21 June 2012

Riders in the Sky

Day Five
Trail Ridge Road
Grandby to Estes Park
64 miles
14 June 2012

Riders in the Sky

I learned about Ride the Rockies while living in Estes Park for eight years and working for the newspaper there. I was assigned to cover the event when it came to our town in 1993.

I shot photos, on black and white 35 mm film, I might add, of riders climbing in soup-thick fog up Many Parks Curve in Rocky Mountain National Park. I have wanted to ride Trail Ridge Road ever since.

Today I lived that dream.

Many Parks Curve

Two weeks ago today, we received our rider manuals via email. A few route changes were described, and the National Park Service, which prohibits commercial vendors and commercial vehicles, had imposed cut-off times to protect riders from thunderstorms that typically begin building just before noon over the highest peaks this time of year.

Never Summers

I knew going into this week I would have to leave before the sun came up today to get through the RNMP gate before 8 a.m. cut-off and to have any hope of reaching the 12,183 summit by what I thought was the 11:30 a.m. cut-off. I knew I would have to carry my own food because water and animal crackers to be provided by RtR wouldn't get me up the mountain.

few on the road, shadow show a la Mrs. Micawber-style

I left our tent just after 4:30 a.m. and was perhaps the second rider on the road until the sky lightened enough to render headlights unnecessary. By the time the sun came up, I was about the 500th rider on the road. But again, this is not a race. It doesn't matter which place I hold, only that I make it all the way up and over.

I deliberately didn't look at any clocks while I rode until I reached Medicine Bow Curve, the final switchback before the summit. One of three park rangers stationed there to direct traffic and literally keep impatient powerful riders in line announced we had 1.3 miles to go. I scrolled through settings on my cyclocomputer until I reached the clock. The time was 11:14. Adrenaline surged.

No problemo!!!


"Are we in danger of being cut off?" I asked the ranger as I wheeled by, slowing to await an answer.

Clouds were forming but seemed to be eager to give a few more riders the opportunity to complete the ride.

"No," the ranger replied, "you're fine. You're all doing great. You'll make it. Keep going!"

Relief washed over me. I knew I wasn't out of the woods yet, even though I had reached timberline and was above the trees. The storm was building. Even if the Park Service gave us an additional hour, we would still need to keep an eye on the clouds. No time to doddle. I was going to make it.

home stretch

less than a mile

living on the edge

I reached the summit at 11:42. Turns out the cut-off was 12:30, so I made it with time to spare, and full SAG buses and bike trailers continuously passed me throughout my descent.

When I looked down to see from whence I’d come,
I thought the SAG wagons were coming to collect us.
But it was just the potty trucks.

When I thought I had missed the cut-off time by 12 minutes, I told myself I should have gotten up a few minutes earlier, stopped to breathe less and not taken pictures of my bike in the snow. I'm thankful I had an hour more than I thought I did, and I'm so excited I beat the time, but the real reason I made it is because the clouds were tardy. I got slapped in the face by graupel on my descent, but lightning never materialized while I was on the road. I made it!

Now I just had to make it to Estes Park in time to attend the cycling seminar with Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter. All downhill. No problem!

”Chasing Legends” is just about the best cycling movie ever made,
and, no, I’m not getting paid to say that.
The soundtrack by Haik Naltchayan can’t be beat, either.

I arrived at the high school before 2:30, so had plenty of time to shower and eat before listening to a trio of my cycling heroes.

I often talk about meeting Olympian Nelson Vails during my first Ride the Rockies and Olympian Alison Dunlap during my 2010 Ride the Rockies, and I neglect to remember there's another superhero cyclist in there, too, on all four of my Ride the Rockies trips, and I even bought a bike from him.

Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter

Davis Phinney and Ron Kiefel

Ron Kiefel has been arranging seminar speakers for Ride the Rockies for something like 17 years, so I've been able to enjoy his mini speeches and humor on many occasions. His dad started Wheat Ridge Cyclery in the Denver Metro nearly 35 years ago with a $10,000 investment that now has turned into one of the most profitable bike shops in Colorado. Ron rode the Giro and the Tour and was a co-team member of Team 7-Eleven with Davis Phinney. Ron was the first American to wear the Giro's pink jersey, and only three American riders have achieved that honor to date.

Third in the pink jersey race for America is Davis and Connie's son Taylor, whom they spoke about during the seminar. Taylor claimed the maglia rosa (leader’s jersey) this year on Day 1 of the Giro! Taylor expected to learn the following day if he qualified for this year's Olympics. (HE QUALIFIED!!!!!)

We've always been supporters of the Davis Phinney Foundation, which benefits research and treatment for people with Parkinson's, and I've had Davis' book, "The Happiness of Pursuit" on my Amazon wishlist ever since it was released. As a result of hearing Davis and Connie talk about their son and the Foundation tonight, we now are proud owners of an autographed copy of the book.

Go Taylor!!!

Longs Peak from Rock Cut


  1. You always take me with you on these rides, especially today with the super video.

    Sue and I are planning a nice road trip the first week of July. We eill make a big loop from Oklahoma up to Mount Rushmore then back down through Casper WY and down through Denver to Trinidad and Raton. Can you suggest a route that takes us through some of that beautiful country I have seen in your photos? We can make some side trips if not too lengthy. It needs to be something we can see from the van as I am not much for walking. Thanks and Keep riding.

  2. some of the shots are really great. Makes me wonder if you get of the bike and take them?
    The first and the ninth is the favourites today.

  3. A pure example of why riding my bike is way more rewarding then driving a car.....you can just glide so easy by such amazing sights...and stop at any given moment!

  4. Wow, Deb, these shots are just breathtaking - especially all Riders in the Sky ones. And that video clip! Words fail me.

    So glad you made the cutoff and with time to spare. We drove that road last year with Philip - unbelievable scenery.

  5. Just watched the video again with Mr. M. He loved it (REALLY loved it), and said to tell you both thanks for posting it.

    (What kind of massive gear must that guy have been pushing? The one who passed Brett, I mean. Yowza.)

  6. So great that you made it, I could feel the tension and relief as you learned about the extra hour. Thank you for sharing all your ride stories, and keep on going!


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