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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mile High Club- Cycling the Rockies

Mamils (middle aged men in Lycra) are strange creatures and very unpredictable at times especially those from Yorkshire.
Whilst currently carrying enough weight to be used as ballast for a small coaster choosing the rocky mountains for a cycling holiday could be considered by some as foolhardy.
Others might consider the need for therapy or 'meds', but some would see the ironic and beautiful logic.
Like Patrick Swaize looking for the perfect wave  in Point Break I am always looking for that ultimate challenge.
To find a ridding environment that is so 'Bad Ass' that it wants to drag you off your bike and wear away your cleats as you march your bike up oxygen starved gradients.

Where you grimace and say No - despite averaging a speed something close to walking pace

Pedalling out your comfort zone is not for everyone though, many are happy to vegetate on the flatlands - grazing on an appetite of mediocrity and convenience.
I like my eggs hard boiled.
So at the end of September armed with one  bag full of trepidation and the other my trusty steed I took off to Denver, Colorado.
The healthiest state in the US and one which I now affectionately see as California at altitude only with better manners.

Adopting the mantra of 'When in rome'....... I took my cowboy hat, a must for this land of frontier folk.
Brave, brazen and incredibly cool.

I was hosted by the inequitable Rachel and Jamie Simpson and their son Owen - all of whom were generous of spirit, warm of heart and as mad as a box of frogs when it came to sporting ambitions. They made my  previous cycling exploits seem rather amateurish.

Rachel insisted that at least for 32 hrs we should get used to the altitude.
This consisted of eating, drinking and laughing.
Having become out of breath by merely turning the pages of my book, I thought this was a jolly good plan.

Providing an impromptu history lesson Rachel illustrated how the earlier settlers had to fight for their food and that there were no family privileges!!!!!!!!

Denver appeared to have a number of different attractions which were all far more accessible than the rationed oxygen.

With our allocated time in the altitude completed on the 3rd day (well 2.5 to be precise)
We ventured up 'Lookout Mountain'. This starts in the prospecting town of Golden and climbs about 1500 feet in about 5 miles.
The climb was easier than expected. I could not work out what took my breath away the most.....the View or reduced oxygen. Both were equally breathtaking.

After this short taster we drove to Red Rocks an amazing Ampetheatre cut into the rocks which has been one of the most sought after venues for all the great music acts since.
All my favourites had been there and I am sure they loved the venue as much as I did.

The Next Day was some riding in the Garden of the Gods down to the South near Colorado Springs under the shadow of Pikes Peak.
This national Part was staggering in its beauty and each vista reminded me of my boyhood when I would watch old western movies on a Saturday afternoon

I half expected to see the lone ranger appear behind every rock. The route around the park was only about 7 miles so we went around a few times. It contained one particular climb (below) where the gradient was more akin to Europe and it was the only time on the whole trip where death seemed a possibility. Half way up I started to hyperventilate, panicking that I could not get enough oxygen into my body. I did not wimp out and stop but just slowed down to as slow as I could and concentrated on my breathing. It was a defining altitude moment for me as it was a blueprint I used thereafter.
Pedaling to my heart rate.

With a couple of rides checked off Jamie then took us to Deer Creek.
When we told people about deer creek all raised their eyebrows and came back with what seemed a compulsory question.
High Grade?
Oh Yes High grade .....meaning the route up with the highest gradient.
There then would follow phrases I would more commonly associate with surfers or skateboarders I guess road cycling in Colorado is hip. Radical Man!
Deer creek was very tough. Jamie had read a couple of two inch novels before our arrival but seemed somewhat impressed that fat boys can climb.

The climb also gave us our first look at Mount Evans. At over 14,000 feet it was on our list but with a large dollop of snow on the top it looked as if we may not even get close to it.

Mt Evans

Our main event was on the other side of the Rockies in Grand Junction about 300 miles away.
The Tour de Moon
All though the journey was long it was a sensory overload with picture postcard views over every horizon.

Grand Junction was on the western side of the Rockies close to the Utah Border. It was famously home of the original Coors Classic bike ride and the location for the film American Fliers where Kevin Costner fashioned some unsuitable lycra.
The film also guest starred Eddy Mercx.
The town embraced cycling and we embraced the town.

The next day saw the start of the Tour de Moon and wearing our finest Mule livery we tried to prove that Mules can really climb in a sportive designed for the polka dot folk.

By this time we were fully acclimatised and we never let the Club down.
Each climb was accomplished where I personally managed to overtake 2 people to everyone that overtook me. Hitherto unheard of on climbs.

With little time for Photos, Simon and I did the main climb again after breakfast the following day.............just to prove that we did it.

On returning back to Denver we decided to give Mt Evans a go.
Although the snow had cleared from the roads it was freezing at that altitude and strong winds were forecast.

Although this huge mountain offered little resistance in the way of gradient the wind at the lower levels was over 30mph.
Once we got past the treelike approaching 12,000 feet it was over 50 mph and impossible to cycle safely.
Rachel smiled reminding me that the mountain would still me there next year.
She is right.
Do you hear Mt Evans........Ill get you yet.

As holidays go this was my best ever and I have had some great ones.
Although the cycling should have stolen the show what I loved most was the warmth and friendship I got from the adorable Simpsons
I already miss you lots


  1. To steal one of your phrases, "You're a gem, sir!" You and Simon did the Mules proud both in the saddle and out. We can't thank you enough for providing us the opportunity to; share our passions, romp around our gorgeous playground, and to stable our beloved Mules.

    Can't wait to have you back, and I believe a certain spunky lady still awaits you... Ms. Evans, is her name, I believe... ;)


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