Cycling to the Top of Mt. Evans at 14,262 feet

The Highest Road in North America

Yesterday I rode my bike up a mountain. It wasn’t just any mountain. Mt. Evans is one of Colorado’s 14’ers – mountains that are over 14,000 feet in elevation. The road to the top of Mt. Evans happens to be the highest paved road in North America. I rode as high as a person can ride on the continent!
Cycling Mount Evans Colorado

For the shortest route, you can park at Echo Lake for the 28 mile round-trip to the summit.

The ride was a big celebration for me.  In a few days hence I would be getting reconstruction surgery for breast cancer ….closing what was over a year in treatment. It feels damn good to be at the finish line!

In addition, this year is the perfect opportunity to ride Mt. Evans since it’s closed to vehicle traffic due to COVID-19. You can ride from Idaho Springs which is 56 miles round-trip or you can drive to the road closure at Echo Lake and do the 28 mile round-trip.

I don’t know why but I chose the longer route starting from Idaho Springs.

Ride loaded. Is there another way?

At the parking lot there were a few other folks gearing up for the ride. I felt out of place with the roadie crowd.  Plus I don’t know how to ‘pack’ for a big road ride. I stole furtive glances at the cyclists who appeared to be traveling fast and light.

I reassessed. I didn’t need 3 extra layers of clothing, food for 2 days and 3 water bottles plus my camelback. (Duh, we weren’t bike packing to the top!) I ditched some of the extra weight and I’m glad I did.

I may not travel fast, ever, but I could at least be light (er).

Cycling Mount Evans Colorado

At the last minute I decided to turn the ride into a fundraiser for The Pink Fund. They are an amazing organization – the only national organization that provides direct financial support for women undergoing breast cancer treatment, help that is especially needed now with the impacts of COVID.

 

I’m good at endurance and I love to climb. But the first 10 miles of any ride is hard for me. It takes me awhile to get my mojo.

This ride was no different.  It was painful right out of the chutes.  At mile two I was dying.  Ten miles later we finally got to mile 3.

At mile 5 I told my partner I didn’t think I could do it. I told him that we should coast back to the car and drive to where the closed road starts at mile 14. But I thought of the women that would benefit by The Pink Fund and I kept pedaling. I thought of the battle they are fighting now and I kept pedaling.

I thought about how incredibly hard my breast cancer treatment was and how much easier it was to simply pedal up a big hill. I kept pedaling.

Slowly the miles ticked off behind us. Very slowly. It took us all day, but what a beautiful day it was. We climbed through lodgepole and bristlecone pine forests before topping out above treeline in the high altitude tundra blanketed with wildflowers.

Cycling Mount Evans Colorado on a Surly Cross Check

My partner, Studd Pyles.  Fourteen miles into our ride we got to the road closure at Echo Lake. Woohoo, the next 14 miles to the summit are free of traffic!!!

Cycling Mount Evans Colorado on a Surly Midnight Special

Our goal, Mt. Evans, at 14,271 feet.

Majestic bristlecone pines are one of the oldest tree species on the planet. On Mount Evans some of these trees are ~1,500 years old.

Wildflowers at Summit Lake.

 

Cycling Mount Evans Colorado on a Surly cross check

Getting closer to the summit. Studd on his Surly Crosscheck and the only dude not in lycra.

Cycling Mount Evans Colorado on a Surly Midnight Special

Yeah baby! It was super rad to get to the top and have the sun come out just for us.

 

Cycling Mount Evans Colorado on a Surly Midnight Special

Rolling fat even when I’m skinny – on GravelKing 650B x 48 tires.

Cycling Mount Evans Colorado

We enjoyed our usual lunch – smoked salmon, peanut m & m’s and a coke.

It was fitting to do this with my partner who supported me so much this last year. He was always by my side – throughout the terror of the diagnosis, the surgeries, the clinical depression, the ovarian scare, the broken foot, the ER visit due to an infection, the debilitating nerve pain, the drives back and forth to Denver to see my doctors, the radiation treatment and the final climb to this last surgery.

Marmot on Mt. Evans Colorado

I love how this cutie pie was sitting.

A mamma marmot watching her pups.

The beauty of the alpine tundra….Mt. Evans on the right.

Cycling Mount Evans Colorado

The final switchbacks literally took our breath away. The climb from 12,000 – 14,000′ was no joke!

 

Cycling Mount Evans Colorado on a Surly

What could be more amazing than riding above tree line?

Cycling Mount Evans Colorado on a Surly Midnight Special

My Surly Midnight Special taking in the view at Summit Lake. She’s sporting 3 bags: seat bag, gas tank bag and feed bag.  Even though I was trying to pack light I couldn’t take her up the mountain naked!

Cycling Mount Evans Colorado and big horn sheep

Traffic jam of bighorn sheep.

Bighorn sheep lambs.

We saw more bighorn sheep than cyclists on our way down.

Enjoying the views on our way down. We were lucky – the storms skirted around us and we only had a few drops of rain.

I stopped here to enjoy the solitude and watch rays of sunshine dance on the mountains.

 

All told, it took us 6 hours of moving time and 9 hours total to ride 56 miles with an elevation gain of 7,000 feet.   We rode loaded – on steel gravel bikes with fat tires.  It’s just how we roll. We take our time and enjoy the ride. A benefit to our leisurely pace was that we were on the summit when everyone else had long since headed down.  We had the road to ourselves on the downhill and enjoyed the mountains in solitude.

 

If you have any inkling of doing this ride, DO IT.  You may not get a chance to ride it sans motorized vehicles next year.  My advice would be to park at Echo Lake and do the 14 miles so you can enjoy the ride at a leisurely pace and you won’t have to worry about getting to the summit before the storms roll in around noon.

For more information and directions visit the Mount Evans Recreation Area webpage.  If you are riding from Idaho Springs, parking is available at the U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station. To get there: from I-70 west take exit 240 in Idaho Springs. Turn left at the stop sign (over I-70) and look for the U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station on your right.  Park there and follow Highway 103 south until it meets Echo Lake. Take Highway 5 to the top of Mount Evans. Easy peasy!

Cycling Mount Evans Colorado

Happy Trails my friends!

 

 

 

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