Tag Archives: colorado

Colorado Wrap-Up

Summit Lake from the top of Mount Evans.

A few times while I was riding above the treeline, I recalled the movie Contact. Towards the end, when Jodie Foster’s character discovers the beauty of space, she sighs and says “They should have sent a poet.” I’ve thought of this as one of the cheesiest lines in film, but it made sense to me while riding in solitude surrounded by overwhelming mountain scenery. The fact that I achieved these sights under my own power made the experience that much more special. It reinforced and reinvigorated my love for climbing.

In my week of cycling, I achieved 280 miles, 25k feet in climbing, conquered eight mountain passes, and the highest paved road in North America. It far exceeded my goals and aspirations.

That may seem like a lot, but I had plenty of other activities. I attended a Colorado Rockies game, a concert at Red Rocks, a Denver Goth club (!!), toured a number of breweries, and ate my weight at local restaurants. I spent the trip with my lovely wife and some good friends.

The website now has new content areas: There is a new Photos section for the Colorado trip, a new Colorado Climbs section, and there are a lot of new additions to the Conquered Photos section.

Here are the blog posts from the week:

Day 1: Lookout Mountain
Day 2: Mount Evans
Day 3: Hoosier Pass
Day 4: Copper Mountain, Vail Pass
Day 5: Loveland Pass
Day 6: Independence Pass
Day 7: Copper Triangle

And here are some pictures of the adventures I had off the bike.

Copper Triangle, 2012, Copper Mountain, CO

My final event in Colorado was the main event, Copper Triangle out of Copper Mountain. I joined 3,000 riders on a chilly Saturday morning for an 80-mile romp around the Rocky Mountains.

After a week’s worth of riding in the Rockies, I was not planning to attack the Triangle with any aggression. This would be a casual ride for me, a way to experience and see more of the Rockies without any hassle. There were probably plenty of people who rode for time, but not me.

The staggered start time was perfect. They allotted more than a 3-hour period for riders to start, anywhere from 5:45am (first light) to 8:00am. I wanted to get finished early, so opted to start near the beginning. After getting ready, I rolled to the starting line along with a handful of other riders. I halfway expected some ceremony, or for riders to be released in waves. That wasn’t the case. A gentleman handed me a queue sheet, and pointed me to the starting line. I quietly crossed and began my ride.

This eliminated the massive crowd riding. I’ve been in countless rides where in the first 30 miles, the pack starts and stops suddenly. It can be stressful and annoying. Copper Triangle was nothing like that. There were plenty of other riders on the course, but not so many to give us fits.

I had become used to cold mornings in elevation, usually sunny in the 40s, with temperatures rising quickly in the early mornings. For some reason, it was much colder that Saturday morning. My somewhat accurate Garmin showed the mid-30s. I had brought most of my cold weather gear, but not all, which would come back to bite later.

We began the ride by leaving Copper Mountain resort, and climbing our way up Fremont Pass. I was pleased with an early climb, as it would warm my body up. My hope was that after the climb, the temperature would have risen dramatically.

Fremont Pass, like most of the Colorado climbs I experienced, is not too difficult. It is not steep, just long. There were many short sections in the 4-6% range, then the climb would level out. I wasn’t sure how long the climb would go, and on a few occasions thought we had reached the summit when the road flattened. It wasn’t until around mile 10 that it ended, after approximately 1,500 feet of elevation gained. It took me just under an hour.

The rest stop was phenomenal. I made it a point to stop at all save for the last one. They had a large SAG tent, which I was fortunately not to need. They had good food, plentiful bathrooms, and many stops had vendors with free samples (like Clif), and other frills. I fell in love with some mini blueberry muffins, which I enjoyed at the Fremont and Tennessee Pass rest stops.

The descent down Fremont Pass was, in a word, freezing! I’m not sure if I’ve ever been that cold in my life. I could tell that it was a great descent, with smooth roads, gradual turns, and an easy grade, but the temperature kept me from enjoying it.

After the big descent, my feet were like popsicles. We would bypass Leadville, and head towards the next climb, Tennessee Pass. I asked a rider if we would begin climbing to the Pass soon. He looked at me and said, ‘we’re almost there.’ I looked at my Garmin and it turned out we were climbing, but very easily. Before I knew it, I saw the brown and yellow Tennessee Pass sign. Was that it? It sure was. The total climb was only about 400 feet over three miles, which I barely noticed. From what I understand, the climb is a lot tougher in the other direction.

