Mile High Urban CX Chaos EXTREME!!!

Denver finally hosted its own CX race, in my old neighborhood, even – I’ve lived on both 36th/Marion and 35/Brighton.

I got to the scene late – even though my race was at 1:20pm or something (1: I can’t count, and 2: I sleep in), and found myself sprinting to the start line still in my jeans, with pockets filled with loose change, my phone and my keys, as well as a fixed-geared bike. Well, whatever – I rolled with it (just didn’t, you know, COAST). The below video does a pretty nice job expressing the atmosphere of racing in the industrial side of town, next to the train depot. It also does a nice job making me look as if I’m competent at racing – you’ll spot me with the blue/white/red jacket, black Surly Cross Check (fixed) – mostly running, and the big beard, poking out of my grey helmet. 


Thanks for everyone that put the race together, and thanks to Icebreaker for sponsoring our team’s table, which was set up at a hairpin turn, perfect for good faith-heckling and beer handouts – as well as the unofficial single speed skidding competition (it is an urban race, after all), which garnered me the new nickname, “Si-MONEY
 


An Unlikely, “Win” at the Boulder Ultra Cross

A dude named, Shane decided to map out, and put on a 50-odd mile, Ultra Cross race one Sunday, when the regular cyclocross races were far away in Fort Collins and  more expensive than usual (they’re always pretty expensive). His was free. So I, with most of the rest of the Happy Coffee team, decided to participate.

Well, it just so happens, I managed to win the damn thing. On a single speed Surly Crosscheck.  FEEL MY LEGS!

Here’s going up the 18% grade of Lick Skillet where I also somehow won the King of the Mountain:

It was a nice scrimmage, and I was happy to put in a good showing after getting my ass handed to me, each and every weekend on each and every cyclocross race. Winning a 50 minute race against Cat 1/semi-pros hiding in the Single Speed category with the rest of us one-gear riff-raffs just ain’t going to ever happen, but when the miles get longer and the terrain gets more varied, I certainly have the right experience to push against. 

I also did my homework; pre-riding the course a few days before, and resting up, for a few days afterwards. It was luck that I didn’t experience a mechanical and it was just pure adrenaline when it came to how I was able to somehow get up Lick Skillet’s 18% grade with a 2:1 gear ratio. If Shane puts this on another race next year, I’ll sure try to defend the “title”.

ultracross.jpgI won a record, and a Mexican Coca-Cola in a koozie!


Mountain Playgrounds


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Mt Evans

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Route + Elevation Profile (clockwise) – View on Strava

The idea was certainly simple enough:

The road that travels up to the summit of Colorado Springs’ resident 14er, Pikes Peak (neé heey-otoyoo @ 14,115 feet would be open to bicycle travel for the first time for an extended period: the entire month of September on an exploratory basis. In the recent past, the road has only been open for one day, for a bicycle race up to the top.

This road needed to be ridden to, from Denver and summited, before the end of September came; before the road was again closed to such noble of transportation options.

But of course, that wouldn’t be enough. Riding to Pikes Peak and back is something I’ve done before – twice in fact – once to Barr trailhead in Manitou Springs, and then hiking the Barr Trail to summit, and then back to Denver; once to try to ride unsuccessfully ride around the mountain. It would be most adventurous to link it up with another road that goes to the summit of yet another 14er: Mt Evans  @ 14,265 feet. Start in Denver, ride to Pikes Peak, ride to Mt. Evans, ride back to Denver. Had anyone tried this, before?

I couldn’t confirm that anyone had. If the road to one isn’t open in a flexible schedule for travel by bike, it makes things difficult. To have it open for 30 days, in September – where the weather in the high parts of the state starts to turn a bit nasty, why would anyone want to? I smelled a chance for some disaster-style riding.

The gear would be simple, no-frills, light weight, dependable.

The bike: Surly Crosscheck, which I’ve been using for racing the cyclocross season, somewhat non-seriously. I just can’t take racing all that seriously.

But, it’s a frame I’ve ridden through 9 countries in less years. No fancy drivetrain. Just two rings up front, a 38t and a 34t and a flip flop hub dingle-cog-duo out in back – one side with a freewheel; 19t/17t courtesy of White Industries and the other side, fixed: 17t/21t, courtesy of Surly. Any simpler, and I’d be going single-speed. Want to change gears? Time to flip the bike upside-down, take out a wrench, loosen things up, move over the chain, tighten everything up, and flip ‘er back over. Surely that’ll get me up two of the highest paved roads in the state. The country.

The sleep system: my modified Tour Divide setup. A 20 degree down bag to replace whatever random 45 degree bag I  packed. Bivvy sac, instead of a tent. Bringing along the footprint of my tent, to use as a tarp, if the weather should turn wet. 

Niceties: Jet Boil stove, latched to the right leg of my fork, care of Salsa’s Anything Cage. A few warmer clothes for some colder nights. 

And maybe, if there’s something else in the way, I’ll bring along my trail running shoes. To invite a little more spontaneity.

I decided to invite Elliot along – he’s been traveling around Europe for the past 3 months climbing the famous passes in the Alps. I told him the idea, the travel philosophy (light and fast, but no so fast as to not take photos) and to see if he’d like to come. He did. On the very last week we could try before the road was closed again to bikes, we started out.

To make things easy, we could have taken lighter-weight road bikes, riding on more direct roads up, and down these mountains, while staying in motels at night. But, such a path would be busy with motor vehicle traffic, not so easy on the eyes and for lack of a better word: boring; We’d be often repeating the same route in reverse to get from Pikes, back to the Denver area, and then repeat the route up and down Mt. Evans. Not for this trip.  We’d sleep wherever there was enough cover to do so without being found. We’d take quieter, more interesting routes. 

Highlands neighborhood, Denver, Tuesday September 25th at ~ 4:30pm. We met up, talked some nervous energy out and starting our ride towards Waterton Canyon, and the start of the Colorado Trail: a singletrack route that can take you all the way to Durango, if you’d like to. Set up camp a few miles from the beginning at, “Lenny’s Rest Bench”, to give ourselves a good position for the next day, where we’d try to ride all the way to the tollbooth of the Pikes Peak Highway.  Camping at the Bench is a simple affair – one of the closest places from Denver you can free camp. The glow of the city is still very much visible from the end of the canyon. A nice prologue to what could be a very difficult ride. A few miles on road, a few on an isolated bike path and a few miles in the dark and mist on single track.

 

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Elliott, Colorado Trail

The next morning, we took the Colorado Trail to the end of Segment 1 and in reality: the furthest I’ve ever gone on the Colorado Trail, even though I’ve toyed with the idea of seeing the trail to its end. Another time. The trail is in great shape, but our bikes aren’t really the best rigs for the route. Loaded down with gear and with skinny, cyclocross tires, rather than a mountain bike with suspension, the going was at times challenging.

