Iron Horse Classic 40 Year Anniversary
by Tom Mayer

     Ed Zink       Tom Mayer         Jim Mayer

Last year my brother, Jim and I were asked if we would come to Durango to help celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.  We agreed and I decided to do it right, I should ride and ride the same bike that I rode the first year. Jim would ride the train.  I was wondering why they were calling this the 40th Anniversary when it had only been 39 years. Well, it's because they count the first year when I raced Jim to Silverton as the first year. Jim and I were honored by the invitiation. We had no idea that this event was to be more than a ride and celebration. It was a time of reflection and introspection. The following is the story of the one who started this race and had not ridden the road for the past 34 years. I hope to convey my feelings and emotions in this story.

I knew there were some things I would have to do to get ready, like rebuilding the bike and learning how to ride the road again. 

The bike, a 1968 Schwinn Paramount, was completely in pieces and hadn't been ridden since 1975. I had
repainted it then, but never reassembled it. The frame is double butted Reynolds 531 and weighs 3 pounds. The bike always fit me like a glove and handled beautifully. I couldn't find one of the boxes of parts which had the original Campangolo components, so I had to swap out some of the components. The beloved Brooks Pro saddle was given up to save some weight. I couldn't find the original down tube shifters, so went with the barcons. The original Campy Record crankset was 51-44. The smallest chainring available then was 44T. The largest freewheel cog in those days was 26 teeth. That meant a low gear of only 46". Five cogs were normal on a freewheel back then. Even though I did a lot of climbing out of the saddle, not being able to have lower gear back then lead
My 1968 Schwinn Paramount on Molas Pass
to me suffering severe knee injuries for many years. Still recovering from a recent knee injury, I wanted to make sure I had adequately low gears for the passes.  So, Mountain Tamer Quad to the rescue. I set it up with 48-38-28-18 and 13-14-15-16-17-19-22.  This gave me a gear range from 22" to 98" with close gear spacing. I wanted  a 12T cog on the freewheel for one higher gear, but had to work with what I could get in the available time. I went with 180 mm cranks, which I'll explain later. The accessories are modern so look a little out of place. The tires are 700C x 20mm clinchers. The bike weighs 23.4 pounds. That was pretty respectable in 1971, but not by today's standards.
The bike was originally metallic blue. When I repainted it in 1975, I wanted a color scheme that was different from any thing else. I added the cable lugs and guides. The original shifters were on the down tube. I plan on switching out the handlebars for different ones. When I do I have some nice vintage yellow handle bar tape to wrap them. When I find the rest of the Campangolo components, I'll probably put them back on too. The important thing for this event was to try to keep the bike as vintage as I could, but the main goal was to get up and running reliably. 
I was able to find the original Schwinn decals, but couldn't get them shipped in on time.  I'll have to add them later.  The Schwinn Paramount was the primiere
US made, road bike at that time. It's really great to have it running again.

I also decided I should use the same shoes I wore the first year of the race, as well.  Few would dare to ride these shoes today. Once you tighten the toestraps on these shoes, your feet will not come out of the clips unless you release the straps. Some lessons in life are not easily forgotten. I would not have any problem remembering to release the strap. They were pretty tight. I had to soak them and put shoe stretchers in them. They were still pretty tight.

This is my helmet from the early '70s.
It would be illegal in a race today.

Another challenge was that I had not ridden a road bike since 1977, being as I have been a die-hard mountain biker since then.  Riding 20mm tires after running big fat mountain bike tires was a little unnerving for a while. I watch every rock and crack in the road. I would have to relearn what used to be second nature. Could I come anywhere close to my time in the first race when I was 34 years younger?

