My Cup Runneth Over
The SUV slowed beside me. I glanced over without easing off the pedals. A twentysomething guy with a fleece hat and a beard was looking back at me from the passenger side of the car.
"Do you know where the Bierstadt trailhead is?" he asked.
That settled it. I was not going up Bierstadt. I would attempt Squaretop Mountain to the west of Guanella Pass as I had originally planned.
Squaretop had been the goal all along, but I did some math in my head (EEK!) as I pedaled along and it breaks down like this:
Squaretop Mountain is 13,794' with a 6.5 mile round trip.
Mount Bierstadt is 14,060' with a 4.5 mile round trip.
Bierstadt is only 266 feet higher than Squaretop with an approach that is a mile shorter. Bierstadt and Squaretop pretty much square off evenly. So then do I pick a 13er...or a 14er?
As I climbed up from my "Godsend" basecamp I asked myself Do you want to make it count? 14er or 13er? I couldn't decide, so I decided I would decide when I reached the pass and could take a look at both mountains up close.
When I stopped at the base of the last big climb up to the pass to snack and rest a bit the first twentysomething stopped to ask how to find the Bierstadt trailhead.
My initial thought was If you can't find the trailhead on your own then you have no business being on the mountain.
That takes us back to a question I asked myself the day before as I climbed Floyd Hill on US 40 as Fourth of July holiday traffic crawled up I-70. What business does a flatlander like me have biking into the mountains?
By the time the second group of twentysomethings solicited me for trailhead beta I knew two things: 1) I would NOT be attempting Bierstadt on the 2nd of July, 2011 and 2) I had EARNED every foot gained, every mile pedaled. If I had no right to be there, the no one did.
"You're almost there!" I told the young man. We were nearly at treeline and the top of the pass (and the trailhead) was not much further. I was verbalizing to the young man the mantra I had been repeating in my head since the I talked to the last twentysomething at the bottom of the last climb.
Squaretop ended up being the better choice. I enjoyed solitude on the summit with a front row seat of Grays and Torreys. But the decision between which peak I would bag was really insignificant considering how I got to the pass.
My master plan in simple terms was this: bike from home to Guanella Pass and then see if I can bag a summit from there. Mandy and the kids are in New York for a week and by taking a half day off from work on Friday with the Fourth holiday I had a solid three and a half days to realize my ambitious plan.
To break it down a little bit I planned to leave work midday and bike up to Idaho Springs. I knew I could camp on Barbour Fork south of town on Federal land. I hoped I'd find an adequate campsite more in line with my route. Then on Saturday I planned on biking the rest of the way to Guanella Pass where I could camp above treeline. I'd either bag a peak after getting to the pass on Saturday or on Sunday morning. I could then if I had time bag a second peak from the pass the next day or head home depending on how I felt.
Realize when I make ambitious plans like this I build in many alternate plans so I can still feel successful even if I don't achieve my ultimate goal(s).
When I left work with the Cannonball loaded for touring I was giddy. I was ecstatic. And before I had even left sight of the building I ran across a couple biking cross country. They had started in Seattle and were stopping in Golden for the night. I saw it as a good omen, a sign. Confidence spilled out of me and overwhelmed me. I was certain, with God's help, I would be able to succeed in my adventure.
I Lift Up My Eyes to the Hills
I'd prayed for good weather, strong legs and success in my ambitions. In fact, I kept praying, continuously as I traveled. What had seemed to me was to be a solo adventure had become one where I was dependent on my faith in God's protection to get me through every trial. I have faith. I know God has watched over me my whole life. How do I know this? There have been so many times in my life that I should have failed, or have been injured or killed, or lost, or sick. And all of those times I have been protected beyond just mere chance, beyond something as random and purposeless as fate.
The climbs went down easy. Idaho Springs came too soon and I had to amend my plan. I would push on to Georgetown. In doing so I knew I was committing myself to going above Georgetown to find a campsite. I wasn't sure of any camping possibilities between Barbour Fork and Guanella Pass Road. This is significant because I never do anything without thoroughly researching everything. Being uncertain about where I was going to sleep, being so committed to the journey was a new experience for me.