 

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West Pine Creek Road

A little before lunch time, we were done with segment 1 of the Colorado Trail, and bid it farewell, taking a series of connector roads (Platte River Road -> W Pine Creek Road -> HWY 67) to the start of Rampart Range Road, a dirt road route that takes you all the way to Woodland Park and a few miles to the tollbooth of the Pikes Peak Road.  At this time of year, and in the middle of the work week, it’s a fairly lonely road, with only moto bike enthusiasts riding about the local trails. Woodland Park was only 60 or so miles away, but the sun  starts to dip down early this time of the year and the weather was threatening while we made our way in cloudy conditions, with scattered rain clouds we oft bumped into. It also started to be obvious that I was going much faster than Elliot. I waited up every time I lost sight of Elliot. Didn’t mind, but I could sense Elliot’s frustration.

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Rampart Range Road

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Made it to the end of Rampart Range Road, as the sun finally went away, and the rain started in earnest. Eating dinner at what seemed to be the only restaurant open, we warmed ourselves, having dessert after dinner and, talked about camping options. Deciding to camp as close to the toll both as possible, we took on Highway 24 at night in the rain and made ourselves towards the toll both and, well, past it, making camp on top of a small rise right next to the toll both. Hoping it wasn’t going to rain on us. 

The next morning, we backtracked to the toll both, ditching gear nearby to save some weight and  made breakfast nearby, waiting for the road to officially open. The tollboth operator offered us coffee and we all chatted. The road seemed to only be open to ~12,000 feet, which was somewhat of downer, as our first and main of two objectives might not even happen. Talking to Elliot, he was good to keep going, no matter how high we would get, so we paid our $10 and headed up.

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Pikes Peak

It’s a beautiful road, albeit steep. Steeper than most paved mountain routes you encounter in Colorado’s mountains. My lowest, and really only gear while riding up was 34:21. Well, I guess it had to work for the next 19 miles…

About halfway up, Elliot told me it was time for me to go on ahead. The weather was obviously turning and he thought he was holding me up, going a bit slower than I, although I told him it was no big deal. But he was pretty insistent and he had a point: if the road wasn’t closed to the top yet, it was going to be, pretty soon. So we made our farewells, and I wished him luck. Pedaling my little gear to the top.

The weather got bad at the last batch of switchbacks, but I didn’t encounter any road closures (as if that would stop me). Just keep going, damn the weather, or the steep switchbacks, or however I was going to get down. And before I knew it, I was on top,

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Summit, Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak has the slightly odd feature – for a 14,000+ foot mountain, of a gift shop/restaurant on the summit, and I took full advantage of their overpriced food and warm booths. As the weather got worse outside, I ate my share of cafeteria food, waiting for a break in the clouds to hurtle myself downwards. It kept snowing, as I finished my coffee. A park ranger stationed on top kept me abreast with the weather, telling me that a small system was leaving, but an even larger system was quickly advancing. The road was now closed to everyone after ~12,000 feet, I must have just made it through.

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Death Switchbacks

Deciding to take my chances, in any break in between that would appear, I decided it was time to leave. The conditions were not very attractive to riding bikes down steep roads: the precipitation and cold would render rim brakes… not so useful. I changed my gearing to the highest, fixed gear I had and made my way down by carving off speed and skidding off the rest, just like being downtown, but I was definitely not downtown of anywhere. A slightly awkward affair, but no one else was on the road, it was fun, enough.

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Smile.

Back near the toll both in one piece, I grabbed my cached gear, and Elliot left a note, saying he was going to bed up near Manitou Springs, to try again, later in the week. Made my way back to Woodland Park to wolf down dinner and figure out the route to the next destination: Guanella Pass. I could have gone from Woodland Park to Evergreen and from there, up to Squaw Pass, which would deliver me right to the start of the Mt Evans Highway and 13 or so miles to the top of Mt. Evans, but that’d be too easy, now, wouldn’t it? Why not ride over Guanella Pass, and go around Mt. Evans from the West, continuing clockwise in a great spiral tour around the entire Evans massif, before reaching the top?

The weather cleared as I started on HW67. Perhaps six cars passed me, as I made myself to Deckers. A small tailwind, clear skies, a slight downhill route and an almost full moon accompanied me. Bidding farewell to the pavement, and turning onto Wigwam Creek Rd and back onto dirt. Bedded down for the night under one of the few remaining trees in a enormous burn area from the Hayman  Fire.

The Castle

The Castle, Lost Creek Wilderness

Woke up, rode for a few hours, before realizing I had made a wrong turn the night before, after ending up at a trailhead giving access to the Lost Creek Wilderness. A wonderful place to get lost. Incredible scenery, roads, terrain. Took notes from the small map of the area at the trail head, Wrote down the campsites I needed to pass, and which ones to avoid. Made it to Bailey/HWY 285 on the Colorado Trail Wilderness detour route (more Colorado Trail Race reconnoitering) alright. Ate another huge lunch and onto HW 285: busy, no shoulder and miserable. To be avoided on bike, at all costs.

Onto Guanella Pass. Aspen leaves were exploding and the traffic of photographers trying to save the event followed. A wonderful ride; starts as a gravel road, become a nearly paved part to the top and trailhead to Squaretop Mountain (elevation: 13,794 feet) and Mt. Bierstadt (elevation: 14,065 feet). I was starting to feel the effort of this trip and was excited to reach the top of the pass, as clouds and inevitably precipitation came creeping up from the valleys, to the top of the pass. Tonight was to be a honest to goodness full moon, and it seemed worth it to gamble with staying on top, wait out whatever weather was approaching, and see if the clouds would lift, to gain the summit of Bierstadt in the middle of the night.

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Storm over Bierstadt

It didn’t look likely.  Clouds enveloped me and rain – then hail began to fall. Being above treeline, there wasn’t much in terms of shelter. I tied one side of my tarp to the actual trail head sign for Squaretop Mountain, and the other side to my bicycle frame and made camp right there. I didn’t expect much traffic in and out. Made my dinner and my tea; set the alarm for ’round midnight and gave myself an early bed-down, as soon as the sun also gave it up for the day.

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Hail yeah


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To my surprise, the midnight sky was clear enough, as the moon was bright enough to make getting up unavoidable with a proper shelter. I half expected groups of people to take on a midnight hike up the mountain, but as far as I knew, I had the mountain to myself, taking my own route up, no headlight on, and not saying a word. Summitted without fanfare, and then walked back down and went back to sleep, until sun up.

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Midnight, full moon, on top of Bierstadt

Rocketed back down the north side of Guanella Pass and into Georgetown (trying not to freeze my hands off, or slip on the early-morning patches of ice), having breakfast at my favorite spot, Mountainbuzz Café and Pizzeria. They have never once reacted to my sorry, smelly, wind-burnt and/or rain-soaked state, any time I’ve collapsed into their restaurant to warm myself in front of their ovens and change out of my drenched clothing in their bathrooms. After breakfast and a costume change, I asked for a packed lunch and headed – well, not east towards Mt. Evans, but west, towards the Grays Peak Trailhead.

