Pikes Peak

I have been playing video games which feature Pikes Peak since I can remember. When I found out there was the possibility of coming to Colorado Springs for work my mind immediately went to my hours and hours spent racing up Pikes Peak in rally cars in video games. However, I had less than zero interest in driving a car up Pikes Peak. I had to go up on a bicycle.

I immediately set about researching everything there was to know about climbing Pikes Peak on a bike. It wasn't even an option five years ago but it was finally opened to cyclists in 2013. You have to leave early in the morning to avoid storms on the way down. Most importantly you need to give yourself time to acclimate to the elevation or you will suffer from altitude sickness. So, like any sane person would do after reading that information, I left my hotel on the opposite side of Colorado Springs on my bike at 9:30am less than 24 hours after arriving in Colorado Springs. Because I'm an impatient idiot.

I arrived at the Pikes Peak gate at around 11:15am and found a massive line of cars waiting to get in. The obvious option was to impress the drivers behind me with my ability to apply spray sunscreen while trackstanding. I payed the idiotic $15 to get through the gate ($15 per person in a car is fine. $15 on a bicycle is moronic because I do basically zero damage to the roads, give off zero emissions, and I payed for food at every overpriced shop on the mountain, and I may have inspired a person or two to not drive their fucking car into pristine wilderness in the future…) and began the climb (which in all honesty began back in Colorado Springs).

The climb is divided into about three sections. The first segment I was cruising. I began thinking to myself that all of the chatter on the internet was bullshit and this wasn't one of the hardest climbs in the entire world but was actually quite simple. The grades were mellow, extremely straightforward, and I was able to maintain a decent speed without feeling winded at all.

Once I got past the first gift shop the difficulty cranked up. The elevation increased, the incline increased, the air thinned. It was as if every single rotation of the cranks was more difficult than the last. And this pattern did not cease until I reached the summit. By the time I reached the brake check station I was spent. I was forced to stop seemingly every switchback at this point (and if you've been up Pikes Peak you'll know there's more than a few switchbacks). My lungs were spent and I was straining to merely process information. I was still 2,500 feet below the summit.

The third segment of the ride was above the tree line. I found several Marmots to keep me momentary company but mostly I was alone with my thoughts and increasingly labored breathing. The 20 mile signs kept going up but they weren't much of a relief. My biggest relief was when I would recognize turns from racing video games… The 50 foot dip into a valley (the picture at the top) which I've played in video games literally hundreds of times left me star struck and gave me a momentary respite to the relentlessness of the climb. I just didn't realize how steep the climb after the dip was. I heard several cars cheer me on (a theme of the day actually) at this point and realized I was close to reaching the summit.

My breathing began to normalize, I felt surprisingly wonderful, and felt a sense of euphoria come over me when I saw the first sign to say 14,000 feet. There was one more turn and I was waiting for my mind to turn into mush but it didn't happen. I felt slightly woozy but nothing intolerable. I arrived at the summit, took some pictures, walked to the back and stared over the ridiculous view which awaited me. I've been up a lot of mountains but I'm almost certain I've never been over 14k feet before. It was a sight. I then heard a megaphone calling everyone indoors. Lightning had struck and we weren't safe to go outside. I was on a steel road bike. Great…

I spent some time wandering about the gift shop and bought a patch and a pin, got a hot dog and a donut (at the behest of the bike shop employee I spoke with earlier in the day), and waited out my time. I hung out with a Pakistani family for a bit and fielded questions from just about everyone I passed. I began to realize I was a local celebrity. The idea that someone would ride a bicycle up Pikes Peak seemed to most of the people utterly insane. Some kids thought it was the coolest thing ever (I'm in their camp). Wearing a cycling kit on top of a 14,000 foot mountain is an easy way to get people to talk to you…

The lightning storm wasn't stopping. It actually began to hail and I was extremely concerned with how I was going to make it down the mountain. The idea that I would cycle up a glorious 8,000 foot climb covered in switchbacks and not ride down made me sick to my stomach. And I was actually worried about how I was going to get down the mountain!

Some dudes began to question me about my bike and were in the seemingly universal state of shock. It turned out they were Air Force pilots and through their mutual love of endurance sports and the fact that I am ex-Army made us quick friends. They offered me a spot in their rented Kia Minivan (which is a fabulous place to store a bicycle for future reference) and we promptly ran through the hail and began the drive down. There was snow, lightning, hail, rain, and basically everything you wouldn't want to be in while riding a bicycle. We got down about 1,000 feet however and everything cleared up. The road was damp but I was quite excited. We got to a pullout and my new friends were taking panoramic photos of the crazy road and I decided I couldn't physically allow myself to ride down Pikes Peak in a minivan.

