I was excited for the days ride, it would take me higher in elevation than I had been before on a bicycle. I live at 8,000' and am no stranger to riding in the high country, but Trail Ridge Road and it's 12,183' high point had me wondering what it was going to feel like pedaling a 45 lb bike uphill while slowly starting to asphyxiate. The one thing I knew is that this would take me higher than the highest point on my upcoming Tour Divide, so if I passed this test, I probably wasn't going to have any problems with elevation during the race.
I packed up camp hastily and charged up my cell phone while in the process. Once I had everything back on the bike I departed the camping platform and headed over to the campground office to get some supplies. Upon entry the same woman that was at the desk the night before greeted me and asked me if I had seen the moose walking around by my camp. "Yes" I replied, and proceeded to recount the happenings of the morning. She then rang me up for a coffee, a few candy bars, some nutritional goodies, and some Gatorade. I thanked her for the nights stay, gulped down the coffee and headed out towards Rocky Mountain National Park.
Almost immediately upon leaving the campground and rejoining the main road I came upon the sign I had seen the day before.
It was only about another half mile until I came to the official entry and stopped for the obligatory bike shot.
|Rocky Mountain National Park|
Pedaling onward, the mountains I was going to have to breach this day to get to the eastern slope of the front range were growing larger. I came to the National Park entry gate and paid my 10$ bicycle fee happily while gaping up at the mountains on a gorgeous morning. Soon after getting through, Trail Ridge Road officially began. I was psyched.
|Trail Ridge Road|
Slowly rising across the flats the road went until finally it started the meat of it's climb. After going through just a few switchbacks I scared up a couple moose, they crashed off into the woods quickly and I kept riding, ever upward. I was watching my Garmin eTrex 30's elevation plot, knowing that I had about 3,500' of climbing ahead. The grade was manageable and steady, I was starting to hit a cadence that I felt would spin me up and over the high point.
While winding my way up through the pine forests I was elated, "finally under way," I kept thinking to myself. There are few things more exhilerating to me than riding a bike in the mountains on a beautiful day with no other commitments to distract the mind. Puffing at a steady rate, I continued my pedaling mantra and smiled looking out at the powerful views through the trees. Up and up I went.
I was feeling darn good and gaining elevation quickly, thinking to myself, "this isn't as hard as I thought it would be." Snow patches were starting to give way to snow pack, and after about 40 minutes I came to what would be my first Continental Divide crossing of the trip. Milner Pass. Milner Pass passes at 10,759', so it's not nearly the top of Trail Ridge Road. I took a quick picture and kept heading upward.
|Milner Pass, yes, my bike is facing the wrong way in the picture. I was eastbound.|
|The view from Medicine Bow Curve, RMNP|
When you are that high up, it seems like the weather moves very quickly, and although the dark cloud was still threatening when I finished my coffee, I continued onward and upward. Winding it's way through the high alpine tundra the panorama of views were almost like those from an airplane. The edge of the big dark cloud is visible in this next shot:
|View from Trail Ridge Road at first curve past the Alpine Visitors Center|
Almost at the high point now the views continued to be amazing:
And finally I reached the high point of Trail Ridge Road at 12,183':
|The high point of Trail Ridge Road at 12,183'|
The byway climbs out of Estes Park on one of the sketchier roads I've ever been on. Rubble strewn about the pavement, cars whizzing by coming out of blind corners with no regard for safety. I was happy to get out of the more trafficked section coming out of Estes Park and on to more remote stretches with less cars. That being said, the ride was quite nice once away from the population center and I moved along steadily, stopping a few times to enjoy views of Longs Peak and other attractions.
Getting ready to stop for the night I came in to a tiny blip on the map called Ward, CO.. I pulled in to the only business that looked open, the Millsite Inn, and there was a pizza sign out front... oh how I hoped I'd be able to score a pizza before trying to find some place to camp for the night... No such luck, upon bellying up to the bar for a soda they informed me that they weren't making pizza this night. Shucks! I slammed down a couple of sodas, chatted with the bartender who was very personable and told of some of the local history and inquired about any place up the road to camp. She told me of a locals spot not to far down the road and to look for a gated road that supposedly had a platform to set a tent up not too far off the highway. I thanked her and started rolling. In the twilight I must have missed the supposedly obvious gated road and just kept pedaling for a while until I found a dirt jug-handle pull-off next to the highway somewhere between Ward and Nederland. I set up my tent behind a dirt pile in the pull-off to deter any curiosity from people on the highway and crawled inside. As I was falling asleep I had the thought that I hoped no-one would come whizzing through the jug-handle that night at highway speeds and take me out. Traffic seemed infrequent I told myself as I drifted off to sleep thinking of what may await me in the weeks to come on Tour Divide. This was the end of day 2 pedaling to Denver.
Didn't catch the Day 1 post? Here's a link to it.