I  didn't have the road bike finished so had to train on one of my mountain bikes. The Sandia Crest highway is pretty good for training with its sustained climbing and 10678' top elevation. I decided to ride from the house to the top of the Crest and  back. As I was climbing, I marked my time for the climb. In 1977 on my final race I had  done the climb  in 1:03 and won first place. On this day, at 1:03 into the climb, I wasn't even half way up the climb. I decided to do the best I could anyway. The ride was 55 miles and I felt good about it. I wanted to go to Durango a week or two before the race to train and acclimate. Conditions at the time prevented that. So a week ahead of the race I finally had the bike ready and headed up the Crest. The climbing was considerably easier on the road bike. This time at 1:03 I was much further up the mountain, but still 3 miles from the top. I had planned to ride the last 6 miles of climbing 2 or 3 times.  It was a chilly day and I had only a light wind breaker. As I started back down the mountain, I started shivering so much that I was making the bike shake all over. After a couple of miles, I turned around and went back up to build back some body heat.  I headed down again.  Now the wind was whipping me all over the road. The skinny tires don't have the inertia that mtb tires have so I was having to reign it in, especially through the switchbacks. I got up to 40 mph a couple times and I was having to force myself to do that. Memories of  the crash I had doing 65 mph when I was 15 were trying to haunt me. I know I told myself "You can do this." numerous times.  It was very comfortable doing 45 on the mountain bike on the trip before. I would definitely need to get more practice before the race.  Would I ever be comfortable taking it up to 60-65 mph like I used to?

The other thing I would need to do is get used to drafting in close. It had been 34 years since I had been good at riding within  an inch of the wheel  in front of me. I new that the direction of rotation had changed somewhere over the years. I looked up the times for guys in my age class. Wow! Very impressive. I would definitely have some competition. Could I pull this off without damaging my knees?
Time is running out.  I'm not going to be able to go to Durango early to train. I headed to Durango two days before the race and drove up to Durango Mountain Resort (Purgatory).

I planned to ride Coal Bank and Molas Passes. That would get me some climbing and descending miles and help me to acclimate to the elevation. It would also let me know how I
to dress for the race and how much I would need to carry.

The climbing felt pretty good. The scenery was awesome. The roads are clear and dry, but there was lots of snow on the pass.

The bike was performing perfectly and the gears were awesome. As I neared the top of Coal Bank Pass I heard a "plink" and my vision went blurry. The frame of my glasses had broken and the lens fell out, hit my frame and then the pavement. The lenses are tempered glass, but the impact chipped out part of it. I put the lens in my pack and continued to the top of the pass with one eye closed.
Before the top I found a zip tie along the road. I thought I could use that to fix the frame. Once at the top of the pass, I tried to fix the frame. The zip tie wasn't enough. A truck pulled up. The guy is going to ride down the pass. I asked them if the had a rubber band. They did, but then I realize I've now broken the temple off the frame. With their help we found the missing temple. It turned out they are good friends of my niece. Without my glasses, riding down the pass was not an option. My new friends gave me a ride back to my van. God always has a way of working things out.
I thought I had a spare pair of glasses in the van. I didn't, but always carry epoxy. With the repair completed, I thought about going up the pass again, but it had cooled down and was getting pretty windy, so I decided to go for a hike down the Purgatory Trail to the Animas River. I would have liked to do it on my mountain bike, but it's now closed to bikes. The hike would be workout at high elevation without straining my knees anymore than I already had.   The scenery was awesome.

  I remembered fond memories of riding this trail years back when we made a 40 mile trip out of it.

I wanted to keep going, but know this area will be in the shade before I would get back to the top and it would be getting cold. I continued down until I met Cascade Creek, then made a short side trip up it a ways before turning back .

I thought I would go up above Purgatory to camp. I didn't make it very far before I ran into snow on the road and could't go any further.

View from My Camp

So I decided to drive back up the pass and camp on Coal Bank. Every hour spent at high elevation would help me to acclimate. Watching the sunset over the Needle Mountains was a fitting finish to a great day.

 View of my camp the next morning

It's back to Durango to find out what is going on.  This is the day of the swap meet. I got some incredible deals and was able to connect with everybody I needed to. I found out that I would be riding in the tour instead of the race. That was a big relief. My knees would  thank me because I would't be pushing to the max, plus I would  get to meet people along the way and just relax and enjoy the ride.

