Tom kept asking if he was holding me back. I kept telling him no. At first it was to be polite, to ensure him that I was enjoying myself. I was enjoying myself. But my legs were itching to pedal harder. Its an ailment I've lived with my entire life: the inability to sit still for more than a split second.
It was especially hard to restrain my pace as we descended 750 feet in the first three miles down to Sunset. I disguised my stops as photo ops, and in fact I got a few good images of Tom coming down and passing me headed on down the Switzerland Trail.
At Sunset we were certain there would be climbing involved on the ride. I had assumed…I know! I know! I had assumed that because it was an old railroad grade that the climbing would be minimal and easy. Wrong-O! Well, I guess it was minimal and actually easy, but the fact that we could look out across the valleys and see the total loss and gain over the miles ahead of us made for a psychological ambush we had not expected.
The initial yards out of the quiet hamlet of Sunset were steep, but the angle quickly relented and we settled into a low gear crawl punctuated by plenty of photo stops. The views were incredible and we had behind us an ever increasing vista of the snow-capped summits of Indian Peaks. Sugarloaf Mountain loomed in front of us to the east and I knew we would soon reach a trailhead there and easier terrain beyond.
Tom asked again if he was holding me back and implored me to go on, that he would catch up. I admonished him that I was not being held up and that the pace was perfectly fine for me, though secretly I worried about the time. We both wanted to do the entire trail, but the day was wearing on and the window of opportunity was slowly sinking shut.
And then we reached Sugarloaf. We both felt good. The grade was relaxed beyond and after a short lunch break we resumed Tom's pace toward our goal. After Sugarloaf I really began to settle into the speed for the day and I began to thoroughly enjoy the sweeping vistas and expansive canyons beneath our feet. As we rounded the south side of Bald Mountain our views of Indian Peaks were temporarily cut off but we were rewarded an amazing view of James Peak and a glimpse of Mount Evans to the south.
"If I'm holding you up, you just go on and I'll catch up."
"Nah, I'm fine." I replied absently as I took in the view of James Peak, the scent of autumn forests, aspen leaves rotting and pines in the sun.
We were also gaining elevation. Mount Alto, near where we started is at 8,500'. Sunset is 7,760' and Sugarloaf trailhead is just over 8,400'. The end of our route at the Peak-to-Peak Highway is about 9,085'. It’s a steady climb from Sunset all the way to the PTP, though the grade seems to ease after Sugarloaf. It doesn't and we crawled ever onward until we were suddenly surprised by a stripe of pavement cutting across our path at the bottom of a downhill.
"That's it!" I cried.
We commiserated for a few minutes about the ride as motor vehicles blurred past. And then we turned our wheels back the way we had come and began the long, steady descent to Sunset all the time knowing we had a three mile climb out of Fourmile Canyon back to the Jeep.
My photo stops were cut short as Tom would fly past, screaming down toward Sunset and the inevitable climb out to the car. I'd have to jam my camera back into its bag and jump on the pedals to try and catch up. After one long wait for him to cross a valley so I could get a long distance shot of him it took me a solid five minutes to catch up with him.
And then we were back in Sunset. The downhill fun was officially over. We paused, sucked in a huge breath and downshifted as we pedaled out of Sunset.
Turns out the last three miles of the ride were the steepest at almost 4%. Those little engines back in the day COULD!
As we wound back out of the canyon to our parking spot we were rewarded with more amazing views of the mountains, canyons and at last the Fourmile Fire scar. About a mile from the Jeep we reached an overlook down into a scorched valley. So very sad…
The ride was good. Tom was giddy and kept saying that I had picked a winner for our ride. It was a very enjoyable ride at a great pace. I had not killed myself in traversing the 26 miles from end to end and it was a good day seeing the mountains from the saddle of a bike.
As I get older I realize the value of slowing down, taking things in. My body still wants its breakneck pace, but my mind is starting to enjoy the trip.