The climb is austere!
Each year, it takes me two or three attempts to get all the way up Vail Pass.
Until this year.
For the first time ever, I was able to climb all the way to the top of 10,662-foot Vail Pass on my first try of the season. I had to stop only four times, and for the first time ever, I made it up the steepest part without stopping!
No room to weave back and forth as I did on Heartbreak Hill, but I think Heartbreak Hill and all the other climbing I've been doing in preparation for this year's Ride the Rockies helped.
Vail Pass, named for highway engineer Charles Vail, is the only mountain pass in Colorado with a paved bicycle path on both sides for the entire distance. Excellent training!
The village of Vail also has been host to USA Pro Cycling Challenge time trials in the past. Typically, the cyclists race, once by one, against the clock, all the way through the town on paved roads and then up Vail Trail, the old highway no longer open to vehicular traffic.
The pros, however, do not go all the way to the top of the mountain like we do; they ride to the trail junction, where the official trail splits off, goes beneath I-70 and then (steeply) parallels the highway to the pass. The pros don't take that narrow trail. They continue up the paved road to a cul de sac finish.
For the last two years, I've been incorporating their finish into my climb. Just because. If they can do it, so can I. That's been my attitude.
My first climb this year was no different. I told The Lizard, who wanted to ride all the way to Copper Mountain on the other side, I would join him somewhere along the trail after riding up to the cul de sac.
Beyond the cul de sac, the road is gravel, leading to the service area at the top of a runaway truck ramp for the westbound lanes of I-70 far below. The gravel road is pretty darned steep, and this year, it was pretty darned muddy and slick.
I decided it would be good training for Ride the Rockies' Dirty Thirty, this year's special 30-year anniversary Day 4 route option up gravel Ohio Pass and Kebler Pass. The Dirty Thirty is going to be much longer than this little notch in Vail Pass, but it would give me the feel of riding my road bike uphill at elevation (with no air) on an unpaved surface.
I made it to the top of that little climb a little muddy but without stopping. Woohoo!
Then right back down to the junction, under the highway and up that steep mama to the highway and the petrol fumes that often turn my stomach.
But not this day. The fumes were not pleasant, but they were not going to hold me back, either. I was determined to make it to the top, no matter how many times I had to stop. I made it to the top of the steep section before I had to stop to breathe. Then onward I climbed, up, up, up.
Two more times I had to stop to breathe. But every time I had to stop, I started right back up, up, up again!
Near the summit, The Lizard came into view. He turned around and pedaled back up to the top with me, and both of us had energy for photos on the way down.
You never know what you'll find atop Vail Pass...
And sometimes, you find a surprise or two...
I've been worried I wasn't ready for Ride the Rockies because I didn't get in as much training as I planned this year.
But I think I must have been doing all the right things. I have a bit of self-confidence now.
I think I am ready for Ride the Rockies! Bring it on!!!