Tag Archives: denver

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.

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


Lookout Mountain, Golden, CO

Hello, Rocky Mountains. Nice to meet you.

After putzing around Denver and trying out the B-Cycle program, the time finally arrived for me to be reunited with my baby. We drove over to Golden, CO, picked up the Cervelo, and gorged on a high-carb breakfast.

Since Mount Evans would be the major climb of the weekend, I wanted to test the bike out on a local climb just to make sure everything felt right. The object of my attention was Lookout Mountain, Golden’s signature climb that begins just outside of downtown.

This would be my first climb in the Rockies, and would be an out-and-back climb up to Buffalo Bill’s gravesite. I thought the climb would be somewhere around 4-miles, but based on my starting location, it ended up being closer to 6. It was around 11am when I started, right when the heat was bearing down. This and the higher altitude made it a far more challenging climb than it should have been, but I was fine. This was more of an excuse to get my overly tapered legs warm while taking in the local sights.

The climb was extremely scenic. The name of the mountain is apt, because from almost every switchback, there was a clear view of either the mountains above or the city below. The Coors brewery remained recognizable for awhile up the climb. The football stadium with a large ‘MINES’ letters in the end zone was visible for the entire climb. The rest of the town blurred as the route ascended, but there was plenty of eye candy to be had above.

It was not very steep. It seemed to range in the 4-6% vicinity, with the occasional section that popped up to 8%. I believe it maxed out at around 10%, and that was probably not a long, sustained section.

Traffic was something else to deal with. Not just car traffic, but also bicycle traffic. There were quite a few riders on the road. A lot of hot shots gunned by me, while I passed some people who only hoped to finish in one piece. There were criss-crossing mountain bike trails, which I saw a lot of people navigating, but for some reason I saw a lot of mountain bikes on the road too. Whatever it takes, I guess.

It was tempting to stop by the Buffalo Bill museum while at the top, but the last thing I wanted to do was to leave my bike outside unattended. Not to mention, my wife and her friend were waiting patiently at the Safeway below. A reader shared some historical details and it might be worth checking out on the way back.

The descent was nice. There were a few tight switchbacks, but the light grade made them easier to maneuver through. The view was even better on the way down because you could see the road snake around below. I stopped a couple times to try and get some good pictures, which unfortunately didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked.

That was a nice test. I didn’t set any KOMs (and won’t during this entire trip), but I realized I could climb without significant issues in the Rockies.

The next day would be the true test, as I would attempt Mount Evans, the highest paved road in North America.

Speaking of those little B-Cycle things, a local told me that someone rode a century in one of those rinky-dink bikes, and even climbed up Lookout Mountain. Now that is impressive!

Strava GPS Link

Sending the Bike West ..

My bike arrived yesterday in Colorado. Next week I’ll be joining it for some fun in the Rocky Mountains. For now, I’m hanging out in the rainy and hot Southeast, doing some cross-training to keep myself in decent riding shape.

To my surprise, a number of people have asked about the process of shipping the bike cross-country. I had no idea there would be such interest in such a mundane topic, but I guess it is not something that is done all the time. Why not blog about it, eh?

This was a new experience for me. I did my research, found out the cost, and weighed that against the alternatives. The only real alternative in this case is to rent a bike while there. Even though shipping is an expensive process, it was a better for option for me. Rentals for a comparable bike run high, close to $100 a day where I would be. Most rentals are for 24-hour periods. Since I will be there for a total of ten days, that could add up. If I decided to skip a day or two, I would have to take it back to the shop, then get re-fitted when I rent again. It would be expensive, inconvenient, and I would most likely not get a comfortable bike.

The decision was easy. My gorgeous Cervelo would get a taste of the Colorado Fourteeners.

Since I have no mechanical ability whatsoever, the first step was to get the bike dismantled and into a box. My good friends at Summit Cycles were happy to oblige for $50. I would need to find a bike shop at the other end that would receive the bike, unbox and put it back together. Big Ring Cycles in Golden, CO is doing that for me for another $50. They will also give it a minor tune-up while rebuilding, and do a re-fit when I pick it up.

