I shot out of the mouth of Coal Creek Canyon like a cannonball...40mph, knobbies whining, a huge grin on my face. I knew I was going to make it home in less than 10 hours. The fact that I got turned back just shy of Rollins Pass in the face of a thunderstorm...eh, discretion is the better part of valor.
I'd done battle with the pass for so long. I was determine my ruin would not be smote by Corona. Yeah, I like the original name of Rollins Pass better: Corona. It's a more earthy name, more noble, not named for some rich white guy who never rode his bike 103 miles.
I left Arvada at 4:38am. I maintained a solid pace all the way to Rollinsville. Above Coronaville and through Tolland and beyond I kept on cranking toward the pass. Finally I turned onto Corona Pass Road. It was rough. But I kept on going.
At 50 miles I had been going six hours. I maintained my attack...ramming speed. I wanted the pass bad, and the realization that I was riding a 12hr century pace after so many thousands of feet of climbing spurred me on.
Soon I could see the Needles Eye Tunnel ahead, but Rollins, the Mr Hyde persona of Corona Pass, was throwing dark clouds at me. A rumble of thunder, a few cold, fat drops of rain, then a wicked dagger of lightning...
I knew when an ugly defeat was imminent. A man I knew once said: "A good run is better than a bad stand any day."
And so I ran, back toward home 51.65 miles away. I had been so close to the summit of the pass, but I'd stretched it out until I was certain I'd hit a century. Or would I?
The battle wasn't over. The ugly thunderheads raced out ahead of me to the north toward Coal Creek Canyon and Rollins raised up rocks and cobbles in my path to beat me senseless.
Staying just ahead of the rain I endured the bone rattling descent. On the climb up I knew it was rough, but it hadn't seemed that rough. I fought hard to keep my speed above 10mph even as gravity pulled me away from the maw of a monster storm.
After doing hand to hand combat with Rollins for so long my wrists and knees were aching and my right thumb was bleeding from where I'd been cut by the shifter. I was ready to be off Rollins Pass Road. And still the beating went on.
An eternity passed before I finally reached Tolland Road, and laughing hysterically, I banked hard left, thumbed into higher gear, and put the spurs to 'er.
There's something both insane and thrilling about doing 30+mph on a dirt road. Tolland Road loses enough elevation back to Rollinsville that it's a true screamer. That's when the grin formed on my face. I was kicking my overall average back up and stomping down on the clock.
My lovely SAG driver was meeting me back in Rollinsville and I was eager to see her face. So I pounded on the pedals even harder.
As I finally could see the little town and the Peak to Peak Highway I saw a white 1999 Suburbaru Forester rolling west on Tolland Road. The grin got so big the top of my head was in danger of falling off.
I couldn't helping giving her a big kiss. I was gushing with joy, at eight hours out I had only 30 miles to go and much of that was downhill. Two exceptions were the climb up from Rollinsville to Kelly Dahl campground and the 3.5 mile steep climb from Pinecliffe up to Wondervu at the top of Coal Creek Canyon.
From Wondervu it was 22 miles downhill all the way home.
I wanted to linger and visit with Mandy, but I needed to get on with it. We both agreed the skies over Coal Creek Canyon were looking mean and ugly. I was hoping I could get over Wondervu, less than 10 miles away, before the rain started. I felt good and didn't want another skirmish with the ghost of Rollins.
I powered out to the PtP and turned north. Mandy passed and drove away toward the plains. I'd see her much sooner than we both imagined.
The rain started at Kelly Dahl. I did the short steep descent to Hwy 72/Coal Creek Canyon Rd at a cautious speed. By the time I turned on 72 I was pretty wet. But then I was less than halfway to Pinecliffe when I got ahead of it and the pavement was only damp. I was slightly soaked but keeping a 25-30mph speed.
I shot across the railroad tracks a little fast, but kept upright and in the road. A few seconds later I was shedding gears like a rocket sheds stages. Up the initial climb...with the rumble of a diesel engine chasing me. A dump truck passed within inches, confirming my fears of a slow slog up the twisting road with almost non-existent shoulders. I kept on pedaling. There was nothing else to do.
