Climbing Mt. Evans by Bicycle

June 22, 2014

It’s true that a ride is a ride, and that any ride is better than no ride at all. But, if you ride, you know that there are rides, and then there are Rides.

In the weeks that I’ve been able to keep my suitcase unpacked, I’ve squeezed in lots of little rides; exploring all these roads in my hometown that I knew but didn’t really know. Or at least didn’t really understand until I covered them with my bicycle. All of this was feeling pretty good, but I was really craving a Ride. The kind  that *might* cause you to think twice about a second, or an eighth beer the night before. The kind where you subliminally acknowledge the tactile buzz in your arms, legs, and belly as you pack for the morning. Where you have to set a special alarm to wake in the dark, and roll into the day with a quiet and calm, as if you are saving up energy to be exhilarated and humbled out there. On Rides like this, your bicycle comes to a stop and feelings of relief, satisfaction, hunger and bliss fill you up; you don’t always get what you want out there, but you always get what you need.

Climbing to the Sun

 

When we were living in San Francisco, and I was training + racing, Rides like these were never more than a short text message away. Maybe even less. My girlfriends and I always knew where to go, never had to measure distances or perceived efforts. We knew the others were game. Without them, I find myself wondering – as I roll out the door – if what I’m rolling after will be what I want, or what I need, or will be anything notable at all; this speaks volumes about how much I miss their companionship, and maybe a bit about how badly I needed to reconnect with the road. So, I was starting to plot my own rendezvous, following a pieced-together-understanding of the layout of the towns in the mountains above Boulder. But then another group of new girlfriends swooped in and plopped an adventure right in front of my face.

Summer Snowpack w/ the Ten20 Team

I really had never considered climbing Mt. Evans by bicycle before; even though I grew up here in Boulder, I’ve never climbed any of our 14ers because, well, that’s just what a childhood spent swimming hours + hours on end in a pool does to your lot of life experiences. I didn’t know that the Mt. Evans’ Scenic Byway (at 14,265 feet) is the highest paved road in the U.S. I didn’t know that bicycles could pass on it, and so I certainly never counted it the type of adventure that could had in a single summer day.

I joined Team Ten20 as a way of meeting new women who were as addicted to the adventure + freedom of bikes as I am, and as we spun up the 6,575-foot ascent yesterday, I realized that adventure addicted women was exactly what I’d found. There was no batting of eyes at the 27 miles of climbing that lie between us and the summit, no concern with committing ourselves to the inevitable oxygen deprivation of riding that high. In fact, as we pedaled out of Idaho Springs, bound for Echo Lake, and then to the rocky, lunar landscape beyond, we cracked jokes about just what the lack of oxygen was going to do to our avid little bodies. “Geez! I hope I don’t totter off my saddle over that ledge!” No question, these women were game.

Tiny Man, Huge Accomplishment

It’s hard to do a Ride like this justice with words or pictures; it’s not the steepest or craziest mountain you’ll ever climb, but it is one of the most humbling. There aren’t many places that you can climb for four hours straight, or spin for 10 miles above the tree line. There also aren’t many places on the planet that can make you feel as insignificant, a speck on the tremendous mountains surrounding you. As luck would have it, rain clouds threatened our progress all morning but you’re high enough for the duration of the ride that it’s still quite easy to reap the visual rewards of your work. To the South, you can see Pikes Peak at 14,110-feet, and 14,259-foot Long’s Peak to the North. In the last miles of the climb, switch-backing up the West face of the mountain, endless view of the Rockies will take your attention away from the impact of the grade; it’s only 6 percent or so, but will feel like 10. I hear that, on a clear day, you can look East past Denver and actually see the curvature of the Earth. I kept my eyes out for this curvature even though deep down I knew that the weather would impede my view. Your brain does funny things when you aren’t breathing. As I wound my way up those miles on the East flank, I kept peeking for it, as if to see that this landscape, this experience was real. I never got that validation that I wanted. Instead, I got what I needed. 

I realized, somewhere after rolling off the East side of the mountain, through the valley where Summit Lake sits sleepily and before reaching the last miles of switchbacks before the summit entrance on the West side, that – more than having my legs feel trashed the next day, the calorie deficit that makes you hungry for everything in sight and your bicycle the next day – the humbling of a Ride what I had really been longing for. Without a training schedule or racing calendar, the athletic devil on my shoulder whispers that days not sprinkled with runs, rides, and sweaty romps is more lazy, more disgraceful, than those I survived while squishing sessions in around a 40-hour a week job, a home life, a life balance (or whatever semblance of one an athlete can keep when they’re fitting it all together.) I needed to be brought back to earth; to be reminded that being strong, avid, being an athlete isn’t always about being willing to kill yourself for your goals. I needed the reassurance that being hungry for a little adventure is worthy, and wonderful, and frankly, enough.

Obligatory Proof of Life

I needed to be reminded of how things transform when bikes are around, and to be refreshed with how bike rides bring people together. And how sacred that thing that people brought together by bikes share. It’s really good to have a few of those sacred things among these women now. I can’t wait to see where the next adventure will lead us, and what all these roads I’m sweating on now will look like in a few years when I know their curves, twists, and taunts by name.

 If you’re up for a little Mt. Evans Scenic Byway Ride yourself, here are a few notes: 

  • TIMING: It is best to start your journey as early in the day as possible to avoid automobiles and usual afternoon thunderstorms.
  • WATER/FOOD: Allow at least 3 to 4 hours to complete the trip to the summit. The only re-fueling stop on the mountain is the lodge at Echo Lake, where the hot chocolate is the best in the West, and the chili is pretty darn good too. They sell water, all myriad of souvenirs, and snacks if you’ve run out of rice cakes. There is no water on the mountain, so either plan on carrying all the water you’ll need or buying some at the lodge.
  • WEATHER: Regardless of the temperature at your start location, it will be cold at the top of the mountain. Prepare for the worst: carry a windbreaker and/or rain jacket to wear on the hour-plus descent along with gloves, and other thermal accessories you might want to keep your extremities warm. Next time, I’ll take those hand + foot warmers for my gloves and cycling shoes along with extra sunscreen.
  • ELEVATION: Remember at 14,000 feet there is 1/2 the amount of oxygen in the air as at sea level! Keep drinking and eating!
  • PARKING/LOGISTICS: It’s recommended to ride from Idaho Springs, and if you do, there are a handful of suggested parking spots. The Clear Creek Middle School parking lot that is on the south side of Hwy 103 just past the Clear Creek Ranger Station, is one of them. The  Ranger Station parking lot is another (with serviced bathrooms no less,), though space is limited. From here, its just under 30-miles to the summit of Mt. Evans and the route involves an elevation gain of 6,724 feet.
  • AFTERPARTY: Idaho Springs is a small town, with a few great places to eat, and raise glasses to celebrate your accomplishment. Tommyknocker is a favorite. 

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