Ed Zink, Jim and I met with Rich Fletcher of Animas Video Productions for an interview in the video shoot for a video that they're doing about the Iron Horse Classic.

It's Saturday morning and we're getting ready for the tour. After getting some pictures taken I'm told that Ed Zink, Ruthie Matthes and I will be leading the pack off at the start. Wow! What an honor! Ruthie has a title for just about every type of bike race plus the Olympics. I'm very humbled. It's amazing to see how many people are here for this event. There are lots of things rushing through my mind, however they are not butterflies as they were that first year. I'm thinking about the fact that I've not had any time to practice drafting. I pray to God to give me the confidence and the experience back that I once had, to help me do the right things, and that nothing stupid would happen in front of me as well as for the safety of everyone in the event. As we start out were supposed to hold the pace back little bit, but it doesn't take long for the pack to want to go and take off. This is supposed to be a tour, but it's more like a race. The pace is exhilarating and I feel great. I'm thinking that this pace feels good now but can I maintain it. We sail through Durango. The pack is not tight as it was in my racing days, so I'm feeling comfortable about the drafting. As we leave Durango start down the hill into the valley, everything is going very smoothly. Though my experience of riding nearly 100,000 miles on the road has faded and been blurred by nearly the same amount of miles riding the dirt, my confidence is coming back. I'm able to move up a few positions. I can start to get to know some of the people around me. It is amazing. I am mesmerized by the sound of the wheels. There were never packs this hugh back in my roadie days. The skinny tires are not bothering me so much now, but I'm still watching out for every little crack in the pavement. The tires roll effortlessly. We're running 27 mph, and I'm just cruising. As we near Hermosa, I'm thinking that I owe it to everyone to lead the pack. As I crossed the tracks I decided where it should be. It would be through the stretch where my dad's property bordered the highway. My dad passed away a few years ago. This would be my tribute to him. We were starting to climb as I pulled up to the front of the pack. I was almost to the front as we started to descend a bit. Ruthie was alongside me. I said, "Ruthie, quick pull me up to the front." She understands, and does. The rest of the pack seems to somehow know also. I lead the pack for about 3/8 mile and say, "That's for you, Dad."  I'm elated.

Now were starting to climb. I'm holding my own. I shoot some pictures as I ride. Some of the riders who started early are walking. I encourage them as I go by. I'm especially impressed by some of the people who are on this tour. I notice people who are overweight. They are having to walk, but they're doing this. I am overwhelmed to think that they are here because of something that I started, so many years ago. As we are climbing, I remember the road very well and know where the short descents will be. I try to catch up with someone to draft through those sections. I'm trying to conserve my energy and prevent myself from pushing too much. I push the thoughts from the back of my mind to tell me that I'm recovering from a knee injury.  It is more important to finish then to make a fast time. 
I'll gain time on the passes. I  long for the time in my past when I could push as hard and long as I wanted to. I won't use age as an excuse. I simply haven't been putting in the miles that I used to and now I'm paying the price. It's early in the season I still have lots of riding ahead of me.  I will pace it out.  As I approach one downhill stretch, there's no one for me to catch. Just then, someone comes up from behind and I jump on his wheel.  On another descent there's no one ahead of me, so it's my turn to take the lead and pull those behind me. As I think back in my past of those days when I was racing, I recall when I could lead the pack whenever I needed to. I remind myself that this is a tour not a race. I am having a great time and feel good.

As I pass Durango Mountain resort and head for the base of Coal Bank Pass, I'm running up to 40 mph and passing a number of people.
It's now time to climb the pass. My strategy was to stay in the pack, conserving energy, and then use my climbing ability to make up time on the pass. When I rebuilt the bike, I purposely put 180 mm cranks on it because that's what I'm used to on the mountain bike. I wouldn't be able hold a high spin like I used to, but figured it wouldn't hurt me that much riding in the pack, but the increased torque would be a big benefit on the climbs. That proves to be true. I can stand up and just walk away. I'm also loving my low gears when I want to rest a bit..
I'm steadily gaining on the riders the ahead of me. I feel strong and comfortable. Many riders were walking. I encourage them as I go by. I'm proud of them for accepting the challenge.

