Once in a while you do a ride that leaves you tingling for days afterwards, and not because your fingers and toes are still recovering from frostbite and numbness. Colorado has experienced a remarkable cold snap in the last weeks with lows in the range of -15F and highs in the single digits F. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it myself, and for the first four or five days of the snap I didn’t seriously consider going outside.
Saturday was different though. My friend Peder is much tougher than I am and had been texting me all week to see if I was riding. I finally decided that if he was man enough to get out there in those sorts of temperatures, I should try to suck it up and get out there with him.
The thermometer read 9F/-12.7778C, and with temperatures like that a road ride is somewhat out of the question. The wind chill would be downright dangerous. Instead we opted for an outing on the Cyclocross bikes around Green Mountain. It wouldn’t be an epic destination, but the conditions would make it an adventure none the less.
After spending roughly an hour each finding layers and getting suited up we struck out onto the trails. Immediately it became clear that the ride would have a high degree of hilarity. I had anticipated a couple of inches of soft fluffy powder to ride through, but the trail surface was largely compacted by hikers and other riders, and the skinny treads of the cyclocross bikes didn’t mesh extremely well with the previous ruts. The first 200 feet of the ride were pretty sketchy, but with every pedal stroke we adapted our technique a bit more. Eventually we were able to gain some momentum. Once moving, the whooting started. We relaxed and started absorbing the utter beauty of our surroundings. Green Mountain is only 15 minutes from downtown Denver, but with a dusting of snow familiar scenery was made new and our sense of exhilaration went sky high.
Although the terrain at Green Mountain is pretty mellow and rolling on the lower loop, we were still challenged to keep our bikes upright and summit the small inclines without spinning out or stalling. This reminded me that a great way to make an old trail new is to tackle it from a new angle. Green Mountain on a fully plushed out dual suspension MTB might be a bore, but there is never a dull moment on a fully rigid cyclocross bike riding on ultra skinny tires. You have to engage your brain and whatever skill you can muster, then engage the trail in a duel as it tries to wrestle you into the bushes.
As we arrived at the backside of the mountain we were presented with a decision. Should we return the way we came, should we go over the top and back, or should we press on towards Dinosaur Ridge and Red Rocks. We hadn’t covered many miles, so we decided to press on towards Red Rocks and see what we came upon along the way.
Ascending Alameda up the side of Dino Ridge, we came upon the trail turnoff for Dakota ridge. We had briefly discussed the ridge earlier, but as we looked at the trail head it was clear that much or all of the trail might not be rideable due to the snow. “Should we go for it?” I asked. “Of course!” said Peder. The decision was of questionable wisdom, but we were in an adventurous mood. The decision, as it turns out, took the ride to the next level. As we quickly ascended up the ridge both on bike and on foot, we were greeted with the most perfect late afternoon light. The combination of the snow and the natural ruggedness of the terrain were literally breathtaking.
As we climbed higher the views just kept getting better. It was slow going in the snow, carrying our bikes and hiking in cycling shoes and booties, but our enthusiasm was unchecked. We both knew we were experiencing a day and a “ride” totally unique to any other we’d previously done. Knowing that experiences like this don’t come along very often, we stopped a lot to soak it in and take trophy shots.
Eventually the ridge mellowed out and we were able to get back on the bikes and attempt to ride as much as possible. The going wasn’t easy. We fell, we dismounted, but it didn’t matter, we had a blast no matter what.
Eventually the abuse I was dishing out onto my bike finally exceeded it’s technical specifications and my chain snapped. It was a huge bummer moment. Here we were, temperatures dropping even further, up high on a ridge, losing sunlight, and now slowed further by a mechanical. Knowing we just needed to keep moving, I tried to push it out of my mind and hustled to hike/jog/scoot as quickly as I could.
As we neared the end of the ridge an amazing thing happened. Two mountain bikers appeared coming from the opposite direction. On a lark I asked if they had a chain tool, and they did! Not only did they have a chain tool, they had a real shop sized Park chain tool. Peder and I were stunned. The timing was just too incredible. We were saved. The chain was repaired within minutes and we were again on our way under full power. We were hustling now, making fewer stops. Darkness was approaching and at some point the cold started to win the battle against our layers and warmers.
The descent down the ridge was a wild ride. I alternated between laughing and pure terror. One minute I’d be more or less in control, the next moment I thought I might end up tumbling down the ridge. We did make it down in one piece. Running out of time we opted take some road to beat the sunset and were shocked when the wind chill that greeted us felt like fire on our faces. Turning back onto the trails again we hunched down into endurance mode. We rode as quickly as possible. My lungs protested and my legs failed me. Peder, in customary fashion, pulled away in a display of his considerable strength. I didn’t mind getting gapped. As far as I was concerned we’d both conquered something this day: nature herself. In return we were shown the spectacular beauty that Colorado has to offer to those that will layer up, get outside, and go find it.