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Haute Route Rockies Journal: Dirt and ice cream

Monday’s third stage of Mavic Haute Route Rockies was a welcome relief from the grinding climbs we faced over the weekend. Instead of hitting 20 percent gradients and 3,000 feet of vertical within the first 14 miles of riding, we blasted through about 50 miles…

Monday’s third stage of Mavic Haute Route Rockies was a welcome relief from the grinding climbs we faced over the weekend. Instead of hitting 20 percent gradients and 3,000 feet of vertical within the first 14 miles of riding, we blasted through about 50 miles in two hours to start. But my fondest memory is the 25 miles of unpaved roads, midway through the 100-mile day. By my estimates, we encountered about four of the 31 different flavors of dirt road.

First it started off with the super-smooth sorbet that was nicely packed down and uniform — like riding no-hands and having a snack smooth. Then, we moved into more of a mint chocolate-chip sector with a few rocks and chunky bits sprinkled in. No weird artificial green color, however. For a moment, we had a stretch of full-on rocky road (yes, quite an obvious analogy), but that was brief, and fortunately there wasn’t much fudge ripple either … you know, washboards.

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Haute Route organizers have noted that these dirt roads are a departure from their usual routes through the Dolomites, Alps, and Pyrenees. Makes sense because quiet, well-surfaced ribbons of tarmac are in ample supply throughout most of Europe. Whether you chalk that up to denser population or industrious European governments, it means that there are tons of sweet options for road bikes.

In Colorado, dirt roads are fun in and of themselves, but more importantly, they’re a means to find quiet places to ride. Monday’s route definitely delivered on that count, affording expansive views of the Colorado River valley and few worries about traffic.

Are dirt roads themselves more difficult to ride? Sure, but not prohibitively so. Is it sketchy? Only if you’re being reckless. Face it, any number of famous European passes can be dangerous to ride, regardless of how well-paved they are. And to be clear, I’m not talking about Dirty Kanza-style gravel roads that are bottomless like an extra large cup of Dippin’ Dots. Nope, we’ve been just fine so far on road bikes with 28mm tires. The funny thing is, today’s three flat tires actually happened on pavement.