Before taking Trail Ridge Road head on, I made some final weight reductions and mailed a few things home. Lori and Sarah suggested this breakfast spot that was on our way out of town. We packed up our stuff and took our departure picture as it may be our last depending on whether or not we survived the day.
All packed up, we rolled down to the breakfast spot well rested after about a week of very little riding. As we ordered a nice, full breakfast, we mentioned how we should have eaten better the day prior… perhaps some pasta or something. Oh well, nothing we could do now
After we got our food, Matt, Lori and Sarah all came to get some breakfast as well. They just couldn't get enough of us. Before we left we tanked our bodies up with as much water as they would hold, and filled up our water bottles. Tons of water is required at elevation, and we were certainly going to push those limits.
We said our second goodbye, and headed for Estes Park, our first stop. Shortly after we left the restaurant, we began our climb, that would last for another 60 miles or so. The ride to Estes was pretty beautiful as we began wrapping around the mountain.
Once we got into Estes we stopped for food. We were proud, we had done 35 miles of our 80 mile day and had risen about 2500 feet. It was a good start. We stopped at a restaurant where we each got an Elk burger, tasty, and again drank as much water as we could.
When we left we had about 10 miles to go to Rocky Mountain National Park entrance. One of the toughest rides of the day was the grade going to the entrance of the park. We have found that many times the road can be very deceptive depending on the surrounding scenery. Sometimes a downhill section will appear uphill, or even a seemingly flat section will actually be quite the climb. This case was the latter.
I decided to pull ahead of Paul to buy our tickets at the park entrance. I ended up getting the "America the Beautiful" pass which for $80 will get me and 3 others entrance to any national park for the next year. The cost of entry was at least $20 per person for just Rocky Mountain, and we planned on visiting at least another 4 national parks on our tour. Good deal. We asked the workers where we could get water, just to plan the rest of our trip through the park. They let us know in about 5-6 miles there would be a stop, Hidden Valley where there was water. Perfect.
We took a while to travel those 5-6 miles but we got there, and were feeling pretty good. When we took the road off to Hidden Valley, we were pleased to find a deliciously cold water fountain. Man was it good. We repeated the hydrating process, and noticed a sign that said we were at 9400 feet. Awesome, we had already covered 4500 feet of our roughly 7300 needed to ascend to the top. It was sunny and early afternoon and we were feeling confident.
From our position we estimated that the top was only 15 miles away. The next hydration chance would be a mile after that where they had a snack bar. Yikes.
We continued our dominance up the mountain and stopped at our first patch of snow roughly 10,200 feet up. We posed by it, and continued our ascent. We met another biker who said he wasn't going over the top but was going to turn around once he started hitting the rain. Damn, rain was coming? Nothing we could do.
The next cool thing to see was a sign that said two miles from sea level. Shortly after that there was a scenic lookout where I decided it was time to don some warmer clothing as the sun had faded and it was getting a bit nippy. This was around the point where our confidence turned into sheer exhaustion.
We had 7 miles to go to the top, and progress was slowing. After a grueling few miles where we stopped every half mile to remain conscious, we stopped for Paul to put on warmer clothing. We were struggling. We were okay in the water department but began having an intense hunger set in. We actually ate some peanut butter with our hands out of the container since we no longer had any bread or a knife. It made us feel a little better.
We got to a sign that said 11,765 feet of elevation which energized us a bit as we only had another 400 or so feet to climb. We could do it. Shortly after that, we stopped where there was a gathering of Elk and people. Some nice folks noticed our condition and offered us some gatorades which we gladly accepted. Although we still had ample water, the sugar helped. The nice folks let us know that the top was no more than a mile ahead. Hallelulah (sp?).
When we turned the next corner, we thought we had made it. I asked someone who said yes we were at the top, er no… but it was just ahead. We saw one of the ugliest sights we had seen in a good many moons. Before the apex, I estimated we had a nice 400 foot descent before climbing right back up a ridiculous grade at 12,000 feet. Without struggle…
So we had no choice but to get moving. The beginning part of our final climb was pretty challenging, but it did smooth out. Once at what we were pretty sure was the top, we took pictures. We were irate that there was no sign, no proof that we had ascended an ungodly height in one day while packing everything we needed on our bikes. Oh well.
As we turned the next corner, the snack bar was visible, and it was quite clear we had beaten Trail Ridge as it was all downhill for visible miles. We were fortunate to have avoided any rain as it may have made us quite cold. Paul and I were pretty disappointed with the fanfare upon our amazing feat, so I celebrated by myself. Nearly uncontrollably as we began our descent to the snack shop, I began screaming as loud as I could and fist pumping in success at passing cars. It was truly an amazing feeling and unquestionably the most challenging thing I had ever done.
We made it to the snack shop 5 minutes before they closed, phew and got some snickers and nature valley bars to fill up on before we would stop for dinner. I checked the map the night before, and we would be all the way downhill to Grand Lake where we would get some food before staying with a couchsurfer I had talked to earlier in the day who lives in Granby.
Flying down the hill at an average of 34 mph, we hit the bottom quickly. I managed to get a few videos of us going down which are fairly cool. Bug me about the videos soon, as I will be posting them on youtube… they're not ready yet though. We were not at Grand Lake however. Apparently I didn't read the map properly because from the bottom of the national park it was another damn climb to Grand Lake, about 10 miles or more. To add to that, we had some headwinds to aggravate the possibilities of insanity. Really, now? Come on.
We of course made it to Grand Lake after some self complaining and were in search of a buffet. There wasn't one, but a gas station attendant (they're the best to ask) told us to head down the street to a pizza shop as it would be one of the only reasonably priced places in the city. We split a massive pizza there and finally rested. We were so proud of ourselves, but were both near delirious and very visibly spent. There was no way we'd make it to Granby unless it was coasting the entire way, which it wasn't.
Instead we decided we'd find a place to camp somewhere in Grand Lake. First I wanted to get online, so we went to this ice cream shop where I was able to do that temporarily. We hung out there for a bit, just trying to make sense of what we had just done.
We left there around there closing time in pursuit of a place to sleep. We headed to the edge of town and I went to check for my phone. Gone. The GPS, and tracking for the trip was in jeopardy without that damn thing. We turned around and headed back to the ice cream shop. They were closed, but were still there. Sure enough they had it. A nice girl who was working there went and called my mother and Meghan to see if she could locate me. Relieved, I thanked her and we headed back out of town to sleep. Man we were out of it.
It took a lot of searching before we found a suitable spot near the road to camp. By the time we finally were all set, it was well after midnight. We were wiped clean, but very proud of what we had accomplished that day. We hoped we'd have no troubles with the spot, as we badly needed some good rest. We had conquered the greatest challenge of our tour in one day.
Life was good.