at 3am. I can't remember breakfast. Was there a hard boiled egg, or just Honey Nut Cheerios? Off at 3:33am or so. Mostly up at first, and I was using the alternate route to avoid the gravel from yesterday. It was a bit hard to find that first turn in the dark. It was windy, but I was feeling OK, even though I was peeing seemingly every half-mile. Lights ahead of me, lights behind me, and so quiet... Riding past Stagecoach State Park, there's a lake, behind the lake is a ridge, over the ridge is the morning star, with the horizon just starting to show signs of dawn. Beautiful.
|Just before the dawn, Stagecoach State Park.|
I'd never ridden this far before, and a third day of 300+ kilometers was unprecedented. But here I was, in the thick of things, riding along. For the first time I felt like I could do this, finish the 1200k. I'd been warned about this: hubris.
Detour finished, I was back on CO 131, and it was getting light. Yampa was a bit confusing; it felt like I was leaving town before a store appeared, so I went "downtown" and went into the diner. I joined Beth and Brent for breakfast, headed back out of town, and found the store, which was worth another stop for chocolate milk. Back on the road, what looked like old volcanic necks rose from irrigated farmland. I rode with Beth and Brent for a bit, as the landscape continues to rise, and slowly dries out. I turned onto CO 134 at Toponos, and the drylands gave way to forest. There was an unnamed pass; I put on my jacket for the descent. Up again, through beautiful open forest and meadows, classic Colorado high country. It's a long climb, but it's a beautiful day. I ride with Fred for a bit, see a few other folks; what a pleasant way to spend a morning! I took a few pictures at the top of Gore Pass, and then a long, long descent, taking me from the subalpine forest back to the sagebrush, past an odd-looking development on a hillside. It's getting hot fast, and too soon I reach US 40. The next six miles were HORRIBLE. No shoulder, heavy traffic, trucks buffeting the bike as they sped by. I kept asking the trucks to please not kill me, not after all this riding. Did I mention how hot it was?
Finally, I stopped at a big supermarket in Kremmling. Lots of bikes there! I go into the deli, have a fried chicken leg (fearing food poisoning) some fries and a Coke. Go to the bathroom, buy a gallon of water, assemble my stuff. Fred was chatting with some bike tourers, who were happy to find something other than a convenience store. Then I continue down US40 towards Hot Sulpher Springs. Still no shoulder, but less traffic. Dry and open. Cliffs, rangeland... downhill, tailwind. As I was going along the Colorado River, I started to see signs of fishermen. Finally there was a shoulder, things weren't too bad for a while. Byers Canyon was very narrow, with no shoulder, but not scary like before Kremmling. It reminded me of the Big Thompson Canyon where I rode thirty years ago.
|Byers Canyon, just before Hot Sulpher Springs.|
I had another Coke and some chips in Hot Sulpher Springs, and then it was off to Granby, mostly downhill. Bought a V8 at the sub-optimal store there, and then headed up US 34 towards Grand Lake. The traffic here was relentless, the busiest highway of the whole trip. There was a strong headwind, and this was another low point of the entire ride. At least I could see some of the faster riders returning from Grand Lake—it's nice not to feel alone out there. Climbed up a big hill to Arapahoe Bay. Suddenly the headwind was a strong tailwind, which lasted a mile or two before switching again. Once again it was looking like a whole day at 10mph, and a late arrival at the control. At least the views over the lakes were fantastic, as I tried to guess at the peaks I knew so well from the other side.
Finally, I made it to Grand Lake. Ate some Lunchables, but there was no chocolate milk, and I had only one Ensure Plus left. Lots of riders were there. Headed back as quickly as I could, with something of a tailwind, although the wind was quite variable and hard to predict. Back in Granby, I stocked up for the remaining 55 miles with no supplies. I was still miserable as I started up CO 125. But leaving the traffic behind was wonderful. Big climb at first, gaining 600 feet in 3 miles just to get in the right valley. Riding was painful, for my hands and my butt. But it was getting beautiful again, and I watched as a horseback rider led a hundred horses at a canter down the valley. Eventually I started hammering, as riding slowly wasn't any less painful than riding fast. I caught up with Fred and some of his friends, and tried not to think about the pain. It was starting to look like moose country, but I didn't see any. There were great views of Parkview Mountain, and I was trying to remember all the complications of the Continental Divide in this area. Soon enough I was on the final climb to Willow Creek Pass, and JLE was waiting for us! I asked about the descent, and he said it was downhill all the way to Walden. Woo-hoo!
|At Willow Creek Pass. |
Photograph © 2012 by Jon Lee Ellis.
