Trail Ridge Road Before Opening Day by Bike
– Yesterday I rode my bike up Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park and no one else was there. I had the place practically to myself. Not a car or truck in sight. Nobody. Not a soul. Unheard of you say? Not if you are lucky enough to ride up a day or two before it officially opens to vehicles (May 27, 2016).
Trail Ridge Road is spectacular. It is spectacular with its mountain scenery and during the summer months, it is spectacular for the bumper to bumper traffic it generates. The perfect time to ride your bike over Trail Ridge Road is right after the monster snowblowers have opened up the 20+ foot drifts at the top and before the floodgates open for vehicles. You have a couple day window to get up there. You’ll have Rocky Mountain National Park to yourself. You will feel lucky and privileged and blessed.
Once I rode Trail Ridge Road on my bike during the summer. I survived the traffic and vowed to never do that again. Last summer I drove over Trail Ridge to get to a friend’s wedding in Estes Park. Despite the amazing scenery – Trail Ridge Road in the summer is not my most favorite thing. This year I took advantage of a small weather window and rode my bike up the day before the official opening. It is awesome.
I started my ride around 9:00 am – almost an hour later than what I had hoped. The forecast had called for either rain or snow beginning around 9:00 am or 4:00 pm depending on which “model” you chose to believe. I decided to go no matter what the prediction. I have plenty of warm layers to wear, a waterproof jacket, gloves, a hat, and a bike. I’m going. My ride turned turned out perfect.
Rolling up through the lower switchbacks, the sun was out and the cool morning temperatures were ideal for spinning up the 7% grade to the sky. As I gained elevation, so did the heights of those building clouds. I kept pedaling and kept looking at the sky trying to predict timing, weather, and the unpredictable. My goal was to at least reach the Alpine Visitor Center. Short of that I might be disappointed. Anything past the Visitor Center I’d consider to be bonus.
I pedaled past the Alpine Visitor center with a stout headwind in my face and some pretty ominous clouds. Thankfully, those clouds weren’t talking to me so I kept up the spin and watched some snow squalls develop to the south. Here is where you start deciding whether you are going to listen to that small voice inside your head (common sense) or ignore it. “I hear nothing!”
I kept rolling the cranks over and kept my bike pointed uphill. Around the bend and up the road a ways is the high point on Trail Ridge Road. I wasn’t completely sure I was there so I kept it going and picked up some nice speed through the Tundra Curves back up through the Rock Cut and down until that small voice was loud. The temperature was dropping, fast. Maybe it was a good time to turn back for the truck and safer elevations. Don’t mess with Common Sense when it begins to shout.
The snow to the south was now also to the west and north. Small pellets of grapple bounced off me and I was happy with my decision to turn around and begin the fast descent. I was wearing some of my warmest Nordic gloves but pretty soon all my digits were talking frozen trash to me. The brakes felt exceptionally numb (or was that my fingers?) and the shift levers became hard to feel. Down. Down. Fast. And okay. Check the speed. Remember the rocks, some wet curves, and pockets of stone on the road here and there? “Be smart,” I could hear CS saying to myself.
Despite some really cold fingers the ride down was fun and I warmed up quick. Back down at Grand Lake the top of the Divide was smothered in cloud and blowing snow and it looked nasty. My timing was perfect.
Ready for some low-budget-take-it-or-leave-it advice? Make your plans. And go for it.