To me at least, it seemed silly to be so close to Grays and Torreys (elevation: 14,278 ft and 14,275 ft, respectively) and not take the quick ride up from the winter trailhead, to the summer trailhead and bag them, while I’m in the area. Make it three ascents for the day. My wonderful loneliness on Bierstadt, was harshly contrasted by the crowds on Grays/Torreys. I didn’t want to do much, except hike the mountains, eat some lunch and get down to Idaho Springs for dinner, so I set myself a brisk pace and had a little walkabout up these peaks.

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Looking down Dead Dog, Torreys

Thankfully, the frontage road from the trailhead, back to Idaho Springs and the start of the last leg of the trip – the final track of tremendous elevation gain and loss itself started with a gentle downhill of a few thousand feet. Ate dinner at a diner and got some supplies – batteries, candy, food for the morning, at a gas station and made my way – slowly, up the Mt. Evans Highway. My goal was to reach Echo Lake by the end of the night, and ride the last 13 miles up Mt. Evans in the morning. Slow going on exhausted legs. Every two miles – then every mile, I would stop at the mile marker itself to rest, stretch and breathe. The road is less than 5% grade, it’s just that I’d been on so many grades like this in the past week and with my lack of gears and the weight of all my equipment – well, no reason to make excuses, I was just getting tired.

Made camp at the (closed) campsite right by the Mt. Evans tollbooth. The road itself was also officially closed, but no one’s gonna stop someone on a bicycle. At around mile #5, I was greeted by three men in their 20’s walking down; no backpacks, no water, no equipment – nothing. I couldn’t explain it. Passed one man on a mountain bike wearing some sweats and got passed by a road cyclist that’s much more serious than I was. Other than that, the mountain was all mine. From the summit parking lot, I carried the bike to the actual summit of the mountain, and took in a few views of Greys, Torreys, and  Bierstadt.

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Summit of Mt. Evans; Bierstadt to viewer’s left, Grays/Torreys to viewers right, far in the distance

The only thing now was to take the momentous 10,000+ feet of elevation loss back to my starting point in the Highlands, and call it good. Amazingly, in less than a week, I was able to ride to, and gain the summit of all the Front Range 14ers, save Longs Peak, which would need a bit more thought, this time of season.

The question I then posed to myself: could you ride to, and then summit all the 54-odd Colorado 14ers in a single go, in a self-supported manner? It seemed likely you could, but I currently cannot find anyone that has. And if you could, could I?


Westword Cover Story

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If you’re in Denver, find yourself a Westword and check out the cover story! It’s also online for your reading pleasure

We’re packing up the short bus as we speak for the West Coast! Denver! I’ll see you in a few weeks. West Coast, I’ll see you tomorrow! 

The list of people I have to thank to make my two Tour Divide’s possible is longer than one can imagine, so here I thank everyone out there for your help, encouragement, support, and most importantly: patience. This wasn’t something I could have done myself. I appreciate every last one of you – you’re all the one’s that inspire me. 


A well-deserved break and a needed change of pace

Twenty-Five days since finishing up the Tour Divide, I’m happy to report, I’ve done really nothing sensationally physical or demanding to my body. All too often, I – like many people who have an extra surplus of energy and stubbornly high pain tolerances, rush much too quickly right into another foolish test of strength, endurance and gas station junk food eating. 

This year, I knew it’d be better to just lay low and allow my body to slowly and naturally replenish itself. It’s much more than sore knees and abused muscles – so many systems take a major hit. Because of takin’ er easy, I haven’t gotten that lingering cold that seems to clash so eloquently with the balmy weather, and I haven’t severely burned myself out on riding bikes. I almost now, miss riding bikes, but I can tell I have no top end  yet and any long ride is just going to be miserable. 

Not to say I haven’t been on a bike – other than the day of travel from NM back to CO, I’ve been off the bike a total of… uh – one day. But, it’s been nice to take off the, 16+ hours/120 miles hat and to simply become a commuter of 10 or so miles total from the ‘burbs to downtown where the coffee shops live that I haunt. 

I actually won’t be on a bike for any appreciable amount of time, for another week or so – certainly nothing overnight – as I’m about to head out next week and join a highly cacophonic (made up word: cacophony + phonic ), noisy, experimental performance group to the West coast for a few weeks. Our dates are listed here and I hope to see you – if you plan to come, please drop me a line, as I’d love to meet you before/after the shows! 

I’ll most likely bring a pair of running shoes and do some cross-training in the wee hours before we start the bus to the next venue, to help out before cyclocross season happens. But, a little bit more rest sounds good to keep the burn-out at bay.

There’s some interesting news that will drop in the next week as well, but I’ll let that be a surprise to most. 


Tour Divide Interview, whilst racing the Tour Divide

Justin Simoni speaks of the challenges of riding the Tour Divide mountain bike race as he works on his bike at The Outdoorsman in Butte, MT.

Kelley Mattingly and I did a fairly casual interview about the Tour Divide, training, etc while I was at the Outdoorsman, outfitting my bike for some drier terrain, with less changes of resupply that I was to hit up in the coming days. Enjoy. 


Surprise! Tour Divide! SINGLE SPEED!!!

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Surprise!

About… 10 days? before the start of the 2012 Tour Divide, I decided to look at plane tickets and found one affordable enough to get to Banff, Alberta and give ‘er another go, this time on a Single Speed.

To my complete surprise, I not only finished, but was the first one-speed-wonder over the line from the Grand Départ at 23 days, 5 hours and change. Red Caboose no more!

Hopefully, I can source a better photo from the end, as the camera I brought along truly was not Tour Divide worthy and half my shots have that weird smudgy-ness about them. We did take shots with at least 3 cameras, of the ending, it’s just getting in touch with everyone, again.  Nice that they highlight my new found six pack abs though – like applying Vaseline to the edges of your camera lens for those dreamy, wedding shots. Although, I’m sure those abs just won’t stay.

My supreme thanks to skinny Aaron of Salida and his wonderful family for taking me from the border, all the way to Salida and the English gentleman that I met at the hostel in Salida that took me basically the rest of the way home. Best surprise of the Tour! 
More writing about all this later, of course. 


Twice Threading the Eye of the Needle: Rollins Pass, Trail Ridge Road

Whither goest thou, rider, on that dirty bicycle in the failing afternoon light?

 

Whither goest thou, rider, on that dirty bicycle in the failing afternoon light?

I sit here, late at night, with sore knees, having hoped to do this little write up a lot earlier, but so it goes.

 

This small trip I’m about to describe, I estimated hazily as, “around, uh,  2 days”, with only mentally plodding out the mileage hastily in my head. The idea though, was to cross the Continental Divide somewhere other than Loveland Pass, so as to avoid having to yet again ride through the I-70 corridor. Just for the sheer joy of doing something different.

 

This doesn’t leaves too many choices, unless I wanted to ride all the way down to Colorado Springs and take 24 to Buena Vista. Which, I didn’t. Another option would be to take the I-70 corridor for most of the way, take the Guanella Pass to a hard-to-spot FSR and traverse Argentine Pass. At 13,205 feet, it’s a somewhat of a lofty option and getting back home would either mean backtracking or, yet again, taking Loveland Pass –  it’s nearest Continental Divide neighbor. It’s also going to be filled with snow and trolloping down a scree field @13,000 feet, with a marginal trail dug out over a hundred years ago isn’t even on my TODO list. Maybe in the summer.

