Idaho Springs, CO to Gunbarrel, CO

48.3 mi / 11.7 mph / 2655 ft. climbing
Home: Ryan and Lindsay’s House

Yesterday’s ride finished with 30 miles of nearly-uninterrupted downhill, dropping us from our record 12,000 feet to “only” 7500 feet. That meant we still had a 2000+ ft. to drop off the face of the Front Range in our pockets to take us to the “mile high” Denver metropolis. But it wouldn’t just be a continuation of yesterday’s easy slope. We once again had more weaving to do with I-70, sometimes on bike paths, sometimes on frontage roads, and a couple times through “road closed” signs that we were able to get through. And that meant we were once again annoyed by some of the jankiness required to connect these segments, but amazed and grateful that the segments are connectable at all.

Rett riding across a newly-installed bridge to get us through another section of the Clear Creek/I-70 canyon.

Five miles into our “downhill” we entered a segment of frontage road signed as US-40, which threw a 700 ft. uphill into our morning. I knew it was there, but hadn’t realized it was an 8% hill, making it one of the toughest climbs we’ve done. On the ensuing downhill US-40 pulled away from I-70 a bit and brought us into some scenic country that also included a bison farm. That was a convenient way to get confirmation that we had seen some big-ass bison in Yellowstone; the guys here were much smaller (presumably because they aren’t allowed to live as long). The 600 ft. hill that followed shortly after was thankfully a bit gentler, topping out as we returned to a section of bike trail for a period. And then it was back onto the smooth, wide-shouldered, low-traffic US-40 frontage road for our thrilling 2000 ft. drop down Mt. Vernon Canyon.

The view north from Genesee Park.
Riding the Genesee Bike Trail.

Once we hit the front of the Front Range and entered the Denver metropolis, we turned north to take the most-direct route to the Boulder area, on highways that are the westernmost roads of the metropolis, snugged up against the base of the mountains. This meant US-40 to US-6 to CO-93. I knew none of them would be ideal cycling roads, but I figured we could survive the stress of their four-lane vehicle-moving raison d’etre for one last afternoon. A cyclist flying past us through the light just as we made the turn north helped at least make me feel less than completely-stupid; we wouldn’t be the only two-wheeled idiots on this route!

Between US-40 and US-6, we could breathe on a low-traffic residential connector (Heritage Rd.) for a short stretch, but that’s where we had a woman scream “get in the bike lane!!!” as she was hanging out the passenger side of a pickup with…three mountain bikes in back. Ugh. I literally had not seen any bike lane, because it was up a curb on the sidewalk, not a place that anywhere else puts a bike lane. And it had just appeared. Maybe you could tell that we aren’t exactly from around these parts, lady? Anyway, I was glad we hadn’t noticed the bike lane, because there was a small roundabout every block, where the lane forces you to merge back down into traffic anyway, so they’re essentially a total pain in the ass, and pretty worthless on the low-traffic street where passing isn’t difficult. One of the most poorly-designed bits of “we actually spent money on this” bike-infrastructure I’ve seen, and an example of how building bad infrastructure makes it worse for cyclists than doing nothing, because then drivers get super-pissed that we aren’t struggling through the garbage they built for us.

Back on CO-93 through Golden there were some terrible spots where the shoulder went away and the two lanes of mobbing traffic coming our way was unwilling to merge at all and instead forced right past our elbows. But once we got through that we got some super-wide shoulders, and then shoulders with comfortable rumble strips separating us from the still unpleasant heavy volume of traffic (we lucked into doing this on Sunday, I’d imagine a weekday rush hour would be ten times worse).

Finally after 20 miles we could branch off onto quieter country roads running up the eastern outskirts of Boulder. We had been to Boulder in 2021, but as usual, approaching on bicycles gave us a totally different perspective. Coming up Cherryvale Road (in the midst of a charity event ride!) brought us through rural-seeming farms, vegetable stands, and old established properties that seemed 100 miles away from the high-end college town of central Boulder (in truth only 4 miles away) that we mainly saw last time. On the other hand, we’re glad we got to see and explore the Flatiron Mountains last time, because today they were hidden in clouds on an overall-ominous day.

These Highland Cattle are glad that the Colorado University team a few miles away is the Buffaloes and not the Highlanders (which would certainly be an option!)

