One of the rides that I've been eyeing for several years was riding up from Nederland over Rollins Pass to Winter Park. I'd seen the pictures of the high mountain peaks in the background as a rider rolled across the twin trestles that remained from the days when a working railroad used this to go over the continental divide. Several of my friends had organized trips going over and back, but it never worked out for me to join.
Finally this year the stars aligned that had good weather, schedule availability and me with enough fitness. This isn't an easy day in the saddle despite most of the climbing being on railroad grades. Its all above 9,000 feet (up to 11,600 feet at the top), its exposed and there are few bail out points. So when Jill told me she didn't really want to mess with loading up the kids to pick me up in Winter Park, it was up to me. Could I go over and back in the same day?
Thankfully, I've been putting in the miles lately. I've drug myself out of bed and ridden to work lots of mornings, hit up the neighborhood group ride on Saturday mornings and I decided I could do it. Ride within yourself, don't try to go too fast and you'll be fine.
The plan was to meet up Saturday morning, bright and early at the base of the Eldora Ski Resort in Nederland, CO. Wheels down at 7am, to go over and back you gotta go early and keep moving as electrical storms above tree line are not to be taken lightly. I met up with "the other John" in Boulder and we headed up. On the road up to the ski area, we passed The Punisher who was riding from his house to get a few extra miles just because.
After ripping a sock while getting suited up, The Punisher bailed me out before we even started. He grabbed a spare pair of socks from his office and off we went. We started up and quickly made our way over to the Jenny Creek trail. After some up, some down, some singletrack, a shoe-soaking creek crossing and some doubletrack we popped out on Rollins Pass Rd and continued heading up.
Pictures courtesy of The Punisher....
Rolling up Rollins Pass, all going well.
We made good time as we rolled up the gentle grades, until all of the sudden I hit something in the road. My front tire hissed loudly and tubeless sealant sprayed out. I pointed the puncture towards the ground, but the sealant just couldn't seal up the hole. No big deal, throw a tube in and lets get rolling again.
Soon we hit the point where the 4x4s and ATVs had to turn around, and then the ride started getting more fun and interesting. We hit snow as we pushed on, but temps were great and sunshine was abundant.
Soon we found ourselves at the base of the Needle Eye Tunnel, which is now collapsed and serves as a roadblock for most types of transportation. Not bikes though, given you have the lungs and the will to push or carry your bike up the side of a steep, loose trail cut in the side of a mountain.
Once up top, we were treated to a short but awesome section of high alpine singletrack that lead us to big views and the big draw for me....a chance to ride the twin trestles. Big views, big exposure and big smiles as The Punisher told me to take the lead to get to soak it all in for the first time.
We cruised down the backside of the pass taking in the views and talking about the day ahead. We took the Broken Thumb trail down and headed over to some familiar singletrack through an old, now defunct ski area. After a good, fast section of trails it happened again...Flat number 2 for the day. A sliced sidewall that once again wouldn't seal up on its own. Another tube...I've had no flats running tubeless in two years and now two in a matter of a few hours.
The good news is that we were getting faster at changing flats, the bad news is that we would get more practice before the day was over. After fixing the flat, we made our way into town and stopped to get some lunch. Smelling fantastic and covered in latex sealant, we triumphantly stomped into Subway in Winter Park as the Jazz Fest crowd gawked at us.
After we all inhaled lunch, I bought a few tubes and we started checking the radar as the skies were quickly darkening. We took a bit of a gamble and decided to start back up the bottom section of the looming 14 mile climb back up to the pass. And then about a mile from our lunch stop, I blew out another tube. Got a little over zealous with a compressor with no gauge and a 26" tube that was put into 29" tube duty. Yet another tube changed, more time lost but still ready to push forward we took off again.
The rains were light, but continued steadily. As we ticked miles off and started reaching the halfway point, we were starting to heat up from the effort and our clothes getting saturated from the rain and sweat. We stopped to take in some food and decided to take refuge in the woods to try to wait it out a bit.
After more food, some discussion and sky checking we hopped back on the bikes and started to final push to the top. As we passed the rickety, old trestles at Rifle Sight notch the rain let up, but the fog settled in. Visibility was about a hundred feet and it was cold and damp. Getting too hot wearing a jacket is a real danger as above tree line can be cold and windy, which can set you hypothermic quickly. We took a conservative approach and rode a slower pace so avoid getting to overheated.
As we climbed, we were rewarded with increasing sunshine and the clouds started to part. Things were looking up. We had found that narrow window between storms. Now was the time to press, and off we went.
Back at the car at 7pm, some 12 hours after we started we shared some hand shakes, couple stories and smiles then headed towards our respective homes to see the families. A big day by all accounts, and something that I was proud to have accomplished.
Get busy living or get busy dying...