 

Finally, a good-fit option presented itself: Rollins Pass. Reaching almost 12,000 feet, it makes its way through the James Peak Wilderness and out to the Winter Park ski resort/Fraser Colorado, also known as Not Really Close to Anything Else – especially outside of the winter season, where the bustling tourist town turns just about ghost-like in its scene. Which was sort of perfect. From there, it’s a quick jaunt North up HW40 to Rocky Mountain National Park, and another Continental Divide Crossing through the actual park itself. Beautiful vistas of jagged peaks of the Continental Divide in my view for hours and hours on end.

 

But, that wasn’t enough – a little dirty and then, back on monotonous paved roads? No thanks.

 

The Adventure Cycling Great Divide Mountain Bike Route maps and book (which I have both) tell of a connecting dirt track, linking the GDMBR with Winterpark: FS 139. After taking FS 139, my plan was to follow the GDMBR backwards, North past Kremmling, and to Radium. The maps and book describes this as one of the most dramatic loss of elevations of the entire route. Going North to South. I was going to take it on South to North, which would make it one of the most grueling uphills of the whole route. Which, whatever – I’m sure I’d be fine.

 

From Radium, I could loop back to Kremmling, resupply, go East to Granby and then – then! make it to Rocky Mountain National Park and victoriously get back to the Front Range in style. The estimate of  it taking, “around, uh, 2 days”, made even myself skeptical, but bailout options were everywhere. As long as Trail Ridge Road – the road that goes through Rocky Mountain National Park was open.

 

And as the time to leave fell closer, it sort of… wasn’t. Backtracking from the W tollbooth of RMNP would be a slog on an uneventful road, all the way back to the I-70 corridor. 60 miles. Not interested.

 

Further complexities revealed themselves, as I got ready to go. Namely, my bike broke. Or rather the freewheel seemed a little wonky. So, instead of leaving mid-afternoon, to camp near the start of Rollins Pass, I wheel’d the bike to Salvagetti, to see if it was fixable. Phillip came back and, with a wry smile, told it to me this way:

 

“You… should take a look at this”, which is never good.

 

He revealed a nice hairline crack in the frame itself, on the right dropout. Dammit.

 

“Dammit, Phillip! This bike’s been EVERYWHERE.”

 

And it had – 9 countries, 3 continents. 7 years and somewhere during like a ride to a coffee shop I’m sure, I probably went off a curb a little too briskly.

 

Trip on hold.

 

Before I could even figure out my next step, Phillip was on the phone with the manufacturer, ironing out some details for a replacement frame and wheeling out his own bike for me to use until the time came that my own bike was ready.

 

‘Wait, you’re going to let me use your bike? Don’t mind if I get a little… rough and tumble with it?”

 

I say this, right next to the bike frame I just destroyed. The kind of evidence was not on my side.

 

Another wry smile from P: He didn’t mind. “But, uh, this is the bike I was hit by a car on, so there’s probably something wrong with the frame – probably out of alignment or… something – good luck!”

 

And that’s how I found myself with a Salsa Casserole touring bike to play with – probably a size too large, decked out with 32mm commuter tires, a Campy groupo, geared for road riding, and a generator hub.  I wondered if it would be really all that wise to take this on the, “as much dirt I can find” route I had sketched out.

 

Well, no it wasn’t, but I wasn’t not going to do it. The bike that was now out of commission was at least a cross bike, with the beefiest tires that could fit in the frame. This frame looked like a randonneur’s Christmas Morning’s sugar plume dream come true. “A generator hub?!”, I thought, “Well, that’s going to get destroyed”. But then again, if this young lady of the 70’s, found in the internet archives could make it up Rollins Pass,

 

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OG Badass.

 

Well, so could I.

 

But at 8:00am the next day, I made my way up Coal Creek Canyon at a nice clip towards Rollinsville, to turn West towards the Rollins Pass Road. Rollins Pass has a colorful, albeit sordid history. Conceived as a get-er-done temporary railway project until the Moffat tunnel could be properly built, it never seemed to… quite work, as the harsh weather paid its toll:  snow would simply mount up on the track, train’s brakes would freeze and the train itself would derail right off the track.

 

Some juicy bits from this informative page:

 

Once the line was completed it became an operational nightmare. 41% of the entire operational income of the Moffat Road went into keeping the pass open. Trains were stuck regularly in snow drifts and avalanches. At first no steam rotary was available, so equipment had to be rented from other railroads.

 

During the winter months (September – May) nearly every train had to be preceded by a rotary snow plow and due to lack of adhesion and icy tracks, up to five large Mallets where used to pull a train. Other dangers included: Trains that had to stop would suddenly freeze to the rails, brake failures and resulting runaways. The task of the conductor included having to walk back through a snow shed to protect his train from a following train which might be equipped with a view obstructing steam rotary. Let’s not spend to much time thinking about the consequences of that.

 

Guess it’s the railway’s loss. Let’s ride bikes!

 

Had a quick bite to eat at the Rollinsville market/liquor store. Proprietor’s talking amongst themselves about a local’s sen
sational booze tab. The road W towards Rollins Pass Road proper is well maintained – you could get a road bike onto it, like… well, sort of like the one I had with me.

 

Once on the turnoff, the road turns a bit wild and my job was to simply pick a path through the rocks in the road. Beautiful views were all around me, as the former rail bed makes its way like a past-aldente piece of spaghetti over the terrain.

 

 

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From whence I came, 

 

 

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James Peak Wilderness – some delightful mountaineering possibilities…

Once the road winds it’s way around, seemingly forever, the last switchback in sight straightens for a few miles N and you get a good view of the Needles Eye Tunnel, which you’ve been anxiously riding in the proximity of, like a shy kid next to his crush. The tunnel itself is fraught with rock fall and officially closed off. I peeped in, but stopped myself from traversing through it, only if because the other side had snow drifts showing up to the barriers – a good 8 feet or so. Could be an interesting time on the N. aspect, I thought.

 

 

Needles Eye Tunnel

Needles Eye Tunnel, with barrier. 

Up and over and from there, the fun really started. The N and then W aspects were more snowy, and I feared – which came true, that my afternoon was going to be filled with a slog of miles in the snow. But maybe a good time to slow down and take everything in – the sky showed no signs of turning into a wretched wench of any kind – a rarity for the Continental Divide, so my worries of getting stuck in a mid-afternoon thunderstorm were put to rest.

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Yankee Doodle Lake, the track winds around the lake itself. Impressed by the ice sheet on top this late in such a dry season. 

 

Devils Slide Trestles

 

Devil’s Slide Trestle, a picture-postcard stop on the route. This is where trains would fail to make the curve and derail. It’s a good drop off, believe-you me.

The route at this point, until the pass itself was covered in snow, which suited my mountaineering prowess just fine. A few interesting slide points to navigate,

Little Snow... no problem

 

and onto the pass itself!

