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.