Cycling in Colorado is equal parts drama, suffering and slack-jawed wonder served up in a scenic, lower oxygen environment. So we’re heading back for more. Our base of operations will once again be Winter Park. A slope-side condo that costs $300 a night during ski season is around $80 a night during the summer. Priceless views from our balcony with nightly consumption of apple crepes and strong coffee in itty bitty cups in the base village: what’s not to like?
Big mountain riding has it’s own unique vibe – and not just because the climbs and descents are long. Altitude, 5% humidity and volatile afternoon weather each add a degree of challenge and adventure. By necessity I’ll need to ease into my first few rides to give my body time to acclimate to one third less oxygen. But then the playground is open for business: with the Peak to Peak Highway, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mt Evans, and the surrounding high passes beckoning.
On the menu [in no particular order] is the Copper Triangle event – three passes over 78 miles, and finishing with the long climb up Vail Pass. I’ll be riding Willow Creek Pass, a double traverse of Berthoud Pass, Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Independence and Cottonwood passes south of Summit County. After Indy and Cottonwood – both above 12,000′ – the strategy is to rest a day and attempt Mt Evans. Climbing above 12K is a bit surreal, as the lower oxygen levels become painfully obvious to brain and body. The Mt Evans auto road tops out at 14,084…which why I use the word ATTEMPT. If I’m not caught in a lightening storm, don’t get hypothermic, throw up on my shifters or get run off the road by the local mountain goat herd…it should be fun. Some rides are so epic that they rent space in your head: this is one of them.
My dear, patient wife does not ride, but is, nonetheless, smitten by everything else the Rockies have to offer. She loves to get rid of me early in the day so she can wander with her camera, sketchbook and water colors. But she also has a special gift for showing up with a frosty bottle of coconut water as I toil up an alpine grade. It’s a wonderful partnership that’s grown over 33 years.
On Monday we’ll be counting the familiar hairpin turns on the way up Berthoud Pass. Then comes the abrupt descent, and the heartfelt HELLO to this place we love so much.