Rollins Pass

Although I attempted my best, “Bad Ass” face, I neglected to take out the, “What Would Henry Rollins Do?!” print out to finish it all off. Always forget something.

A few more miles of slogging in very much melting snow was in front of me, so I just hunker’d down and got-er done. The next bit of wreckage was a nice reprieve,

 

Railroad Trestle, Rollins Pass

And then, the road opened up, and I was again allowed to wheel down something. And again, the lack of bulbous tires, or suspension, or really anything at all to differentiate this bike from someone’s cared-for commuter made the plain dirt road somewhat interesting. Keep my wits in fine tuning. The road did reveal a gift from the Trail Gods in the form of,

Trail Gift! Found a Pair of Goggles

a pair of goggles! I wearily picked them up, knowing that usually such gifts come at a hefty price of needing to be utilized farther into the trip. Like those old-school Nintendo RPG video games where certain items are needed at coincidental points. I imagined I no longer was on a commuter bike, but rather a squishy full suspension free ride bike, pummeling effortlessly down the thousands of feet of elevation loss, with nary a thought in my head, and some sort of loud, energetic soundtrack emanating from speakers placed around the course.

 

Winter Park. Ate a few Subway sandwiches and garnered some advice on how to find the road I needed and I was on FSR #139 before the sun started to set completely. The road’s top notch and worked as described in the guidebook – a great connector to Winter Park, from the GDMBR. Good job ladies and gentlemen of the ACA.

Once on route of the GDMBR, it was time to turn on the lights and follow the wide dusty road N to Kremmling. And cripes that generator light is out of control amazing. Ended the night a few strides just S of HWY9 in a bivvy on the banks of the lazily-flowing Colorado River. Woke up, fixed the inevitable flat, got some wake-up juice at the gas station, fixed the flat again – this time correctly, and rode back on route towards Inspiration Point, Radium and back onto the highway to loop back to Kremmling.

 

 

 

Inspiration Point
Inspiration Point is Inspirational

A nice flight down to the township of Radium and then the inevitable slog up. My gearing failed me and I found myself walking up near the false summit, after I grew tired of paper-boying up the almost-two track. My rig for the trip had certainly met its match for the conditions at hand – not much else to do.

As are many, many places in Colorado and elsewhere in the Rockies, the terrain is being transformed with the loss of so much lodgepole from beetle kill, which leads the landscape in a strange, ominous void,

 

Lodgepole Pines

I reached the turnoff onto the highway and thus, said goodbye to the little part of the GDMBR I had just revisited. Back to Kremmling, via a mostly downhill highway route. All pavement from this point on. Which is nice, as the body was starting to feel the effects and I had much more riding to do, today.

Milkshake at Kremmling, Burritos in Grandby, more coffee in Grand Lake and onto the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. With my “borrowed” RMNP entrance card, getting in was, delightfully, on the house! My discussion with the forest ranger was filled with guffawing as they came quickly to the conclusion that I, myself am a delightful trickster –

“So you know, the road’s closed at Milner Pass – so, whatever you do – don’t go past that! Storm’s coming…”

“Oh, oh yeah” (wink, wink), “I’ll see you back here in a couple of hours, most likely” (wink, wink), “No way to get past a storm that high! Coolest heads to prevail!”

But of course, I was playing a game with myself. The forest rangers were serious, if not relaxed about it all; I actually thought I could beat a storm on the Continental Divide, in Rocky Mountain National Park of all places and push on through to the other side. I was in complete and utter denial. But I also really, really didn’t want to back track.

The ride into RMNP park is and will hopefully always be, completely beautiful. The road closure up the track 18 miles worked in my favor as the park was especially empty, so early in the season, and during a weekday. The weather though, was turning a gorgeous hue of ugly,

 

 

 

 

 

 

;
Storm gaining energy in RMNP 

I decided to press on, at least to Milner Pass and make the Go, No-Go decision but I knew my stubborn mind was already made up.
It didn’t take long for precipitation to start falling, and for that precipitation to start being the frozen type. Milner Pass:

Milner Pass. Snowing

Although snowing, the snow wasn’t accumulating and being on the top of the pass, it made sense that the road should go down, giving me relief from such exposure and perhaps a good place to sleep for the night.

Well, that didn’t turn out to be the case. Instead of barreling down, the road just kept going up and up. And up. The more elevation gained, the worse the weather, until what was falling was, without a doubt, snow and was, in fact, accumulating on the road itself. The road made a tight switchback straight into the wind, a few miles after hitting Milner Pass and it seemed that my current setup was coming very close to the extreme end of its usefulness. I mean, I didn’t bring a winter coat – or even a shell. I just had a rain coat.

To my, well, lucky stars, a few steps farther up the track was the Alpine Visitor’s Center, and even though the center itself was closed, the bathrooms weren’t. And thus, I took refuge in the middle bathroom at around 8:00pm, with a good 130 miles for the day, under my belt. I had hoped to ride a few more hours today, but I was socked in at the apex of the road, no one around for miles, as the road was closed to anyone with sense, impassable to anyone else, on account of the tempest that was whirling around me.

Socked in for the night at the Alpine Visitors Center, RMNP

I set up the sleep kit, did my best to strip off wet clothes and into some dry, warm clothes and popped the Personal Music Device to Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Unpacked the burrito I had been riding with since Grandby and mulled over how it must have been like, stuck in a mere 4 season tent about 16,000 feet higher than where I was, on Everest, as people were literally being blown off the mountain all around you. Good company while being cold, tired, cramped and smelling of 2nd-rate mexican food and gravel road. In a pit bathroom.  I had decided to not take my incredible, 20 degree rated 850 down waterproof bag on this trip, but instead take my 50 degree rated 750 gram bag, which wasn’t behooving of this exact scenario, but I’m writing this all out, so it worked well enough.

I checked outside every hour, starting at 6:00am, and by 8:00am, I decided it was time to make my break for it. It was still windy, still snowing and still a white out, out there, but I had those magical goggles that I found on Rollins Pass. Without them, I’d still be stuck up there, I suppose. I covered my feet and hands with whatever stuff sacks I had in tow – looking more vagrant than heroic, and started walking up. As long as I kept walking, my body produced enough heat to be comfortable.

Drifts were approaching a few feet on the road, which makes forward movement comical, but most of the time, I could find some of the road only under a mere few inches to walk the bike over. Mostly by feeling, as conditions were that I couldn’t see much in front of me, and what I did see had the same color all to it: white.

Right after the Alpine Visitor’s Center, a sign foretold of another pass, 4.1 miles away. I guessed that, since the road is still going up, it would for about 2 miles, and then go 2 miles down to this sacrilege, “pass” of theirs. From there, hopefully, the road would let up enough to ride the bike again. Roughly two hours of walking blind in store for me, if I’m going at my cruising speed of 1mph – typical for bike-slogging, of which I am the undisputed king at. The worse that could happen is that I would have to backtrack a very uncomfortable few miles back to the visitor’s center and be holed up there, now very wet and very tired, for another day. But hey, it’d be a cold-weather slog in a downhill direction!