At the rest stop I took off my shoes to stretch out my frozen feet. I ignored the strange looks. This was just what the doctor ordered. While the temperature had not climbed as much as I would have hoped, it would be enough to keep me from freezing territory. The descent down Tennessee Pass was another fast and cold one, but not nearly as crippling as Fremont had been.

The next obstacle would be the 300-foot sinkhole along the side of the road. It had collapsed only a few weeks before the ride. Colorado DOT had the road closed indefinitely, and opened it to single lane traffic shortly before the ride. I was hoping to get a peek, but alas, they had it pretty well blocked off with construction. The DOT was very accommodating for us bike riders. They had both a car lane and bike lane blocked off with cones.

I had been warned that although the ride advertises the three mountain passes, there is a quiet killer in the middle of the ride — Battle Mountain. It was a steeper climb than many of the others, but it was short and scenic, and quite frankly, fantastic! We climbed a rocky cliff with a gorgeous view of the valley below, little by little making our way up. We crossed the valley by way of a beautiful bridge, which I was hoping would make for a nice picture, but the sun was shining in the wrong direction.

The descent off Battle was plain awesome. In fact, the middle of the ride had a lot of descending with a couple of bumps (Tennessee and Battle). That would all end, however, after we dropped into the Village of Vail.

At the Minturn rest stop, one of the volunteers asked how I was doing. ‘Great,’ I said truthfully. He laughed and said, ‘not for long, but you’ll be feeling a lot better when you get to the top of Vail Pass.’

Near the beginning of the 20-mile climb.

Vail Pass was the signature climb of the ride. We would make up all of the elevation we had descended and then some. The climb actually began as we passed by Lionshead Village and the Village of Vail. It began easily enough with 1-2% grade, and would continue in this manner for quite a ways. The ski-villages made for some interesting viewing as we slowly climbed upward, but the real climbing would take place afterward. We crossed over the highway, and took a pathway that climbed at a 5-6% grade. There was a lot of writing on the road, encouraging Tour riders. Just like at Independence Pass, that let me know that this was a serious climb.

After a number of miles, we crossed over the road and onto the recpath, just like the one I had ridden a couple days prior in the other direction.

Things got real on the recpath. We rode parallel to I-70, and at times, the climb spiked up to steep grades. There was one difficult section that sustained 12% for a couple hundred feet. On top of everything, the sun came out in full force, with the freezing temperatures behind us. I was still wearing layers, many of which I could not shed. Vail Pass is when everything caught up with me. I didn’t die on the climb, but I became very tired, and people started passing me.

As we got closer to Vail Pass rest-stop summit, the climb leveled out. The last couple miles were at a moderate grade. The air cooled, and I regained some steam. The volunteer was right. I was ecstatic when I reached the summit, and the subsequent descent could not have been any sweeter.

A couple miles later, and I had arrived back at Copper Mountain resort. The finish line was in the heart of the resort, usually only accessible by foot traffic. As I rolled through the blocked off area, I first heard the applause. It was a grand finish, with lot of spectators cheering, hooting and hollering! Now that was a great feeling!

It was a fun and festive finish.

Strava GPS Link



Independence Pass from Twin Lakes, CO

As of Friday, I had already climbed Mount Evans and three mountain passes in five days. It was a busy week, but somehow my legs stayed fresh. Usually with this much volume, I would have been exhausted. The only reason I can think of for my vitality is the fact that I have been riding easy on the climbs. For that I can thank both the altitude and the spirit of vacation. I’m in no hurry.

I had one more big climb in me before Copper Triangle. For my last solo ride, I wanted something big. I settled on Independence Pass, the second highest paved pass in the state (according to Cyclepass.com). I was partially inspired by a report that former baseball player Barry Bonds had climbed Independence Pass recently. I may not be able to slug 74 home runs in a season, but I sure can ride my bike up a hill.

I opted to start my climb from Twin Lakes, CO. It is a tiny town, not too far from Leadville, that sits in the shadow of Colorado’s two tallest mountains — Mount Elbert and Mount Massive. Independence would be long climb of approximately 17 miles where I would be gaining 3,000 feet of elevation. 

The climbs starts out relatively easily. There are a handful of sections where the climb reaches 6%, while there are others where it is flat or a slight incline. This allowed me to get comfortable in my climbing legs, and warm up appropriately.  It was the perfect profile for my type of riding.

