Colorado turns epic

Epic: (inf) Particularly remarkable or impressive.
On our first day in mountainous Colorado a thunderstorm trapped us at the garden of the gods visitor centre. As we sat watching the rain hit the giant rocks a couple starting chatting to us about our upcoming route. We said we would be going on Trail Ridge Road. “Epic” she said. “You’ll be counting down every quarter mile but it’s epic.” On our rafting trip our guide was excellent, enthusiastic and knew a lot more stuff about epic things in Colorado. Up until now the scenery of our ride had probably been more of the long poem or book type of epic. Now it was big and in your face epic; mountains, snow, fast rivers, canyons, lakes. 

A few days rest at 8400ft probably helped us adjust to the altitude, but our first day back riding was a real toughie. Stubbornly, we wanted to go back to the exact place we had been picked up from on the edge of Denver so we had an unbroken line of cycling. The real downside was that this was in almost the opposite direction to where we needed to go. We went back anyway and had a brutally hot afternoon on the c470 bike route. Handily we had some homemade birthday cake to cheer things up (thanks Lesli) and later met a cyclist who offered us a bed for the night and recommended a beer garden. As it was my birthday, we decided to stop after 50 miles in Golden. We read some historic information, had a leg ice bath in the very cold river and tried out the local brews. Just when we thought the day couldn’t get any better we had a scenic drive (in a car – and not just any car…) and Chinese food. An epic birthday.

We had stopped before the big climb – the next morning was a real beast. Golden Gate Canyon went up and up, with some of the steepest grades in the west. It was very scenic and we took plenty of stops to enjoy the views. They got even better when we finally reached the top and joined the ‘Peak to Peak Highway.’ Clue in the name, things didn’t get flat anytime soon. It was beautiful riding, forests, snowy mountains, icy streams. We had a fabulous descent into Estes Park the following day but found it hard to really enjoy losing so much height knowing that our next day riding would take us over 12000ft. 

Estes Park was a fun place to have a (tourist watching/ice cream eating) rest day. It was great to see some areas of Rocky Mountain National Park that we wouldn’t see on our ride through it, including an extremely cold dip in a waterfall that was probably snow about two minutes previously. Thanks to our host Annie for taking us on a tour.

Yep that was the road we came up… looking down from about halfway up the climb

We made an early start for the big climb. Trail Ridge Road goes right through Rocky Mountain NP, and is the highest paved road in the lower 48 states. We left early and took our time over the climb, enjoying the views and plenty of snacks. It was a steady grade, the hardest thing was the Fathers’ Day traffic squeezing past us. We didn’t appreciate the fake summit and little descent before the true top. The last few hundred feet of ascent made us a little light headed and we were excited to find a sofa with a view for our lunch stop at the visitor centre. 

The descent really was epic this time. Twisty but not too tricky, lots of snow and stunning scenery. Tired, the next day we did half a day riding, and spent the afternoon playing in Granby Lake at an awesome campground. I’m sure you were expecting this, but being epic Colorado the sun set beautifully over the water. 

One more big pass got us well on the way to Wyoming. We crossed the Continental Divide for the second time and watched the landscape change back to rolling plains as we rode to Walden, our last Colorado town. Our time in Colorado had come full circle as we were back to empty vistas and camping in a small town park. Walden was right out of the Wild West, though had an excellent public library. It also had something bigger, better, more epic. The mosquitos were in clouds, persistently seeking thinner areas of clothing to bite through. Just like the Spanish computer game, if the mosquitos didn’t get you, the sprinklers probably would – the park had an extensive network. 
Colorado bade us farewell the next morning with another steadily graded climb. An epic fortnight. 

Thanks to Sue and Lesli (again), Justin, Shauna and the Tacoma, Rick and Ryan in Nederland, Annie, and Connor and Maggie.


Welcome to “Colourful Colorado” 

If there was one state we were looking forward to the most, it was Colorado. And not just because it was a long slog across Kansas to get there. It was at the end of the yellow brick road for us. Filled with dreams of mountains and canyons we pedalled towards the border, where we were greeted with a sign that described Colorado as ‘colourful’. As we stood and ate a banana and looked beyond the sign, it seemed to be the same colour as Kansas. And just as flat. At our feet were empty bullet shells. Welcome to the Wild West!

And buffalo…

We had been told that Colorado doesn’t get interesting until you are halfway across, so weren’t expecting an instant change, but wow, this place is empty. The farm buildings we had been seeing in Kansas dried up, and the landscape was now barely dotted with ranches. Only the entrances were visible from the road, so all we could see was lots and lots of nothing. More nothing than I had ever seen. And despite the promises at the border, it was even less colourful than Kansas as the green and yellow fields were replaced with lots and lots of greeny brown. I’m not sure brown counts as a colour. At least the sky was blue.

