Chet fleshes out Jim's Trailridge experience

Discussion in 'Road Cycling' started by Cycle America/N, Jun 26, 2003.

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  1. Here is an article I just got from Chet Rideout who has been a long time fan of the NBG and who I
    had the good fortune to meet when I spoke in Fort Collins. CO in 1999 as a part of that city's
    bicentennial celebration. Often on the two wheel road, Chet was in between tours when we met. In his
    well written piece below, I think you will get a small taste of how formidable the Rocky Mtns that
    Jim and Greg are working through really are. THX Chet:
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Martin: I was interested in the article about climbing Trail Ridge Road
    - I'm attaching an article I published about a similar climb my friends and I did last year, which
    appeared in Tandem and Recumbent Rider Magazine:

    Regards, Chet Rideout

    Crossing 12,000 Three Times Chet Rideout 1204 Aspen Dr. Berthoud, CO 80513

    I've done several self contained bike tours, many of them with my Italian friend Piero Tassinari,
    but this summer it looked like he was going to tour with his Italian friends in Asia. After 9/11 his
    destination - Islamabad - no longer looked like a wise option, and I asked him again if we could
    tour here in Colorado. He finally said yes, but limited himself to two weeks, so I got planning. We
    had the worst drought imaginable this summer, making the state a tinderbox for forest fires, and the
    lowlands (below 6,000 feet) were hot and dry. As a result I decided the higher the better, and
    planned a tour which included several high passes. My research showed that the highest continuous
    passes in the United States, both paved and unpaved, are right here in Colorado; my developing plan
    was to cross all three of those that are paved and over 12,000 feet in one tour.

    Our success at this would involve a little luck, since a huge wildfire southwest of Denver was
    burning during the time I set my plans, and this was near our starting point. I scheduled the
    crossings of the highest passes on weekdays, and also gave us three days of riding before tackling
    our first big climb. I figured it would take thirteen days, two of which were rest days that we
    could use when needed, and we would finish up at my house. It also occurred to me that Ken McKee
    from Edmonton, Alberta, who rode for several days with Piero and me on our tour from Jasper to Grand
    Teton two years ago, might be interested in joining us. It didn't take much convincing; he wrote
    back immediately to say he would like to join us, making it a truly international group of three.

    I always tour on a LWB recumbent, currently on a Vision R40 with underseat steering. Piero was
    riding his Speed Ross SWB recumbent with above seat steering, and both of us were pulling trailers.
    Piero used my BOB one wheel trailer, whereas I used my new two wheel Quik-Pak trailer. Ken was a
    little more traditional on his mountain bike with front and back panniers. Ken talked us into
    leaving our stove and pots behind in the interests of climbing lighter. He didn't have much trouble
    persuading us on this matter. After attending the Loveland fireworks on the 4th of July, we packed
    up to leave the next morning.

    My wife, Lynn, drove us in my well packed car (three bikes, two trailers, and four people and gear)
    through Denver to Grant, a small town on Highway 285, where we had breakfast and made our start at
    about 8,800 feet altitude. I had remembered Grant as a place where the road became a little more
    bike friendly, and this proved to be the case when a good shoulder appeared just 100 yards out of
    town. We had stiff climbs that first day, crossing Kenosha and Red Hill passes, both at 10,000 feet.
    Our biggest concern resulted from a conversation with a tourist, who informed us that Colorado's
    National Forests had just been closed to all camping. "It's been in all the papers, haven't you
    heard about it?" We hadn't, and now we wondered about our plans to use Colorado campgrounds. When we
    rolled into Fairplay we found she had badly overstated the case; only the campgrounds in the Pike
    National Forest were affected.

    We stayed at a trailer park in Fairplay, enjoying breakfast at the Brown Burro, and made great time
    the next day on mostly level roads. We climbed to Trout Creek Pass (9,350 feet) and enjoyed a
    wonderful downhill at speeds of around 30 mph for eight miles into Buena Vista. Here we were at less
    than 8,000 feet, so we looked forward to a lot of climbing in the next few days.