Too many disembodied bikes attached to SUV roofs and trunks sped past as I paralleled I-70 for much of my journey. I saw very few bikes on the road until I was headed home on Sunday. I don't think I saw a single bike on Guanella Pass Road. Of course due to the construction portions of GPR are rough dirt and rock and portions are brand spanking new pavement that is as smooth as a baby's bottom.
I enjoyed riding with a touring load. By the time I returned home I was beginning to get my system down. I was more comfortable leaving the bike when I went inside stores. I watched a couple of guys outside the Mountain Buzz Cafe & Pizzeria in Georgetown admire the Cannonball (loaded for touring) and I didn't get too anxious.
Speaking of anxious...I am always anxious sleeping in a tent. I don't do it well. I can never get comfortable and I can imagine too many things happening like bears ripping into the tent or the Blair Witch Project becoming reality wherever I happen to be camping. Before Friday night I had only camped alone one time in my life. Friday night I slept restlessly. In fact, I stayed awake reading with the Kindle app on my iPhone until 11:30pm. And then I woke at 4:30am as the sky started to lighten.
Saturday night I had trouble falling asleep despite my herculean effort ascending Squaretop. Finally, around 10:00pm I fell asleep and was dead to the world until 5:30am. I knew I had been out cold because I had not moved for seven and a half hours. As I dragged myself out into the early morning light I marveled that I was not stiff or sore. Providence had seen me through my exertions. One component of my continuous prayer had been answered. In the end every component of every prayer I had prayed had been answered.
As I approached the summit of Squaretop after so many miles, so many thousands of feet gained, so much energy expended I feared I would become emotional and begin sobbing. The night before once I had gotten camp set up I found to my delight, and again, seemingly through Providence, that I had strong cell service. As I left Mandy a voice message my voice broke and I had to punctuate the call before I started crying like a baby. My water for tea heated as I fought sobs, unsure why my emotions were spilling out so violently. I'd made it to a safe and comfortable camp with connection to the outside world. I was not cutoff from the world, alone to face the night.
I realize when I finally stood at the summit cairn of Squaretop Mountain at 13,794' I was only halfway there. And I'm always cognizant that descending, returning, coming back from epic adventure is the time when you are most likely to get hurt. I kept that in mind as I hiked down from Squaretop, as I screamed down the new pavement from Guanella Pass on an unloaded Cannonball and then on Sunday morning as I headed home. I kept my focus on the road ahead. I avoided potholes and rocks and loose sand and gravel that could have led to disaster.
I should have been exhausted. I should have been sore and stiff. I should have felt like death warmed over. But I wasn't. Even as I pedaled home and faced down the west side of Floyd Hill too soon after leaving Idaho Springs I still felt strong. I still felt like going on. I have no other explanation...
Well, I'm Back
On Saturday I returned to my basecamp at 2:55pm. My day had been
If I had not biked 48 miles the day before just to reach camp...even then, my day would have been
by most people's standards.
I was awake at 4:30am, having not slept well in the tent alone. I was on the road with only a day pack with food and sundries and my MSR water filter with a couple of water bottles at 5:30am. I biked up Guanella Pass Road from my camp at 9,800' toward the pass at 11,669' 5.8 miles away.
Between waking at 4:30am and returning to camp at 2:55pm I had gained and lost 4,000' and covered about 19 miles.
Did I consider packing up my stuff and starting down toward home on Saturday night? You bet I did! I had six solid hours of daylight left and the route home was mostly downhill. 4,400' of elevation loss to be exact...
And I would have packed it all up and struck out for home, knowing I'd be wrecking my body for the remainder of the week except for two things...Floyd Hill and the climb up to El Rancho from the bottom of Floyd Hill on the east side.
The decision to stay in camp and head home early Sunday morning ended up being the reason I could still walk when I got off the Cannonball after rolling into the Bikeport.
It was a long afternoon, enduring the mosquitoes until it was cool enough to get in the tent. Then I read some more on my phone and dozed a bit as the roar of engines traced Leavenworth Road through the space beyond my camp. Then gunshots as some redneck celebrated the Fourth early. Then more engines.
