Colorado 2011

What did we do

'Isn't that the flat desert state?' asked a friend. I wasn't sure, so 14 of us set off to find out. Over 17 days we cycled 660 miles and climbed 49750 feet over glorious passes and through old mining towns. At the end it was agreed that this was right up there with great areas to cycle

We flew into the mile high city of Denver and were transported to Colorado Springs. Here we visited the Garden of the Gods, a state park with weird and pointy rock formations.

On the second day, at Manitou Springs we took the cog railway up Pikes Peak. One of the 14000 foot peaks, the views were extensive and it was the day of the race to the top, the second oldest motor race in the USA. We continued on to Cripple Creek an old mining town, now gambling centre.

Onto Canon City, via the edge road, 25 miles of downhill, 14 was unpaved on the old mining route. Cliffs and a bear were seen (unconfirmed by Reuters), ending in a road literally cut into the hillside. Smoothies and ice cream at the end, as it was another hot day

Monarch was a longer day, though much along the raft infested Arkansas River which cooled the air. Cotapaxi Store for coffee and Absolute Bikes in Salida for bike shirts provided the retail therapy before the climb almost to the top of Monarch Pass.

To get to Gunnison meant doing the last 5 miles of Monarch Pass and it was over the Continental Divide for the first time. Some of us took the cable car to the top before dropping steeply to Tomochi Stores. We were on the Trans American Route and passed several couples tackling this 90 day tour. The rest was gradually downhill through plains edged by mountains.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is 3000 foot deep in places and we skirted the edge on the way to Crawford. Before this was Mesa Resevoir, required as Colorado only has one lake and is quite dry. The views into the canyon were extraordinary before climbing over the pass. Almost a rest day, with 20 miles down to Paonia, where the annual cherry days were being held

The McClure pass is a 'tiddler' we were told, at 8755foot it was one of the lowest. In reality it was the worst, getting steeper and steeper as the top approached. Met at the top by Linda and Mark from Denver, we rested and contemplated a hard climb. The descent to drinks at Redstone was a relief and the 6 mile cycleway to Carbondale was a real bonus at the end

The Rio Grande trail connected Carbondale to Aspen and we took this. Steadily uphill all the way. The only hazard were the weekenders on racing bikes going as fast as they could downhill, screaming out that everyone should get out of their way. Odd really as they were far less polite than the car drivers.

12095 feet and the second cossing of the Continental Divide, Independance Pass beckoned. As the highest pass in the USA, Paul raced to the top and having made an early start we all made it by 1100. Snow still present, we felt that we'd earnt the right to monopolise the signpost as the car drivers hung about. Over the other side and a long descent to the only store at Twin Lakes. The last 10 miles were tough, gradual uphill to Leadville and the 4th of July fireworks, most appropriate.

A gentle climb took us over the 11318 foot Fremont Pass. The day before, one of the numerous racing cyclists had marvelled at our luggage and suggested we carried too much. Phil made his climb a little easier by donating a tube that he'd lugged up the climb as Rocky had no tube (or pump for that matter.) We ended in Frisco, which I found delightful, following another cyclepath.

Another day, another cycleway, all around Dillon resevoir, tarmacced and smooth. This led to Loveland pass, at 11990 foot it was the third crossing of the Continental Divide and felt like a breeze and only 100 foot lower than Independance. A steep descent and a brand new cycleway through the woods avoided the interstate that connected too, two more paths that took us past an old railway and into Georgetown. Onto Empire and Pecks House the oldest guest house in Colorado

Back over the Continental Divide at 11307 via the Berthoud pass, lots of zig zags and a wide shoulder and through the skiing resorts of Winter Park. All very new, pretty and house building. Expansive views along busier roads to Granby before pushing onto Grand lake

The big day, High trail Road through Rocky National Park and yes over the Continental Divide again. Moose, loads of Elk, enormous gift shop, sun, sleet and wind, the 10 mile road at over 12000 foot had the lot, and we rested at Estes Park

The Twin Peaks highway wasn't high but it did have 2 smaller passes, not as spectacular as the past few days, but it revealed Nederland where some drugs are legal and it was like Glastonbury

The last cycling day was all downhill (well aside from 150 foot) as we plunged down Boulder canyon for 20 miles. Waterfalls, climbers and a good cyclepath into this lovely city.

So Colorado done, but somehow I'll be back, it was that glorious.

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