Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mt. Evans Epic Climb

About a month ago I submitted this story to a local writing contest where you basically spoke about an epic ride you completed in 2008. My story deals with our climb to the top of Mt. Evans during our Colorado road trip. Since submitting the story, I have not heard a word. So, I decided to post it here. I spent too long on it for it to remain hidden in "My Documents" on my computer.

(Note: This a little longer then my normal blog.)

You know it’s going to be an epic adventure when you start planning a year in advance. In July 2007, a friend of mine participated in the Courage Classic, which is a 3-day charity ride in and around Copper Mountain, Colorado. When he returned, he could not stop talking about it. So a plan was set in motion for a bunch of us to hit the road in 2008 and road trip from Sonoma California to Colorado.

This was going to be a very cool trip for me for many reasons. First, I have never cycled in Colorado and I simply love the idea of turning the pedals in new places. You see I only started cycling about 5 years ago so there is still a lot of new road to ride. But perhaps even more importantly, I have never done the whole “road trip with the guys” thing.

After months of planning it finally came down to 6 guys heading out for 8 days. Another good friend owns Fitness Journal, an online system for tracking your activities. He also has a fully wrapped RV and decided to sponsor the Courage Classic. So at 6:30 on a Tuesday evening, we piled into the RV with a trailer full of bike gear in tow and headed for Colorado.

Since this story is mostly about the Mt. Evans climb, allow me to simply provide a synopsis of the trip to Colorado. The margarita machine was running full speed and 4 of the crew were hammered before we reached Reno. We spent the night under the stars in the Nevada dessert; cycled Colorado National Monument's Rim Rock Drive; had a waitress at a brew pub offer to help us make a guy puke and finally, we totally freaked out our Mormon hotel van driver when we ask – “Where can a guy with $900 in cash find a hooker with a hump in Grand Junction?”

By Thursday afternoon we were all checked into the house we rented and began planning Friday’s ride. The destination was Mt Evans. For those of you who are as unfamiliar with Mt. Evans as I was, let me provide a few details. The summit is at 14,240 feet although the road only reaches a mere 14,130. It is the highest paved road in North America as it rises from an elevation of 7,555’ in Idaho Springs. I’ll let you do the math on the elevation gain. The total route is just over 28 miles. That’s right, 28 miles of uphill adventure. The only consolation is that unlike Sonoma County climbs, which regularly exceed grades of 10% and higher, Mt. Evans ranges from 1.2% to 6.3% with the overall average weighing in at a respectable 4.45%.

We arrive in Idaho Springs bright and early Friday morning. As we all began assembling the bikes and preparing for the ride, I felt like I was part of some Continental Pro team. There we were, 6 guys in matching kits pulling bikes out of a matching RV. It was too frigging cool! After some final photos we are off.

The plan is for everyone to climb at his pace so we anticipate splitting up. At first I gave some thought to breaking Tom Danielson’s record of 1:41:20. Then I remembered I was on vacation and settled into a more relaxed rhythm. I found my pace and settled in for the long haul. My best guess was around 3 and a half hours of climbing were coming my way.

Up and up I go. I managed to stay in the middle ring and just kept turning the pedals at a pace that allowed me to soak up the scenery. I am not a professional and I wanted to thoroughly enjoy my Colorado riding experience. At the 14 mile, and 10,600’ mark, we stopped at the Echo Lake General Store to restock. Just past the store was the Ranger’s Station where we each paid $3.00 for the right to climb 14 more miles.

At 12,000 feet we left the trees behind and were treated to expansive views of the Rockies and Mt. Evans itself. Every time you came around a curve you had a new majestic view. In some cases, you could see for miles across the valley to the road you would eventually reach. Mt. Evans came in and out of view depending on the road. People are driving by in cars with the same quizzical look on their face as if to ask, “Don’t you know you can drive to the top?”

The final push consisted of a series of 13 switchbacks. I was beginning to fatigue so my mind started playing tricks on me. I was asking myself if the mountain actually had a summit and reminding myself if I see bright light do not go towards it. The lack of oxygen was not helping. And suddenly, I was in the parking lot with people everywhere applauding my efforts.

I was the fourth member of the team up. So we hung around and waited for the others while answering questions like, “Did you ride from the Ranger’s Station (14 miles)? No we replied. We started in Idaho Springs. Each time we said that invoked a look of either great admiration or great stupidity with nothing in between.

After waiting out a lightening storm, we begin the descent. The road is not in great shape for the first 10 or so miles down. So between rough pavement, no guardrails (like they would help) and drops that lasted for thousands for feet, we all take the descent pretty easy. I was most impressed with the cars. Each car we caught from behind pulled aside and allowed us to pass. Now that’s a sign of respect.

We regrouped at the Visitor Center and took off again. This is where the road became very smooth and we are letting it rip. We are all hitting speeds of 45 miles an hour or more. It was simply heaven on a bike. All that changed when it began to rain. Then it started to rain hard. Then we were pounded by hail. Now our kick-ass descent became a matter of holding on for dear life.

We all made it down to the General Store, which had a bar. Let it rain! We’re getting something to drink. But, since we still had 14 miles of wet road to descend we settle on hot chocolates and watch it rain. Finally, the rain subsided and we are rolling once again. The rest of the ride down was pretty uneventful but very fun.

Back at the RV it was time to pack up and head into town. We found yet another brew pub and settled down for a lunch of burgers, beer and stories.

The grand total was 3 hours and 30 minutes to the top and just over 1 hour of ride time back down. Add to that the feeling of conquering the highest paved road in North America and hopefully you can see why this ride defines epic for me. In the end, the scenery, the challenge, the descent, and the camaraderie where worth every ounce of effort I used to reach the summit.

I cannot wait to see what epic adventures the future has in store. Until then, I’ll just keep riding my bike.