Monday, June 23
Estes Park to Granby
…and when they rose up, the wheels would rise with them
At the meeting at the end of this day’s ride, tour leader Greg observed that the ride was maybe “a little past fun.” At the meeting at the end of this day’s ride, rider Jack thought, “Oh. My. Goodness.” It was the defining day of the Rocky Mountain tour and one of the most amazing days that I have spent on a bike. Amazing enough that I plan to devote several postings to its description. Let’s get started...
Today is the day I rise up. In fact, I’ll rise up farther by just over 1,382 medium sized yaks than I have ever been before. Well, there were those times I was buckled into the aisle seat, enfolded in the Bose headphones and the music from my iPod’s My Favorites playlist. But this was to be alfresco. On a bike. It was at once a spectacular ride and, at least for me, a test of endurance, physical and mental. We rode over, I was told, the highest paved, through-road in the U.S. The sights were awe inspiring: forests, fields, rivers, the bleak landscape above the tree line where the snow is still 10 feet deep in late June.
The climb started even before we left Estes Park. Just west of town, we ride into the forested hills. A river, with more sense than us riders, was running downhill. Numerous Bed and Breakfast resorts were tucked away in nooks and crannies between (cue Pam Tillis) the river and the highway. This was much more my pre-trip image of Estes Park than the in-town experience of yesterday.
I arrive at the Rocky Mountain National Park entrance at the 6 mile point and pay the $10 entrance fee. It was just a couple of miles to Sheep Lakes, an area purportedly oft inhabited by bighorn sheep. But not oft enough. Bicycles are, apparently, effective bighorn sheep repellants. At this point, I think, “Only 17 miles to the top of Trail Ridge Road. Not even like a round trip to Stoddard.” I was right. It was nothing at all like a round trip to Stoddard. Looking up, I could see, just barely, the road winding around the forested mountain rising above the meadow.
There's the road. Up there. WAY up there.
From here on, the climb was relentless. It is never as steep as many of the hills we trained on around La Crosse, but it just keeps going up. At the 10.2 mile point, we get a choice: turn right onto Trail Ridge Road and continue the climb or go left on Highway 36, dropping back down into Estes Park. Perhaps one of the B&B’s has a comfy cabin? Oh, well, right it is. Up, up, up. The higher I go, the more I can feel the effects of the exertion in this place where oxygen only works part-time. I’d had a bit of a headache all along, but nothing that the distractions of the ride and the ibuprofen I take for my back couldn’t keep in the background. One of the symptoms is the feeling that you just want to put down the bike, find a comfortable rock to lie down on and take a nap. Sleepy-tired added to the fatigue of physical exertion. At a couple of points, I got a little “out of focus” and would weave around a bit. Not a good move in this state that both hangs roads on the side of steep mountains and disdains guardrails. So, I’d stop, unclip and put my feet on the ground, at which point my legs would tremor for a few seconds. The shock of suddenly not being required to propel me and the bike up the hill, I guess.
What a great road.
Getting nearer to the first water stop at Rainbow Curve, the road steepens a bit; assisted by the ever-decreasing oxygen content, this makes the climbing even more challenging. I stop at the 17.7 mile point to reflect on being, as noted on the sign by the side of the road, two miles above sea level. Only 8 miles and 1,600 feet of climbing and I’ll be at the top.
Two miles hIgh! And not at the top yet.
It was at about this point, Bill had told me, that his friend DIrk had stopped to rest on a ride several years ago. A couple on a tandem came up and asked DIrk if he happened to have a spare derailleur [spare DERAILLEUR?]. Fighting fatigue, Dirk's response was, more or less, "Derailleur? You can take the whole #*%@# bike!" I had thought he meant this to be a witty response to an unusual request. Now I see how he just might have been serious.
Soon enough, I'm back on the bike, rising up once again towards the summit.
To be continued...