I slept well. I tossed and turned until about 10:00pm and then did not move again until 5:30am. I woke and began packing up. I was headed home and I felt rested and energetic.
Floyd Hill loomed in my path, but I knew before the heinous climb I would descend Alvarado and Stanley Roads and I looked forward to that. I knew before Floyd Hill I'd stop for a decent breakfast in Georgetown or Idaho Springs. I knew before Floyd Hill I'd be loosened up and my mind ready to confront the obstacle.
Sitting in the Mountain Buzz Cafe & Pizzeria in Georgetown I was thankful the rough descent down Guanella Pass Road was behind me. The first few miles above town and below my campsite were dirt and rock as crews continue a multi-year project to improve the road. I had to reign in the runaway-freight-train that wold be if I let the Cannonball (loaded for touring) fly as it wanted to.
Georgetown was quiet. There was no traffic as I left the picturesque town behind and cruised past the lake.
The roads between Georgetown and Idaho Springs are amazing. Both Alvarado and Stanley Roads have considerable stretches with wide striped shoulders and little traffic. The pavement is as smooth as a bicycle tourist could pray for and there are only a couple of small rolling hills as you descend making for a smooth, casual ride along Clear Creek.
The roads were so nice and I was making such good time Floyd Hill was approaching must faster than I wanted it to.
I stopped in Idaho Springs at the Safeway to get some fuel and water for the final push. I sat in the shade and ratcheted down for Floyd Hill. I was still making fantastic time as I cruised through Idaho Springs. I was hoping to make the plains by noon.
Leaving town on the Scott Lancaster Memorial Trail I wondered when I'd be back. I wondered what situation would arise that would give me the opportunity to make this amazing ride again.
And before I knew it I was staring up a vertical wall. Floyd Hill.
I geared all the way down, sucked down some water and began the long, slow crawl up to the apex of my fears.
At 9:50am I stood on top of Floyd Hill looking down on the traffic on I-70 as it slowed and then washed over the sides like rain off a steep roof. I knew my trials were basically over. I had prayed for strength and was granted it. I'd made it over the last big obstacle and was still feeling strong. I knew I could make the last climb and still have energy to spare. The rest was just a formality.
Down the east side of Floyd Hill, back up to El Rancho, along the shoulder of I-70, cross the bridge at Genesee and fly down Mount Vernon Canyon, letting caution whip away in the wind.
11 o'clock I was in Golden.
And then I was back on my normal commute. The adventure was over. The novelty faded instantly. I stopped pedaling down the hills and let the bike coast as I eased into an upright position. The euphoria remained, but the ambition to push strongly had left me.
11:40am Sunday, July 3, 2011...home.
I'd biked just over 106 miles. I'd hiked 6.5 miles. In total I had gained 8,400' under my own power. Well, with some help I might add. I used no car. I depended on no other human being. I carried all of my tools for adventure either on my bike or on my back. I set out with uncertain goals and succeeded completely. My prayers had been answered favorably and I was thankful.
I have one more weekend before my family returns. Can I top this one? Do I want to?
Morning commute 9.3 mi. 1 hr
11:36am Left the Taj 80F
12:36pm LO Mtn exit 70F
2:13pm Top of Floyd Hill, 80F
3:00pm Idaho Springs 75F
4:55pm Georgetown 80F
5:10pm headed out of G'town
5:30pm Reached the bottom of Guanella Pass Rd
5:45pm started up Guanella Pass Rd
7:30pm found "Godsend" camp
48 miles, 4,400' 8 hrs
5:30am left camp 50F
7:50am Guanella Pass 65F, 70F
5.8 miles, 1,870' 2 hrs 20 min
11:35am Summit of Squaretop Mountain 45F
1:55pm return to Guanella Pass 85F
6.5 miles RT, 2,125' 6 hrs
2:55 return to camp (5.8 miles, 1 hr)
6:45am left camp 40F
7:45am back on the road
8:30am Idaho Springs 60F
15 min in Safeway
9:50am top of Floyd Hill 80F
10:30am El Rancho
11:00am Golden 85F
END OF TRIP
Me: 184 lbs
Bike and gear: 86 lbs