Like most of my climbing thus far in Colorado, the terrain was beautiful. At times I could make out the bald peak of Mount Elbert to my right, even if its base was obscured by smaller mountains or trees.

The route stays mostly straight for a long ways. I had heard that Independence had a twisty reputation, and assumed correctly that would be revealed later. After around 11-12 miles, I found myself in a valley with a slight incline. To my left, I could see a road rising along the cliff, going higher and higher. I would be up there before long. 

The road curved left at just under the 13-mile point. It also turned upward, at a steady 5-6% grade. There was no barrier on the cliff edge, so as I climbed higher, it seemed like I was walking on air. The view below was not immediately apparent, so I stopped at the lookout where a few motorcyclists were already hanging.

Let me first clear up a misconception about motorcyclists. I’m sure there are some bad seeds here and there, but all of the riders I have encountered have been classy, respectful people. In a way we share a certain camaraderie since we appreciate nature on two wheels. These guys were very cool. We talked a lot about different rides we had done. It turned out we had climbed a number of the same southeastern hills. One guy even rode a bike, although he was too old to ride in the mountains (his words). They even offered me a bottle of water, which I declined because I had more than enough fluids.

As for the view, look at the cover photo. Breathtaking!

I rolled away on my own. The motorcyclists took their time and passed me after about a mile. I caught the picture below as they passed.

Waving goodbye to the motorcyclists. These were some good guys!

One thing the motorcyclists told me was that the climb would get steeper. That wasn’t entirely true, because it still topped out at about 6%, but the climbing was more consistent. There were not many more of the false flats that I had already enjoyed. 

Do I need to talk about the scenery? It was just as gorgeous as all the other rides, if not more so. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Regardless how steep, a climb as long as this one becomes a grind. At some point I focus on just powering my way to the top. With that in mind, I was glad to get some levity from none other than Jens Voight, or the ‘Jensie,’ as he is called. Someone had written his trademark saying — “Shut up legs!” on the road. With maybe a mile or two remaining in the climb, I heard the message loud and clear. Yes, shut up legs. I am going to the top. I surprised myself by laughing out loud. Jens has a unique ability to put a smile on my face, regardless of the situation.

Soon enough, and I had reached the peak at 12,095 feet. That would be the second highest elevation I would reach on this trip, next to Mount Evans the previous Sunday.

I was taking the usual picture of my bike next to the elevation sign when a tourist stopped me. 

“Would you like me to take your picture?” 

Sure! I gave him the camera, then almost on impulse, I grabbed the bike and thrust it high in the air. I’d say the picture came out well.

The descent was hair raising near the beginning, as expected. I was careful around the curves. The big ledge where I had rested with the motorcyclists was the most unnerving because the ledge was right up against the road. I found myself drifting almost all the way into the other lane, wanting to stay as far away from that ledge as possible.

As I descended the rest of the way, I reflected on the magnificent week. Never did I expect to reach such heights in such a short time. It may sound silly or egotistical to say that I was inspired by my accomplishments, but I was, and my reflection was somewhat emotional. I proved to myself that there are no limits to achievement. I vowed then to continue setting ambitious goals, and try to accomplish what does not seem possible. More importantly, I won’t stop until I get there.

Independence Pass triumphant!

Strava GPS Link



Loveland Pass from Keystone, CO

On Wednesday, I gave a short interview to a report for a regional newspaper. The subject was the upcoming Blue Ridge Breakaway ride (last year’s Ride of the Year), but he asked some general questions about riding and specifically climbing. 

One of his questions caught me off guard. He asked what I think about while I’m climbing. I immediately drew a blank. What do I think about? At first I said that I tune everything out, get into a climbing/grinding rhythm and think about nothing whatsoever. He challenged me on that, saying that all human beings are thinking about something all the time. Hmm, in that case I had no idea. General life, maybe?

The next morning when I decided to climb nearby Loveland Pass, that question was in my consciousness. I tried to focus on my thought patterns, more for my own curiosity than his article (he had a short deadline anyway).

Loveland Pass is an alternate route to and from Summit County. It used to be the only way across the mountain until construction of the Eisenhower Tunnel was completed in 1973. It is open year-round and is the only available route for trucks carrying hazardous materials. I found that traffic was light, save for the occasional respectful motorist and HM truck. They were not an issue.

