When “Jack” stood astride the bow of the Titanic and claimed to be at the top of the world, he was, as far as I can see from a quick look at the statistics, about 60 feet above sea level. Well, that is not quite the top of the world. [OK, OK, so I’m not a movie quote guy…he said “king” of the world. But that would be irrelevant to my point, so…how about a little movie redaction and revisionism?] Neither is this, but it is a lot closer. This is Loveland Pass, the continental divide in Colorado. This morning I drove out to Loveland Pass for one reason: I want to attempt to complete the Triple By-Pass bike ride in July of 2012, and Loveland Pass is the highest of the three passes on the 120 mile journey. Since it is not overly far away from Boulder (about 75 miles), and since climbing it would give me even more time above 9000 ft. in altitude, I headed off to check it out.
To say that the Rocky Mountains are stunning is, of course, an understatement. The drive out was amazing, but nothing could have prepared me for the steep, “I sure hope I don’t miss this turn” climb up from I-70 to the top. Most turns have no guard rails, just…thin air over there to your right or left. And this is what immediately began gnawing at me. You see, as those who know me personally are aware, I do not like heights. OK, that is an understatement. I remember when my family visited the Washington Monument when I was about eight years old. I plastered my back against the inside wall and stood there, longing to look out the little windows, but incapable of doing so. I did manage to briefly sneak a peak a few years later when we visited again, but to this day my knees get weak and my heart rate rises when I am near anything I can fall off of, or, if I see someone else in the same position, such as leaning over a railing. It has diminished a good bit over the years, but it is still very much a part of my psyche. Even as I drove up to the Pass, I found myself way over into the other lane, away from sharp drop offs, as long as traffic allowed.
As I descended the other side, I was pretty well convinced there was no way on earth I could handle riding this thing on a bike. You see, I had noticed a sign on I-70 right before I took the turn toward the Pass. All trucks carry hazardous cargo had to take this jaunt to avoid the Eisenhower Tunnel. So, you have a bunch of big rigs hauling mainly fuel loads going up and down this winding, steep road. Given that at times there is zero shoulder, with no guard rail—yikes! I passed one fellow climbing up to the top and saw that he was working pretty hard. So I went down the other side and eventually pulled into the Keystone Ski Area, mainly because I saw a sign that said “free parking.” So I saddled up and headed back the way I came on the bike, thinking I’d go…as far as I could go.
The climb was gorgeous, and thanks to my time in Santa Fe, I was not really bothered by the altitude. Sure, I could tell I was way above even where I had been in Santa Fe, and I was surely breathing a lot deeper and faster by the time I got to the top as I would, say, down in Phoenix, but it still wasn’t a major issue. The major issue was, of course, the road itself, and my own fight to keep childhood panic issues under control. As I passed the tree line and realized I was very close to the top, I just buried that little voice and pressed on, reaching the summit and taking some pictures. A couple from Michigan took the picture of me with the Loveland Pass sign in the background for me. I tried to call my wife from up there, but, just like at the ski station in Santa Fe, cell service was…not to be found.
I knew, however, that the tough part was yet to come, mentally, anyway. I had had a tailwind on the way up, and now I was going to have to face it buffeting me back and forth on the steep descent. I pulled on a bright fluorescent yellow jacket (I cooled down real quick with the wind coming off the still deeply piled snow drifts) and headed back down. Slowly. Carefully. I kept a sharp eye out behind me, dreading the first big rig and wondering how I would handle it. Down and down I went, free wheeling most of the way, riding the brakes due to the swirling wind. Down into the trees, which helped with the wind. And still watching for that first big rig. And wouldn’t you know it, the Lord had mercy on this nutty apologist: I managed to descend over 8 miles without a single truck passing me. A few cars and pickups did, but not a single big rig. I had seen at least two dozen pass me going down as I was going up, but not a one as I descended. Very thankful.
I have ridden 157 miles in one day. I have climbed over 9000 ft. in one day. I’ve descended Mt. Lemmon, Mt. Humphreys, and a few other notable spots. I’ve ridden El Tour de Tucson many times, dodging as many as 9000 other cyclists to get to the finish. But I’ve never done anything like I did today. It was a relatively short ride; I only climbed a total of 2600 ft (ok, yeah, all above 9,350 ft. above sea level!). But in many ways, this was the toughest ride I’ve ever done. Toughest not in the heart or the lungs or the legs, but in the mind. It is surely the most striking ride, scenery wise, as you can see! Thankfully, the Triple By-Pass ride is in July, so the snow should be gone by then. But it will still require an effort that will have my training focus for the next thirteen months.