Monday, September 29, 2014

Make a the plan

Over a year ago Kyle and I made a plan to ride the Rollins pass road over the top, Rollinsville to Winter Park. We had the logistics figured out with a shuttle driver being Kyle's girl friend, Lea, and we were set to go the first weekend in September. Then the flood hit and all normalcy of fun in life stopped for a while.

On to this year and Kyle and Lea both had job changes and it was tough to all coordinate the same day off. This Sunday it all came together for days off and we got this ride in! It was a bit frustrating because we have had two solid weeks of fantastic fall weather, cool mornings but warm and dry days. Of course our Sunday to ride had a cold front blowing in about noon with rain. So it goes....

Off we go from our start point, the famous Moffat Tunnel.
Like so much of Colorado there is a history about this ride and Pass. It was a narrow gauge RR that went up and over and was a major connection from Denver to points north and west in the early 1900's. It was a tough ride over the top especially in winter with the train often being stuck and people losing their lives from exposure, derailments, train cars rolling off the mountain. David Moffat started to build a tunnel to solve the problem. After a few starts and stops on the location he started building the tunnel where it currently is. He did not live to see the completion of his project but it remains today and serves as a major RR transportation link through the Rocky Mountains.

First part of the ride is up through the Ponderosa and Aspen forest.
I have to tell you that the Aspen colors this year have been nothing short of spectacular. Maybe because of this nice stretch of weather we have had while they have turned. We have not had that normal September cold snap or snow storm or big wind storm so the Aspen have turned and stayed on the trees. Maybe in my mind it is better because we did not have an Aspen season around here last year. We had summer, then the flood, then it was winter.
We worked our way on up the road. The surface became a rock garden, pretty typical of a 4WD jeep road. Slowed our pace down picking a line through the rocks. There were about four or five of these cuts through the rocks. You can just see the RR tracks in your mind running through these cuts back in the day. It is cool for me to retrace these routes on my mountain bike
There were these signs all along the way which I am sure had some tie back to a book about the route.
A couple hours of riding bring us to tree line and Yankee Doodle lake. There is a real payoff here because you can see the destination top although there are switchbacks to go! We will soon be on that ridge above that snow field.

First Kyle

Then our cycling hero
Yes Richard, I am lugging up a pannier of crap. But we would soon be happy about that as we roll up into some weather.
Being a RR grade this road never got too steep, just a relentless up and up pace to the ride. The rocky surface made for some challenging cycling. Riding mountain bikes is more of a total body workout than road rides which are more about the legs.

We start to see the clouds moving in....either that or we are moving up and ready to ride up into the clouds!
One more time through a cut in the rocks and this will put us on the last mountainside that drives up to Needle's Eye Tunnel.
Some fantastic views up here even though the clouds were sitting there right above us. It was spitting a little rain here but both of us wanted to push to the top before changing into dry warmer clothes and not sweat up our warm stuff.
That is Jenny Lake down on the right. We decided to not take the side road in there as we knew we were chasing the weather a bit. You can see the Needle's Eye tunnel up the trail there on the curve of the mountain. You can also see the bypass trail to hike up over to get to the other side. The tunnel has been closed off for years with a big blockade that you can not even bypass with a bike. So it is hike a bike if you want to continue on over the other side.

The hike-a-bike trail was ridiculous steep with loose shale footing. Richard, I was regretting my choice of bringing the extra pannier until we were on top and the storm hit. Hail and rain. We scrambled to get on clothes. Nothing like getting pelted on bare skin as you change shirts, plus the new shirt does not go on quick because you are cold and sticky from the rain. But Kyle has a smile on here because we came prepared!!
After going over the top we hiked back to the tunnel to check it out. Sometime back in the 70's a rock came crashing down from top inside the tunnel so they closed it off and have now barricaded it to keep people out.

You can peer over the edge and look down on Yankee Doodle Lake where we were a bit ago.
We were completely immersed in the cloud cover now and almost made our first mistake on choice of route. We came up on a small turnaround place for the 4WD vehicles that come up from the west side to look at the tunnel, and find ourselves hiking up a steep road. We went about two hundred yards and I say to Kyle that this is not way a train climbs this hill. We back track down to the parking area and find the old RR grade again up through some rocks that they have piled up to keep vehicles and 4-wheelers out.
Down the trail we go looking for the old RR trestles that remain to span across gaps when they built the RR track that literally was hung on the side of the mountain. We come up on the first one!

No Way....this is the coolest thing I have ever ridden my bike over. Off to Kyle's right it drops off!!! I have seen pictures when the sun is out and this whole section is the one, flat, carved out part of the mountain. Steep going up to the left and steep going down to the right. For us today it was just a mysterious fog either way. probably made it easier to ride across because there was no vertigo to overcome!!
This must a been a total white knuckle, pucker factor to ride this train in 1905!!!
Here we go across the second trestle.
We roll along through the clouds until we come to the west side rock barrier.
A little further and we come to the top of the pass. It was really raining now so a brief stop for a picture and head on down the west side.

 The rain was not so much a problem as the temp has dropped so much. It was cold, my bike computer told us 35 deg. Fortunately the driving rain was at our backs as we headed down, so, it could have been worse!
We both had winter pants in our bags but we both wanted to keep them warm and dry for something to put on for the end of the ride and the trip home. It was cold!!! I had three layers on....could have used one more...maybe a fleece vest.
No pictures going down as I put away the camera. We got back down in the trees and it stopped raining and even the sun popped out a bit but never really warmed up again.
Almost down, you can see the ski runs for Winter Park up in front of Kyle
We got down to where the road hooks into US 40 and the plan was to ride down into the old town of Winter Park for a beer but we were shivering cold and only had to wait about ten minutes for the girls to pick us up right there.
What a great ride this was. Challenging for the riding part and the weather part. A confidence builder in that I know I can tackle tough rides if I want to. Always great to spend time with Kyle doing something we both enjoy.
Thanks for following along!!
Have a great week!!


  1. WOW!!! What a wonderful ride!! I wish I'd been along. Love these historical rides. Beautiful scenery, and a great route. This time of year, in the high country, I'd rather have more than I need along than not enough. Scary trestles in the fog!

  2. Wow what a gorgeous ride - fall colors, alpine lakes, riding on clouds, looks like a great ride to end the season.

    1. Thanks Ryan, It did end the season of aspen. There was snow on the peaks after Monday night. Probably will end the above timberline riding for me. There are a couple of rides that Kyle wants to do around Ft. Collins up in Horsetooth area. He left his bike with me to get some maintenance done on his ride so I'll get a ride in with him on the day I get it back to him. Do you find it tough to muster up the motivation to work on bikes after you finish a long day of work???

  3. Hmm thought I commented before but don't see it. Anyway... Looks like a nice trail. I didn't know of it. How long was your ride?

    1. Randy, It was a bit under 27 miles, 26.8. pedal time on the bikes was just over 5 hours, 5:08. It was a fantastic ride for us.

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