Trail Ridge Road is wholly contained within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park. The alpine section of the road – which tops out at 12,095 feet – is fully above treeline, and exposed to the elements.
As I pulled through the switchbacks on the mid section of the climb, it became increasingly obvious that it was quite windy up above. The patches of sun disappeared and the temperature dropped sharply as I rolled over Milner Pass. A sudden gust hit me sideways, and for a brief moment I felt the bike lift up beneath me. When I rolled out this morning I couldn’t possibly know that TODAY would be THE DAY I finally GOT the twister scene from the Wizard of Oz. You know, the two guys in a rowboat flying through the sky?
The winds continued to build as I ascended. I felt strong and relatively warm until I came to some road construction, and had to wait 15 minutes for the lane to open to uphill traffic. I couldn’t regain the warmth I lost, and the race against time began as I felt my core temperature drop. In the world of hypothermia shivering is on the mild end of the scale. My concern was that, on the severe end of the scale, my coordination began to suffer as I battled 40 mph winds that threatened to blow me off the roadway. Did I mention it was 42 degrees?
I sprinted the last 100 yards to the Alpine Visitor Center and sought out my wife – who took one look at me and went to find a cup of hot cocoa. The National Park Service not only sells hot cocoa in it’s visitor centers, but also warm clothing…more specifically, really warm fleece jackets. This grateful taxpayer forked over the funds to purchase one. In the picture at the left you can see that very same jacket, and the beginning of my first smile in about an hour.
I left the summit in the passenger seat of the Subaru to get past the construction, and the potential of another long wait in the cold and wind. Two miles later I pulled the Grey Goose out of the car and finished the descent on an empty road. Few things are more fun than the freedom to use all of the traffic lane to set up for each turn – except maybe my wife following behind and taking video.
It was 77 in the valley, and after a quick stop to drop all my layers, I rode full tilt boogie the last 15 miles. [If you don’t know about FULL TILT BOOGIE it’s okay…it’s a 70’s thing that probably had something to do with Burt Reynolds]
In the last two miles I flatted and experienced two more of the aforementioned gusts to round-out today’s cycling experience.
It was a day of extremes.