Then the streets became familiar as we turned into Ryan and Lindsay’s neighborhood in Gunbarrel. I had initially contacted my aunt and uncle about staying with them in Longmont, but they just moved even further north (in an attempt to outdo the frequency of our nomadic moves, perhaps!) and so suggested my cousins instead. That turned out to be an even better idea; not only did it keep us closer in, but we’d also spent a great day with them in 2021, so it would be a treat to spend more time together, and just a unique-to-me opportunity to build a direct we’re-all-adults-now connection independent of the previous generation of our family. We were clearly driven to get there, because in our 48-mile day we took only a single break (to have a snack of peaches on the side of CO-93) and made it to their door by 11:40am! And then my aunt and uncle drove down to meet us for dinner anyway, the best of all worlds!

Day 2

The universe decided that we apparently hadn’t yet made enough personal re-connections (expected or unexpected) in Colorado, so it ridiculously shot one more out of a t-shirt cannon directly into our hands. Yesterday when we stopped to eat peaches along CO-93, I checked my phone and saw I had a Facebook message from Matt, an old college friend: “You arent by chance in Golden, CO this morning? I saw a couple riding with big packs on sides of wheels right by Red Rocks. Looked like it could have been you guys.” Um, what? Yes! That certainly must have been us! The crazy thing is I was nearly 6 weeks behind at this point on blog/social-media posts, so while he knew from photos what we (and again, Rett’s Da Brim!) generally looked like on our bikes, his latest info was that we were 800 miles away in Montana, heading in an unknown direction, with no reason to expect we might ride right past him this morning while he walked his dog! From my side, if I even knew he was living in Colorado now, it was only the vaguest memory; our last direct communication was 10 years ago, and we literally hadn’t seen each other in person since college some 25 years ago.

So I’m incredibly grateful that he made the effort to message about something that he thought only had a 5% chance of being correct, because it turned out to be 100% correct. And so today he graciously made the further effort to drive to pick us up and take us to Sanitas Brewery for drinks, dinner, and what turned into a fun and not-last-place bar-trivia finish. Rett was particularly excited to meet another “from Neil’s long-ago past” person to see if he had any dark secrets to reveal about me. Not much luck on that front, but it was fun for me to hear what he remembered from our college-dorm days that I had completely forgotten: he used to come from the dorm room next door to watch Chicago Bears games every Sunday on the 13-inch TV in our room, and every time Jeff Graham would catch a pass, I’d exclaim “Jeff Graham: best guy on the Bears!” By now I’ve totally forgotten what Jeff Graham even looks like, but the second he said my catchphrase, it immediately unlocked that box in my memory (and a modern-day stat search reveals it was more than a sarcastic exaggeration; Graham had 67 first-down receptions in 1995, a number not surpassed until Brandon Marshall in 2013!)

It’s also a rare and interesting exercise to reconnect in this place and time with someone whom I had once been together with in very different place in a very different time, to get a view of a different path between the same endpoints. It’s only one additional path (beyond my own) out of an infinite set of possibilities, but it it nearly doubles my library of such paths from that college place and time. And neither of our paths have been particularly conventional, which isn’t much of a surprise for a couple of Chicago-area guys convening out West (he’d also lived in Washington, and seems pretty stuck on the western half of the country like us). But despite those winding paths, I was glad to learn that Matt was still very recognizable as the guy I liked 25 years ago, and I hope he felt the same.

Us and Matt at Sanitas Brewing.

Days 3-4

The next two days were just a really enjoyable and relaxing time hanging out with family. And while 90% of that feeling was due to our wonderful and generous hosts, a small part also came from just knowing that we had no more mountain passes to climb, or any riding at all, for quite some time (and even more-importantly for me, no work planning out those rides!)

One night Ryan and Lindsay took us all out to the Dushanbe Tea House in Boulder for dinner. It was a place we’d visited to take photos of in 2021, so it was exciting to actually be able to go inside and eat this time. It’s a gift from Boulder’s sister-city, the capital of Tajikistan, a country most-notable in my mind for being the site of the tragic murder of some fellow world-travelling bike tourers. It’s good to now have a much-friendlier association with Tajikistan. And the next day we drove up to my aunt and uncle’s new place where they hosted us for a homemade dinner of traditional family goodness. We’re so lucky to have these refuges to relax and restore and connect as we roll our way around the country!

Dinner at Uncle Steve and Aunt Jan’s new house.



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