From Keystone, CO, the climb is roughly 8-miles at a near consistent 6% grade. I parked at the Keystone Gondola lot, nearly deserted this time of year.

It was chilly, and I began the climb without warming my legs up too much. It begins with a series of long, straight roads, all at that constant 6% grade. Another rider passed me early on, and we talked for awhile. He was also staying in Breckenridge, visiting from Dallas. We talked a bit about the climbs we had ridden in the area, then he sped away from me. My first thought was why this flatlander was so much stronger than me. 

My heart rate was high again. Shortly afterward, I experienced some hamstring tightness. At that point my thoughts were not pleasant, as I was literally grinding sore muscles up the steep pass. I persisted. Eventually the soreness alleviated, and the heart rate stabilized. I could focus on the climb at hand.

As I passed by the Arapahoe Ski Basin, I marveled at the beauty of the slopes and the desolation of the resort. I found out later that this is a local favorite, and usually has snow until June. 

At that point, the straight roads yield to tight switchbacks, which would be present until I reached the summit. I climbed above the tree-line, and from then on, was practically hypnotized by the beauty of the surrounding mountains. Of all the roads I had climbed until that point, this was the prettiest. Evans was gorgeous, but it only allowed distant glimpses of nearby peaks. Going up Loveland, I was faced with 12ers and 13ers the entire way up.

The road would showcase another captivating view after each curve. Again, I paid attention to my thoughts. At one point I was trying to think of appropriate adjectives to describe them (gorgeous, beautiful, spectacular, amazing, etc. have probably been over-used this week). The beauty of these mountains simply exceeded my vocabulary. At around the same time, my muscles cranked into gear and I was climbing a lot stronger, so I then left myself a mental note to warm up or at least stretch next time.

I reached the summit feeling terrific, absolutely energized. After taking my obligatory snapshots, I clipped back in for the long descent.

One thing I had heard about Loveland from local cyclists was it’s exhilarating descent. The road is silky smooth for the entire stretch, probably because it is open and maintained all year. After navigating the curves up top, and reaching the Arapaho Basin, the straightened road was a blessing. I tucked and bombed down the mountain. If I had any thoughts at that point, they were probably alternating between ‘this is cold’ and ‘this is awesome.’ 

Phew! What a great climb, and an even better descent! 

Not wanting the ride to end, I spun around the local bike trails, ending up as far as Swan Mountain before coming back. The trails and climbs are stellar, and I love riding here.

Strava GPS Link


Mount Evans from Idaho Springs

After Saturday’s warm-up came the real test on Sunday. Mount Evans was waiting for me, the highest paved road in the entire United States. I had made plans to meet up with my nutritionist Kelli (who is awesome, by the way, and I recommend her services to everyone), her husband and a couple local friends. They are primarily mountain bikers, and used this as an excuse to challenge themselves on the road bike.

Aside from the difficulty of the climb itself, there were two other major concerns:

The first was weather. The elements can be chaotic and unpredictable at high elevations, but the odds are in favor of the worst weather coming in the afternoon. As it turned out, a tornado had touched down on the Evans summit the day before our climb. That was at 3pm, which is perhaps the worst time of day to climb. The forecast was for some late showers, so we began the climb as early as we could justify rolling out of bed on a Sunday morning.

The other issue was with the altitude. If one were to measure the climb based on the grade and elevation gained per mile, it is not terribly imposing. The issue is that the climb is long, and reaches high elevations. The higher you get, the more difficult it is to breath. Without acclimation, there was a good chance of getting sick. That’s what I was mostly worried about.

I had spent Thursday night at home in South Carolina at 300 feet, and then the next two nights at 5,000 feet in Denver. I discovered on Saturday that my lungs had not quite adjusted to altitudes of 7,000 feet. Climbing to twice that was a talk order. On top of all that, I had never been (that I can recall) higher than 8,000 feet in my entire life. Altitude affects everyone differently, so I had no idea what to expect. I did my best to prepare as well as I could. I took iron supplements, hydrated, and even took some altitude medication.

We left from Idaho Springs, which is the longer route up the mountain. Some will opt to ride from Echo Lake, which shaves about 12 miles and maybe 2,500 feet ascended from the route.

It was a gorgeous morning with a slight cloud cover. The climb to Echo Lake starts out very easily, with maybe a 1-2% grade at the very beginning. We got to know each other and rode easily through the climb.

