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.

 

 

looking_down_from_rollins

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.

Yankee Doodle Lake
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. 


Tour Divide Remnants

Worked Frame

I certainly don’t like living a life that contains much nostalgia. I’m far more interested in the here and now, or the coming soon, than what’s past. I don’t hold onto many things material. So, it’s always a surprise to me, when nostalgia hits me in the face and I feel an intense emotional response. This happened to me last week, where my friend called me to tell me I really really needed to pick up these boxed-up bikes from his warehouse space, the sooner, the better. 

Inside one of these boxes, was my Tour Divide rig, hardly touched since it was packed up and boxed at Gila Bike and Hike, last July. When I landed back home, I was injured and really broke, and it really wasn’t very realistic to take the time to build it up and ride this bike. It has honestly taken this long – almost 10 months to gain the mobility of my shoulder and have enough financial padding to even think of putting the bike back together. 

I currently ride a fixed gear bike because I love to and I’m totally amazed I can, like – ride a 200 mile route in the mountains, or up a 14er, but I also ride it because the virtues of the bike: a minimal requirement of time/money for upkeep, fits within my non-budget, budget. Tuning up a fixed gear bike means… what does it mean?  Probably replacing a tire that has a sidewall that’s about to blow, after – you know, a week, or a month, or a few months of ignoring the problem. 

Fixing up a Front Suspension, 30 speed, hydraulic disc brake, tubless-equipped mountain bike?  That’s been through a hell-year on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route? I’ll level with you: it’s a tad more. That’s sort of the great rub of incredible bikes: some of the components last forever – the frame for example, I don’t think can be broken, except in a lab test setting, but the chain? Or the brake pads? a few dirty, muddy rides and they’re toast. That’s just reality. 

So, my plan was to build up the bike enough to basically ghost ride it/push it to the shop, yell out, “FIX MY BIKE!“, and get some of the friendly faces at Salvagetti to figure out a plan on how to rebuild the bike to fit my, ahem, riding style. Unpacking the bike, though took far longer than it should have, since each piece held these memories and emotions from the route. The dust on everything was dust from the route, but exactly where will always be unknown. It’s kind of amazing. Anyways, photos: 

Cracker Jack Cartoon in French

Cracker Jack cartoon! In French! I bought some Cracker Jacks in Banff, Alberta and my, “prize” was this cheesy joke. I do like that they’ve made a French-specific pun, “Je craque pour Jack!” – craquer is the French verb for, “to crack” – like cracking a joke, or something. The rest of the cartoon is about beavers, and not needing to buy clothes. (complete silence in the room)

I remember afixing this dumb joke on my bike – the reason why is completely lost, using packing tape, in Whitefish, MT. I bit off some tape from the roll and managed to swallow a big chunk of it. I tried for a while to unswallow the tape, but it… held tight. I thought, “Great, just swallowed tape. That’s certainly a good thing…” I was actually pretty worried. 

Speedo at 2,780-something, seems about right

Speedo at 2,781.5 miles. Seems about right. Something like this is evidence that what you did, was actually what you did

Bottle of Stan's Bottle of TECH

Small bottle of Stan’s and a small bottle of Dumonde TECH Lite chain lube. The magical Stan’s sealant was the secret ingredient that keeps my tires inflated, without needing an inner tube. Like most sorcery, it’s hard to believe it actually works. I brought alone a few ounces to use if I did indeed get a flat and needed a refill in the tire with more sealant. Never did – although I changed one tire out with an inner tube. Shrouded in mystery. 

TECH Lite is the chain lube of choice on the TD. Supposedly, it creates a plastic-like coating on your chain, keeping other nasties away. Apply liberally, often, and wipe that chain down. For me? I ended the ride on the third or fourth chain, since the start. Route just destroyed chains, no lube could help. \

compass

Compass. When you absolutely, positively, do not know where you are, or where you’re going. Easy, with the onset of fatigue.

Bear Spray Canister Holder

I can take just so many nay-sayers, before I cave in and purchase, say, bear spray. Once I purchased it… where does it go? With a little duct tape and an extra strap, I made this holster for my handlebars. Also worked well to place cold beverages. 

That's how the pedal was kept on

Around Salida, my pedals were somewhat sticky – the right one in particular. They just didn’t want to turn. Somewhere between Cuba, NM and Grants, NM – the damn thing just gave up the ghost and the platform of the pedal fell right off the spindle. I have really bad luck with Crank Bros. cranks, but also love how their design makes clicking in and out so easy. There’s no bike shop in Grants, but I raided the Walmart and found a lame pair of pedals to replace mine. Rode a full day on this broken pedal, by simply applying slight pressure with my right foot inwards, to keep the pedal in place. The next day, I attempted to replace the pedal, but it seemed to be stuck to the crank. Enough so, that I broke my hex wrench when applying too much torque while attempting to loosen it. 