The initial short hill was easily dispatched, then I was treated to a brief reprieve before the long, long slog.
A few cars passed as I climbed, but none came as close as the dump truck. About 2/3 of the way up Rollins was catching up with me. Violently loud thunder cracks were punctuating the sky all around. And the the rain began to fall. I cranked up in my middle chainring against the onslaught of cold drops and the threat of lightning. I'd have to crest Wondervu at the top and get over into the canyon before I'd feel safe from being struck down. I prayed continuously for safe passage, and I kept fighting back against all Rollins could send after me.
Then...finally...I saw the Wondervu Cafe. The rain was coming down cold and steady at that point, running off the pavement in sheets.
I pulled in and skulked under a ponderosa by the restaurant to suck down some fuel for the final push. The rain didn't let up and lightning and thunder raged all around. I longed to have the luxury of time to linger at the Wondervu and sample their fare, but it would have to be some other day.
As soon as the last bite was crammed I my mouth I swung a leg back over the top tube of The One and pushed off for glory. Gravity grabbed on and pulled me down into the canyon. I reigned in for fear of going to wrack and ruin in some gravel-laden curve. I blocked the car behind me from passing until there was plenty of real estate for them to do so safely.
I was still fighting to get free of the claws of Rollins, balancing caution and speed to get down the canyon so I could get across the open plains ahead of the electric death from the sky...and then I was free. Out of the rain and back on dry pavement I turned The One loose and hung on for the ride. Bombing down the the canyon at 40mph I took the full lane, as I was easily doing the posted speed limit. I laughed out loud as the sounds of thunder faded behind me.
Down through the deep cleft between Blue Mountain and Crescent Mountain I continued at breakneck speed. Yeah, I did ponder what would happen if I blew a tire and it ripped away from the rim. And then I slammed down on the pedals and hunched over my bloody handlebars.
I rocketed out of Coal Creek Canyon and across Rocky Flats. I continued on down into Arvada, and finally, at Indiana, the grade leveled a bit and I slowed to about 25mph. Traffic lights stayed green for me, midday Friday traffic remained light, and on I went with the knowledge that I just might make it home ahead of the storm and under ten hours. Despite all the miles I kept pedaling.
The light caught me at Kipling and 72nd. As I waited for the light to change so I could ride the last couple of miles home the Rollins balrog was looming over western Arvada. Drops of rain from it's slavering maw were spattering the asphalt. Thunder rumbled from its chest.
Green. Go! I hit the 35mph speed limit on Kipling quickly and kept on pedaling as it curved into Oberon. I cranked over much familiar ground, dodging familiar obstacles, weaving through parking lots and into my neighborhood. I turned on my street and stood up on the pedals for a solid powerful finish into the Bikeport.
Mandy had not returned home, and violent lightning was crashing all around. I texted her that I'd made it back...and didn't have my house key. She said she'd be home ASAP. Neither one of us expected me home so quickly after parting ways in Rollinsville.
The final numbers: 103.3 miles, 9 hours 54 minutes, Rollins Pass 1, Me 1
I attribute my sub-10 hr ride to carb loading, proper rest and careful SAG planning.
I didn't summit the pass, but I did ride my second century ever, and to altitude, AND in less than 10 hours. I was not thwarted in my primary goal by gain, by terrain or by weather. I failed in my secondary goal, reaching the pass, thwarted by terrain and weather.
I was neither thoroughly defeated nor totally victorious , but I did pull off the best bike ride of my life. I highly recommend the 20 mile (one way) ride from Rollinsville to the summit of Corona Pass. You'll have to portage around the closed Needles Eye Tunnel and keep your eyes peeled for an ugly balrog waiting to chew you into oblivion, but otherwise if you have the opportunity, the will, and the energy...ride Corona Pass.
Someday I want to ride over the pass, camp in Winter Park and return the next day.