To my luck, at the apex of the road at 12,000-some-odd feet, the weather finally broke and with glee, tracks of a recent snowplow showed on the road. I mounted the bike and, without any usable brakes, on account of the ice/snow/wetness on my rims, rocketed down the other side of Trail Ridge Road, stopping periodically for a passing snowplow that I waved on, and got a  hearty wave back. Guess it’s not out of the ordinary to find one crazy up here doing silly-stupid things with his life. I kind of wanted them to know I was up here and maybe radio down, in case the rangers on the W side wondered what happened to me and to call the police on the E side to hand me my ticket of failing to follow official commands of a road closure in a National Park, camping without a permit, etc, etc, etc.

But, none of that. The ride down was nothing if not delightfully cold, everything below my knees – bike included, quickly inheriting a fine sheet of verglas, rendering the drivetrain as useless as my brakes. A nice, out of control, skinny-tired rocket. Glad the road was closed to cars, or I’d be… well.

Far down the track, the road finally opened up again for general traffic, and I turned into yet another visual spectacle of the park for the tourists in the area to view. Their collective telephoto lenses whirled away from views of Longs Peak poking out of the haze and onto this strange creature blasting down the road, covered in stuff sacks on all four appendages, teeth audibly chattering.

I flew out of the entrance of RMNP, no one wanting me to stop and, “answer a few questions”. Another half-baked idea perpetrated! I beat the opening time of Ed’s Cantina, a required stop in Estes Park, by a few, so I headed on over to Kind Coffee and stripped off everything wet and laid it down for the sun – or something to hit it, as whisks of snow were starting to fall, even at the base of the park. A curious onlooker asked me some questions on what exactly I just did.

“I shouldn’t tell you this”, I started out, and then gave a quick rundown of the last few days. He seemed impressed. I told him he shouldn’t be.

Ed’s didn’t let down – I had what must have been the best burrito of my life and I headed out, leaving their beautiful wait staff behind towards Boulder. The wind hadn’t relented – getting if anything: stronger, as the day wore on. Once in Boulder, I decided to pack it in and bus it home. My, “two days”, were now in the middle of its third and I couldn’t play hooky forever. Well, not forever, yet. My left knee was also almost verbally protesting and it seemed prudent – what a word to use in this writeup –  to finally give it a break and not face 3 more hours of headwinds.

 

 

I’m not quite sure what to call this type of riding – it’s almost as if it’s disaster-style touring: I always feel I come home looking like a half-drowned rat, with my gear in disorder and something fairly wrong with my body. Leaving the house with such a ultra light setup, it’s easy to get above and beyond what the gear is made to endure. It could also just be called Spring in Colorado, as the conditions inherent in this season can be a bit drastic. It’s also a hoot of a good time, if you can mentally keep together the more difficult sections. Or thank your lucky stars there’s an open bathroom to hole up into, at 12,000 feet, during a snowstorm on the Continental Divide.

 

Route map,

 

 

Route


Del Norte to Denver or Die

Loveland Pass
Loveland Pass

I am perpetually amazed at what adventures lay so close to home, taken on by just strapping on some clothes, tools, food and a sleeping bag to a cobbled together bicycle and just going for it. Last weekend saw me ride from Del Norte, along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, with the goal of getting to Breckenridge and from there, taking the I-70 corridor back home to Denver. The goal was to do it before band practice on Sunday. 

I got picked up from Denver on Wed. by friendly Canadians on their way to Santa Fe and we all enjoyed a good meal in Buena Vista, camping near St. Elmo and a quick dip in the Mt. Princeton hotsprings the next morning. We took our time to drive out to Del Norte and had a late lunch at The Organic Peddler, which really should be one of those must-stop places on the GDMBR route, but I fail to ever see enough stories about it. Sad to see the Canadians go, I probably started my trip back North at around 4:30 pm. 

Del Norte

Del Norte has some of the few signs for the GDMBR

My ride on this journey, like most every ride since August, has been on my Surly Crosscheck, slowly being given an ever smaller gear ratio and for this trip, the gnarliest tires (sticky-slow Panaracer Firecross’s) that fit in the frame. What can I say? It’s a good bike that can practically do anything I want to do. My gear ratio of 34:19 is the lowest I’ve ever tried to go and the distance I wanted to cover – 350 miles, much of it off road, seemed somewhat a gamble if it was even possible. But this trip was a bit of trying out a whole lot of things. Can this setup take on the GDMBR? Could I, and still feel good, have fun and feel as if I could go on for another 20+ days? 

I have to admit, I was testing the waters to see if I wanted to try doing the Tour Divide Race again this year. It’s not so much of a cost to spend three days out in the sticks to see if it was all still that much fun if my form was good. 

Got about 2 miles into the route, until a forest service truck stopped over and had a chat – turned out to be a friend of the route – a guy named, “Steve”, who has a hand in helping keep the forest roads in the area in shape for all the people that use them and to work with the community on the GDMBR itself. He took a few photos, so perhaps I’ll see ’em soon. 

The ride out North on RD 665 was practically perfect – no one else out, great weather, sun slowly going down and feeling energized. I thought perhaps of riding all night and skipping sleep, but around 2:00 am, I thought it best to take a few winks, wake up early enough in a few hours and get to the first resupply in Sargents before Marshall Pass right when they open. Around 80 miles on the route – not bad for a half-day, I told myself. 

Up again by 7:00 am – a little less than 5 hours of rest and a good pace for racing and a good downhill + paved road to Sargents. The restaurant wasn’t open yet, but good enough microwave burritos and some fresh coffee with coffee cake made by a local did the trick. Marshall Pass was gated off to motor vehicles, so I had it all to myself. A thunderstorm ran into me while I climbed, shooting down snow, then hail, as well as thunder and lightning. Colorado staples, I guess. Back in Del Norte, there was talk of weather moving in, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to find it. 

Marshal Pass

Marshall Pass

Another big downhill into Salida, I noticed the weather was moving in from, it seemed, all directions. Low-flying clouds just sucking in the landscape. It didn’t look good, but I only had lunch on my mind, and booked it to Mama’s for a some food to eat there and a chicken burrito to go. Started raining as I finished lunch, so I thought I’d do some wait-and-seeing at the local coffee shop – as Kent Peterson’s truism states quite correctly, one never loses time stopping for coffee

The rain though, only got worse as I sipped my cappuccino and flirted with the baristas, two seemingly strange talents I posses naturally. And, well – then it let out, so I moved out and to the supermarket, where I picked up a roll of packing tape, some plastic bags and some kitchen gloves – all to keep the extremities somewhat dry and warm, if it did decide to start raining again. 

Although it seemed a gamble, I decided to go ahead and go up and over the Indian Hills and into South Park, where very little trees and even less man-made structures exist. If it was to rain – or even snow, I’d be in trouble. Even backtracking back to Salida, would mean re-summiting the saddle of Cameron Mountain.

