People in Fayette County have heard numerous tales involving superhuman displays of physical endurance before. These pages have told the tales of people who have ridden bicycles from coast to coast, hiked the Appalachian Trail and run countless marathons, triathlons and triathlon marathons (just kidding, we’re not sure if that’s even a real thing ... yet...). Adding his name to the list of people who have pushed themselves to the limit is Peachtree City resident Glenn Valencia, a participant in Ride the Rockies this year. To make his feat all the more remarkable, this was his first multi-day ride.
“I’ve done the Tour of Faith the last two years (a 100 mile one day bike ride) and a ride to the state capitol and back with other cyclists, but never something like this,” Valencia said, adding that he had just started cycling three years ago. “I had convinced myself that even if I was accepted into this year’s Ride the Rockies, I was going to back out, but my cousin was so excited that we got in, I couldn’t tell him I wasn’t going to do it.”
Cyclists in Ride the Rockies ride 543 miles in one week through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. They go through 27,000 feet of elevation gain and have no rest days. The tour started in Grand Junction, toured around the Colorado Monument, to Delta, Quray, Durango, Pagosa Springs, Alamosa and ended in Salida, Colo. This year marked the 25th year of Ride the Rockies and the organizers wanted to do something special, making the route the most difficult in the history of the event.
“The most difficult day was a 90 mile day which included climbing the Grand Massa mountain pass,” Valencia said. “The pass was 20 miles up to the summit and had an elevation change from 4,500 ft to 10,800 feet.” Another grueling day involved climbing three mountain passes. And if coming up wasn’t enough of a challenge, there was also the task of coming down to contend with.
“Descending down the mountain at 45 miles per hour with shear drop-offs and no guard rails was unnerving,” Valencia admitted. “My cousin, Gene, who has now completed five ‘Ride the Rockies,’ was also on the ride with me and he was descending at more than 50 miles per hour but he does not have a ten year old kid and one starting college this year.”
Not only did Valencia get to ride with his cousin, but his parents came out for the start of the race which Valencia stated made it even more fun. Proceeds from Ride the Rockies benefit Denver Post Charities, a McCormick Foundation Fund. All funds raised are matched at 50 cents on the dollar and are returned directly to the community.
Whenever one hears a story like this, it is inevitable for the first question to be, ‘Why?’
“In order to stay in good physical shape, I have to have a goal to train for. ‘Ride the Rockies’ give the riders a training schedule to go by and I always did a little more to compensate for the altitude,” Valencia said. “I wanted to see if I could do it both physically, mentally and how the elements, altitude and terrain would affect me.”
Valencia began training before he got accepted, riding between 35 and 80 miles a day, six days a week. The thing that may have been most beneficial to his training however was racquetball.
Valencia explained that he got out to Colorado before the race to do a little riding and was surprised the atmosphere so far above sea level wasn’t bothering him. The racquetball courts
he plays on get no outside air and one day he decided to measure the CO2 levels, astonished to find that they were very high, 2,600 parts per million, acting almost like an altitude tent that prepared him for riding in the high mountain air.
The day would start with the riders taking off at 6:30 a.m. to try to make it to the host town by 3 p.m. Once they arrived, the rider’s tents would already be set up for them. They would shower, eat and attend a seminar where a pro cyclist would give some tips and talk about the next day’s route. The host town would provide some entertainment each night and soon enough it was time for the riders to turn in and get ready for tomorrow’s challenge.
The event, which is the highest rated ride in North America, is popular not just because of the difficulty but also because it provides some of the best scenery in the country.
“While I was pushing my body to its limits, depleting it of all its nutrients and looking around at the amazing changing scenery, I could not help but think how complex God has designed things and how important it is to keep balance in my life,” Valencia said. “I was so focused on training and preparing for the ride, I did not think about how much I would enjoy seeing Southern Colorado from a bike. It was absolutely beautiful in every way and some parts were more dangerous than I had expected.”
Valencia, who had almost talked himself out of participating, stated he had no regrets about the ride, but wished he knew more about nutrients prior to starting the ride. On the second day of the ride, he began to cramp up towards the end of a climb that went up to 11,000 feet and took pills to replace electrolytes and the like and also began to pace himself slower to avoid more cramps in the future. Talking with more seasoned riders later, he learned about nutrient replacing gels that would have kept him on the bike at a pace he was happier with.
Every extreme athlete often gets asked ‘what’s next?’ and ‘Are you going to do this again next year?’ Valencia thinks he will stick closer to home next year and ride in the Bike Ride Across Georgia. A board member on the Hudson Family Foundation, Valenica also hopes to organize a fundraising ride in the future.
“One day I would also like to do something in Europe, maybe ride the route of the Tour de France,” Valencia mused, adding that he would really like to get his family out riding with him. It hasn’t happened yet, but his enthusiasm is contagious.
Valencia rides with Trek Club every Saturday morning and stated that there are rides for cyclists of all experience levels. He added that he finds motorists in Peachtree City and Brooks, where he does most of his riding, to be very courteous and considerate of cyclists. Valencia may have only been riding for a short period of time, but it is apparent that he is hooked on the sport that has let him see some amazing things and face down challenges that many would find insurmountable.