Then I approach a man on a recumbent hand cycle. I figured he may be a paraplegic. He's riding well and looks strong. I encouraged him and cheered him on. I know he is someone I want to meet and get to know. I brought some special prizes to award after the race. I didn't know who I would be giving the to, but it would be for something special. Now, I know who is going to receive one of them. I heard someone comment, "I wouldn't want to arm wrestle with that guy."  His arms are impressive.

I will meet him tomorrow and we will have a long and interesting conversation. His name is Michael Robinson and yes, he makes it to Silverton.  Way to go Michael! You are an inspiration to all of us.

Approaching the top of Coal Bank Pass, there are lots of people standing around. This is a feeding station. There are more riders here than were in the whole race the first year.

I needed to tap a kidney, but line is long. 
As I wait I work out a few muscles that have started  talking to me. I better get going. This stop could mean the difference of  beating the train or not.

I decide not to wear my windbreaker going down the pass. I may be a little cool, but I'll be warm going up Molas.

My confidence is coming back, and I'm able to descend at a good pace and am passing people again.
I managed to snap a few pictures as I ride.

Every corner exposes scenery more spectacular than before.

Back on the climb, my low gears and long cranks were paying off again. I was riding comfortably and passing more riders. Many were walking. When I first envisioned this race. I did not want it to be easy. I was moved with emotion to see so many people doing it even if they had to walk.

At the top of Molas Pass, the view is spectacular. Snowden Peak looking this way. Kendal Mountain is the other.
East and west are impressive too.
People are relaxing and enjoying it. I'm remembering an X-C ski trip on Snowden Peak many years ago.

Ed finds me and wants to ride down the 8 mile decent off the pass and into Silverton together. Once again, I was honored. As we start down, I tell him that I will be holding the speed down because I'm not used to going fast any more. The highway department swept the highway and the road is in very good condition. As we descend, I'm feeling more comfortable and start bringing up my speed. Since the highway is closed to vehicles for the race, we can take the whole road through the corners. It fells good, and once again, we're passing people. Ed is hanging right in there with me. If you've never been on this road you have to understand that it is a steep mountainous road with very steep drop offs to the side down to the river. You do not want to lose it going down this road.

At one point, I glance at my trip computer and see 45 mph and I'm comfortable with it. I thank the Lord for giving me back my confidence. Later Ned Overand will tell me that he ran over 55 coming down the pass. Years back Ed was leading the pack with a motorcycle and the lead rider yelled at him to get out of the way and past him doing over 60. As we descend, I keep my legs spinning, so they won't cool off. I'm thinking, a higher gear would be nice.

As we approach the bottom of the pass, I know we will now have a gradual climb for a mile to the far end of Silverton. Will my legs go wet noodles in the final stretch? As we leave the decent, I turned it on and start winding it out. Instead of going flat, I finally hit the zone. It feels great as we sailed on in to the finish.

Again, I am overwhelmed as I see a crowd of 3300 riders and realize that they are here because of the dream I had so many years ago. My brother, Jim is here to meet me and since I didn't beat the train this time he says I owed him a candy bar. My niece, Melissa has one waiting for me to give him. He enjoys rubbing it in and is having a time he will long remember. Jim has thoroughly enjoyed riding in the engine of the Durango Silverton train and felt right at home, where he had spent so much of his life.  The thing that is overwhelming me the most is the number of people who come up to me and thank me for starting this race. They tell me how it has changed their life. I am humbled and thankful.

My thanks go to Ed Zink, without whom, none of this would have ever happened and to all the many workers and volunteers who have made this race possible and have enabled it to continue. It could not happen without them. My thanks also go out to every single person who's ever ridden the race or done the ride for sharing in my dream. If you have never done this ride, let me encourage you to do so. You will never forget this eperience.