Just to Estes Park
“Just to Estes Park” has been something I’ve struggled with when thinking about the first day of CRMB ever since the day I saw the route for 2013. My mind is jaded toward the town and it’s overpopulation of tourists. Sure, it’s the jumping off place for some awesome displays of God’s creation, but if I can be blunt, I just don’t like being in Estes.
In addition, I rode most of Sunday’s ride in the downhill direction last year, so I knew most of the roads and scenery. Then, we managed to drive most of the rest of it Saturday when we went hiking at Horsetooth Mountain.
But….when I actually started riding, I tried to put that familiarity behind me and just ride. And it worked!
We departed Loveland shortly after 7 am on an absolutely gorgeous Sunday morning. As a “Missouri boy”, I just couldn’t get over the lack of humidity as we headed north with the front range to our left.
It didn’t take long before we started climbing. First, it was up to Horsetooth Lake, then it was up to Horsetooth Mountain. When we were there on Saturday, we saw a constant stream of cyclists going over the ridge Horsetooth sits on. I could tell some of them were struggling, and thought to myself, “I hope that isn’t me tomorrow!”. When I got on those roads by bike, I was a little surprised that the grades were a little steeper than I was expecting. Luckily, the steep sections were fairly short, and it didn’t take long to get over that 1,000 foot bump in elevation and enjoy some downhill for a little while.
After riding around the edge of a beautiful reservoir that was fed by a mountain stream coming down it’s own canyon, we turned onto Highway 34 for our trek up through Big Thompson Canyon. That road is pretty busy with high speed traffic, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the canyon.
Both time’s I’ve ridden Big Thompson, I’ve been disappointed there wasn’t more places to stop for pictures of the most rugged terrain. As we headed into the canyon proper, the real climbing for the day began. It was about 23 miles of constant climbing, with what I suspect might be some of the steepest grades of the trip.
Luckily, we turned off onto Devil’s Gulch Road almost as soon as we got out of the lower canyon, so the traffic died of to nearly nothing.
The lower section of Devils’ Gulch isn’t as scenic as Big Thompson, but it does start getting a little bit steeper. The town of Devil’s Gulch sits about 2/3’s of the way up, and the lady at the front desk of our hotel in Loveland told me I needed to stop for a cinnamon roll at the general store.
Hey…who am I to reject good advice! It was pretty darn good, in spite of just having eaten a PBJ at the rest stop about 3 miles prior!
Just past Devil’s Gulch, the road really starts to kick you in the teeth. There are two of the sharpest switchbacks I’ve ever ridden on a bike and nearly a mile of 12-14% grade to deal with. I know lots of riders walked a lot of that mile, and that was pretty much the topic of conversation at the luggage truck later on.
The good news is that when you’ve gotten over those, it’s a nice little six mile downhill run into Estes and you’re looking smack dab at Rocky Mountain National Park!
I got to the high school about 11:00, then had to wait for an hour and a half the backpack I had put on the luggage truck so I could take a shower before Pam got back from her hikes. That didn’t work out so well for me anyway, because the hotel didn’t have our room cleaned.
Instead, Pam met me for lunch, then we drove over and hiked up to Gem Lake.
As with most things in Colorado, it was a pretty cool hike. Pam said it wasn’t as good as what she hiked earlier in the day, but I enjoyed it. I probably shouldn’t have though…by the time we got down the mountain from that, I was totally cooked!
That’s not necessarily a bad feeling for a day like that, but I worried that I might have trouble recovering overnight.
Here’s the link to the GPS track.
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