I pulled my bicycle out of their trunk, sorted my gear, and then began flying down the mountain switchback after switchback. My brakes began to squeal. Fairly normal on a set of carbon fiber rims but I was concerned. I got down to the upper gift shop where there was a brake check zone and a nice ranger I had spoken with earlier was there and checked my brakes with a laser heat sensor. 80-95 on every track but my right front brake. 180 degrees. I was extremely concerned.

I decided to wait around a bit and let the brake track cool off. The Kia passed me and we began to play a bit of cat and mouse since bicycles travel much faster than cars downhill. I would pass their van and stop to let my brake cool off. They would pass me and then I'd get back on and pass them. Ad naseum. It was quite fun(ny).

I got down to about 9,000 feet and my brake began to shudder. I knew exactly what that meant. I had just replaced my front brake pads last week for exactly that reason. The front brake pads had melted through completely and were useless in a matter of days. I managed to limp my bicycle down 3,000 feet through Manitou Springs in the rain with only the rear brake by passing cars instead of braking and giving myself an excessive amount of time to brake when needed. I was scared shitless the entire time and probably could have died.

I got down to Colorado City and walked into a bar to get a much needed beer. A couple grabbed me. "Whoa! Were you the guy climbing Pikes Peak on a bike today? That was so awesome!!" I spoke with them for a good 15 minutes and they were genuinely excited to talk to me about cycling. They rode motorcycles so they understand why I do this stuff.

I would rather put myself into precarious situations and live to tell about it than the other option.

Taking advantage of opportunities.

So I went into work yesterday and was informed someone needed to go to Colorado Springs to help out for two weeks and that person was me. I immediately realized I must have a bicycle there. I went to some websites to price out the cost for 10 days of a bike rental and found it was $50 a day and would end up costing about $500 after discounts and taxes. I then researched and tracked down a bike flight case at a [relatively] local shop that price matches major websites. The case retailed for $499 but was on sale for $367. I realized I could rent a bike for $500 or have a flight case for the rest of my life for $367 and have my company reimburse me for the actual flight. I immediately left work, drove two and a half hours north, bought the case, rode a climb in the area because I was there and my bike was already in my car, drove home, packed the bike and all of my crap, and jumped on a plane at 5am. Between my last trip and this I'm becoming a pro at flying with bicycles.

I woke up at 4am, flew to Denver, got a rental car, drove to Colorado Springs, checked in with work and they basically let me go as I had been traveling and whatnot for over 9 hours at that point. I was tired but not too tired for a ride so I went to my hotel, checked in and assembled my bike. It's inexplicably nice to have my bike which is fitted for me, fussed over and exactly how I like it, here with me in a room 1,000 miles from home. Since I'm 6,000 feet up in the air and I live about a mile from the Pacific at about 100 feet give or take a dozen' I decided to keep it mellow. I left the hotel and headed straight to an outdoor shop to get a drybag since the sky looked like it was about to open. I then rode over to Garden of the Gods. It was an extremely easy ride with less than 2,000' feet total climbing over 30 or so miles but extremely rewarding. Riding anywhere you've never been is rewarding but the geology in Colorado Springs is absolutely incredible and I feel extremely lucky to be given this chance to explore it on my bicycle.

I left Garden of the Gods and it started to pour so I headed to the closest brewpub I could find (where else would one go in this situation?). After a couple of beers, a burger, and a rainstorm I walked out and found my tire was flat. I pulled the staple out of my tire, threw in a new tube, set the bike up to leave and then lightning struck. Back in for another beer! After the beer the storm subsided and I headed off. I could see this hue of orange and red behind me in my rear view mirror so I decided to turn around and discovered one of the craziest technicolor sunsets I have ever seen which was diffused through the clouds of the storm. An incredible end to the day. Time for another beer…

Exploration

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Part of the reason I love riding bicycles so much is that they give me the chance to explore back roads and go places just for the sake of the ride.  Since it’s summer half of California is currently on fire.   One of the mountains near me went up in flames last weekend and everyone has been keeping to themselves in doors out of the ash.  I’ve been making due by attempting to ride away from the fire but today, for the second time, I rode up a local climb simply to look at it.  It’s not something I like to see threatening the livelihoods of my neighbors but by riding a bicycle to look at the fire I am able to more fully appreciate the power and magnitude of it.  Climbing thousands of feet up mountains to look at forest fires is, unfortunately, becoming a yearly tradition of mine but I find it ultimately rewarding.  Most people don’t take time out of their day to step back and just look at these fires.  Bicycles give me the opportunity and a reason to do so.  I finished the ride today awestruck by the power of fire and accepting of the fact that forest fires are the normal state of things here in the summer.  Without bicycles I’m not sure how I’d feel about the fire.  When it eventually dies down I will have a reason to explore the scorched earth left in the fire’s wake.  For that, I’m thankful.

