This story actually began yesterday (23rd). My parents were conveniently in Estes Park to meet up with us and follow us to Steamboat. I took the opportunity to use the rental car to reconnoiter the highest continuously paved road in the US—which we climbed over today. Passing the safety-orange sign stating “CYCLISTS: Road may be rough – consider alternate routes” was an ominous sign, and either a touch of altitude sickness or the seemingly endless ascent under a dark cloud made me feel a bit nauseous as we reached the summit. And the road is not actually continuously paved! there are two gravel sections near the summit, not bad but still gravel to contend with. In the parking lot walking to the visitor center the temperature was about 40F, with 40mi/hr winds. And the ranger on duty said it had hailed about an hour before. As I had been told by a Scottish mechanic (who bore a striking resemblance to Desmond from LOST) at Lee’s cycles in Fort Collins, the road had been mostly repaved, and there were only two short gravel sections near the summit. Most importantly, the descent side was well maintained.
Returning to the church in Estes Park (where it was beautiful and sunny), I briefed the leaders on what I had seen, and resolved to change some brake pads—we were going to need some fresh rubber on the rims for the descent.
I awoke this morning to the clunkings and clankings of the men of the church making my favorite breakfast food: pancakes. Soon after, Becca came through with her customary “heyyyy Guyyyyys, time to waaaaake up [flicks lights on].”
The morning dawned cold and bright—there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Fuelled on a big stack of flapjacks and equipped with my Glenn Swan supplied 11-32 tooth climbing cassette, it was time to saddle up my scandium steed and go for the (metaphorical) spotted jersey. Being a 125lb climbing freak, I’d suffered mightily in the Great Plains headwinds, and it was my time to let loose on the biggest climb of the trip!
To explain the gearing: most of the riders have triple front chainrings, 52-42-30 tooth, and a 12-25 tooth cassette, yielding an easiest ratio of 1.2:1. My mountain bike cassette gave me a final drive ratio of 1.25:1, as opposed to my usual climbing ratio of 1.44:1 (which Nate rode today to great success).
Rolling through town and into the park, our fearless leader Jeff negotiated our entrance to the park and we began our ascent. In good weather it was much easier than I had anticipated. With my heart rate safely in the green zone (155 b/min) we averaged about 9 mi/hr for most of the way up the mountain—which is very quick. Our first stop was at a turnoff with a spectacular view, where the van was parked but Jeff was nowhere to be found… he was on top of a cliff 80 feet above us taking pictures! Eric motored by us-he had resolved to climb without stopping (he did later, to take pictures of the wildlife). As we approached the summit, things began to get interesting. Alex, cranking his 42t middle ring like Jan Ullrich, Dave Mollitor, myself and Nate (with just a 39/27 top gear) were contending the King of the Mountains title. Mollitor dropped back and it was just the three approaching the summit, breathing hard in the rarefied air at 12,000ft. Strangely enough, my heart rate stayed a in the 160s—my legs were a bit toasted and I couldn’t crank any harder… and the mountain bike derailleur was being cantankerous (and the spacing of the mtb cassette was a bit wide at the top: 21, 24, 28, 32 teeth). Near a view spot, we spotted a guy in a Performance Bike jersey, riding a bike older than me, and climbing at a rather rapid rate. Nate shouted “should I chase him?” and then BAM! Takes off. I have some jump left in me and I catch on after looping around the Ford Expedition blocking my path. Apparently, this man raced with some big names back in the 70’s and 80s (I didn’t get a chance to ask him if he ever slugged it out with Swan…), and still had some speed left in him. Alex passed us and I latched on to him, and shortly after that Nate and the mystery man went blasting by us, and I tried to get on their train, to no avail. This guy then perfectly executed a sprint, hauling Nate along. After the mystery man pulled off, toasted, Nate flew over the top, passing the tiny 12,200ft sign on the side of the road, with me in pursuit–rather far back. Nate claimed the spotted jersey, and I caught him at the construction roadblock. As I hadn’t gotten a picture with the summit sign, I went back to find it. Assuming the sign would be at the apparent summit, I climbed back up the hill only to find nothing there. I asked a construction worker and after some more looping around I found the 6×10” sign stating simply “12,200ft”. My parents then arrived, and we went to the lunch stop at the visitor center.
Lunch was again provided by Cooper Leher’s parents, with a load of bananas and oranges contributed by mine (they were much appreciated!)
From the visitor center, there’s a trail to the top (12,005ft) where we took some great pictures and spread the message of why we’re biking across the country: “there are too many people paying too much for housing, and therefore can’t afford healthcare, education, food, or save for the future…”
And then the descent began. It was pretty cool at the top, and we dressed in our windproof best in preparation for the 40+ mi/hr descent. With fresh Kool-Stop black pads and wonderfully grippy Vittoria Corsa Evo KX tires, the limiting factor of the speed on the descent was my low weight and lack of nerve. With each hairpin, Nate moved further and further away, with Mollitor following him. We descended over 1000ft in minutes to the continental divide, and then continued until the nature photo stop where a female moose conveniently posed for us (at a reasonable distance of course). As we passed through the forest, I was amazed by the number of dead trees dotting the landscape-victims of the invasive Japanese Beetle.
We had well earned our ice cream stop in Grand Lake—and it was good, and a perfect pick-up to keep us rolling in to Granby. On the road to the middle school, there was a short steep hill, which became my chance for glory (I had to get it in somewhere hehe).
A great day of riding was capped off with a cookout—right now we’re firing up the camp stove for Nate’s dad to boil up some much needed cyclist-fuel: pasta