Day 2 - a ride from Estes Park (Elev. 7,500') to Granby (Elev. 8,000') via Rocky Mountain National Park's Trail Ridge Road (Maximum Elev. 12,183') - was a near disaster. We knew that a cold front of some kind was approaching, and a healthy chance of rain was forecast, with temps expected to be in the low 40s up at the summit. The night before, we awoke to steady rain at 2AM that lasted until I climbed out of the tent at 5AM to attend the meeting in the cafeteria. The tour organizers had been in constant contact with the Park Service, trying to determine if the crown jewel of this year's tour would even be open. At 5AM, it was announced that the road was closed, but we were going to wait a little while to see if things improved enough for them to let us through.
After two similar announcements at 5:30 and 6:30, we finally got word at 7:30 that the ride was on! The plan was to ride 18 miles up to the point of the road closure and hope for the best. If the road was still closed, we would return to Estes Park and be shuttled to the other side of the mountains in buses. The weather was actually looking better, so this seemed like a good plan.
After stopping for food & drink at Rest Stop #1, we climbed toward #2, which is where the road was closed at a bit below 11,000 feet. Just as we arrived, there was an announcement that the road would be opened in about 15 minutes! Temps were in the low 40s, it was breezy, and there was an occasional rain drop or snowflake. But the clouds to the west seemed to be breaking up a little, so we were hopeful.
When the road opened, we were among the first hundred or so to ride through. At first, there was a strong crosswind, but not so strong that it caused any alarm. Within about 20 minutes, though, things got ugly. Really ugly. The clouds that seemed to be breaking up swooped down on us, the temperature dropped, the wind picked up even more, and it started snowing. Even so, we weren't terribly uncomfortable because we were still going uphill, so still generating some heat.
By the time we reached around 11,500 feet (although, who knows, really - visibility was down to a couple hundred feet), the road had become wet from the falling snow (the temperature was "only" about 35), and that moisture was now splashing up onto our legs, which were not covered by waterproof rain gear, as were our arms and torsos. After some more time - how much, no one knows (I didn't even remember stopping at Rest Stop #3 along here until about a week ago) - we reached the initial summit of the climb. At this point, the road descends a few hundred feet over a half mile or so. It was here that I realized my brakes were almost useless, and I spotted a few places where the snow seemed to be collecting on the road, so even functioning brakes might be useless! It was downright scary.
More important than the wet road, however, is that I started to get cold because I was just sitting on my bike seat steering down the downhill road. Thankfully, the grade became an uphill just in time, and it climbed to the highest point of the road. Of course, then it started down again, but at least this time I knew that the Alpine Visitor Center was coming up. We could get a bowl of hot soup at the restaurant!
We arrived at the visitor center shivering wildly. We went inside to a surreal scene of shivering riders, Park Rangers checking people for hypothermia, and warm tourists who had arrived by car looking at us like we were from outer space. I looked around for the restaurant, and then asked a ranger if it was open. "Nope. Sorry. Frozen pipes." Ugh. So we warmed up as best we could, added the one additional fleece layer we had each carried up in a ziploc bag, and headed out into the blizzard.
The next part of our ordeal was a 20-mile descent to the western park entrance. The conditions were so miserable, I heard one woman exclaim, "I wouldn't even SKI in these conditions!" It was all I could do to hold onto the handlebars and hope I didn't crash or, worse, get a flat tire (at least a crash would likely mean a ride in a nice warm ambulance). On these beautiful park roads that would be easily descended at 35 mph on a bike in good weather, here I was clutching my brakes in a desperate attempt to keep my speed below 20 to avoid catastrophe. Of course, at 20 mph with temperatures ranging from 35-40, this meant we were just sitting still on our bikes for an hour with the wind chill at 24-30 degrees.
Finally, with Cameron about 2-3 minutes ahead of me, I arrived at a parking area where Rest Stop #4 was supposedly located. All I could see, though, were a couple dozen Park Service trucks lined up, engines running, heaters blasting. A ranger greeted me as I stopped my bike. He did not say "How are you?" or "Are you OK?" Instead, he looked at me very sternly and said, "I'd feel a whole lot better if you got into one of those trucks RIGHT NOW." I must have looked like hell.
I obeyed his command and staggered (yes, staggered) over to a truck with one empty seat. (I had seen Cameron ushered into a nearby SUV just as I arrived.) The other guy in there and I proceeded to shiver violently for about 15 minutes. At that point, I started to feel almost human again. Cameron emerged from the SUV and came over and hopped into our truck. He was in better shape than I was - in fact, his main issue was cold hands, not borderline hypothermia. We noticed that more riders were coming in, and they didn't look good either, so we got out, found our bikes, thanked the rangers profusely, and headed on down the road. Yes, we still had almost 20 miles to ride to town!
About halfway to town, I had what may have been my most brilliant idea in my entire life. Realizing that having to set up a tent and somehow dry out our shoes, gloves, etc. for the next day would just not work, I called Pamela at her San Francisco office and begged her to (quickly!) find us a hotel room in tiny Granby, Colorado. She was able to get what may have been the last room in the entire town for us; plus, the manager would drive over to the high school and pick us up! All ended well, as we were able to get most of our things mostly dry, sleep on an actual bed in a warm room, and even go out for pizza in town. There was nothing at all fun or "good" about the day, other than we can now say that we were among only about 300 cyclists (out of the 1,350 doing the tour) who actually completed the entire route that day.
(Snowy photos by Jerry Arvesen of the Bloomington, IN Bicycle Club - other than the photo I took of the meeting, I never took my camera out the whole day for fear it would get wet. I found Jerry's photos on his blog posting about the tour, and noticed them because I saw that it was OUR bikes parked in the snow at the visitor center that he happened to photograph! Jerry was also kind enough to send me a few other photos that weren't with his blog.)
- Be the first one to add a comment. You must log in to comment.