The frame bag.

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I’ve been collecting bicycle bags for a while now and consider them an indispensable part of cycling.  How and why cyclists ride without them I will never understand. This Revelate Designs Tangle frame bag has been my loyal companion for a couple years now and I refuse to ride my Niner RLT9 without it.  It stays completely out of my way and allows me to stash all kinds of clothes, tools, foods, and other goodies in there.  I leave binoculars in it sometimes as well…  The extra weight allows me to enjoy the ride in a different way than just riding with the bare minimum.  I find the obsession with weight in cycling weird.

One day last fall I was in Joshua Tree National Park riding this bicycle.  The riding there is mediocre at best – at least for that day – but the sights are worth riding it for.  I will definitely return but will probably stick to pavement next time.  When exiting the park I went into the gift shop and saw a patch.  It made me recall a bag my dad and I had made when I was a young boy scout.  It was an old canvas backpack covered in National Park patches which I still have somewhere around here (even though it’s far too small to fit on my back).  I decided that day to get an annual interagency pass and use it a bunch to ride bicycles and collect patches from these parks.  I didn’t have any specific intention for them at the time but I was going to collect them and eventually find a use for them.

In February, when I got the pass, I rode through the acid trip that is Death Valley.  I rode from the closest patch of tarmac to the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin at -278 feet, up over 5,500 feet to Dante’s View.  It was an absolutely incredible ride with a mellow consistent grade almost the entire way where the people at the top were cheering for me and I got the most ridiculous payoff view of the entrance shot of Mos Eisley from Star Wars.  In May I went to Kings Canyon and rode down a 5,000 foot descent into Kings Canyon and then rode next to Kings River which had raging whitewater from all of the melting snowpack in the Sierras this year.  Another unforgettable ride.  The rest of the patches were collected from my tour last month through Banff, Lake Louise, and Kootenay National Parks in Canada and Glacier National Park in the USA.  I’ll write about that trip in another post.

When I finished that trip I felt inspired to sew them to my trusty frame bag.  I used cement to attach them the patches to the bag, sewed them on and then sealed the holes and the thread to the bag with Seam Grip.  It took me nearly a year of patch collecting, a bunch of time thinking about it, and probably four hours of labor to get this frame bag to where it’s at but I could not be more pleased with it.  For me it is filled with nostalgia and makes me excited to ride just looking at it.

I look forward to more rides in National Parks.  I find them to be places of immense beauty and they clear my head and lift my spirit like nowhere else.  I also look forward to the time when I can create another bag like this one which will continue to motivate me to ride more.

A beginning.

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I recently returned back from an 11 day bicycle trip.  I planned, organized, acquired gear, and whatnot for over six months.  When the day came nothing had been overlooked.  My gear was dialed in and my bike was ready to go.  I rode from Calgary to Banff, Lake Louise, over the Continental Divide to Kootenay National Park, down through British Columbia, across the border to Whitefish, Montana and finally over Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.  One of the most majestic and breathtaking places I have ever been.

On the trip everyone I met was on my wavelength, the pace of life slowed to a glacial crawl, and every day I woke up was like waking up in my own personal heaven (regardless of, or possibly because of, the fact that I was in a tiny backpacking tent sleeping an inch and a half off the earth for two weeks straight).  I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced a similar sensation to living on a bicycle before.  The meditative process of preparing, the actual act of riding, meeting people, finding places to eat, enjoying the scenery, jumping into random rivers, getting hit with random rain storms, finding a beer or two at the end of the day, and generally moving through the world and receiving it as it comes was something that truly spoke to every fiber of my being.  Everything ran so smoothly, despite breaking a few spokes and needing to repair the rear wheel twice, that I was honestly amazed.

My rear wheel finally gave out on the last foot of the last climb of the last day after I had taken the train from Whitefish to Portland.  I’m not religious but I honestly feel the universe was telling me that I was in the right place, doing what I was supposed to be doing, and the wheel breaking when I got to the top of the climb only added to that sensation (for reasons I will not go into now).

I began sifting through the photos from this journey on my computer tonight and felt compelled to share my journeys through the earth on a bicycle.  I have been neglecting both my photography and writing skills and will use this as an opportunity to improve them.  I aim to share my thoughts, ideas, photographs, and essays on cycling, life, and probably some music.  I’m not sure how this will turn out but it seems like an avenue to channel my interests and thoughts.  At the very least I hope it inspires someone to go out and ride more.

Enjoy.