It was definitely the worst road conditions and the coldest ride start for me. It also ranks in my top two toughest rides to Estes Park.
Those of you that have followed the blog for awhile know that a few riders in our Sunday ride group have a goal of riding from Loveland to Estes Park once per month, year round. (From the Colorado Front Range of ~5000ft. to the mountain town of Estes at ~7500 ft., often taking the route that pops you up to 8000ft. before dropping into the Estes valley.) If you achieve the once-per-month goal, you receive the coveted Turd Trophy Award. And who would not want lacquered elk droppings glued to a fine, hand crafted, award?
As you might imagine, the months of December, January and February are the toughest to accomplish. Winter storms can make the road dangerous to ride on a road bike. Because the 32 mile trip from Loveland to Estes is mostly uphill, it is possible to dress warm and ride a mountain bike up; but not back down (due to sand and ice). Sometimes it’s not safe to ride the canyon at all, so ride timing becomes critical.
Yesterday there was some scrambling to organize a road ride to Estes. After road reports came back that the road shoulders were snowy, we decided to abandon the road ride idea. Several phone calls back and forth; looking at the upcoming forecast for snow and cold; the thought of riding indoors; trying to bag the December Estes; and some hand-wringing lead to two of us planning to ride to the top of the switchbacks with an 8:00 am departure time. Oddly, this same scenario is how the once-per-month Estes ride began a few years ago.
At 8:00am this morning, Todd Singiser showed up at my house. He commented, “Gee, the thermometer read 8 degrees when I got up.” This resulted in us laughing, making fun of ourselves and also convincing ourselves that it certainly warmed up since he got out of bed, pre-dawn. (Read: denial)
As we rolled out of town, it was definitely cold. It was colder than I remember at the start of any Estes ride. As we rolled west, I imagined what people in cars were saying about us. I suspect the word “idiot” was used more than once.
Remarkably, two of the toes on my right foot were the only thing that was cold after about 45 minutes of riding. Not bad considering we were riding in a shaded canyon, ice-capped river next to us and had a head wind to boot. Granted it wasn’t a stiff headwind, but headwind nonetheless.
After riding about 1:20 I tried to get a drink from my hydration pack. Even though I filled it with hot water and it has a neoprene cover for the drinking tube, I couldn’t get a single drop out. I did manage to dislodge the pea-sized ice chunk in the mouth piece, but the line was frozen. No water.
I had to take the entire line and wrap it inside the pack to thaw it out. After about 15 minutes I had water. Ah…
Del, my husband, agreed to sag for us. The plan was for him to leave the house roughly 1:45 after we left so he would meet us after about 2:30 ride time.
Worth mention is when the clock was at 1:20, I was wishing Del was there with us. There is a good chance I would have gotten into the car and called it a day. It’s only the 5th of the month, plenty of time to try another ride. Just keep pedaling, push the sag demons away. (As if I had a choice at this point anyway.) I was pathetically slow, unable to get out of my own way. Thankfully, Todd was willing to wait and ride with me.
At just over two hours of ride time, we saw Del and sag-dog Meeka. Wahoo! Though the road has gone from snowy shoulder to mostly snow packed, we’ve gone too far to quit now. Must keep pedaling…
Near the town of Glen Haven, head winds picked up. Perfect. Wouldn’t want this to be too easy.
Just west of Glen Haven are the notorious switchbacks. My computer has logged the grades of the switchbacks between 13 and 18 percent. I’ve gotten a couple of 20 percent readings, but I suspect those readings happened to come at the steepest part of the corner, which only lasts for a few feet. Below is our approach to the second set of switchbacks.
There is no doubt, this was a tough ride for me. The last two miles were the toughest. I was tired, it was windy and my left inner thigh was threatening to seize-up on me. It took us 2:53 to make it to the celebration point at the top. In the summer on road bikes, we can usually ride this distance in right around 2:00.
With Longs Peak over our shoulders, Del offered to snap a photo before we headed to Estes for something warm to drink.
The first thing I did was hit the hot tub when we made it back to Loveland.
After a shower and reviewing the photos, I decided to check WeatherUnderground to see what the morning temperature was when we rolled out. I’m glad I didn’t know before we left, because I might not have started.
Sometimes it’s better not to know it’s 10.9 degrees at ride start.