Monday, July 29, 2013

11,000ft of climbing

Rain is better than fire. That's the general consensus out here in CO. We've had regular showers these past ten or so days, often in the form of afternoon thunderstorms, but sometimes they don't wait until after lunch. Today seems very odd for this region; overcast and raining all day. It feels like the mid-atlantic. 

Anyway, these weird weather patterns makes it hard to plan big adventures. Especially ones like summiting nearby Longs Peak, sitting at a cool 14,259ft. I was going to hike it yesterday with my friend until she aired on the side of caution Friday and dropped out. NOAA was giving forecasts for rain that fluctuated between 50 and 70%. I suppose scrambling on rocks above treeline in the rain isn't a great idea, especially if there's lighting thrown in the mix. I trusted that her instincts...and ability to check weather online...were sound, so any thoughts of a solo attempt were short-lived. 

But I still wanted to get out. 50% chance of rain wasn't enough to stop a big ride. So I still made the rice cakes, but instead of packing them with the lunchables (not those yellow boxes that were the envy of every kid in the cafeteria, but heavy food to help me survive a big hike), I put them in my frame bag in preparation for a silly circumnavigation of RMNP. 

That, of course, did not happen. A while ago I mapped out a 230mile route over Trail Ridge road, then up towards Walden, down the Poudre Canyon, almost into Ft Collins, then back up to Estes. My body must've known how crazy that would be in one day, so it refused to wake up at 4am when my alarms were set. 

6:30am, out of bed, cooking a big breakfast. 

8:30 on the bike, ready for a lot of miles, but not committed to a particular route. 

Once I started moving I decided to get at least a century in, riding all of Trail Ridge road to the west side of the park. Once I got into the park, I opted to ride Old Fall River, the one-way gravel route up to Alpine visitor center. It's a bit of a short cut and a hell-of a lot quieter in terms of traffic. I still had some eager out-of-staters needing to rush to the top for some reason, so it was not without a few dust clouds to cough through. 
final stretch, complete with snow poles
alpine tundra
looking back down what I rode up. bummer it's only one way
Down past the continental divide and to the west side of the park could've been faster. At first it was the nasty cross winds above treeline that were keeping my fingers on the brakes, then some elk on the road had a line of gawkers, going both ways, stopped in the road. Having seen my fair share of elk here in Estes and considering I was enjoying the descent too much, I spoiled the picture party, rolled past the stopped cars and swiftly scared the elk away. Sorry folks. A few miles down the road, things slowed down again as the coffin-cars rode their breaks around the normally fast switchbacks. Oh well. It was still sweet heading down on that side of the park.

Once down in the valley I started bonking and had to keep asking how far the visitor center was. My hope was that they had some sort of food. Luckily, though the ranger said they didn't at first, he remembered the new energy bars they just started stocking. I happily paid the six bucks for two and don't think I could've gotten back up to the alpine visitor center without them. I did have another rice cake, but held onto that until the top for the final push home. 

Clouds were rolling in thick at this point and I was concerned about getting caught up on the tundra in a storm. The temperature dropped and fresh fog was pushing up from lower elevations, but luckily I didn't feel any drops until I was down the east side, below tree line. It wasn't enough to make the roads wet until the final 3mile push home.

I was pretty worked last night as one might imagine, but today was perhaps harder. I definitely drained some energy stores on this ride.