North of the pass was just magical. Open woodlands, expansive views, opening up to grassland ringed with mountains. The world has never felt so large! I watched the mountains, and watched the small storms playing in the distance, as I cruised down twenty miles of a one-percent grade! It would have been perfect if they'd bothered to fix the damned cracks in the road. There was no traffic. At one point a windstorm appeared out of nowhere, but quickly disappeared. All was well.
Never assume all is well during a brevet! With six miles to go, all of the sudden there was a 30mph headwind. My speed dropped in half. Luckily I ran into Hugh from Seattle, and we joined forces to fight our way into Walden. One of us would grind into the wind at 9mph, while the other coasted in the draft, enjoying a bit of a psychological break. It's a bit scary, and I can't imagine what it's like for people further out from Walden.
The town was a huge relief, and a great control! I had some thick black bean soup with rice, some watermelon, and then was off to my room. In bed at 10:30 again, and as usual I didn't sleep much. I was up before my alarm at 2:15, and finally got up for good at 2:50. I put on almost all the clothes I brought, ate some bacon and eggs and chocolate milk, and headed into the cold at 3:22am.
DAY 4: WALDEN, CO to LOUISVILLE, CO 148 miles
+4300 feet, 10:47 riding time, 12:39 overall time, 13.8mph moving averageThe terrain was the perfect mirror of yesterday. This time I was going up the endless one percent grade, with lights ahead and behind. I was feeling OK, although getting increasingly cold in spite of a wool hat, softshell jacket, and toe covers. I finally stop and put on a balaclava and helmet cover. Still cold, and now I'm hoping for steeper grades. I'm greatly surprised to encounter a tree, after so much time in the expanses of North Park! By Gould I'm in forest again, leapfrogging Bob. Finally, the climb starts in earnest, and I'm in the midst of the high mountains again. I keep stopping to take pictures.
|Nokhu Crags (12,485'), Rocky Mountain National Park.|
At the top, there's a little marsh with six moose, and a car containing JLE! He takes my photo, and I joke I would have asked for a refund if I hadn't seen a moose on the ride. It's just before 7am. I've ridden 1000k in 75 hours. 200k to go. Could this actually happen?
|At Cameron Pass, wearing all my warm gear.|
Down, down, down. There was sun at the top, and it was bearable; fast but not too fast. Almost get hit by a deer on that first strecth, it passed 10 yards away. Then into the shadows, and it's borderline freezing, but it gets a bit better after a while. And it's beautiful. And it keeps going down. As I make good time, I'm increasingly optimistic about a reasonably quick day—it would be nice to be done before rush hour in the suburbs. I arrived at Glen Echo to find lots of randonneurs sitting down to breakfast. It sounds like a good idea, so I have orange juice, eggs, sausage, and hash browns. And of course this was the moment of the day when it switched from too cold to too hot, so I switched from my winter gear to my summer gear, and headed into another world.
The evidence of fire wasn't dramatic at first. A few charred trees, a smell like a drowned campfire. But the destruction became more and more obvious, and more and more random-seeming. I saw one house that was burned to the ground. I could see the mudslides that had closed the road repeatedly, including on the first day of the ride. Everywhere were signs thanking the firefighters and emergency workers. Those signs extended all the way to Ft. Collins.
|Fire damage in Poudre Canyon.|
It really was a 58-mile descent. Towards the bottom I saw some rafters. One rapid would have six or eight rafts. I don't know how they even floated, as the river was barely flowing. It must be pretty cool with normal flows... There wasn't that much traffic going down, as so much was closed—like campgrounds—and no one travels from Walden to Ft. Collins early in the morning.
It kept getting warmer as I went down. Then, all of the sudden, the canyon ended. One bend, another bend, and I was on the plains, a mile or two from US 287, where we were on Monday, although it seems like ages ago. I turned onto 54G, some rollers, some new pavement, and then Vern's Place. Had a Pepsi and some chips. Bought some water and took off. Almost immediately ran into a paving operation. Conveniently, there was a bike path to the side, so I zipped by for a while. Ran out of bike path right before the turn to Overland Trail; had to wait to cross the sticky new tar, then hammered behind a few cars to make the turn. Then it was cruising along the road into Ft. Collins, seeing more road cyclists. I wonder what they would have thought had they known what I was doing. Close to mile 700... past the CSU football stadium, could see the Horsetooth dam... then turn onto Drake, then Taft Hill and more construction. Hot, traffic, and miserable. The next stretch along Taft Hill was bad. Heavy traffic, 90 degrees, and the turbulence from the semis would throw the bike around. Scary. "Don't kill me know" I would think. The only saving grace was seeing Longs Peak and Mount Meeker off in the haze. Long's must be my sacred mountain, which I first saw 36 years ago, and first climbed 35 years ago, and lived in sight of for much of my life.
