Mt Evans Bike Ride (and Climb)

In early June, 2004, Brian says, “How about a snowclimb on Mt. Evans?”

“Need a short day?” I inquired.

“No,” he replied, “I just read that the road to the summit is closed because of heavy snow; we can enjoy a rare restoration of wilderness solitude on Mount Evans while we ride our bikes up the road.”

We had taken to riding our bikes in the Brainard Lake area during the Spring climbing season when the road is closed, so the idea wasn’t completely out of the blue.  But there isn’t a lot of altitude gain on the Brainard Lake road, which makes bike riding an ideal way to shorten a boring & time-consuming approach.

“So, how hard will it be to ride up the Mount Evans road?  I seem to recall it is a long, steep drive,” I asked while thinking that I am not capable of a hard bike ride.

“I don’t think so,” Brian reassured me, “I think it will be only be a little harder than the Brainard Lake road. Probably the distance is around 4 miles, but the extra distance will help spread the extra altitude.”

On the morning of June 5, 2004, we loaded Brian’s truck with gear and bikes and set off for Mt. Evans.  We arrived at the gate to find it closed, as expected. Then I noticed the sign that read, “7 miles to Mt Evans”!

“What the….,” I exclaim. Slowly turning to glare at Brian, my tormentor, I see the Snow Plow Truck pulling up to the gate.  I’m saved!

We ask if we can follow him up the road in Brian’s truck, but he says no can do.  And he also said the road will probably open today, but he didn’t know for certain or, if so, when.

Not one for waiting around, Brian says, “Let’s just ride up; it will be fun.”.  I really wanted to wait for the gate to open, but sensed a tragedy in the making (what if it doesn’t open?).  So, I agreed to try; I’d just have to go slow and rest on the flat parts.

Brian recalls:

I remember feeling fortunate that I got Joe on the bike before he had a chance to think about how far it was.

Per our Brainard Lake method, we strap the packs and other gear onto the bikes, and then start up the hill.

The Bike Ride

My bike is an old Schwinn made of solid cast iron with lead wheels (feels like, anyway), and with my personal 220 lbs plus an additional 20 pounds of gear (axe, crampons, water, boots) on the bike, I immediately know I am in trouble.

I down shift into my lowest gear and manage to go just fast enough to keep from toppling over.

Bike & Climb up Mount Evans

The following thoughts [and emotions] occurred to me along the long Mount Evans road (follow number sequence on map):

  1. My lungs are bursting and my mind racings….what am I going to do?…how can I possibly finish this road? [panic]
  2. But after a bit, my body settles into a rhythm and I start to think that I’ll make it.  But I am going very slowly  [relief and embarrassment]
  3. Brian is up ahead waiting for me to catch up; he probably is worried I cannot make it.  I try standing up to go faster, but my back wheel spins on the snowy road.  I cannot go any faster.  And I cannot stop or I’ll never get going again.  Hell, I cannot even stop pedaling for a moment’s rest; there are no flat sections! [resignation plus determination]
  4. The Plow truck comes barreling back down the road, coming around a corner…we swerve violently to dodge out of the way; the shot of adrenaline helps me for a while [amazement]
  5. Now my hands are freezing. I guess they are not getting enough blood flow due to my death grip on the handlebars; but for now, my need to squeeze the brakes is not paramount.  Still, I do not want frozen hands, so I desperately try to keep my balance with with only one hand on the handlebars at a time while letting the other warm up [fear and irritation]
  6. Brian is long gone. I approach a big curve and think I am close to the end.  I have just enough energy to make it as long as I can weave across both lanes to reduce the angle.  I wonder if the road has opened up and let cars through, but I cannot afford to look back  [desperation]
  7. As I turn the corner, I can see I am only half-way and I have 3+ miles to go to reach Summit Lake.  I keep spinning my legs and concentrating on my breathing.  Every time I look up it looks further away. I stop looking and keep pedaling  [determination]
  8. After battling cramps for the final mile or so, I finally make it to Summit Lake and pull off where Brian is sleeping on a rock.  I get off my bike and find I cannot walk, which reminds me of the first triathlon I did many years ago on Key Biscayne [surprise]

Once at the end of my pedaling madness, I also noticed that the upper part of the road was closed by a gate across the road (and the road covered in snow).  It was a tremendous relief; I was not physically capable of riding up the steep road to the summit after the climb, and now I could save face.

After a few minutes of rest and serious contemplation of just going to sleep instead of climbing, I decided to pull myself together (man-up, as it were) and persevere. The summit wasn’t far away, and I could rest at every step if necessary.