Close to the Beaverhead Work Center, many, many miles farther down the track, I did get a flat, much to my chagrin, as I was tired, thirsty and wavering near sun stroke. I wanted – almost needed to get to the work center. Just miserable. The last thing I really wanted to deal with was a flat. But I got off the bike, and found a piece of cord on the ground. It seemed a bright idea to tie my pedal to my shoe, so all I needed to do was slide the pedal in and out of the spindle itself. But it worked. I made it to the work center, with its almost mythical soda machine and clomped around with my new-found club-like foot, getting hydrated. Riding the CDT-alternative single track was not much fun. I couldn’t really, “unclip”, so I would just get stuck, and fall. 


Ride, Interrupted to Mt. Evans

Mt. Evans Smugness
Smug on Mt. Evans.

Wednesday, I got myself up relatively early, with the goal of riding up Squaw Mountain Pass, to Echo Lake. The ride is a big batch of gentle uphill roads, starting in Golden as you go up HW 40, cross over into Evergreen and take Squaw Pass Road to Echo Lake. This line is comprised of almost 25 miles of uphill road, taking you from ~5,200 feet to 10,600 feet and at the door of the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway – a road that goes all the way up 14,254 foot Mt. Evans. 

This road isn’t scheduled to open until May 25th – a full month away, but snowfall this year has been inadequate, and I wanted to check out the conditions and hell, maybe spin up for a few switchbacks, before heading home. 

The ride up Squaw Pass Road was fun and my legs were spinning it without too much difficulty. I’ve also been attempting to not wear headphones while riding anymore – I think they just filter me out of my setting and degrading the experiences I have. I’m always scared that long slogs like this road would be just boring to do, but instead I’ve found that the roads become slogs only because of the headphones – especially a road like Squaw Pass, as there’s a bounty of wildlife on the edges of the road to be aware of: deer and antelope, birds and squirrels and all sorts of surprises. The road is also somewhat narrow and it’s a good idea to pay attention to passing traffic. 

Made good time – 3hr, 45 minutes to the start of the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway from my doorstep. A few other riders were at the gate, which was closed, so I tried to get any beta they may have about the road. They said that the road was basically open and people have been going up already. Great news for me. They also said they saw me in Golden, as they were driving up the Idaho Springs side to ride up, starting from there. Heh… guess my time was pretty good… 

So, I took the ride up. Again, spinning up felt great – a little windy, but you would expect the conditions to get a little more harsh in a very real alpine setting. Passed a few maintenance workers on the road – apparently, they were plowing right then and there and I was worried I’d get to the point of the road that became impassable. 

Sure enough, I did – a few miles from Echo Lake – all the way up to Summit Lake, really and I could see a large maintenance vehicle blowing snow off the road, several large snow plows and a few trucks. I stopped at one of the trucks and asked if I’d get in the way if I tried to pass by. He was extremely polite about it, but I think what he wanted to say was simply, “Um, yeeeah”. I have this feeling this road is sort of an oddity. Since it’s in basically a Wilderness Zone, the road itself is under a different set of rules on what you can and cannot do. They can close it to cars when they want to, but not to bicycles and if I, on a bicycle want up, I might have the right of way. But! This right of way is completely under a, “at your own risk” type of deal – including dealing with a snowplow in the way, just like taking a hike in a Wilderness Zone. I also got the feeling is the last thing these maintenance people wanted was to have the responsibility for my over-adventurous foibles. Understandable. 

So instead of going further, I just decided to stop right then and there – 

and proceed by foot straight up the mountain via the North East Face route. It’s about a mile in distance and 1500 feet in elevation gain straight up the rocky tundra, instead of riding up the last few miles of switchback roads. I’ve gone down this way before, but never up. I ditched the bike at the road, and put on some running shoes I *cough* just so happen to bring alone (always be ready!) and started up!

But, even when starting up the route, I knew something was wrong. I was having a hard time catching my breath and had to stop for several seconds, after every 5 steps or so. In the middle of the face, I decided to simply Take a Nap – and I did, for almost an hour. Woke up less tired, but was starting to get a bad headache, and didn’t feel like eating much – big signs I was experiences an altitude-related problem. But like the stubborn person I am, I kept the pace to the top and eventually got there. 

