Took a little spin on the Colorado Trail – admittedly, the first “mountain” bike ride I’ve taken since around April – not that I haven’t been riding bikes, or riding bikes in mountains, but somehow it’s all completely different to some that it’s bikes on dirt, rather than pavement. To me: not so much. That happens when your primary mode of transportation is your bike.
Plan was to start from Downtown Denver, to Waterton Canyon (the start of the CO trail, proper), all the way to Camp Hale, then N. onto HW 24, left on Tigwon Road, all the way to the trailhead for Mount of the Holy Cross, where I’d meet up with H., who would have gear to do the snowclimb right up the Cross Couloir. In two days. Well, less.
The trip’s itinerary was to hit up most all the 14ers in the path between Denver, CO and Alma, CO, taking the I-70 corridor to Breckenridge, and then HW 9 to Alma. Ambitious, as the routes picked weren’t the easiest, or shortest: Bierdtstat from the East Ridge, then over the Sawtooth to Evans, Torreys via Kelso Ridge – and then to Grays, Quandary via the West Ridge – and then a final push to do Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross. All in five days – all ridden to on a bicycle.
I’m not saying I’m always on the verge of feeling sick, but today – Monday, I’m there.
And I’m not ready, anyways. This surprisingly happens quite a bit: underestimating the time it takes to get gear together to make a trip happen. Even with my style of cobbling things together that, if you would talk to someone with bike know-how would raise an eyebrow, and let out an audible, “eeeehh…?”, I think I got things straight:
I’m on mile #162 of – on paper at least, a 160 mile race. In other words, pretty near to the end of the ordeal. The clock is ticking off hour number 11 on riding these long forgotten gravel roads south of Denver – and when I say, “South“, I mean, a good 60 miles south. Better sounding then, “20 miles North of Colorado Springs“, I guess – because who knows really where Colorado Springs is, relative to anything, except Pikes Peak?
I’m staring down a small, one-lane slot that makes up the overpass below I-25. Bleary-eyed, a little sunburned. My crotch is something akin to being on fire, as my pair of bibs are very well over their guaranteed freshness date, having seen thousands upon thousands of ill-cared for miles in the (only) 9 months I’ve had them: the stitches in extremely important places are now only memories, stripped out like the fillings in my teeth from today’s ride, the only evidence of both being the holes left behind. My bottles are empty – I’ve been eating roadside snow for the better part of 3 hours. Stomach is full of nothing but rocks.
I’ve picked up quite a bit of speed, as the last few miles have been downhill – the last 75 miles before that have been achingly undulating – but the direction has been mostly up – 7,000 feet of, “up?” Much to my chagrin and complete blubbering of basic chart reading. At present, I’m going about 25 mph, racing directly towards this hole in the wall. On the other side, going a little faster, but a little farther off, is a giant, F-250 red pickup truck. We’re both approaching this slot, not wide enough for both of us – barely wide enough for the truck at a reasonable speed! – and one of us is going to have to give way.
“Christ“, I think, “I’m playing a game of Chicken with a local in a 3-ton full-cab.“.
Surely, the truck will give way to the bike. A head-on in the center would render the cyclist (ME), dead and the truck – well, a quick sweep of the wipers and I’m just a little bump in the road. “Perhaps like last week” (I imagine the driver thinking out loud) “when that errant alpaca got loose on S. Spring Valley Road – and, well the speed limit is 50 mph and those undulations of the grade can be gradual – but they can also be pretty abrupt! biff. Unfortunate – and worthy of some ‘plainin’, but certainly the fault of the lesser object in the way.“
I do my best impression of this sometimes stubborn, vicugna pacos, opening my eyes just a little more than seems normal and careening my neck to center in with the slot.
I do a cost/benefit analysis.
Squeezing my tiny little brakes weighed in grams with the force of forearms cross-trained at the bouldering crags, little nibblets of rear tire tear off and join in the surface texture, joined by the sound of the skitching tires. The truck continues hauling through.I give them a thumbs up as dust kicks up around me. “Good job!“, I yell. The driver neglects to give a second glance.
I can only faintly remember why I signed up, but it was imperative that I sign up MONTHS in advance, lest the race roster fills up to dizzying amounts of names. Gravel Grinders seem to be en vogue, maintenent, so what the hell. 160 miles seems a good distance for this little diesel engine that could. My cyclocross season was filled with more costumes and beer handouts at every lap than any real, well: results on the podium. When you don’t have a top-end, a 45 minute race is enough time to simply get warmed up to go about the same speed (maybe a little slower) for, well, all day, and that’s what I’m highly specialized to do: blunder around literally all day on a bike. To test this theory – well, you do these types of races – but oh – just doing 160 miles ain’t enough:
Waking up at 2:00am on the Sunday of the weekend St. Patrick’s Day festivities in a drinkin’ city seemed a strange way to begin a trip. I needed to go from the North side of Denver, through the South side, without incident. And then far beyond.
Plan: ride the bicycle from the back door to the Barr Trailhead ~90 miles away in Manitou Springs, CO and immediately begin the 13 miles hike up to the summit of Pikes Peak, for a winter ascent of a Colorado 14er, before it ain’t winter no more (mere days away). And of course carry all the gear that’s probably going to be needed. Which is really unrealistic, so just take what’s absolutely necessary. Which probably means, a different pair of shoes.
Then, take a few winks and ride back home, in perhaps a bit more scenic (read: more difficult, mountainous, less boring) route.
The road that travels up to the summit of Colorado Springs’ resident 14er, Pikes Peak (neé heey-otoyoo) @ 14,115 feet would be open to bicycle travel for the first time for an extended period: the entire month of September on an exploratory basis. In the recent past, the road has only been open for one day, for a bicycle race up to the top.
This road needed to be ridden to, from Denver and summited, before the end of September came; before the road was again closed to such noble of transportation options.
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.
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.