Extreme uphill: Mt. Evans
When an injury prevents you from riding extreme downhill, what do you do? You ride extreme uphill!
Far up the climb I was WAY off the back. When I caught the crew fixing a flat, I was like, “Sweet, my telekinetic powers must be working.”
We planned to start with a moderately hard climb and eventually work up to Mount Evans, the highest paved road in North America. For our first extreme uphill adventure, we went straight for the big daddy. It’s only pain, right?
Up, up, up.
The Mount Evans Scenic & Historic Byway is the highest paved automobile road in North America. It starts in Idaho Springs at about 7,500 feet. After 28 consistent miles it reaches the summit parking lot at 14,135 feet. Including a couple short descents, you get 7,000 feet of climbing love. Average grade: 5 percent. Mild, but unrelenting.
Around every turn spreads an immense view, and the ascent passes through three distinct biomes: the montane zone with its ponderose pines, Dougles firs, deer and weasel; the subalpine zone with its bristlecone pines, aspens, marmot and badgers; and the alpine zone with wildflowers, lichen, tourists and bicyclists. Not that you’ll notice.
At 14,000 feet each breath contains 1/3 fewer oxygen molecules than at sea level. Even for us mile-highers, the air at the top of the mountain yields 1/4 less oxygen than we’re used to. That leads to weakness, drowsiness, disorientation and dark thoughts.
Ascending Mt. Evans (and descending into madness)
Me getting dropped.
When you’re alone and in pain, it’s amazing where your mind goes — and what it brings back.
Mile 0. Saddle up slowly. In … no … hurry.
Mile 2. Feel good. Hips rotated forward, shoulders back, torso long like in low cobra, legs doing their thing. Buzzzzzz.
Mile 4. Rip, rip, rip … The Lycra on my inner thigh catches the Velcro on my saddle bag. Two registered trademarks tied together for an instant, 80 times per minute. Rip, rip, rip …
Mile 6. Dangly bits turn numb and shrink. Feet swell. All that blood has to go somewhere.
Hey, we’re at 13,000 feet. Let’s build us a road!
Mile 8. The injured right hand hurts. Then the right arm and shoulder. Then the left shoulder, arm and hand. And the neck, and the back. It’s a chain of pain. Whee!
Mile 10. Too much pain to pedal this fast. Back off. Watch Bobbi, Jon and Hawkes roll away. Welcome to Hell, population you.
Mile 12. I know if I pedal harder it’ll be more comfortable, plus I’ll catch up, but screw it. At 22 years old and 155 pounds I was a so-so climber. At 36 and 180 pounds … well … screw it.
Mile 16. My head pounds and the world spins. One voice says, “Be a man. Toughen up.” The other says, “I’m tough enough. I just want this to be over.”
Mile 17. Darkness. Two loved ones in bad places; one attempted suicide last week, one would like to try. Life is pain. This sucks!
Dragging: My tongue on the way up. My right foot on the way down.
Mile 18. I feel so sleepy. I close my eyes for one second, then 5, then 10. This seems like a bad idea. I sit by the road and plan the surrender. I’d stop here, but the crew will wait until I reach the top.
Mile 20. A short descent. The 110psi tires bash into the cracks — bap, bap, bap — and the frozen right hand doesn’t much like it. This is brutal. Extend that torso, rotate those hips and make 100 perfect strokes. Do it again. And again. Forget where you are and just turn the cranks.
Mile 26. Only two miles to go. Yes! I can ride two miles. Round the bend and behold the switchbacks: left, right, left, right, up, up, up. Curse this, but I’m so close.
Mile 28. The summit. It took me 4:20 including four stops, 15 track stands and endless self pity. Nowhere close to the 1:41:20 course record. Greet the now-cold crew. A moment of joy, some fresh strawberries then time for the payoff.
Miles 28-0. Full-speed pinned descent, maxing out 1.5 hands and 600 obliterated muscles. Pass cars with impunity, spin the 53×12 then rail the corners. Foot out and dicing. BRAAAP!
Erase all that hard work at Beau Jo’s Colorado Style Pizza in Idaho Springs. Big, doughy crust with honey on the side. Once the calories hit, we started planning the next ride.
I rode my Specialized Allex Pro road bike, which is light, stiff and quick. But my angry thumb — plus a season riding mountain bikes with 50mm stems — made that position torturous. Hawkes rode his Trek Fuel with 700c wheels. That’s a sweet setup: Your normal comfy mountain bike position, with the low rolling resistance of a road bike. Next time I’ll run an Enduro with slicks. Yikes, I said “next time …”
For details about the route and the Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hillclimb check out bicyclerace.com.