Monday, September 7, 2009

Mt Evans Ride

29 August 20
224 miles

I finally got to take a ride I’ve been wanting to do since 2004. I lived in Denver for that year and my wife took me to the Mt Evans Road. It’s a fourteen mile road in Mt Evans State Park that winds its way up the mountain to come to a stop at 14,130 miles high. It’s what is known as a 14er to people who hike or climb. There are over fifty 14ers in Colorado which makes it the state with the most. Of those 50 some, two have roads to the top, Mt Evans and Pikes Peak. Mt Evans’s road is the only one that’s paved, which makes it the highest paved road in the U.S and the one easiest to climb on my street going 2001 Yamaha FZ1. One of the things I used to like to do in my other life as a contractor on the road was to visit the highest point in each state I visited if possible. As you can imagine, in a state with over 50 mountains including the second highest peak in the continental U.S. it’s a little hard for me as a non-climber to make that trip. As a result I’m willing to settle for the highest road.

I rode up to Idaho Springs on I-70 just west of Denver. Idaho Springs leads to the Mt Evans Park and also happens to be where my brother-in-law, Chris, lives with his 2007 Aprillia RSV4. I got to Idaho Springs in time to catch my nephew’s soccer game (which they won) and then it was off with Chris. It had been lightly sprinkling all day and just on the cool side. I had decided to wear my Joe Rocket mesh jacket and leave my rain suit at home, so while I wasn’t too worried I was hoping the rain would hold off. It did for the most part.

It’s actually fourteen miles of scenic twisty road to the entrance of the park. At about the 7 mile mark I glanced down at the gas needle and was quickly reminded that I needed to fill up before leaving Idaho Springs. Oops. Oh well, I was sure there would be at least one gas station somewhere around the base of the mountain. With that thought I motored on in happy, ignorant bliss.

The road to the park is really a great joy. It’s lightly travelled for the most part with quite a few passing zones for those times when there is someone in your way. It’s almost all uphill so it’s easy to go into the hairpins a little faster. If it has one drawback, it’s that it’s so scenic it can be dangerously distracting. Conifers and Aspen trees lined the road with plenty of breaks to look out over the valleys and the numerous mountains in the Rocky Mountain range. The air was fresh and crisp and getting crisper as we gained altitude. I can’t think of a more intoxicating feeling then riding a motorcycle through the mountains of Colorado.

Once we got to the entrance to the toll road I realized there would be no gas fill up for me. Trusting in the familiarity with the limits of my bike I decided to press on. That could have come back to haunt me, fortunately it didn’t. More on that later. There was a line of about seven cars ahead and the same number behind. There was a bright green Kawasaki Ninja and a Harley a few cars behind us so we weren’t the only bikes on the road. I paid the three dollar toll for motorcycles and found it so cheap I paid for Chris too. Cars are ten dollars which makes for one of the best motorcycle discounts of this type I’ve ever seen. The first part of the road continued along like the stretch from Idaho Springs but that didn’t last long. Before I knew it I was climbing out of the tree line at 12,000 ft and into an alien terrain one doesn’t often get to experience. The traffic was building a little and moving slow. This doesn’t prove to be too much of an obstacle though. The twisty bits have, by this point, developed the nasty trait of dropping off hundreds of feet nearly straight down. You really get to notice the little things going twenty miles per hour also. For a place that looks desolate, dry and hostile there are a slew of flora and fauna. I saw a fat marmot making use of what sun there was lounging on a rock.

At the 11 mile marker there was some severe road damage in an area that had the same problem in 2004, when the wife and I were there. It looks like it’s a result of a low lying marshy area. It’s quite a roller coaster but the FZ1 handled it with aplomb. On one of the final switchbacks there was a group of 4x4 vehicles with light bars and mountain rescue stickers parked on the corner. In a field was a group of guys in climbing gear and a stretcher. I never did find out what happened, you often see search and rescue teams practicing mountain rescues and I was hoping that was the case this time. A few turns later there was a group of cars stopped for a happier occasion. There was a bright white mountain goat chewing some thorny mountain shrub.

After roughly 45 minutes we made the top. The last two miles I had been feeling the effects of the thin air and was starting to get a little nervous. Once to the top I drank all the water I had brought with me, having suffered altitude sickness twice before. I didn’t have any problems (except shortness of breath) the rest of the time.

The view from the top was as spectacular as I remember. You really do feel as if you’re on top of the world. The sky was amazing. Some spots were clear, other spots had huge, towering gray and white clouds and snow was coming our way. It did snow briefly but after putting on the polar fleece sweater I had packed with me I was comfortable the rest of the trip. The Harley and Ninja pulled in behind us and the guy on the Harley was not as fortunate as me however.
He decided to not wear his gloves. Doh! Despite that they loved ride. Chris hikes the 14ers and has several already under his belt. He was excited to add another so we climbed the last 250 feet or so to the geological survey marker to make it official then headed back down. With no real traffic ahead of us and a downhill trip we made it down a lot faster, even with a stop to get a bad photo of some mountain sheep. It was almost a flawless trip from then on except for two problems. The first was the appearance of my low fuel light with about 21 miles to the closest gas station. I did a lot of coasting. The other, more serious issue was a brief attack of altitude sickness Chris experienced about half way down. We stopped a few times and Chris finally recovered. Even someone experienced is susceptible to altitude sickness.

I split from Chris back in Idaho Springs, got my gas and headed home toward a spectacular Colorado thunder storm in the distance. After a quick call to my wife to reassure myself that I wasn’t driving into a landlocked hurricane I was able to enjoy the beautiful light show the rest of the way home. Nine hours and 224 miles after I started the trip I was home, safe, dry and thoroughly satisfied.

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