27 MILE CLIMB ON MY 27TH BIRTHDAY!
For some time now I’ve been biting my lip, cracking my knuckles, and writing narratives in my head about this blog post. Consequently, you could say this blog post is long over due on information rather than counting the last time I’ve posted. The news is finally out, Maija and I are moving to Colorado. Our plans for a new life outside of New Jersey have been swirling around in our heads for months on end. Where could we go? What would we do for work? Is it a good place for dogs?
At first I had applied to a few police positions around the country with the intention of finding a career in law enforcement. As went through the application process for a few departments I started to realize a career in law enforcement would almost mean putting my competitive cycling career on hold. Sure I could train, compete, and maybe even get some results but it would be almost detrimental to my body, mind, and personal life. A law enforcement job is something one should not take lightly. You are dealing with life and death on a regular basis and the way I see it, you are either 100% in or 100% out. Anything less can cause yourself or someone else to get hurt. With that said I choose to stop going through the application process and find another line of work where I could still compete at a high level in bicycle racing. Next, Maija and I thought about opening up a bicycle / triathlon store. We both have a large passion for helping people, and endurance sports so this could be an interesting private business to start up. After drawing up a business plan and crunching the numbers it soon became apparent we did not have the right amount of start up funds required to become a successful retail store. We could have opened up shop but it would have been too stressful wondering when the next person would walk through the door to make a purchase. In retail, there will always been a feeling of uncertainty but this drastic idea did not sit well in our stomachs. Now it was on to another couple of months of job hunting for the both of us in a state and city were training is second to none, the traffic is moderate, people are nice, and dog friendly. Too much to ask? Never! Maija was first to receive a call back from a company and right away she started the application process since it was in Colorado.
Fast forwarding to the present; Oh boy what a weekend it has been. Maija and I decided to fly out to Colorado and look at a house to rent. Prior to the weekend I spent every waking moment in front of the computer, house hunting trying to search the internet for houses in our budget. I also had to make house appointments, and find a flight so we could have everything ready for the house hunting trip in some type of organized fashion. Renting a house is not always an easy feat. The two best sources I used were Craigslist and Rentals.com. Other websites were elementary and not updated regularly. After a week or two of searching I made appointments to see 25 houses. By the time the weekend came about 5 of those houses were taken and another 5 or so we didn’t like. That left 20 houses all over Denver to see. We took a 7:15 flight out of JFK and as expected it took around 45 minutes just to take off because of runway traffic. The flight was bumpy, and I was restless the entire time. Planes are one of the places I feel out of sorts. Aside from not being a passenger and unable to control the situation , it’s stuffy, babies cry, and germs are spread about like wildfire. OK I know I’m being a little negative here but tell me your flying experiences are always pleasant and I’ll recant my ranting and raving. Maija got the window seat, I was in the middle, and to my right was a man who popped way to many pills of who-knows-what and drank way too many minature bottles of wine. Fortunately, he was actually quiet. It was the man behind him who talked so loud on his cell phone it seemed as if he was either in a wind tunnel, on top of a mountain trying to get service, or maybe he just forgot to put his hearing aid in. In any case the entire time we were on the runway (45 minutes) he pontificated about selling stock and how was able to make money off others. Once off our flight it was a trip in a bus to rent a car then drive a half hour to the hotel. I was tired and the trip had only just begun. Don’t worry the trip gets better!
The next day Maija and I headed out on our adventure of house hunting. The first place we looked at was in Parker, Colorado. We both knew it was a little farther than the rest of the Denver neighborhoods but we still needed to see for ourselves what it was going to be like. The first house was beautiful and the owner was such a sweetheart. The house was large, and backed to open space. Soon after leaving and driving closer to Denver we realized Parker was just too far out of the way. It was too far from downtown, the mountains, and work. After agreeing on these factors, Parker was off the list. There were about three other houses in Parker so I called up and canceled those appointments.
My partner in crime with the GPS.
It would have been tough to navigate Denver without her or the GPS!