    The climb out of Buena Vista is a steady one, and we camped a few miles above Twin Lakes at 9,370
    ft. By this time we had fallen into a rhythm of going to bed with the sun, rising early for a solid
    breakfast, and biking our entire day by 1:00 or 2:00. In our campground, which was right near Lake
    Creek, we were visited by hummingbirds and pigmy nuthatches. We were dismayed when we rode back to
    Twin Lakes for Sunday supper to find everything closed - we had to settle for warmed up burritos and
    ham and cheese at the convenience store, but did our best to scrounge enough calories for the big
    climb coming up.

    Independence Pass is quite a workout, and we got an early start after a banana and granola bar
    breakfast. It really is a pleasant climb, since the pitch isn't absolutely constant. We hit it on a
    sunny weekday, and the road was in great condition with spectacular scenery. The last four miles
    comprised the majority of the climbing. Up top at 12,095 feet we enjoyed a snack and photos. Then we
    got the payoff for our efforts - miles of glorious downhill to roll into Aspen on a warm day.

    Here we found a great room at the St. Moritz, and opted to stay for two nights. The man behind the
    counter expressed disbelief that we had ridden over the pass with loaded touring bikes. He informed
    us that minor offences in Aspen are frequently reduced if the offender agrees to bicycle up the
    pass! The rest day gave us time to enjoy Aspen's ambience and try several of its great restaurants.
    On our "rest day" we biked with cameras up to Maroon Lake. This memorable spot costs money by car
    (during crowded times drivers must park and take a shuttle bus), but bicycle riders get through the
    entry gate for free. The three of us were in complete agreement that the National Parks should adopt
    this same philosophy! The weather had cooled a little that day, and in the afternoon we enjoyed
    floating in the hotel's swimming pool and having a chance to catch up on the laundry.

    Heading out of Aspen we found the Santa Fe bike trail, and had a leisurely ride down to a very hot
    Glenwood Springs. We stayed at the Hideout Campground, which for the first time in its history did
    not have a stream flowing through it due to the drought. Although we didn't try soaking at the hot
    springs in town we did find a delicious Italian meal with red wine, and attended "Jazz in the Park."
    Here I was given some advice on our route for the next day by a native, but I should have noticed
    the warning flag - this man who had never been on the road with anything but his car raved of the
    scenery and said the road was "flat." We returned content and tired to our campground. We found that
    Glenwood Springs was at around 6,800 feet altitude, so we realized that we had some action packed
    days on our way back to 12,000 feet again.

    We got an early start after a great breakfast, and rode up the bike trail through Glenwood Canyon.
    This is an amazing trail which follows the river for some 12 miles, passing below and next to the
    incredibly engineered canyon section of I 70. We then turned northeast up the old road that follows
    the Colorado River for an incredibly difficult day. I had heard that some towns on the map (like
    Burns) really did not exist, and that we had to make it all the way to Toponas (a total ride of 66
    miles). After our first fifteen miles, as expected, this road changed from very rough pavement to
    packed dirt, increasing our rolling resistance and slowing us down. What we didn't know is that this
    "flat road" really involved several excursions up to the plateau tops and back to riverside whenever
    narrow canyons prevented road construction near the water. Add to this the daily vertical gain of
    perhaps 1,500 feet, together with the rough road, and you have the makings for a workout. The entire
    ride involved a temperature of perhaps 95 degrees, and we kept running out of water, getting
    restocked at homesteads and passing cars along the way. When we finally reached Toponas we were
    totally spent, and had sandwiches and drinks at the gas station in town, the town's only watering
    hole. That night by way of compensation we were treated to the most fantastic view of the skies I've
    ever seen. Stars were visible to perhaps the 8th magnitude, and the milky way was a brilliant river
    of white crossing the sky. Constellations took on completely new shapes with all of the extra stars
    within their borders!

    After a great sleep, waking occasionally to listen to the coyote chorus, we found ice on our
    trailers and panniers as we packed our bikes. We seemed to be fully recovered as we headed up to
    Gore Pass. This is a great road with a varied pitch and minimal traffic, topping out at 9,527 feet.
    We passed mule deer on the way up, a few of which bounded across the road just ahead of us. The
    downhill was smooth and pretty continuous to Kremmling, and the traffic was light. We continued on
    to Hot Sulfur Springs where we set up camp in the park near the river. After enjoying some cooling
    in the big pool at the hot springs we visited a mountain man rendezvous at the park, where we
    learned of the frontier history of the 19th century, and we decided to stay put for the next day to
    see more. That night Ken and I revisited the hot springs, and found a perfect hot tub soak for our
    tired legs. The combination of hot springs and a true rest day did the trick, and on the day
    following we eagerly headed north toward the town of Granby. In the morning I saw the grand sight of
    two ravens pursuing a huge golden eagle that was flying above us. I was shocked to see the enormous
    Granby Reservoir, which was this year about a quarter of its normal size. I estimated due to drought
    that its level was 50 feet lower than usual. The town of Grand Lake was our lunch destination, and
    afterwards we rested near the boat docks, going in for an occasional swim. After a huge pizza supper
    (what a mistake!) we struggled the 16 uphill miles to Timber Creek Campground, which is the last
    campground in Rocky Mountain National Park before climbing Trail Ridge Road.

