An easy 26 hours according to Google
We parked our car at James and Dallas' house in Fort Collins and made our way to Loveland. Our elevation chart showed a nice flat ride down to Loveland, followed by some ups and downs and then a pretty serious climb for our first day. I asked Shelby how it felt to be on a bike tour while riding through Fort Collins and she said that it would feel more real once we set up camp. It didn't quite feel real yet, but when we turned right in Loveland to head up Big Thompson Canyon, the hills sure felt real! We admittedly didn't train as hard as we should have for this ride, but we set it up so that we had relatively short days, so it seemed manageable.
Soon we fell into a rhythm and remembered what it was like to ride slow. The canyon was quite beautiful and the climb wasn't too steep, so our slow pace allowed us to stop often for pictures and enjoy the canyon. Eventually, it got to be pretty tough and I was relieved to pull into the small town of Drake, where we'd be camping for the night. A 26 mile day that sounded pretty easy on paper ended up being pretty tough and I was exhausted. We set up our tent at the Drake Campground, then grabbed a beer in the local bar to get away from the standard afternoon showers. That night we met Lori and Jeff, our campground hosts who have apparently been running the Drake Campground for a long long time. They had a really awesome cabin that they lived in and I assume built back in the day.
Showing off her sweet farmer's tan
Day two was a nice 10 mile ride up to Estes Park. After how hard day one ended up being, we needed a good short day to recover before what would be a brutal day three. The ride up the rest of Big Thompson Canyon was nice. It was less steep than yesterday and the scenery was quite nice. The rock shifted from some kind of chossy black stuff to nice granite and the river grew slightly more clear as we rode upstream. We brought our fly rods, but the river looked too murky to stop to fish.
An excellent little free library find in Estes Park
Once we got to Estes Park, we setup our tent at the KOA. The spot was perched up on the hill with a great view of Long's Peak, so we were pretty happy with that ... and the ability to shower. We spent the day in Estes Park grocery shopping, checking out she shops, eating a cookie, throwing some flies in Lake Estes, and sampling the local beer at Lumpy Ridge Brewing, which was excellent. We met a really friendly older couple at the brewery and chatted with them for a while while we sipped on our Dirty Face IPAs. We also spent some time with our neighbor at the KOA around his campfire before heading to bed early.
Our okay view from the campsite
Day 3: The day I had been worrying about for over a week. The plan was to climb for over 18 miles to the top of trail ridge road in Rocky Mountain National Park up to 12,300ft, then to cruise downhill for over 26 miles to Winding River Resort in Grand Lake. The whole day would have 6,000 feet of elevation gain and I wasn't sure my legs could do it fast enough to sneak over the summit before the 40% chance of afternoon showers. We opted for the alpine-ish start of 5:00 for the wake-up call, getting us out of the campground by 6:15. We had about 6 hours to get back down to tree line on the other side. Here we go!
The ride started out with a nice and very gradual climb through town and up Fall River Rd to get into the park. We rode next to a wide meadow on our left for a ways and saw some tourists out of their cars, taking pictures. There was a bear just across the river! We were really excited to see it and enjoyed a couple minutes watching it walk around.
Soon, the real climbing started. The road curved to the left and got steep. Riding at 4mph is really very slow, but that was the speed that I could ride at on this grade without hating life too much, so I just churned along as Shelby pulled ahead and out of sight. She waited for me at the intersection with highway 36 and then we were officially on Trail Ridge Road. The next half mile was downhill, which is the worst thing ever when you know you're just going to have to climb back up that lost elevation. Oh well.
I could describe every detail of the climb, but the gist of it would be that after a little while we started to get quite tired and then it was just a long slog. The scenery was very nice, especially above treeline. We got passed by a handful of cyclists and lots of cars. At one point, we ran out of water and had to filter the snow-melt water on the side of the road while onlookers gawked at us, wondering why the heck I was holding a bag of water over my head. After what felt like forever we made it to the top of the road, an unmarked spot in the road where we and a few other cyclists took victory photos.
The long road
We stopped at the the cafe at the top for a sprite and some lunch and then made our way down the backside. The descent was really fun and long and we got up to 45mph at one time! Those miles really tick by at that speed. The miles continued to tick by pretty quickly for the rest of the afternoon. The day finished with a long and gradual downhill to Grand Lake where we learned an important lesson. Don't camp 3 miles before town and then ride down the steep 3 mile long hill to town to get groceries and then come back after the hardest day on your tour. Just stay in a hotel in town. We were dead at the end of the day and spent our evening eating two dinners and playing games in our tent while we waited out a 30 minute storm.