Stayed for a few minutes – snapped some photos – the register was broken, so didn’t sign in. Left to grab my bike, and thankfully going down was much easier, but I still wasn’t feeling too good. Headache only worsening and it was getting to be a few hours, before I had eaten. I knew what this meant – I was about to crash and burn, metabolically. 

The problem with doing that (as if I had a choice) is that I was literally no where near a place to get some food, I just had to grin and bear it. The only food I brought were some cheap granola bars and it was those bars my stomach was upturning against. The downhill off Evans – without any cars is sort of what cycling dreams are made out of: Take the entire road, not worrying about traffic at all – unreal views. 

Getting back to Squaw Pass Road, I needed to get up and over the Pass itself – a few miles of uphill and then a ton of downhill and home. My body wasn’t really having it with going uphill, I had bonked. I just dealt with it though, and did my best to turn the pedals until I was up and over the top of the pass and was on the long, long downhill. My headache worsened on every bump of the badly maintained road, but eventually I was back down to Evergreen. I stopped at the first gas station I found and allowed my body anything it wanted. It picked out a giant Coke and a bag of Potato chips. Consuming both, I felt quite a bit better – headache abating and fatigue lifting and made good time home – 11hr and 45 minutes in total – pretty close to my personal record of getting up to the top of Mt. Evans and back home. 

It’s still sort of unreal to think that one can simply ride to, and hike up a 14er from Denver, without being completely super human. There’s many things to stop you, most especially bad weather, turning to Very Bad weather, but sometimes the mountain affords one safe passage. It does make me think about how most all my rides are local rides, starting from my doorstep and how these rides are quite amazing in of themselves. 

We’re told to eat local food, shop local stores – perhaps, “have local adventures” should fit in there somewhere as well? I get a fair bit of guilt whenever I join up with people to hike something not so local in Colorado, as it inevitably means we’re driving up. We all carpool for the trip, but it’s always a fairly long ride up and another ride down. I think of all the trips, people in Denver do to these mountains and it comes up to a lot of driving, under the guise of doing something healthy in the, “backcountry”. People have just so much time – say, their weekend, to hike when they want, so every weekend, it’s a drive up the I-70 corridor, turn off to a smaller highway, hike the mountain and come home, backtracking some of the same highways. Maybe this type of thing is so familiar for people who commute by car between towns/cities, but to me, that seems wasteful. 

I’ve ridden up and climbed most of the 14ers I’ve done in my walking-up-hills career by bike and given maybe 3 or 4 days, I could ride to almost any one in the entire state – but a good 1/3 of these mountains can be ridden in a Very Long Day. Perhaps in the summertime, when conditions are the most mildest, and you can bring a minimal pack, without being without something important,  it’s not ac
tually a requirement to drive to any of these mountains and enjoy them, without this first-world guilt of polluting in the very areas of the state we find so beautiful. How “local” is a local adventure? 

Pano looking West on Mt. Evans


200 miles on a Synthetic Flying Machine

Outside the Longs Peak Trailhead

Long Peak, of of HW7

There’s a network of roads that make a N to S corridor, just West of the plains of Denver/Boulder and just inside the mountains of the Front Range. The cycling on these roads is, for the most part, spectacular. Most of my more, “serious” rides are rides into this corridor, until bailing at some convenient spot – the convenience is this: since the road network mirrors most of the major metropolitan areas of the Front Range, getting out of the mountains also means being pretty close to home. If not home, a bus station. 

Ever so slowly, I’ve been trying to expand how long I’m on this corridor, until I, well, run out of road! 

I wanted to do a Really Big Ride – say 200 miles and I wanted to do the ride with tons of climbing, since I’m a masochist – and on the CrossCheck, set up as a fixed gear, since… I’m a masochist. It’s strange to say, but I’ve never ridden 200 miles in a day before, on or off a fixed gear, through mountain roads or on the plains, in all my touring and racing adventures. The number seems to be a psychological road block though, even though I could probably touch a ~5 hour 100 miles on a flat route. But 200 miles? Not sure. But thought I’d try. As I wrote: tons of opportunities to bail out and get home. 

Lowered the gear ratio further down on the dingle cog setup to 42/17 (~2.46:1) and a 38:21 (1.8:1). I’m becoming the master at dingle riding: the higher ratio is strictly for riding on flat areas, the lower for mountains. I changed the gearing twice on the trip – once when I started going up and the other time, when I finished coming down. That’s the way to do it. 

A key to the early morning start for late risers, such as myself, is to get everything ready the night before – so when you’re fumbling around in a half-awake state in the early morn, you just basically have to dress, make coffee, drink the coffee, wish there was more coffee, stop making excuses for no more coffee and go.

