46.0 mi / 10.3 mph / 3125 ft. climbing
Home: 6 & 40 Motel
Rett knew from the basic shape of our plan that our arrival into Dillon signaled entry to the final chapter of our riding for this summer. Just two more days riding down to Denver and we would be done. So when she found out that we were not yet into the denouement, but still had one final climactic crossing of the Continental Divide to do (and it was over our highest pass so far), she was less-than-thrilled. Which surprised me a bit, since she had become quite (rightfully) proud of her mountain-climbing skills, and I figured she’d be like the opportunity to exhibit them one more time. But I also understood the tyranny of an established narrative, and having a giant spike edited into the downhill story you’ve written into your head is pretty annoying.
Luckily Dave is big into bicycling too, so I assumed that as a local he’d done Loveland Pass before, but what I hadn’t expected is that he does it about once a week! I think hearing his experience helped get Rett emotionally turned around on it. He confirmed that it’s a relatively-chill route on the old highway, US-6, because all the traffic takes the “new” I-70 route under the mountains through the Eisenhower Tunnel. We aren’t allowed in the tunnel, so we still have to do the massive climb. And, um, big tanker trucks would be doing the climb with us, because hazardous materials aren’t allowed in the tunnel either. Hmm. But apparently those guys drive the route all the time, and are used to sharing it with cyclists, so they’re better-behaved than a lot of truck drivers. Of course Dave does it on a 17-pound carbon bike, so his impression of the challenge might be somewhat different than our own!
I’m not sure the weight of our bikes had anything to do with the cowboy-hat wearing asshole leaning out of his pickup and yelling “Get the fuck off the road!!” at us though. That was when we were still circling the Dillon Reservoir, before we’d even started the climb, and before there was really any other traffic on the four-lane road (with median) that he was completely on the opposite side of. Very strange! Then once we hit the climb, and the road narrowed down, there was an unexpected amount of traffic coming up with us. So we were definitely having more of a challenge than Dave!
As we approached the Arapahoe Ski Basin, we could see the parking lot was completely packed with cars. I guess that at least explains all the traffic that was coming up early on a Saturday morning! Well, it didn’t explain why, and we didn’t find out anything when we went around the short line of cars stopped in the middle of the highway, I assumed waiting for spots in the lot to clear? Only when we got closer did I hear a hype-man blasting over loudspeakers, pumping up whatever crowd he was talking to. A woman standing on the road cheered us on, but also warned us that a footrace was about to come up across the highway. Ah ha! The last piece of the puzzle. That means we were probably supposed to stop down below with the other cars to let the race come through, but that would have been pretty annoying, so I don’t feel too bad about sneaking through. After the starting gun, I could see the crowd of runners crossing the highway behind us, and then looping around on a trail before they would cross again ahead of us. It turns out people doing a 9-mile trail run move faster than people riding 100+ lb. bikes up a 5% grade, so they unfortunately cut us off at the pass before we reached their crossing. Rett snuck through pretty easily, but I had to hang back a bit and wait for a gap. At least after that we had far less traffic to deal with (both because the road behind us would be closed a bit more, and because we didn’t have any more people driving up the mountain to get to the start of their even-higher-elevation trail run…we hoped!)
Overall the 2650 ft. climb was a bit steeper than the mountain climbs we’ve been accustomed to (closer to 6% than 5%), so that made it even more impressive that Rett made it up with only 4 stops, with breaks after 750 ft., 800 ft., 500 ft., and 300 ft., with a final 300 ft. to get to the top (notice it definitely got tougher near the end, either due to tiredness or the elevation, or a combination of the two).
The 11,990 ft. height of Loveland Pass is now a new elevation record for both of us on our bikes. Today we left the TransAmerica route behind (we cut east while it continues south), and those riders would instead go over Hoosier Pass, the highest point on their cross-country route, which at a mere 11,539 ft. is wussy shit! We got a lot of congratulations from drivers parked at the top, though it would have been nice if the dumb roadbuilders had run the road just a bit up the slope of the still-rising mountain on either side to allow us to claim 12,000 feet!
Our 11th(!!) crossing of the Continental Divide this summer switched us back to the Gulf of Mexico flow for the last time, but the most-visible stream that we would be running alongside was I-70, 1200 feet of switchbacks below us. Shortly after linking up with the Interstate we got on a bike trail that parallels the highway, and for five miles we barreled downhill through the corridor of evergreens. With its steep slope, remote location, and minimal access points, we’ve never been on a trail like it, and it’s kind of amazing that it exists; “let’s drive an hour up from Denver to go ride our bikes up a steep 1000 foot hill for five miles and turn around and ride back down” is not something I’d expect many families to propose for a Saturday outing!
After that we were on a series of frontage roads, swapping back and forth between the north and south sides of the Interstate as it passed through a series of small one-time mining towns. Sometimes it was a bit of a pain to navigate the switches, but the fact that a low-stress biking route exists at all in this mountain canyon is pretty incredible.
Just a little short of our destination, a Taco Bell outside of Georgetown called to us (an advantage of riding along the Interstate!), and we got some roadside Palisade peaches too. I had called ahead to book a room at the 6 & 40 Motel in Idaho Springs, something I am loathe to do, but it was totally worth it. It was at the very eastern edge of the linear town, shortening tomorrows ride, it was literally steps from McDonald’s across the street, the friendly host put us in a bigger room so that we would have plenty of space for our bikes inside (without even asking!), and that room had a giant TV and nice bath products. One of the best cheap independent motels we’ve ever stayed in, and also the last for quite some time!