If you read my last blog, you’ll know I was heading out on a bicycle tour of Colorado last week. My goals for the tour were:
Ride as much as the tour as possible, while staying healthy.
This year has included a good bit of travel, stress and illness for me. It happens to nearly everyone at some point and this was my year.
I wanted the bike tour to boost my fitness and not send me into another illness setback. With those basic goals in mind, I set out on the tour.
Day 1: The tour went from Central City to Estes Park, Colorado. Since Estes is near my hometown, two of my riding buddies (Ed Shaw and Bruce Runnels) decided to start from the Front Range and ride to Estes as our day 1. With the storm already breathing down our necks, we left early and arrived at our favorite Notchtop Café literally 5 minutes before the rain began. (36 miles, 3443 ft. of climbing)
Day 2: We were all watching the weather, as big storm was moving into Colorado. Because riding over the highest paved road in the United States is such a big deal, everyone was hoping that the weather would allow officials to open the road. We rode from Estes Park to the parking lot for the now closed Hidden Valley (or Ski Estes Park) ski area and waited. Word was that it was snowing on the western slope and opening the road was a challenge.
After a good amount of watching and waiting, several of us (Ed, Bruce, Ron Kennedy, Linda Kennedy and I) all decided to ride back to Estes Park. We changed some clothes and headed off toward Central City. The goal was to ride as far as possible until the weather turned on us. (Keeping in mind the two primary goals.) We didn’t make it far before rain and cold put us into cars and shuttling around the Continental Divide to the town of Granby. (24 miles, 2411 ft. of climbing)
As it turns out, some riders made it across the divide in the really bad conditions. Every rider I spoke to that rode across said that if they knew how bad it was and how cold they would get, they would have declined the ride. Tour operators had to shuttle riders off of the mountains and around the high mountains from Estes to Granby.
Ron Kennedy, Scott Ellis, Linda Kennedy, Gale Bernhardt, Linda's friend (?) and Ed Shaw wait in the parking area for word about opening Trail Ridge Road. Behind us, snow is falling on the peaks and clouds cover the mountains.
The snow, rain and fog made visibilty low going over Berthoud Pass in a car. Trail Ridge Road had to be worse - and people confirmed it was bad. We made the right decision to be in a warm car.
Looking ahead, the predicted weather for the remainder of the tour looked great - hot weather. But, this meant high running rivers. We knew there were already problems with flooding and likely more problems waiting.
With Colorado weather you must, I repeat must, be prepared for a sudden change in weather. Yesterday, the Front Range saw temperatures in the low 80s. The wind blew over 90 mph last night and fueled a 25-acre wildfire into to a 2,000+ acre inferno.
Today was a different story.
One weather forecast had us beginning at 57 degrees at 9:00 am, dropping to 32 degrees by 1:00 pm with snow moving in at noon. Pessimists.
The second forecast I had matched two other forecasts from people in my driveway ready to try roll out for group bike ride. That was a 40-degree Fahrenheit start with a spot of rain around noon, and temperatures remaining in the low 50s, high 40s.
We all liked the second forecast better and more sites agreed on this general forecast. We happily rolled out at of the driveway at 52 degrees (elevation 5,000 ft.)
The goal was to make it to Estes Park and back, a ride that would last around 3.5 hours. Nine of us started the ride, with three of us packing extra clothes in case of bad weather.
After just over an hour into the ride, all but three of us decided to turn back. It had begun to rain and you could see a wall of nasty weather in the distance.
Before I go on, in our defense, we’ve all gambled with weather and won. We’ve beaten the devil and that feels nice –triumphant.
In the photo below, Ron Kennedy, Paul Ford and I are in the town of Glen Haven, Colorado (elevation 7,700 ft.) I put on some long pants and the guys add more clothes as well. It’s snowing some, as you can see, but the roads are “just” wet. It’s only about 2.7 miles to our destination, the top of the switchbacks. We are confident we can make it to the top (around 8,300 ft.) and descend into Estes Park (about 7,500 ft.) There we’ll have something warm to drink at the Notchtop Cafe and call my husband Del to come and pick us up. (A pre-arranged emergency response possibility. We will all suffer a lot before making that call and not riding home.)
In just a half a mile after this photo was taken, there was slush on the road and the temperature was dropping. We managed to ride another mile or so before our rear tires could not hold the road due to snow. Within a mile of the top, we decided to turn around.
One of the problems we faced is no cell phone coverage in the canyon and no stores are open in the winter. We lucked out because a man in a Glen Haven real estate office allowed us to use the phone to call Del. After the call, he locked up the store and left.
We waited on his porch for awhile, but we all started to get cold. Really cold.
Deciding that riding would keep us warmer and surely the weather would improve as we descended, we set out downhill.
The weather did not improve. The roads that were just wet a few minutes ago are now snow-covered and slick. There’s no pedaling due to the road conditions, we have brain-freeze because of the wind, we can’t see because of snow caking on our glasses, frozen derailleurs aren’t shifting and now our toes and fingers are getting really cold.
At this point, huddling together in a park service port-a-potty seemed like a good option. We tented our bikes so Del would not drive past us. With no cell phone service in the canyon, we didn’t want him to pass us.