Made it to Boulder in almost 2 hours. Found that to be a good time. Made it to Estes Park by 10:30 am and before 11:00am is early enough for a cappuccino, which I had. The barista asked where I had ridden from and I was embarrassed to say, “Denver”. At mile 108, I was in Nederland and somehow it was around 2:00pm, I want to say. A bit undulating between the two towns, even though they’re only around 30 miles apart. Nederland was also the time when I rethought this whole idea with a, “What was I thinking?” internal dialogue. Even bailing at this point, meant 40+ miles to ride home (or 18 miles of pure downhill, to the Boulder bus station, which I didn’t remember). Just something insane like that, but I kept pressing on, knowing if I just got to the Golden Gate Canyon Road, it’s the end of another long uphill and a sweet, sweet downhill to, 

Central City. Bikes are not allowed to be ridden in Central City and I usually exercise my right of Civil Disobedience in  obediently breaking this law, but hell if I wasn’t hunkered so much I couldn’t really ride up the damn hill in and then, out of town, so I had to walk the bike through it anyways. I usually am not out of breath *walking* up anything. I had to take several breaks to catch my breath. I had serious hit a limit. All I could wish now was some sort of second wind. 

The night fell just outside of Evergreen, where I found some sort of second wind in a bottle of cola, deciding not to bail out here, either and press on South into Kerr Gultch Road and Meyers Gultch Road, hoping for sleepy country roads with minimum traffic, until I could reach Tiny Town and Deer Creek Road that will lead me deliciously down back into the plains. 

The roads weren’t as quiet as I hoped. There’s bloody towns on them! I had no idea… Not the safest riding, but down I got. At that point, finally, finally! I decided that it was time to pack it up and head home via the Platte River trail and home. The route, 

bikeride! 3/27/12

The body does funny things under such stress. Late in the day, outside Central City, I finally could not climb on the bike, without taking judicious breaks. My heart felt as if it was simply racing inside my insides and I simply could not breath fast enough. But, I found that if I simply stopped breathing through my mouth, but instead breathed through my nose, I couldn’t pedal as fast, and my heart didn’t get overloaded. Or something, I can’t say I’m an expert at what’s happening, except that if I was older, I’d probably have given myself a heart attack. Breathing through my nose is always difficult for me, as I just get all snotty when under duress like this. I wonder if my legs or my lungs or my heart are what’s lagging behind. I bet everything’s just about fagged out, to be honest. 

But, once I got back on the plains, I was able to push those pedals just fine – a few miles/hour slower then fresh of course, but no need to stop and catch my breath. It’s like I have two different motors – one’s for climbing, the other’s for just goin’ straight. It’s a really strange feeling. I’m sure just riding on level ground is simply nearing my point of exhaustion, whereas climbing goes quiet a bit over. Not having lower gears to bail out to really does come into serious play once one is obliterated. 1.8:1 may sound like a small gear, but a 17t back cog is still in the middle of a 10spd cluster. I’m imagining doing this ride with a geared bike, but not ever going lower than that gear and well, forget it. I also think how faster this ride would be with a bike that, you know, coasted, as well as having a bailout gear. Bailout Gears. I could potentially cut the ride time by a third. Maybe. But, what’s the fun in that?

Once I got home, my throat was destroyed. There’s some dust in the air, but the damage was mostly from breathing so damn hard via my mouth. Probably should work on that. I’m already working on a deficit of oxygen in the air, what with the starting elevation. Thank goodness for Throat Coat tea. 

Even this crazy route can be expanded upon. Instead of taking Kerr Gultch Road, one could take the Evergreen Parkway Southwest, until you reached HW285 and then take High Grade back down into Deer Creek Canyon. And then, you’re done. Unless, you stuck on HW 285 West and took a serious of country roads all the way to Woodland Park – and those country roads are dirt. And then, you’re done.  Unless, you wanted to take HW 67 South, along the backside of Pikes Peak and then – well, you’re on your own, I have no idea what’s out there. 

But, good self-test ride, these 200-odd miles. Good test of my condition, which is fair. Hell, take away the pavement along the route that’s in the mountains and you have an atypically hard day on the Tour Divide. In some respects, it makes the Triple Bypass blush, it’s 16,700 feet of elevation gain – except for the height of the elevation gain, which this route does not come near. It makes one wonder if it’s possible to do the Tour Divide on a fixed gear. It’s still, still not been officially done. Even riding a 1.8:1 gear ratio would still not make it up most any of the mountain passes completely. you’d be walking a ton. 

Anything longer, and I’d rather go somewhere else than a tight circle, which means, taking along a sleeping bag and bivvy, which incidentally is on order. 

Where to, next? 600km?