 

Indian Hills, Outside of Salida, CO

Indian Hills, Outside of Salida, CO

The road up certainly was beautiful, but it also boded badly for the rest of my ride. The rain down in Salida had fallen as snow just a few miles north and not too much more elevation. Summiting the saddle, it looked as if elevation had nothing to do with it: South Park was covered in a thin blanket of snow. The dirt road had also turned to peanut butter-like mud and the weakness of my setup was showing – my canti breaks and almost-no tire clearance were perfect harbingers for the mud to get stuck and cause my wheels to stop turning. To be fair, I think most any setup would be having problems, but wanting forward motion as quickly as one can and not even being able to ride a bike on a fairly level road is disheartening. Luckily, it seemed that the super-saturated dirt on the road was only in a few, low areas, and the majority of the route – although slow – very slow, was still rideable. 

And then, it started snowing again. 

Around the time it started to get dark, the flakes started flying again. And I wondered, well, how long was this going to last? As the snow on Marshall Pass was there and gone in an hour – would it be better, or worse here? 

And then, I got lost. 

I’ve gone through South Park twice. There’s not too many roads, but there’s simply no landmarks to use for manual navigation, except the random sign. Well, I passed a sign that looked like a road marker – but instead of say, “53” – the name of the road I wanted to be on, it said, “19” – which wasn’t any road on my map. The last – well, the first junction was 5 miles back and I made the decision to go all the way back and take the other road, somewhat hating myself. 

And sure enough, the other road was the wrong road – and quickly dead-ended. So grumbling, I rode back to where I had previously turned around. So what was the, 19? “Bet that’s the mile marker, distance from here, to the highway”, I told myself, as I reset my speedo to see if it counted that many miles. 

At this point, the sun was gone, hidden behind the clouds, and practically below the Collegiate Peaks to the West; the snowfall, unrelenting and everything around me becoming ethereal,  coated with grey/white. My head torch was useless, as it only hit upon and reflected back the soupy flakes falling down. So, I turned it off and kept it off. Using only the slight differences between the texture of the road and the surrounding brush, I simply kept riding, as even the difference between road and brush were slowly becoming much the same: a undulating mass of 33% grey all around me. After they fused, I just used the shadows from the diffused moonlight that would mark the ditches on both sides of the road, and made sure to be somewhere in between. The snow on top of the mud made everything run in slow-motion, as well as make my travel almost silent. Without much feedback visual or audibly, I was waiting for my mind to lose any sort of waypoint and to slowly spin what I could see end over end, fighting to figure out which way was up. 

It was also getting late and I was wondering what exactly I was going to do. The nearest town was Hartsel, but given my wrong-turn, my speedo wasn’t set up with much precision and I had little idea on how much longer I had to ride to hit the highway outside of Hartsel and then the town itself. Stopping to bivvy seemed like a bad idea. No trees, no structures and it’s still snowing. A fairly miserable time to be had. The only thing to do was to keep on riding, as my feet and hands became ever more wet and cold, and my mind becoming fatigued from the stress. Not much in terms of traffic on this road, but a few tire tracks showed that there was some activity and the tracks themselves at least came in handy as areas where the snow had been packed down, which made the riding faster – 

or muddier, depending on what fell and when. Now, instead of just being covered in snow, my bike and I were becoming covered in snow and mud, which stuck to everything. My machine again seized against the very elements that made up the road it was trying to ride on top of. Pedal, pedal, pedal – push, push – pedal, pedal, pedal – 

Until at last, the highway was discovered. I looked at my speedo – just about 19 miles. Damn sign. 

Hartsel was sailed upon quickly. After Hartsel, there’s another 30 miles of South Park, until Como. Another 30 miles of muddy, snowed in roads. Being almost midnight, I decided it best to stop for the night – ’round 145 miles for the day in fairly schizophrenic conditions. Knew just the place to pass out in – a kids-sized playhouse in a little corner of town. 

The Children's Playhous in Hartsel, CO

The Children's Playhous in Hartsel, CO

Playtime.

If you squint just so, you could imagine it being a New Zealand hut, but well – it really is just a pint-sized house in a playground. But it literally is one of the only shelters available for miles around. Slept like the dead, until around 7:00am, where I got up and got some viddles at the only restaurant in town. Eating there this time was good – I’ve had mixed luck previously, but damn did all the greasy food hit the spot. I had simply walked out of the Hartsel Hut in my long underwear, ditching my bike and gear for the time being. Everything was either wet, muddy or both and it was going to take some time, and a garden house with running water to fix that, so after breaky, I looked for exactly that. 

I found one in back of closed self-proclaimed trading post, so I asked the gas station next door if it would be alright to use it. “I really can’t speak for them about that!”, replied the gas station and next door liquour store employee. “Fair enough”. I wasn’t going anywhere without some cleaning up, so I gathered everything that needed a wash and decided to ninja it. To my surprise, from the time I first found the hose and then gathered up my gear and walked over, it was open and bustling, so I walked in, order coffee and asked myself. They were happy to help and soon my gear and bike were housed down. 

With a fresh-ish bike, and the sun up to see what the road conditions were, it became apparent that going through South Park on a dirt road and then taking on Boreas Pass was a Bad Idea. The threat of yet another snow storm later in the day was strong and upwards of four inches had fallen on South Park, more surely higher up on the pass. Luckily, Highway 9 passes not a mile away from Hartsel, and it goes all the way to Breckenridge, with one pass (Hoosier) in the way. So that’s where I went. 

Hoosier Pass
Hoosier Pass

Couldn’t have been a more boring start to a ride. HWY 9 goes invariably straight for 40 or so miles, until the pass, which is nice, but short and then downhill in to Breckenridge. Highlight of the segment was passing another cyclist, touring the route, with a dog and what looked like a miniature horse trailer for the dog and must everything it seemed he must have owned. The differences between the style of our travel with what should be similar modes was bewildering. 

Lunch was consumed in Breck, and I made haste out of the mountains, as the weather again was closing in and rain was threatening to fall. I had still a big pass to get over – Loveland Pass, at almost 12,000 feet and getting socked in on the wrong side didn’t sound like much fun. And that’s almost what happened. 

As I was climbing the 8 miles of road from the bottom of Keystone to the top of the pass, it started lightly snowing, then hailing and then thunder claps and lightning filled the skies, as I rode straight into the storm.  If I were hiking, this would have been a major sign that it was time to get DOWN as soon as could happen. But, my interest was to simply to get home, so I pressed on, intelligent or not. About this time, I ran out of gas, trying to go too fast and going got much slower, not helped by the headwind that had picked up. Lots of stopping. 

Made it inevitably to the top and another strange sight – a group of cars were parking on the lots up top, and the occupants were coming out with balloons! We’re in the middle of a thunderstorm, there’s hail, wind and snow and these people are celebrating, wanting some sort of photo op. I felt slightly less stupid, as my plan was to get up and to get down as fast as I could. I didn’t stick around to see what they were doing, but one of the occupants was a completely decked-out in spandex cyclist, who instead of riding to the top, had merely been a passenger in the car. He was spotless and I myself and my bike were both beyond gross at this point. He met my eyes, I pointed at him as I started down and yelled, “CAUGHT-YA!” and began my windchill ride of misery, commencing the 7,000+ feet of elevation loss in the rain and snow, at least happy that my misery wasn’t at least, acted out. 

