Well, I had that opportunity and took it. I straight took that bull by the horns.
Pikes Peak and the City of Colorado Springs are running a pilot program in the month of September which allows cyclists to pedal up and down the mountain. In only it’s first 11 days, the program has attracted close to 300 cyclists from around the nation. Now like I said, I’m semi-active. (If you’re into racing up the mountain, check this out!) I get these bursts of “I’m motivated today” and then bursts of “screw that, where’s the beer”. So for me to attempt something like this and think there was a small chance in hell I could actually succeed…took a whole lot of motivation…with a bunch of support from my husband, friends and family. It was also my friend Karin’s 38th birthday and she thought it would be the perfect present: to ride all 38 miles by bike!
The day was September 11th, 2012. Nothing like today to remember the fallen of 9/11 then by honoring them on top of America’s Mountain. After we paid at the toll gate ($12/person or up to 5 car passengers= $40) we parked 2 miles in since we were naive as to where to park, but many folks ride up from Cascade, even Manitou Springs (crazies!). So, we did the best we could and parked at the Crowe Gulch hiking and picnic area. I have no doubt that the first two miles we skipped would have been a killer warmup! (UPDATE, we called Wines of Colorado and it’s fine to park across the street here…)After some minor bike tuning (thanks to the random dudes on bikes that had a better pump) we were on our way! Bright yellow aspen greeted us on our first turns into the ride. Miles 3-5 were an amazing warm up with a mix of flat, low grade inclines and some downhill. Then, at mile 6, we cruised downhill into Crystal Reservoir for some photos.
Warning! Colors are more vivid in real life! It is highly recommended to see them in person!
MtnMama strikes a pose at Crystal Reservoir
After we picked our jaws off the ground and stopped drooling, we got back in the saddle and headed on. This started phase two of the warmup…miles 7-9 were rolling left to right as well as up and down. As soon as we would climb, we were rewarded with slight downhills. It took us about an hour to get there and before mile 10 is a great place to stop for a break, Halfway Picnic Grounds. Very scenic with bathrooms and lots of room to get out of the way of tourists driving up the hill. Haha, I said “hill”. My bad, I clearly meant MASSIVE MOUNTAIN.
Climbing to the Halfway Picnic Grounds
After a short break there, we high fived after realizing that so far, we were the only women on bikes we’d seen that day and would be the only ones we’d see all day! Annnd…back on the bike. Yeah, prepare yourselves folks, this is where s#$@ gets crazy. We hit the “subalpine zone” and Karin was able to kill it with a steady pace in lower gears while I pushed a comfortable pace for a few minutes and, well, stopped for a few minutes. Miles 10-13 is where I took A LOT of photos. It was beautiful…but it also gave me time to rest.
One of the many views of the reservoirs, looking northeast near mile 11.
Our next goal was to get to the Glen Cove Gift Shop (AKA water refill station/snack break/pee break). That is a little bit after the “Alpine Zone” and right before mile 13. It took all I had NOT to run in there and say “Alright, hand over all the candy and Gatorade you have people, I need sustenance!!!!” I resisted…and stuck to my PROBar and lukewarm water instead.
Maybe Glen Cove will install bike racks if this pilot program goes well!
After a little break, and another layer of clothes, we headed up to Elk Park near mile 14. Between mile 13 and mile 16…I took a LOT of photos. Not only was it chock full of amazing views…taking photos meant taking a break, which I needed. I could pedal for a couple hundred feet and then be forced to take break for my burning legs and lungs.
Having to stop, my brain would take a time out from the ride and was always in turmoil over, “Oh, how beautiful” vs “‘Oh crap, I have to get back on and ride.” Around mile 15 (The Switchbacks), the ranger showed up, backed in his SNOW PLOW next to us at the pulloff, rolled down his window and just, well, looked at us for a few seconds in disbelief. Then, finally telling us “looks like we’re getting some snow up top”, we anxiously asked how close we were. “Well, you’re only 4 miles from the top.” That was my first “holy crap, I can actually do this” feeling I’d had all day besides cruising the downhills. He again warned us of the incoming weather. My friend and I basically looked at each other and knew what the other was thinking: there’s no freakin’ way we’re giving up now. We got to mile 16 A.K.A. Devil’s Playground and started feeling slight rain and graupel.
The dark clouds and rain start surrounding us after Devil’s Playground
We slapped on some weather gear and pushed forward. The last 3 miles were the hardest. We were so close and knew it, but it seemed so far, especially seeing some of the last couple of long, steady climbs we had left. I was on a 50/50 routine…take 50 pedal strokes, stop for 50 seconds and repeat. My friend was again, on a very steady pace in her low gears and we played leap frog the rest of the way. When I’m doing these long runs, hikes, rides or other activities where I feel like I want to give up, something that helps me is to make little goals. I’d tell myself, “pedal to that tree then rest” or “look for a mile marker or other significant landmark”. My saving grace at the top was finally seeing the Cog Railway track to the right side of the road, I knew we were close. Then, around mile 18 1/2, our Ranger Friend made another roll past us, this time yelling “Keep it up, you’re almost there!!” It was just the boost I needed! We thanked him and did our best to finish. By this point, I was down to a 30/50 pace and just wanted to get done. I could handle the grauple, I could handle my screaming quads but my heart rate was out of control. After 4 1/2 hours of climbing that mountain, I turned the last corner and saw my friend pointing across the street. “Summit, You Made It, 14,110” read the sign. OMG, so this is what success truly feels like!! I’ve climbed this mountain twice before doing the Pikes Peak Ascent but this? I really felt like I pushed my body to the absolute max and succeeded!
We hopped off our bikes, celebrated at the top, took a few photos and headed inside to get warm and eat our free donut. We got quite a few double takes as people came off the cog train. We really enjoyed the warm heaters, free summit donut and yummy hot chocolate that waited for us inside. About 20 minutes later, the Cog train whistle blew and that signaled to us that we should move on as well. After answering the question from tourists “did y’all ride yer bikes up here?” about 10 times, we finished with a celebratory bike-above-the-head photo at the summit sign. As the tourists got back into their plush train car, we hoisted our bikes above our heads for a photo as they cheered us on. Thank you random Cog Train tourists…you made my day!! We threw on more layers of clothes and 1 minute later, we were back in the saddle headed down the hill. Ugh. There I go again, I mean MASSIVE MOUNTAIN! On the way down, we passed a few cars (cool!), stopped at the “Mandatory Break Check” station and made it back to the car within 45 minutes. Overall, the tourists in cars were, for the most part, nice about going around us and I’ve NEVER seen so many cyclists wave or cheer us on as I did that day.
It was a great feeling that I’ll never forget.
And no…I did not throw my bike over the edge of the mountain in true rock star style…you have to PAY to ride the Cog train down!
HUGE thanks to my friend Karin who happened to be celebrating her Birthday and encouraged me to go, my husband for answering all my “what do I do if…” questions before the trip, the amazing Rangers that were so helpful and thoughtful, and the tourists for not running us over.
If you go:
- Park near Wines of Colorado, but in the overflow lot located here.
- Check the weather
- Pack clothes that you would take for any other 14er trip
- Know the hours and rules/regulations
- Pack lots of snacks, water and bike repair tools/tubes
- ENJOY THE VIEW!