We looked at a bunch more houses throughout the day, some nice and some were taken off the list right away. The day ended meeting my friend in downtown Denver for a nice massage and it was back to the hotel for some dinner and sleep. We awoke the next morning to a nice breakfast at the hotel and then ventured back into surrounding Denver neighborhoods to looks at more homes. One house was out in the mountains of Litteton, CO. The house stood at about 6,000+ feet and was beautiful. It was a full wooded house with upgrades throughout and a second floor wrap around deck. After looking thoroughly in every room of the house this became our number one choice.
The house was beautiful and we both thought we had found our place high in the sky.
We looked at a few more houses. One of them in particular was right down the road from this house. They were the only two houses in the mountains we looked at. All others were in small neighborhoods in the southwest region of Denver. The house down the road from this one turned out to be a disaster. We did a quick drive by of the house and found piles of garbage on the driveway. Our appointment was not until later in the afternoon but we still decided to drive and show up. We got to the house a little before 4 P.M and decided to take a quick outside tour of the property. The place was in horrible condition and looked nothing like the pictures online. What was even more hysterical was the landlord didn’t even show up! I called him a few minutes after four and he said he could be there within thirty minutes. “No thanks I said, shaking my head.”
Going back in time to later that day, after doing the drive by of the second house in the mountains we went back to the first house (the one in the picture) and told the owner we were interested in signing a lease. He told us we would hear back from him either later that night or tomorrow (Sunday). We never heard from him. Sunday I called and left a message on his voicemail and still no return. We wanted to pick a house and sign a lease before we left Denver. It would put our minds at ease and allow us to worry about packing and other issues which would come about.
The rest of Saturday was spent doing some riding (For Me) and running (For Maija) at Deer Creek Canyon Park
. It was mid day and hot but we figured we had some time to spare and I was itching to get out and ride since it had been two days off the bike. Maija went for a trail run and I headed out and rode to the top of Deer Creek Canyon road. It was about a 6 1/2 mile climb to the top. Coincidentally the “Garbage House” was at the top of the climb. I rode along the twisting and turning road all while passing about a dozen cyclists. The climb was nice and I brought the camera along for a few shots at the top. Once at the summit I felt a bit dizzy and nauseous from the altitude. This summit was only around 7,500 ft. Nothing close to tomorrow’s 27 mile excursion climb to the summit of Mt. Evans.
A shot of Deer Creek Canyon Park. Summit of Deer Creek Canyon Road.
It was a nice mid day adventure but both Maija and I were quite spent so we headed back to the hotel for a short nap before taking a look at couple more homes. That night we went out to a local chain restaurant for dinner and I had one beer which hit me like a sack of bricks at the Denver altitude. Some how I was even able to stay awake for a movie after dinner.
Sunday Maija and I had planned to celebrate my birthday by me climbing Mt. Evan’s on my bicycle. Mt. Evan’s is a 27 mile climb in Idaho Springs Colorado. Idaho Springs itself sits above 7,500 feet in elevation and right away you can feel your breathing lethargic before even doing any exercise. Idaho Springs is about 45 minutes from the hotel. We hit the road around ten in the morning and arrived to the ranger station a little before eleven. I was feeling good about the day even tough I had no first hand knowledge of the climb in terms of how steep, actual distance, difficulty, and energy it would actually take to climb this beast of a mountain. Mt. Evan’s is one of about 50 mountains in Colorado all which peak over 14,000 ft in elevation. The one unique characteristic about Mt. Evan’s is that is is the highest paved road in the United States.
I started the climb at the Idaho Spring Forest Station and began my accent. I noticed before I started to climb my heart rate was around 120. Quite high for the start of a ride. Usually my heart rate is in the mid 80’s. Maija was in the support car and made stops along the way to give me food, bottles, and make sure I was still conscious. (Thanks Maija!) The first five miles were horrible. The actual climb of the first 5 miles was not hard at all but the wind was so fast and in my face I could barely turn the pedals. At times it honestly felt as if I was going backwards. The wind would hit me in the face, from the side, and pretty much any direction. After the first five miles the tress blocked most of the wind and I settled into a nice pace as I accented to Echo Lake which was also the half way part at mile 14 of the accent.
My arrival at Echo Lake.
Taking a break, resting the legs, and putting on some
cold weather clothes for the second half of the ride.
