Mt. Evans: Solo Bike Tour, July 14-15, 2008

Ever since reading about Mt. Evans in Michael Seeberg's "Road Biking Colorado: The Statewide Guide" a few months ago (from the book: "This is a heinous route. Never have I suffered so much on a ride.... overwhelming feeling of suffocation. Now that you're excited...", etc.), it's been on my mind. So with Sarah gone for the week, I had nothing else to do but go up it.

Mt. Evans has what is apparently the world's highest asphalt, topping out at 14,130' with an option of walking the last bit to the peak at 14,264' --- assuming there's not a TV crew monopolizing the peak. I think I got to about 14,250', so close enough.

Seeberg's section on Mt. Evans really had me worried, but it turns out not to be a bad ride at all. I think people find it hard because they drive to Idaho Springs (7,500') or Echo Lake (10,600') and then start riding as hard as they can. For example, there's a race up Mt. Evans next weekend. In my usual way, I rode from my door (5,350'), so I had plenty of opportunity to warm up. Also, I didn't see any reason to make the mistake of making "the mistake of saving anything for the downhill" (double negative there, if you missed it), as Seeberg puts it, since I intended to cycle home, not collapse into a waiting car as soon as I was done with Evans. According to Seeberg, I "squandered a unique opportunity to push [my]self to new levels" since I had energy left at the summit (good thing!). I guess there are many ways of doing things. Snide comments aside, I think I did "push myself to new levels" on the whole trip, just not on Evans in particular. For example, I think I've mastered the fine art of standing (while riding) with a load, something that can get a bit touch-and-go if done incorrectly. Thus, I was able to blast through rollers even with the touring load, which was nice.

On Monday, I left my door at just before 8:00. I rode to Golden, up 46 to 119 (approximately 9,500'), through Black Hawk and Central City down to Idaho Springs (7,500') via Central City Parkway, and up to Echo Lake (10,600') on 103. 46, or "Golden Gate Canyon", is a beautiful ride with little traffic. Four miles from the top, it connects with Golden Gate State Park, which turned out to be a great lunch spot. Black Hawk and Central City are gambling towns, a fortunate coincidence as their tax revenue paid for a new connection between Central City and Idaho Springs (Central City Parkway). Before 2006, cyclists had to take "Oh My God" Road between the two towns, which is 9 miles of unpaved mountain road. In Central City, I stopped for a soft drink before heading out on Central City Parkway and talked with the store owner a bit; she is just about to receive her first road bike, a custom fitted carbon-fiber Cannondale. She showed me the "secret" bicycle route onto Central City Parkway; the beginning and ending are off limits to bicycles.

I arrived in Idaho Springs around 2:30. As I was approaching, I experienced a brief hallucination of a McDonald's chocolate milkshake; sure enough, one of the first sights in town was the Golden Arches. I talked to Sarah while slurping the shake, as we hadn't had a chance to talk for a few days, and I was clearly at the last cell tower for some time.

Hitting the road again at 3:00, I had a mere 15 miles and 3,000' to go, so I decided to take my time. I geared down to the lowest ratio, settled into a comfortable cadence, and cycled through some of the most stunning mountain forest I've yet seen. I arrived at Echo Lake way too soon. At Echo Lake, I decided to take an official camp spot so that I could leave my gear there the following morning. Also, to be honest, the McD's shake was not sitting so well, so I thought it would be nice to have facilities nearby. So much for McD's.

In the evening, I talked with a couple who also just moved to CO (Castle Rock). He's a rocket scientist (aerospace engineer), and she's a nurse. Conversation was interesting. We all hit the sack around 8:30.

I woke up Tuesday morning just before 6:00, prepared quickly, and started the final ascent at 6:30 with just water and extra layers for the descent. As I mentioned above, the climb is not bad at all. I settled into a comfortable cadence in my lowest gear, consciously breathed deeply (heavy breathing is triggered by CO2 build-up, not a lack of O2, so consciously breathing deeply is a good trick for climbs, especially at high elevations), and kept my eyes open for wild life. I encountered many marmots, a fat brown furry hole-digging creature; a pika, a mouse-like animal with an oversized head; and, at the top, a herd of mountain goats, including two kids the size of cats. Trees (mostly trees with needles; the Aspens had given out well below Echo Lake) gave out around 12,000', leaving the slopes to grasses and wildflowers. Impressively, the grasses and flowers stuck it out all the way to the top. You can use Google Images to find pictures of Mt. Evans, but words and photos don't really do justice to the immensity up there. At one point, I counted twelve waves of mountains, mostly topping out at 10-11K, breaking against Mt. Evans. Apparently, one can usually see farther, but it was atypically hazy; one person speculated that soot from the wild fires in CA might have traveled here.

I met one other cyclist at the top (I saw many more ascending during my descent who were most likely riding from Idaho Springs in preparation for the coming weekend's race). Alex is an "Environmental Communications" major (Env. Science + teaching credentials) and a pretty cool guy. He just started cycling recently on an old bicycle and decided to try out Mt. Evans, starting from Echo Lake. He thought my way of doing things seemed pretty neat; perhaps he'll try it some time.

After about an hour, I headed back down, packed up my gear, and hit the homeward bound road at 11:00. I had mapped out a new route home Monday night: finish 103, a beautiful "scenic byway"; then take 74 to I-70, I-70 for two exits, and then Lookout Mountain Rd. into Golden. This cut my Tuesday ride from the anticipated ~100 miles to just under 80. It also avoided the tedium of retracing my route; I was particularly pleased to avoid seeing Black Hawk again. After a brief climb, I pretty much assumed a reclining position and coasted home, arriving at 2:30.

© 2008, Aaron R. Bradley.