Riding the Rockies
Sometimes adventure is meant to be easy and this is one of those rare amazing experiences that anyone with a sense of balance can enjoy. Having picked up my rented bicycle the day before, I was able to arrive at Mountain View Adventures at 9:00 am for my ride up to Vail Pass. This particular Sunday morning, I was the sole rider and my van driver pointed out the path I would ride along the way as we drove up Highway 70, which bisects Colorado from East to West, to the top of the Pass. The ride took about 20 minutes total and we pulled off the highway at one of the Highway Rest Stops. The driver unloaded my bike, made sure I didn’t have any questions, and told me to have a great trip.
The sign at the trailhead said that Copper Mountain was 8 miles, Frisco 13 miles, and Keystone 26 miles. What the heck, it’s mostly downhill – right? I didn’t opt for the round trip version of the excursion. That’s the one where the driver and the rider set a time to rendezvous and someone actually picks you up in Frisco and drives you back to Keystone. After all, this is billed as “Coasting” the Rockies. No major pedaling effort there, right? But fancying myself the athlete (albeit the aging one) what’s another 13 miles? I’ll go it on my own….. the entire 26 miles. I did make sure to understand where my fallback possible “rides” were. More on those fallbacks later.
The first 13 miles were truly glorious! I coasted down a very well maintained bike bath that runs between the east and west lanes of Highway 70 (the lanes are WELL divided and you really don’t notice the freeways at all.) Streams and eddies run along the pathway and along the entirety are wild flowers. Amazingly, there were a large number of hardy riders riding UP the pass. From the top, at 11,400 feet elevation, one can travel 20 miles down to the West and Vail or 13 miles down to the East and Frisco. Apparently it’s not unusual for people to ride from Frisco to Vail and back in one day (for a total elevation gain of 4,000 feet).
- Family Travel
Continuing to Coast the Rockies
To this point it has all be downhill. Now it's time for a change of pace. The first sign of civilization comes when you round the corner and smell horses. You know you have reached Copper Mountain Resort when you see the stables. A few hundred feet more and you enter the ski resort area.
This is a great place to make a stop. Copper Mountain has a wonderful little village area with lots of shops, restaurants, and an adventure center. Lock up your bike, have a beverage and a snack and take the chair lift to the top of the mountain. The day I was there was the Copper Cup Mountain Bike Race. As I rode the free chair lift ride to the top of the mountain I could watch the riders navigate the single track back down the mountain. For the more adventurous, there is also a very easy fire road that even the beginner mountain bike rider can easily tackle. There is a paid for ticket required to put your bike on the chair lift. Every other chair has an attachment for a bike on the back. But for the simple lookieloo like me, you just pick up a coupon at any of the stores in the village, trade it in for a free ticket and hop on the chair lift. It’s a scenic and fun trip up and an even more scenic photo op (you’re pointed in the right direction) down.
Back on the bike, you continue to go through Copper Mountain Resort past golf courses, and back on to the paved trail. The next section is mainly flat to slightly downhill and it feels good to pedal after getting cramps in your calves from holding still for the 8 miles of coasting. A stiff prevailing headwind slows the progress slightly as I ride past beaver ponds on the right, a babbling creek on the left, and all along more wildflowers. Soon I’m at another downhill section and before you know it I’ve arrived at the “brown buildings” the driver told me to watch for that indicates I’ve arrived in Frisco. This could be the end of the ride. This is where the van will rendevous with you if you choose to pay the $12 fee for the return trip.
No Longer Coasting the Rockies
This is where I got a little lost. “If you don’t leave the path …..”, I had forgotten exactly what the guide said. Was it “100 yards after the building” or “at the building”? The important thing to know is stay on the main road until you hit Main St. Then turn left and you will go through the main part of Frisco. When you get to the Marina you will again pick up the path towards Dillon Dam Road. All roads in Frisco continue to be flat. Then you reunite with the bike path and you no longer have flat roads ahead!
It is essential to remember that you are at about 9,000 feet in elevation. If you, like me, live at sea level, suddenly the smallest rise becomes a lung-busting peak. The next 7 miles to Dillon is gently rolling hills. Nothing out of the ordinary for your every day cyclist; great views, Lake Dillon to your right, Rockie Mountains all around you, little ups and downs. However, this is where the elevation, and my failure to eat something thus far, took its toll.
I finally got to the Dam Road and then veered to the right where I arrived in Dillon Town and stopped for a much needed lunch. As I was eating I saw the Stagecoach Bus stop at what was my last fallback ride home. Please see "fallbacks" for info on how to catch a free ride. As I watched the bus leave the Dillon stop, a tiny part of me wanted to grab it quick. However, I was committed for the long run. After a lunch I hopped back on the bike (ouch!) for the last 6 miles. More rolling hills, again, probably not anything that would concern me at home, but killer at 9,000 feet! By the time I saw the “Keystone 2 miles” sign, not only did I howl with delight, but I shrieked with dismay at how much more of a grade it looked when I was on a bike and not in a vehicle! The last 2 or 3 miles was truly difficult for me. I stopped and rested three times (but I must note that many riders did pass me by on that trail….. “obviously”, I told myself, “they do NOT live at sea level and they had NOT come all the way from Frisco!”
Sprinkle my ashes here
Just off Swan Mountain Road, between Keystone and Breckenridge is a small parking area that services a 1 mile loop trail with one of the most spectacular views anywhere. From the trail, accessable in winter and summer, Lake Dillon spreads her glory below, offering a different perspective with each curve of the trail.
Now promise you won't tell anyone!
Loveland Pass - The Continental Divide
Driving up Highway 6, past Keystone and over the Loveland Pass, you will reach the 11,990 ft. summit and a point on the Continental Divide. All watershed on the west side goes to the Pacific and on the east side goes to the Atlantic.
Take a walk up the Snake River.
With the arrival of spring in April, a little later in the year than elsewhere given the 9,500+ ft elevation, the snow finally begins to melt and the river actually becomes liquid for the first time. The waterfall at the back of the condo, which previously didn't exist, becomes more vociforous as the days pass. By late April the river is finally worthy of the term.
One afternoon with the sun high, my brain fuzzy from sitting in front of this screen and a freshness to the spring air: the river's siren song finally tempts me to explore it and a pleasant and interesting walk it is too.
I think there is a sort of trail here but it is a summer one and so with parts of it still snow-covered my route alternates between the accessible parts of the riverbank and up and down from the adjacent road - there are still several snowed-under parts of the river which are perhaps not a good idea to assume are atop firm ground.
This river walk intrigues as civilisation comes and goes, the remainsof a campfire with a midden of beer bottles is located by the river bank which must be recent and then the next half mile takes me away from the road before returning to its vicinity and a pair of foot bridges, both wooden, leading across to a small grouping of houses. The river is punctuated by several waterfalls, some formed by the terrain, others temporarily by a jam of flotsam. A lone pondskater finds a relatively calm pool and does whatever it does skimming above a shallow where trapped air bubbles left over from last winter's mini "ice-age" are rising from the silt. A huge rock sits in one bend, obviously having been there for millenia, split in two by a more recent event, the power of probably a trickle of water becoming ice every year and deepening the rent until the solid mass is split almost symetrically.
Enough verbiage, here's the pics:
PS Website is general Colorado but following map links gives a good overview of the various river courses.
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