And miserable it was. For whatever reason, I decided against putting on rain pants, and just got soaked through. Stopped in Georgetown at the only place I thought could help: a pizza joint. With its large oven, and laid-back, bike-friendly employees (sticker in the bathroom reads: in Leadville, we still hang bike thieves!“), I knew I could grab some food, some coffee, dry out and no one would bat an eye. Collected some plastic bags from the pizza dude, wrapped those around my feet, wrapped that with packing tape and made my patented waterproof socks in-a-hurry, which worked fairly terribly for the rest of the route. 

A good downhill to Idaho Springs just left me more wet and cold, but I decided to blow through town to beat the now, setting sun. Floyd Hill awaited – not a particularly long, or hard hill, but when one is fatigued, it can seem almost like a brick wall. And I was fatigued. My pedaling was slow and my bike creaked. Until it didn’t. Because something stopped creaking and started snapping: my chain. Picking it up from the road, I examined the damage. A few links were busted. As luck would have it, I had enough stuff to fix that the problem and links to replace those that were now destroyed. And was off, until I wasn’t, as the drivetrain creaked again until it didn’t, and I again picked the chain off from the ground and “fixed” it again. All of a sudden, I was beginning to run very low on chain links. “Hold, damn you.”, was all I could say to my poor, abused, used up chain, recycled probably from a chain used on some multi-thousand mile bike tour a few years ago. With slight protest it did hold tight and from the time I took fixing the chain, the rain had finally stopped, and I did the rest of the route simply cold and soggy, instead of cold, soggy and being rained upon. 

Coasted back to the house at around 10:30pm, a delightful shower, after peeling everything off. Another 130 miles for the day.

route


Grays/Torreys/Headache

All my bike rides end up on mountain tops

On top of Grays Peak. 

This weeks plan was to ride to the Summer Trailhead of Grays/Torreys, hike up both, and ride back, all in one fell swoop. I mean, why not? It’s ~55 miles and 9,000 feet of elevation to the Winter Trailhead, 3 miles of hike-a-biking on the dirt road to the Summer Trailhead and 8 1/4 miles of hiking to both peaks and back – and then that 55 miles back home. 

OK, fairly ambitious, I admit – I brought along my sleep kit, just in case. 

The major challenge in doing something like this is – what to bring? The answer is usually, “Not much”, as any extra gear means extra weight, and extra weight slows you down, especially on the bike and most especially while climbing up on that bike  Realistically, you need to bring enough to do a bike ride, a hike and an overnight safely and relatively comfortably, the last point being somewhat subjective. I’ve needed a trailer packed full on previous excursions in to the mountains, but I’ve been working to ultra-minimize what I need. 

Camping part is easy, as my sleep kit is already well-established: sleeping bag, liner, bivvy and pad. Cycling is also fairly well managed: bib shorts, jersey, cycling gloves, silly cycling hat, tiny socks, cycling shoes. The hiking part is where things become troublesome, as the weather in the mountains – most especially in spring, can wildly and dramatically change with little warning. Skimping on too many things is a bad idea, most especially if there isn’t a warm car waiting for you at the end, holding clothes to change into and the means to easily whisk you away to where pizza and beer are eagerly awaiting. I ended up with bringing a raincoat, synthetic down vest, long underwear, winter gloves, winter hat, beat-up running shoes, running gaitors, micro-spikes, and – 

and an ice axe, which I affixed to the top tube of my bicycle, using some velcro straps, 

Nothin' but blue skies

Nothin’ but blue sky

Why an ice axe? Other than keeping up my reputation of being a complete bad-ass – I mean, what’s more bad-ass than taking on a 45+ mile mountain route with a fixed-gear bike, other than taking such a mountain route on a fixed gear with an ice axe?! But, there’s also snow on the mountains, even with our paltry snowpack this year, and ice axes can save oneself from a very long unintentional glissade. And maybe I’d take a snow route and keeping with the minimal thread – it’s either an ice axe, or trekking poles – not both, so ice axe it was. 

Left around 6:15am and got to the Summer Trailhead at around 1:00pm, leaving quickly for the hiking part of this exercise. Decided to take a little, “shortcut” straight up Grays, using one of the snowfields still lingering, which was neither faster, nor easier, but a little funner, than the mindless switchbacks that usually make up this Class 1 route. Was contemplating doing something a bit more fancier, like the Dead Dog Couloir, but being already so pre-fatigued for the ride – and alone, it didn’t seem reasonable. 

Shortcut through the snow

It’s not a named route, or anything, so I dubbed it, the, “Dumb Tourist Couloir” and left it at that. Grays was much like the last time I visited in November, although I was soon joined by a visitor, munching on the local flora, 

Mountain Goat!

which, is always a treat. 

At this point, I started experiencing the onset of an altitude-related headache – similar to Mt. Evans, the week prior, which was a bummer – I was eating correctly, drinking a-plenty, the only thing wrong was I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before and I had seriously put in a good effort doing all the moving and shaking to get up here.  I knew it wasn’t going to go away, until after I got down to a much, much lower elevation, but I pushed on the Torreys and then down. 

Got back to the Summer Traihead around 8:00pm, fairly whipped. Decided then and there a bivvy was in order, as bumping down that dirt road in the failing light with my headache, just wasn’t going to happen. Night was somewhat surreal, as the moon was basically full, my head pounding, and the only relief came from non-sequitar dreams that I would wake up from, thinking my headache was gone (as it was, in my dreams), only to have the headache come back, with a vengeance. Every time I woke up, I thought that maybe I could sneak off back home – I had a goal of finishing all this up in a 24 hour period – but no, the headache kept me grounded. Sometime in the middle of the night, I ran out of water, and I still knew that getting down even more would help greatly. For whatever reason, my ultra-light kit neglected bringing something as simple as pills for the headache. Next time. 

Woke up in the morning at around 5:30 am and rocketed back to Denver, an almost complete downhill trajectory. Back home by almost exactly 11:00 am and downing an entire half gallon of orange juice, my head felt quite a bit better. 

Overall, felt strong on the ride up to the Winter Trailhead, even with the added load with all the gear and felt alright on the hike itself, although taking 6 1/2-odd hours to hike these two summits seems somewhat slow . If I didn’t get that headache and felt a little more precocious and masochistic, I’m sure riding back home would have been possible, without the snooze, since the route contains 9,000+ feet of elevation loss. But alas, it wasn’t to be this time. 

But, I did succeed in bringing just enough equipment and nothing more and not getting into any dangerous situations because of something I left behind. I certainly came close in some places, but that’s the rub when going ultra-light. I also benefited from one of the most incredible days one could ever hope for in the mountains – mild weather, cloudless sky, light breeze, no drastic weather change.