Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursday, 8/20/09 Mt. Evans Road Ride

Mt. Evans
54.57 miles
~7,000 vertical
2:36:54 up
3:39 RT

I have been planning on riding Mt. Evans this coming Saturday for over a week, but with the great weather forecast that happened to coincide with my usual 3 day weekend(Thurs/Fri/Sat), I just could not suppress the urge to head up there ASAP.

Since breaking my foot on July 11th, I took nearly a month completely off of any activity and tentatively started biking again on August 5th. I started off going pretty easy, just spinning on the flats, 20 miles here, 40 miles there, commuting to work. Earlier this week, I headed up SuperFlag in Boulder twice and my foot felt great, nearly unnoticeable, so I figured I was good to go for Evans.

I got an early start and made it to the Ranger Station/Visitors Center in Idaho Springs around 7am and made good use of their bathroom and took my sweet time getting ready. Before long, I was asked by a Forest Service employee if I planned on leaving my car there. I was indeed planning to, but casually replied that I was just using the bathroom. I have always parked there since my first bike ride up Evans in 1995, but I guess they are cracking down, as I bet it gets nutty there on summer weekends. After using the bathroom again for one last time and brushing my teeth, I relented and moved the car to a small lot up the road, on the opposite side of the street from the middle school (no small task in slippery road shoes and pockets full of stuff).

The morning was perfect, clear, cool (but not cold) and barely a breeze. I started up the road in the big ring, gliding along, buoyed by my excitement, as I was so happy to be out in the mountains again, heading up high, not a care in the world.

Before long though, the hard truth of my lack of fitness/acclimatization became evident and my naïve burst of “speed” came to a screeching reduction. I dropped into the small ring and resolved to just take it easy and spin the rest of the climb, aiming to get up to the summit in under 3 hours was my loose goal.

I was watching my speedometer and knew I was going much slower than normal, but would not be too sure as to how much until I passed through the gate just beyond Echo Lake. I never kept close track of my stats in the past, but I am sure I used to go through there in the 50-55 minute range. Today was not to be even close though, as I arrived there at 1:07 and change. I stopped and knocked on the window of the toll booth, where I surprised the woman sitting there. Apparently, if you use the road without stopping (a bit ambiguous and impossible to enforce), you can pass through for free. I regretted even taking the time to stop, as she was not even looking, but told her that I was not planning on stopping and she waved me through.

On the first tight turn after the gate, I tossed a full water bottle to the side, as I saw no point in lugging it to the top for nothing, as it was cool and I had another. I chowed a few Clif Shot Bloks (compliments of Rick Canter) and continued on my way, going really casual and not pushing at all. It was great riding Evans on a Thursday, as I felt as though I pretty much had the road to myself and made for a very peaceful time, as I could only hear my rhythmic breathing, my tires singing on the road and distant birds chirping.

Strangely, once above tree line (though I never felt that bad) I started to come alive somewhat and picked up the pace a bit. Occasionally, when the gradient and shelter from the mild breeze were just right, I could hit the big ring and ride 18-21mph. As I was cruising fast, I came around a corner doing my best Lance impression and caught 3 riders. The woman at the tail end glanced back and announced “motorcycle back!”, then did a double take and corrected herself. Though my burst of speed was short lived, it really made me feel alive and exhilarated, so I rolled with it for a bit, taking advantage of the rush.

I was somewhat dreading the final 5 miles beyond Summit Lake, as it is typically the most painful, whether running or cycling. Though steeper and progressively higher in elevation, I really felt surprisingly good (probably because I was going mostly easy since the start) and was able to maintain a pace better than I expected from myself. Since I had taken a month completely off of any activity, no mountains, 8 days at sea level, I figured I would really be gasping for oxygen. Ironically, it was the final 5 miles where I felt the best.

Even with the stop at the gate, and turning around at one point to investigate a flashlight I spotted on the side of the road (false alarm, it was crappy and broken) I arrived on top after 2:36:54 and was pretty satisfied with that, all things considered.

I took a short break on top to put on my hat and windbreaker (I know, I agreed to not stop, but it was the safer option) and ended up fielding questions from several groups of tourists who were amazed and in near disbelief that people ride their bikes ALL the way up to the top.

Though weather conditions were pleasant, I was not at all looking forward to the ride down. The road is in terrible shape, especially near and above Summit Lake, I can only imagine how tough it must be to maintain such a road. Every 10 to 15 feet there is a deep and wide crack running perpendicular to the road. On tires with 120+ psi, these cracks seemed to be rattling the fillings from my teeth. To add to the excitement, there are deep sinkholes and deep parallel cracks that could certainly stop a front tire if hit just the right way.

I took things very slow and cautious all the way past Summit Lake, then progressively began to let the brakes go a bit more. I couldn’t help to think back to my ride in January, where I so quickly and effortlessly glided this road at faster speeds. Once past the gate, the main road back down to I.S. was a quick cruise, until I got in the canyon and of course had a headwind. I was glad to see the car, as my neck was sore from the 1:03 descent. Can’t wait to get back on Saturday.

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