1998 Ride the Rockies Reports from the Field, Day Two

Monday, June 22 - Estes Park to Granby

63 Miles - 5500 Feet of Climbing
Report Posted on 24 June 1998

The mere mention of Trail Ridge Road invokes excitement, fear, and trepidation among cyclists. For many cyclists it also recalls memories. Today's ride takes the tour over Trail Ridge creating another 2,200 memories in the process.

Near the summit on Trailridge Road

Our memories would begin with a private breakfast at the Lazy T restaurant in Estes Park. The people in Estes Park were very accommodating to say the least. When we asked the hotel manager at the Hobby Horse Motel where we could get breakfast before 7 am, she called the Lazy T Motel and Restaurant to convince them to serve breakfast early. When we arrived the signs all said closed and there was no sign of life. When we entered the restaurant a woman asked if we were from the Hobby Horse and invited us to get started on the breakfast buffet they had prepared just for us.

Mike, Jeremy, Jack, and I started down the hill from breakfast to join the other riders. The short rolling hills out of town were a bit steep for my tired legs but the air felt good. As we rode up toward Trail Ridge Road we would collect Dan and Lou for a short time but mostly this day was spent on my own.

Early in the ride we heard the sound of an ambulance from behind. I stopped and got off the road for safety sake but most other riders continued single file on the roads right edge. We learned later that two cyclists entangled and one fell and may have broken her hip. All I know is her vacation was suddenly ended just as it was getting started. I also know that this could happen to any one of us.

Later that day, another ambulance would come to the aid of a fallen cyclist. I've gotten conflicting stories about the fall but it occurred on a fast and curvy downhill. This downhill is long and fast, dropping from over 12,000 feet with a number tight curves and switch-backs. A skilled cyclist on a good bike when left alone on a smooth road can safely descend at speeds greater than most cars. The situation becomes dangerous because of cars trying to pass and cyclists navigating the downhill at widely varying speeds. Given the dangers descending the hill, a slow descent might seem to be the best approach. This too, however, has its drawbacks. The brakes on a bicycle heat up when applied constantly for too long. This can cause glazing of the brake pads making the brakes less and less effective. In extreme cases the heating of the rim can cause it to warp making the bike unrideable. So it's dangerous to go full speed and difficult to go too slowly. In the end each cyclist must go down the hill at her own speed and with caution.

Rainbow Curve on Trailridge Road

How cyclists who have never experienced a long and steep downhill manage I don't know. My first experience biking in the Rocky Mountains was in 1994 with Ride the Rockies. Although the prospect of the long downhill was scary at the time, I was looking forward to the challenge. Fortunately for me, I had lots for practice on fast and steep descents in Wisconsin. Near Madison, the driftless area provides plenty of opportunities to practice downhill technique. What you can't prepare for is the length of the descents which can last for ten miles or more.

Generally, however, you have to do some climbing before you can descend and on today's ride we have a beautiful long climb. Our climbing from Estes Park to Rocky Mountain National Park was almost instantly rewarded with views of a field of resting elk. Continuing the climb to Many Parks Curve we found wonderful views of Longs Peak and the intervening valley. The next pull brought us up to Rainbow Curve where all cyclists must arrive before 10:30 am or be sagged over the top. I rested at Rainbow Curve and watched a Mule Dear forage nearby as the Clarke's Nutcrackers danced on the rocks hoping for a treat.

Seven Feet of Snow in June

Today's weather has been perfect. The morning was cool and nearly cloudless. Just days earlier it was snowing up here but except of a few remaining drifts of snow it would be hard to tell. I know from previous rides that the weather at Rainbow Curve and the weather on the top near the Alpine Center can be totally different. Mike and Jeremy found this out shortly after leaving Rainbow Curve. The treeless and exposed route that continues to the 12,000 foot summit was too windy for them on the tandem and hundreds of others on single bikes that were sagged to the Alpine Center where the descent begins in earnest.

The biggest problem of the day for me and other cyclists was the food or rather the lack thereof. I noticed a few people with box lunches at the aid station just before the summit at the lava cliffs on Trail Ridge but it occurred to me that a coast down to the next aid station would afford for a more pleasant lunch away from the strong cold wind. Unfortunately, that aid station had run out of lunches just before I arrived. I saw several cyclists clutching their boxes with both hands so I decided to press on instead of attempting to wrestle one away. The next aid station was also foodless and I was nearly out of gas with just eight miles left in the ride. Just when I resolved to forge ahead to Granby, I was saved from bonking by a small grocery that was perched on the side of a lake.

On Top of the World

I found that a perfectly good day of cycling can be totally ruined by arriving at the days destination on empty. Once you arrive you have to make camp or get your bags to your lodgings for the night, shower, and find a place to eat. All of this can take hours and sometimes significant effort. Almost without fail it will involve standing in line which can be quite draining if you're in desperate need of food and drink. If I haven't just eaten something at the last rest stop or just out of town, I always stop for a snack upon arriving. My stop today turned out to be especially important because unlike most rides, the route took us straight to the high school where we'd be camping tonight and not into town at all.

Granby is a small town. I was here a few years ago with a ride called Pedal the Peaks. There were fewer restaurants then and they weren't prepared for hungry cyclists in such numbers. Tonight a few of us went on ahead to scout things out. Almost immediately we found Schatzi's, a German restaurant that for tonight is serving a limited menu catering to cyclists. In addition to the nice pasta dishes, they served up a few house specialties.

Exhausted, I returned to my tent to prepare for tomorrow's ride over Rabbit Ears Pass to Steamboat Springs and another page in my book of memories.

Joseph King

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Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Day Five, or Day Six.

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