When Summit finished, they sent me on my way to Fedex. I lugged this gigantic box into the nearest Kinko’s and placed it on the scale. It weighed 25 lbs, heavier than I expected. He asked the value and I gulped. This is not exactly a cheap bike. I wasn’t crazy about revealing the cost to a stranger, but I had to insure it for the proper amount. When I told him, he blinked. He then looked inside the holes in the box, trying to figure out what was so special about the dismantled carbon fiber inside. “You’re serious about cycling, aren’t you?” he asked. Yep. He then proceeded to ask me if I thought Lance Armstrong doped, which is pretty much what every non-cyclist asks me.

The total for shipping was $98. Yikes!

I’ll be looking at roughly the same price to return it. That added to the reboxing and unboxing, will make this whole thing in the $400 range. It is certainly expensive, but this is a vacation, and I will have the bike I love so much for 10 days in the Colorado mountains. I cannot complain about that.

The next question was the timing. Colorado is a thriving bicycle community, and I could tell when reaching out to their bike shops that they had a lot of ongoing service work. Not only did the package have to beat me to Colorado, but it had to get there early enough for them to have the time to rebuild it. The last thing I wanted was to show up and it not be ready. In light of this, I probably sent it a little too early. I sent it Monday. It arrived Thursday. I’ll arrive next Friday. So the bike shop has a week to do their work, plenty of time.

As it turns out, it has rained just about everyday I’ve been without a bike. It is weird with it not being around, but I haven’t actually missed it. I take comfort knowing that it’s a mile-higher than me, waiting patiently.

Summer Climbing Series

The View from Chimney Rock

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, the goal this year is to conquer the four most difficult mountain centuries in the southeast. The first one is out of the way, and I’m just now beginning to taper for Blood, Sweat & Gears, which will take place on June 23rd. The other two are in the fall.

My focus this summer is to simply maintain my fitness, and have a good time doing that. The events I’ve lined up for the summer should be a blast, most of which are new to me.


Fabulous 4th Bike Ride – Even though this ride covers familiar territory in the Saluda/Tryon/Tuxedo area, it is my first time participating. This one is organized by Katie Malone, who has previously directed the Assaults. I’ve heard good things. The difficult part is that the 4th falls on a Wednesday. I’ll have to leave pretty early in the morning and return the same day. That’s not my favorite way to ride, but I think this one is worth it.

Raptor Ride – A group of us are heading to North Carolina for the Yadkinville Raptor Ride (not to be confused with Pendleton Raptor Ride on 10/6) at Brandon Hills Vineyard. This ride is in the foothills, not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway, and should be a lot of fun. While I’m there, I’m hoping to check out some of the climbs in the surrounding areas. There are a couple good climbs from nearby Elkin, NC to the Parkway. If I’m lucky, I may also get to check out some of the climbs near Winston-Salem (Pilot, Sauratown, Hanging Gardens).

The Colorado Trip – This year’s vacation is going to be Colorado. We picked a date that coincides with a mountain ride (thanks wife!), and I hope to do some more riding in the week beforehand. We’ll be flying into Denver at the end of July, where I’ll start acclimating. If that goes well, I’m going to take a stab at climbing Mount Evans, the 14,000 behemoth that towers over Denver. From there we’ll head to Breckenridge, where I’ll try to get a few rides in, and then participate in the Copper Triangle on August 5th.


Blue Ridge Breakaway/Brutal/Dove – Last year I thoroughly enjoyed Blue Ridge Breakaway and, in fact, named it my 2011 Ride of the year. This year I am torn because it falls on the same day as Blue Ridge Brutal, which I want to try someday. Brutal is also a little closer, and I have some friends who might be doing it. On top of that, there is an extremely popular SC ride on that same day, Flight of the Dove, which most of my local riding friends will be participating. This will be a tough decision.

Race to the Rock – This will be my first time trial. Usually this would not be my type of ride (race?), if not for the high rising finish. It ends with a short climb up to Chimney Rock. I became hypnotized by the scenery when riding the Tour de Lure, but unfortunately they do not let you climb the big hill most of the year. They open it up only for this event, a 25-mile time trial, which ends at the top.