    Our breakfast was plenty adequate for the climb on the next morning, but the temperature was around
    freezing. We started the ride at over 9,000 feet, and found it difficult to keep our hands and feet
    warm enough despite steady exertion. We climbed to the continental divide at 10,759 feet on Milner
    Pass, but this is only a preview of coming attractions, not the summit. About a mile further we
    climbed to above treeline and could see the road stretching ahead in the open. We stopped at the
    Visitor Center for some lunch, and then biked up to the high point of the road at 12,183 feet. From
    here Trail Ridge Road works its way across the tundra for six glorious miles, dropping perhaps 500
    feet and rising again at Rock Cut to 12,110 feet. In every direction are spectacular mountain peaks,
    valleys, and lakes, and we saw herds of elk and many playful marmots. I think this is easily the
    most spectacular pass in Colorado, continuing as it does for miles above the treeline. Most passes,
    which have roads designed more for utility than display, are quickly crossed by a road which
    promptly heads back down into the trees.

    Now we earned our final payoff. For the rest of today and tomorrow we would ride down to my home in
    Berthoud, so we had 7,000 vertical feet of spectacular downhill riding ahead! We wound our way down
    to Deer Mountain Pass, and through Horseshoe Park toward the Aspenglen Campground. Piero and I made
    the sharp turn into the campground, and we were dismayed to see in our rearview mirrors that Ken
    tipped over on gravel at a pretty good speed at the entrance and slid across the road. We rushed
    back to find his injuries limited to road rash on one elbow and shoulder, and while he was being
    cleaned up at the Ranger Station, my wife quite unexpectedly arrived by car. She plied us with a
    variety of food and drinks, which we devoured in typical touring biker fashion. After soaking our
    feet in Fall River, Lynn took Ken and his bike back to our house, and Piero and I tented and
    prepared for our last day.

    The two of us rolled into nearby Estes Park for a tasty breakfast at the Egg and I, and then turned
    off past MacGregor Ranch on the Devil's Gulch Road. This scenic route climbs some 500 feet before
    plunging down through switchbacks to a continuous winding downhill through Glen Haven on the North
    Fork of the Big Thompson River. It was a spectacular morning, and we enjoyed the shady ride,
    accompanied by the babbling stream and birdsongs. We joined Highway 34 at Drake, and rolled down
    along the Big Thompson through Loveland and finally south to my home in Berthoud. As we arrived at
    my house Piero and I saw puffs of smoke in the mountains to the west from a new forest fire which
    had begun toward Estes Park. We found that Ken was doing well, and it was great to see Lynn and eat
    some of her great home cooking again. We kept tabs on the fire, and that night we could see the
    flames from our front porch. By the next day it had become a raging inferno covering thousands of
    acres, and huge pillars of smoke were filling the sky; quite a sobering end to our bike adventure.

    Our tour was quite a success; we rode 450 miles in 12 days, and of the eight passes crossed three
    were at more than 12,000 feet. Ken's accident did little to dampen his spirits; two days later he
    drove off with a cheerful wave, and Piero's jet left Denver International Airport for England and
    then Italy, leaving me with a lonely but contented feeling. All of us were thrilled with all we had
    seen and done, and we are basking in the memories of this ride. We're now looking forward to our
    next bike touring adventure.     


    MARTIN KRIEG: "Awake Again" Author c/o BikeRoute.com 79 & 86 TransAms, nonprofit Nat. Bicycle
    Greenway CEO Ever wanted anything so bad U were willing to die for it? Really die? By moving thru
    clinical death and reversing paralysis, *I saw God* when I answered that question.
     
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