|Taft Hill Road.|
Finally got to Loveland, was happy I didn't have to turn onto US 34, and then headed down into the maze of county roads. Getting thirsty, riding OK but a bit fearful of the heat and the sun. Weird having to navigate after going from checkpoint to checkpoint with a single turn! Loveland, Berthoud... a single road would make a 90-degree turn (section line?) but change names, so cue was a bit confusing. Some of it looked familiar from Monday, though. No place to pee. Every once in a while I'd catch a glimpse of a small creek, completely sheltered by cottonwoods, one even with a 3-foot waterfall. An oasis! Imagine finding that two hundred years ago... some choppy climbs, mostly a tailwind which probably hurt as much as it helped due to the heat. Ran out of water about five or six miles before Hygiene. Counting down the miles. 40 to go, 33 to go, 28 to go... finally cross the Diagonal highway, run into Hygiene. Store there, with (of course) some randonneurs. Pepsi, potato chips. No V8. Water. Sit for a bit, see lots of roadies. Off for the last 20 miles. Climbing up through Niwot. Views of Indian Peaks, which is interesting as I saw them from the other side yeesterday in North Park, thinking then how for I had to go. Crazy that you can see the next two hundred miles of riding!
95th street, turn onto South Boulder Road, traffic backed up, turns out to be a train, zip up the sidewalk, train passes just as I reach the crossing. Almost fell down clipping in. I was out of it! Hard to make left onto Via Appia. Hammering, fierce, don't mess with me, you nasty cars! Five miles, four miles. Pass a girl riding on the sidewalk who must have thought I was a ghost. McCaslin! One mile, looking for turn to Dillon, there! Hammer up the hill in the left lane, no cars behind, sweep into the parking lot, ride up to the entrance sobbing and shaking, practically drop the bike, I can't fucking believe it! I made it! Two women out there congratulate me! Grab the brevet card, my most precious possession, go into the breakfast area, all the riders there applaud, give JLE my card, Mary taked my picture as I sign the card and JLE gives me my medal! I'm in a daze! 83:47, less than eighty-four hours, three and a half days, a good time for a beginner. Wow! Of course I can hardly walk. Knees and legs a mess, the last 40 miles the left achilles started hurting, along with left foot. tip of left ring finger is still numb four days later.
|Jon Lee Ellis presents me with the finisher's medal. |
Photograph © 2012 by Mary Gersema.
|The happy finisher with his trusty steed.|
I had to pack the bike that night, as I was flying out on Friday. I flew to Chicago, spent more than an hour on the runway, and then learned my flight home was cancelled. Luckily my brother lives in Chicago, so he rescued me, took me out for pizza, and drove me back to the airport at 4am. So I finally arrived home twelve hours late.
I'm so happy to have done this ride. It was perhaps the most demanding four days of my live, as you need to be focused every minute—if you're not riding, you need to be eating, drinking, organizing, sleeping, or doing something else to keep going forward. And it was weird to see how small things could add up—being a few minutes faster at a control could lead to having a more favorable wind on the next segment. I still wonder that my crazy hammering up Gore Pass probably saved me untold suffering if I had been further out when the winds came. I was so pleased that I could ride just fast enough to get just barely enough sleep that I was more-or-less functional each day, and never had to nap on the side of the road.
And yes, I'm already thinking about another one someday :)
AcknowledgmentsSo many people made this possible:
John Lee Ellis, for creating this most wonderful event
All the volunteers, who really made the ride a reality on the ground
My family, for giving me the time and encouragement to ride
Don Podolski and Mary, who run the Westfield brevet series, which has felt like home from the beginning
John Bayley and Pamela Blalock, for generously sharing their incredible knowledge and experience
Ted Lapinski, for encouraging words as well as being a model randonneur
Rick LeBlanc, for being the first to tell me about this crazy world
The staff at Vecchio's for a last-minute repair as well as entertainment
Mike Kone and Waterford for the perfect bike
...and most of all for my fellow riders, who made the whole trip special.
Thank you all!
APPENDIX: A NOTE ON EQUIPMENTI rode a custom lugged Boulder Bicycle, with 650B wheels, using the Grand Bois Hetre tire, which measures 42mm. I couldn't be happier with these tires. I've never had an involuntary deflation event, and they are supremely comfortable on the linked potholes we call roads in New England. They came in handy out west, too. All my gear went into a Berthoud handlebar bag, which was overflowing at times, but it all worked out.
My favorite piece of kit was the arm and knee screens, the former from Rapha, the latter from Pearl Izumi. I've always considered myself bad in the heat, but this ride seemed to go far better for me, and I think these helped a lot. I wish there was something similar for my face!
The Saturday before the ride, I spent three hours riding busses to Sports Optical in Denver and back to pick up a pair of prescription sunglasses (Rudy Project Ryder) with both clear and brown lenses. These really helped with the sun and wind, day and night.