Today we rode from Grand Lake to Denver Creek Campground. It was probably the most pleasant day of the tour. It started out with a gradual downhill all the way to Granby, followed by a 6 mile round trip detour to the grocery store (Ugh). But the rest of the day entailed an easy climb followed by some pretty flat and scenic riding with little to no traffic. It was so nice not to have cars passing us constantly. We could actually ride next to each other instead of single file!
Shelby, mastering the art of no-handed riding with a bunch of weight on your bike
Quiet and pleasant road
This evening we waited out yet another storm in the tent and played more mancala and Connect 4. After the storm we met a couple other touring cyclists. John was an older man doing the second half of the TransAmerica tour, going east to west after having to stop in Pueblo on his attempt last year. We also met Barb, an older Canadian woman who had a friend driving in an RV with her, so she was riding 70-100 mile days and didn't have to carry any gear! Sounded pretty plush. The cool thing about meeting other touring cyclists is that you become instant friends. It was great to chat with them for a while and get to know them some.
Barb. Check out her highly entertaining blog here
Day 5: Today we rode to Walden, the self-proclaimed moose viewing capitol of Colorado. The first half of the day was a continuation of the pleasantness of yesterday's ride. We rode through evergreen covered hills with large meadows in between with barely any traffic for the first third of the day. This part of the day concluded with our second Continental Divide crossing over Willow Creek Pass. The second half of the ride seemed to draw on and on as we passed through flat ranch country with a head wind on a really rough road. The elevation chart for the day seemed easy, but it ended up being one of our harder days due to the head wind and roughness of the road. We saw a couple riders with very little gear who were part of the Trans America race across the country. They had left from Astoria, OR only 7 days prior... Ridiculous. After a mentally draining day riding we got to Walden, picked up some groceries, stopped in a cafe for a beer, did some laundry, and then called it a night in a cheap hotel. I had been sleeping poorly on my sleeping pad so it was really nice to sleep on a real mattress.
At least we're not in Kansas
Day 6: Today was another hard day, but one of the most scenic days of the tour. We rode up Cameron Pass and then down the backside to a campground in Poudre Canyon. We rode through the town of Gould, which seemed like a pretty dead place. Next, we rode through State Forest State Park for a long time, through beautiful scenery at a pretty slow pace because it was a gradual climb for a really long time. We made it up to Cameron Pass and bundled up for the descent. It had been a pretty chilly day, but pedaling uphill kept us warm enough.
Shelby putting on her pants in the middle of the road
We started the descent, but it wasn't more than a couple miles before WHAM! I had ridden over a bad pothole and could hear air leaking out of my tire. I had been wondering when we'd get a flat tire! We stopped and after a comedy of errors, we finally fixed my tire. First try, I put a new tube in without checking for thorns or holes in the tire. Of course, after pumping up to 80psi with a hand pump, which is quite hard and takes a long time, I broke the valve somehow, rendering the tube useless. Bummer. Next up, I put a new tube in and remembered that we had CO2 cartridges to pump up our tires, so I used one. This was my first time using a CO2 cartridge, so I failed epicly and managed to hold the cartridge on so long that the air went in and then completely out of the tube. Doh! Next try I used my pump again since we only had one more CO2 cartridge. This time the tube got punctured because of a hole in the tire. Ugh. I've heard that you can use a dollar bill to cover over holes in a tire, so I asked Shelby for a buck and slid it over the hole. The tube I just broke a hole in was our last tube, so I patched it up and put it in the tire one more time. This time, I'd try the CO2 again and be careful not to mess it up again. It pumped right up and actually held! Whew! We were on our way again and it wasn't long till we arrived at our campground and enjoyed a relaxed evening playing games.
Going crazy after 4 attempts to fix a flat tire
Day 7: We had planned on making this an eight day tour, but due to extreme cravings for burgers with bbq on top and poor fishing conditions on the Poudre River, we decided to head back to Fort Collins today. It would make for a 60 mile day, but it was all downhill and ended up being pretty easy. The day had some nice scenery, but we rode so fast, I didn't stop a whole lot to take pictures. Our usual average up to this point had been 10-11mph, but today we averaged 15mph, so we were moving! We made it back to Fort Collins by early afternoon and had a second lunch at some burger joint and enjoyed some celebration burgers.
Scouting Poudre Falls for next time, err I mean never
We had a really good time and we'll be doing more tours together in the future for sure.