Monday, April 30, 2018

The Copper triangle

Long before cycling, in fact long before the wheel itself was invented, man entertained himself through song. The subject matter was varied. Initially recounting tales of heroic acts, or local stories. In more modern times that developed into songs of emotion, of love and loss.
Not only of each other but of places too.
Frank Sinatra brought New York to our gramophones, George Ezra streamed Budapest to our Apple devices whilst various artists sung about Amsterdam no doubt influenced by its green leaf culture.

In 1970 Singer songwriter John Denver got into deep water with the US Federal Communications Commission after singing about The Rockies.
Remitted by a legal ruling to censor music deemed to promote drug abuse,  they were concerned that his song Rocky Mountain High could have only have been making reference to stimulation of Narcotic consumption.

With their offices based on 445 12th Street in Washington DC close to sea level, they may have felt inclined to hold an alternative view if they had paid a visit.
Colorado is High all the time.

With its high plains set flat as a 'frame' for it's surrounding mountains, Colorados lowest point is a staggering 3,315 feet above sea level at the Arikaree River in Yuma County.

To put this in perspective its lowest point, is higher than the highest point of 18 other US States.

Even if they had visited they would have been wrong despite such an apparently obvious reference.
What John Denver was singing about was not the elevation but how it made him feel.

A sense of euphoria and Majesty.

As a child I spent 3 years living in America and although many years ago now I do remember holidays in the Rockies with great fondness.
Returning as a cyclist in 2014 I was blown away by the magnitude and natural beauty of this largely uninhabited terrain.

In 2016 I returned to take part in the Courage Classic Tour.
Founded in 1990 its a charity event to raise money for 'Children's Hospital Colorado'.

The two day tour takes place usually on the third weekend of July each year and is based in the Copper Mountain Ski resort about 1.5 hours from Denver on the I-70W.

It offers a variety of routes and family rides for those wanting to ride, and a beautiful base for hiking, fishing or just absorbing the atmosphere with some local wine.


For the more adventurous the 77 mile Copper Loop or Copper triangle on Day 1 is a must for any visitor.
Considered one of Colorados classic alpine rides it crests three of Colorados Mountain passes. Freemont Pass at 11,318', Tennessee Pass at 10,424' and Vail Pass at 10, 662'.

I was privileged to be invited to ride for the ARC Thrift Classic Team arranged by John Sladek, Eric Larson and James Simpson who with many others work tirelessly each year for not only their team but for the event as a whole.

 We set off just after sun up.

Anticipating a scorching hot day I was dressed accordingly, not realising that the thermometer would not start rising until an hour or more after the start.

It was like being in Yorkshire on a summers day 'without thy coat'

My fingerless gloves were just that - 'fingerless' I could see the numb protruding digits, but there was very little feeling.

The route headed south on Highway 91 with an ever increasing gradient up over Freemont Pass.
The climb was long and unrelenting but it at least generated some inner warmth.
I stopped at the top where there was a feed station. I needed no food or drink but just the opportunity to warm my hands before the descent and to allow the sun to get above the mountain tops.
The descent into Leadville came with a cocktail of terror and exhilaration in equal measure.
With the road being wide with good visibility and shallow bends there was no excuse, not to let gravity take its course.
When the Garmin reached 45 mph I got a bit nervous from not being able to trust my numb fingers and reluctantly started to feather the brakes.

Being surrounded by Medics I am sure I would have been ably assisted if I had embraced the Tarmac, but I was there to help raise money, not to ruin their weekend.

From Leadville we climbed steadily north west up towards the Tennessee pass.
The landscape changed with open wide plains, where the now more elevated sun had no problem exploiting with much needed warmth.
I found this section quite strange with such a gentle incline it felt more like a false flat and had the feel of a more rational lowland coastal plain. It belied the fact that we were still over 8,000 feet, surrounded by Peaks close to 14,000'.

Following on from Tennessee Pass we approached Battle Mountain crossing the magnificent Red Cliff Bridge which shadows the Eagle river below.

It seemed that at each lay-by or Junction many locals had come out to cheer us on shouting out with the same gusto and enthusiasm for each rider.

From there its downhill again, descending into Minturn the lowest point of the ride at 7,861'.
You would not think so surrounded by giant peaks all around you.
From here the only way was up.
I got to this point at about mid day and the valley floor acted like a heat conductor. It was hot.
With my breathing already effected by my introduction to altitude riding the heat was trying to get in on the act.

From Minturn you pick up a bike path that takes you through Vail, up and over Vail pass and back to Copper Mountain.

With the combination of the altitude, gradient and heat it looked like a procession of slow moving ants inching towards their destination.

After 6,000 feet of climbing you are ready for a drink.
The beer was great and the company even better.

Day 2 offered various options with a shorter route around the Dillon Dam to Keystone and a longer route adding an extension up to the top of the Ute Pass.

Not forgetting the previous mornings 'frostbite' I took an extra pair of gloves following the fast cycle track down the valley towards Silverthorne and then writing the Dam

The route then headed North on Highway 9 following the Lower blue River for ten miles.
From there we turned east on Colorado Route 15 up Ute pass Road.

From there its all up hill for 5.3 miles. The first 1.2 miles averages about 4%, the next 3.4 miles about 5.6% until it flattens off at the top.

Its then an an about turn facing the imposing Gore Range to the West and a heart thumping descent.

On the way down I was listening to Music on my headphones and had to smile to myself as Mr Denver sung of the virtues of this magnificent playground. Leaning into each corner Imaintained both my speed and the ecstatic grin on my face.

'When he first came to the mountains his life was far away
On the road and hanging by a song'

'He climbed cathedral Mountains, he saw silver clouds below
He saw everything as far as you can see'

There was no Censorship up here

1 comment:

  1. Watching the video at my office desk, I have to work to contain my inner "WWWWEEEEEEEEEEYYYYYEEEEEHHHHHAAAAAWWWWWWW!!!!" which is my soundtrack for the Ute Pass descent. <3 Hope to have you back VERY soon! Colorado: where you can experience both hypothermia and heat-stroke in the same lovely morning! :)


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