The only thing of note when towns (a loose term here, more a collection of buildings) approached was how the huge old grain stores dominated the view. From a distance they look like castles or cathedrals, reminiscent of the approach to European cities. Then you get closer and they are just huge concrete structures. We took to measuring things by the side of the road, and passed an old train on a disused line that was over 3 miles long. Things are big out here to match the landscape.

Approaching the historic castle / grain store
The three mile long train

The first night in Colorado we camped in a town park, a little fearful of the storm clouds gathering overhead. Just as we were about to go to sleep the lightening started, and I have never seen anything like it before. The sky was lighting up in all directions, it was like watching a firework show. When the rain started and the thunder sounded closer we abandoned the tent to get under a shelter at the front of a disused building. British wimps. Eventually it looked like the storms had moved away so we ventured back to the tent only for the wind to pick up. The wimps then felt the need to go and check that there were no tornado warnings. There weren’t. Finally we got to sleep about midnight. Not ideal for our 5am start routine.

The morning after the night before. And thats only a third across on our crazy long route

After 100 miles of Colorado emptiness (that felt like 1000), mountains started to appear on the horizon. Finally! The road started to roll a bit. It was still another day before we reached a town of any size. Pueblo felt like a big city to us. There were fast food restaurants and everything. Unsurprising given the name, this was the place with the most Hispanic influence we have seen so far. Many Mexican restaurants, and public health signs in Spanish (drink less juice, more water – our Spanish is really coming on). It seemed like a pretty nice town to explore, and we arrived around 3pm, but we were so tired that the only thing we wanted to do with our spare few hours was sleep. So we did. Maybe next time, Pueblo.

Mountains! And a dirt road. Adventure begins here

Since we left St Louis we have been focussing on reaching Evergreen, a town just West of Denver and the home of two people we had never met before but were expecting us to pay a visit. As we got closer to this magical, mythical place where we could take a day off, the tiredness became overwhelming. The penultimate day took us to Colorado Springs, a town full of cyclists where no less than 5 people came up to us to ask if we had a place to stay that night (and a sixth offered to buy some margheritas). It pained us to turn down all offers. The friendliness of folk is quite overwhelming sometimes. It is also home to Garden of the Gods, a huge area of giant red rock formations that you can drive or ride a loop around. Despite almost falling asleep whilst having a late lunch in an air-conditioned taco place we wanted to pay the rocks a visit so reluctantly got back on the bikes and rode uphill for 6 miles into a strong wind to get there. Grey clouds loomed ahead and we hoped to get to the visitor centre before they decided to empty themselves. We made it with minutes to spare and sat undercover enjoying a tuna sandwich and the view of the rocks knowing there was no chance of us being able to ride around. But at least they looked nice, especially with the 14000ft Pikes Peak behind. During a break in the rain we pedalled madly back to town whilst lightening cracked all around us. The storms out here are crazy. And scary from a bike seat.

Garden of the Gods, through the rain

Day 15 of riding in a row was the most testing. I thought if I closed my eyes I could actually fall asleep while cycling. Luckily, riding with mountains all around was exciting enough to keep my eyes open. But it got us to Evergreen and our vacation destination with people we had never met before but in traditional American style treated us like long lost friends. Three days off in an amazing house up in the mountains was just what we needed. Even if we got up at 6am on the first of these to go white water rafting. This was incredible, rafting through a beautiful canyon with snowy mountains all around. The Arkansas river is pretty high right now so some of the rapids were a little sketchy and the 5 degrees Celsius water was refreshing to say the least. Colorado is beautiful. We also got driven through a stretch of the state that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise – including South Park (yes where the tv show is set).

Driving through South Park (cowboy hat on dashboard not optional)
Rafting in Browns canyon
Birthday eve breakfast for Debs in the mountains

From here things are going to get interesting. We are into bear territory. There is a huge mountain range to cross. The plan is to ride through Rocky Mountain National Park on the highest paved through road in the USA. I’m sure weeks of flat riding through Kansas (actually I don’t think we have ridden up a hill since Vermont) is perfect preparation for this….

Not scary at all…

Big thanks to Gillian in Ordway; Martha in Colorado Springs (and everyone else who offered help); and of course Sue and Lesli (and the Austin crew) for an amazing break at the high altitude mountain getaway.