The Climb

The snow was soft and getting softer; it was going to be miserable later in the day.  Of course, Elfin-like Brian, floating on his skis, moved effortlessly ahead, gliding across the snow like Legolas crossing the Misty Mountains Pass (think:  Frodo Lives!).  I stumbled along like an elephant in ballet slippers since I left my snowshoes home to avoid carrying them on the bike ride.

Luckily, I found enough rocks and firm patches of snow to keep going to reach the base of the North Face route without too much misery or burning energy I couldn’t afford.  There had been a massive slide recently…the snow was very chunked-up.  Yet, the conditions turned out to be okay…no sun yet…, and we successfully navigated through the avalanche debris and around the rocks to reach the summit ridge.

We sauntered over to the summit to enjoy the views.  But not wanting the snow to get too soft, we decided to leave after a short stay.

The Snow Descent

The snow had softened as predicted, but still yielded some good ski turns for Brian and a nice glissade for me down the steep couloir.  I managed to slide down most of the way before the snow ate my momentum.  Then I had to walk / wade through the snow at the bottom of the couloir which was like wet glue.

The Postholing

Oh, I hate soft snow.  I cannot decide which hell would be worse, but at that moment #3 was the leading candidate between the following:

  1. An eternity of driving in rush hour traffic where other lanes move faster, especially the one you just moved out of.
  2. An eternity of watching TV with a broken remote that can display all the great sporting event and science fiction options available but cannot switch the channel away from All My Children
  3. An eternity of hiking in soft snow

I waded and crawled, I rolled and hopped, I cursed and yelled.  And then I finally lost my cool completely and swore out loud that I’d never do another snow climb.

With my last drop of energy, I crawled onto the road; and then I stood up, collected myself once more, and thought, “that was a good bit of exercise.”

I always tell Brian that I get more exercise than he does with his shamefully fun and easy skiing, but he never changes his ways.

I started walking toward the bikes, and that’s when I saw the cars start coming up the road. And there were lots of them.

The Downhill Ride

Cars were everywhere, including those going back down the road after the family’s annual 5-minute adventure [sure, my attitude is poor, but wait ’til you do it before you judge too harshly].

I tried but could not keep from flying down the road, as I desperately squeezed my brakes as hard as frozen fingers would allow.  The downhill cars were whizzing by me as they tried to time the instant they could get around me without hitting an oncoming car or knocking me off the cliff  (I would lose either way). I was so consumed with staying close-but-not-too-close to the edge of the road that I couldn’t afford a moment’s thought for how my life was utterly at the mercy of drivers I’ve spent thousands of hours (so far) dodging in my daily driving routine.

It was a helpless feeling.  A drop-off, only 1 foot to my right, was at least 500 feet to the bottom, and the cars blazed by only inches to my left, going by so fast that my left ear would have caught fire if it wasn’t frozen.  I kept thinking that if I hit a rock or if my front wheel comes loose or if I get into the gravel, I was a dead man.  I felt real regret for not doing some sort of inspection on my antique mechanical beast before trusting my life to it on this roller coaster adventure.

But by the mid-way point, I had grown accustomed to the speed and began to enjoy it.  I felt increased confidence in my bike and my skills, so I eased up on the brakes a bit as I tried to weigh my rate of progress toward the parking lot against the rate at which my hands were becoming frozen blocks of ice:  would I reach the truck first or die when my hands broke off during the descent?

Brian’s recalls:

The biggest problem was that the road did open up, after we summitted, and we had to dodge cars all the way down.  I also remember the usual peculiar handling of a bike with skis and boots tied to it.  Seeing those skis protrude past the bike stem always makes me wonder if something will bind up and the handle bar will refuse to turn.  By the time I got to the bottom I was getting enough of a feel for half-assed road biking that I was starting to really lean into the turns.

And then it was over.  I sure didn’t feel short changed on exercise or thrills.  And, I even thought I might like to take up cycling again [p.s.: it would take 10 years to buy a road bike; click on Mount Evans Hill Climb Done Right (2014) to see my Mt Evans redemption ] or even look into mountain biking [note: it would take 5 years to start mountain biking].

I was especially pleased to be able to say I rode my bike up America’s highest paved automobile road.  So, ignore my whining, bring a good bike, and enjoy a nice ride.  And, perhaps, have a friend follow in a car.

If you plan to ride from the Entrance Station [to the summit, it is a] 15-mile route [and] an elevation gain of 3,530 feet. Allow 2 to 3 hours to complete the trip to the summit.

Mount Evans – Bicycling the Mount Evans Scenic Byway

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