July 2, 1999 - Day 27 - Granby to Loveland, Colorado

95.6 miles, 14.5 mph average, 1479 total miles, 48.5 mph maximum speed

Zero roadkill. Clean!

Top of the World!
Top of the World
I climbed that mountain!!! Michelle Akers, if I can do it, YOU can do it. Go Michelle, Go U.S.A.! Ok, I realize I did it one day, and you have to do it every day, but I'm at least thinking about you. It is your attitude that infects that team, and it is why the U.S. will find a way to win this World Cup on July 10.
12,200 feet, the highest place in North America you can ride a road bicycle and go down another side. And remember, this is our Route 34. That's right: Ogden Avenue West!
I can't begin to describe the emotions of this day. First of all, I said goodbye to Lois after we drove back up to Granby from Denver. I walked back into Great Divide Sports and saw Kathy working on a bike with her back to the door. I said, "I'd like to buy a GT road bike. Got any in stock?" Without even turning around she said, "Yeah, I got one. Piece of shit. It's up at the junk yard." We had a good laugh. There's a lot to be said for living in a smaller town. She brought my bike around, topped the tires off with her pump and let me use her bathroom to change.
We got the bike loaded up, and then Lois and I said our goodbyes. She'll drive as far as she can get tonight, then get home tomorrow afternoon sometime. We had a great two and half days together.
I headed right over to Rte. 34 and took it north up to Rocky Mountain National Park Just north of Granby is the beautiful Grand Lake.

Grand Lake
Grand Lake

And just north of Grand Lake is the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park

Colorado River Headwaters
Colorado River headwaters

It starts up here, about 10 feet wide and 6 inches deep, carves its way through western Colorado, created the Grand Canyon in Arizona, gets bled by two major dams (Glen Canyon and Hoover) and a ton of California irrigation projects, and enters Mexico with less water than you see here. Nice neighbors, aren't we?

The park entrance is about 16 miles north of Granby, and the serious climbing begins about 10 miles into the park.

A deep valley
Looking back at the valley I climbed out of
This is a last look at the valley I just left. The road cuts left and begins to REALLY climb.

A steep climb
2 miles above sea level
This is one of the most serious climbs in America. And we're not even at tree line yet.

Spitting on the Continental Divide
Spitting to prove a point
This is Milner Pass, the Continental Divide. I always tell my classes that if you spit EXACTLY on a continental divide, half of your spit will end up in the Pacific and half will end up in the Atlantic. Mine just laid there.

The Treeline
Leaving the tree line
When you get to a certain altitude, depending on your latitude, there just isn't enough oxygen to support the growth of trees. As you leave tree line, the trees get shorter and shorter, until they just dwindle away. Above tree line is tundra, a very fragile world.

The Tundra
This is looking back toward the treeline. It may be fragile, but it's rough up here. For one thing, trees block wind. There was nothing to block the wind here, and it howled. I would estimate it was between 30-40 mph. There were times when it came from the side that I was almost blown over.
On the way up, I heard a lot of thunder. It's easy to see why the ancients came up with multiple gods, because the thunder comes from different parts of the sky. There is nothing quite like mountain thunder. It's scary and exhilarating.

The Tundra
More tundra
Those poles are so the snowplows know where the road is.

The Tundra
And more tundra
There are very few roadways in North America that go above tree line. This is the highest continuous road in our continent. It's absolutely magnificent. I had been feeling a little weak, stomach a little upset, on the way up, doubting whether I could make it. But when I got to that tundra, and the grade got really steep and the wind was brutal, I started yelling at myself, just stupid stuff like "Come on!!" and growling and screaming. Hey, nobody could hear with all that wind. It was just great. The wind was great. The final grade was great! I willed myself up that mountain.

Mr. Graham at the Top
Me at the top
It was cold, it was super windy. I had on most of the clothes I had, two shirts, the fleece vest and the yellow rain jacket. It was just right. Temps weren't that bad, but the wind chill was probably 45 degrees.
(This is picture I told you you'd never see: me with my helmet on. Oh well.)

Portal to the Great Plains
Portal at 12,200 feet
I think these are the Gates to the Great Plains. After you go through these 'gates' at over 12,000 feet, you begin the descent to America's Great Plains. It's a screaming ride down to Estes Park at 7500 feet. I reached almost 50 mph at points. I passed more than 10 cars ("Get outta the way!!!") I laughed out loud. I yelled at the top of my lungs.YEE-HAAAAAA!!!!! At one point I just started crying. I don't know why. I don't care.
I was prepared, physically and mentally. I faced the last major challenge of the our wonderful West. I attacked it, respectully always. I made it. Safe.

Big Thompson CanyonBig Thompson Canyon
After you leave Estes Park, you follow the Big Thompson River down its canyon to the plains. Estes is 7500 ft. Loveland is about 4800 ft. As you cruise down this beautiful canyon, you can feel the heat of the plains competing with the coolness of the mountains. Waves of heat, followed by pockets of that wonderful coolness, and so on, until finally the plains win.

Down and down out of the mountains, and then the road turns north and slides behind the western side of these foothills, one of the first layers of the Front Range of the Rockies that stick up almost vertically out of the ground. You know these uplifts used to laying down flat at some point.

Great name for a town. Here's the lake downtown as the sun goes down, looking back at the great Front Range of Rocky Mountains. I was on top of those things less than three hours before.
It's the same as the Sierras: the orographic effect creates a long, slow incline from the west, but a very sharp decline on the east.

And so I sit in my motel room tonight, 95 miles east of where I started this morning, a little sad. The greatest challenges of the American West that I love so much are now behind me.
Tomorrow? The Great Plains, the long, slow slide to the Mississippi River, dropping from 5000 feet to sea level almost imperceptively.
Ahead? Flat, flat, flat.
Ahead? Hopefully, strong tailwinds.
Ahead? Somewhere around the100th meridian... my first humidity. Ughhhh. I hate humidity. I hate the lowlands. Why do I live in Chicago? Someone remind me. Please.
Ahead? The Fourth of July. How will I celebrate it? Where?

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