The way to the half way point was quiet except for cars driving past. I started to notice there were no other cyclists up or behind me on the road. Then, I realized most people drive to the half way point (Echo Lake) and then ride to the summit of Mt. Evan’s. I had only heard about Mt. Evan’s because there is a competitive race to the top which is 27.4 miles. Being a racer I guess I thought everyone would try and do the whole climb from mile one. (Boy was I wrong)
I felt good at the half way point. As the climb went on for the first 14 miles I began to understand how I could control my heart rate and energy expenditure by the specific way I pedaled and how many times I got out of the saddle to use different muscles. What I was not realizing was how hard the next part or last 14 miles of the accent would be. As a category 2 cyclist and pretty much in the best shape of my life I thought the altitude would not effect me. What I did not take into account was the actual acclamation time it takes to get used to living a mile or higher on earth. I rode this climb steady and comfortable. I didn’t race it, nor did I really care if it took me 2-3 hours or five hours to finish. I was simply riding it for the pure joy, the views, and the accomplishment itself.
The views past Echo Lake started to sink into my brain just how high I was. At this point I was still below the tree line but reaching highs above most living plant life. The switchbacks were steep on the turns and then flattened out. I looked over my side dozens of times to take in the beautiful vistas. I could see for miles with no obstruction of buildings. The only downside to the accent was the lines of cars driving up the summit. The cars would pass me in waves, usually 4-6 cars at a time. Then there would be a break of silence until the next wave came through. A few more turns and now I was above the tree line and getting closer to my goal.
Above the tree line the road would twist and turn and I ascended higher into the sky.
Meeting up with Maija for a quick chat on the side of the road.
Above the tree line things started taking a turn for the worse. I was tired, dizzy, and having trouble breathing on the bike. I kept drinking and eating as much as I could but it was not helping too much. I was hot, tired, and overheated but I was not paying attention to the warning signs. I had rode all summer in a jersey and shorts so when the cool mountain air hit me, I dressed in too many layers and was too delirious to take them off. Aside from not being used to the cold, in the two years of racing bicycles I had never ridden at altitude like this. The longest climbs I did were in races somewhere in the northeast and ranged between 2-3 miles long at most. There were points during the ride I would get sleepy and started to look for a place on the side of the road to take a nap. The nap illusion never actually happened. Maybe it was a good thing there was so much car traffic on the road, because every time a car would pass me I would wake back up into reality. I also had this eerie feeling as if someone was riding behind me. I could tell Maija was becoming a bit anxious and curious if I was going to make it to the top.
Since there were no more trees in sight the wind was in a full uproar. After each switchback I would be smacked in the face with a full blast of mountain wind. It was the fiercest wind I have ever rode in. I could barely control my bike let alone get my legs to pedal a full revolution. If you can picture this situation, I’m riding my first true mountain accent above 10,000 feet, I’m dehydrated, tired, and not getting enough oxygen to my lungs and muscles. As an added bonus I’m being hit with 35-45 mph winds. It was as if I was in a wind tunnel trying to do a bike track stance!
Check out the lines carved into the side of the mountain.
Yep you guessed right, it’s the road leading to the summit!
Three hours later I met Maija at the top. It was a hard and tiring day but I’m glad I finished and was able to share this story. Being this high and climbing the whole way on a bicycle is a true humbling experience. I have never in my life felt so small while everything around me was so big. We didn’t spend too much time on the top because I wasn’t feeling too well. The altitude was making me nauseous and I needed to get down to a more sustainable altitude.
If you are every in for a challenge I would definitely suggest this climb. I would try it on a day preferably during the week where there is not much traffic so you will feel totally at one with the mountains. I would also suggest trying either the first half of the climb, or the second depending what type of shape you are in. If you don’t live at altitude then you are taking a big risk of trying to climb the whole thing from mile 1 to mile 27 like I did.
I had a great time doing this accent and I’ll be looking forward to finding new challenges on the bicycle as Maija and I make the move to Colorado. I can’t tell you how excited I am to start my life out west. I feel for some time now the west has been calling me to come and enjoy all the amazing outdoor activities it has to offer. One important idea I learned from this experience is there is never enough of the outdoors. There are always new places to seek out, experiences to share, and photos to take 🙂