I noticed my heart rate abnormally high almost from the beginning. It was odd because I did not feel tired or that I was pushing too hard. My body was probably trying to adjust to the altitude. After spiking near 190, I backed off and let the rest of the group ride ahead. They were all strong riders, and already accustomed to the elevation. I was very thankful to have Kelli there to hang with me. I knew she could ride with the others, but she is a good person and was watching out for me. Thanks, Kelli!

To be honest, when I saw myself struggling so early, I had doubts whether I would make it. The last thing I want to do is quit, especially so close to the beginning, so I pressed on.

The climb up to Echo Lake, also called Juniper Pass was absolutely gorgeous, and far more closely resembled the Blue Ridge climbs that I am used to. The major difference being the 14,000 foot behemoths in the distance. We wound our between tall peaks and deep valleys, all covered in a dense foliage. I was in awe, almost giddy, at seeing the natural beauty, and we were not even halfway there yet.

My heart rate settled down somewhat after I scaled back my effort. The others were waiting for us at Mount Evans State Park. It would be a 10-mile trek to Summit Lake, and 14 miles the actual summit. It seemed like a long way to go from there.

The grade remains at 5-6% once inside the park, and we slowly climbed out of the trees. Once above the tree-line, the road started to curve around. There were a number of sharp turns and a few switchbacks. The road also became extremely bumpy with pot holes scattered about. This was not that big of a deal on the way up, but would be frustrating on the way down.

During this stretch is when I expected to feel the altitude effects. The entrance to the park was at just under 11,000 feet, and we escaped the tree-line at 12,000. To my surprise, I did not feel too differently, other than being a little slower and working a little harder, which I had been dealing with since Idaho Springs. There was no headache, no nausea, and my legs were not feeling too sore. I got a sense of confidence, knowing there was a better chance of success.

One of the tighter switchbacks.

The climb continued at the same moderate grade until we finally reached Summit Lake at 13,000 feet. I could barely make out the summit by this point. Kelli pointed it out to me.

By that point I was beat up, tired, and even had a slight hamstring cramp near the very end, yet I felt amazing. The last 1,000 feet were the most difficult because of the lower amount of oxygen, but also the most enjoyable for me. I was overwhelmed by the surrounding beauty, and proud of the fact that I was going to do this. Perhaps also because of the lower amount of oxygen, I had a peaceful sense of calm. Kelli said she enjoyed living the experience through me. She had already hiked all of the 14ers in Colorado, a fantastic accomplishment, so this one did not have the same impact. I asked if she felt similarly after her first one. She said yes, and that was where her husband proposed. The mountain has a way of bringing out the romantic poet in all of us.

As we got closer to the top, the switchbacks became tighter, and some were a little more difficult. My legs were feeling very heavy by this point, and the heart rate was still high. That said, I had my eyes on the prize as I was able to see the summit off in the distance. We turned a corner and found more switchbacks waiting, but more importantly, there were cars. I squinted and saw more switchbacks above the cars, but that was not a road; that was a trail. We were nearing the end.

I pedaled and pedaled, ever so slowly, and finally reached the top. Relief! It was done! From 300 feet to 14,100 in a little over two days. This may be my proudest cycling achievement.

I was feeling a little woozy at the top, but I couldn’t stop there. We parked our bikes in the rack, and hiked the remaining 200 feet to the summit. Words cannot explain what the world looks like while staring down at it from 14,000 feet. I took some pictures, some of which I think came out well, but they do not compare with seeing it with your own eyes.

The descent was not fun. We were fortunate to still have good weather when we first descended, so we did not to deal with any heavy winds. Many stretches of the road had bumps every 20 feet or so that could not be avoided. I hit some of them hard enough that I could have flatted. We had to be ever watchful for obstacles and holes, of which there were many. The first part was the most difficult because of the bumps and the switchbacks. It eased up after we dropped below the tree line.

There was a nasty cloud in the distance as we were dropping down. It looked horrible, but probably would be behind us. That may have been the case for that particular cloud, but there was another one that awaited us at the park entrance. Almost immediately it started raining. There was no lightning or thunder, and while the rain could be heavy at times, it was not torrential. It looked like we might descend out of the rain, as there were clear skies in the distance, but it nagged us the rest of the way down. Even though it was not pleasant, it was better
the alternative.

However uncomfortable, it was an amazing day that I will never forget. I have a feeling I will see Mount Evans again someday. Next time, I will approach it with adjusted legs and lungs.

Strava GPS Link