Wednesday was a day of extremes: Sun! Warm temperatures! Hail! Pouring rain! Exhilaration! Terror! Laundry!
The day began sunny and chilly, but warmed up pretty quickly. Armin headed out early on an epic bike ride up to the highest point in the park. The boys and I ate pancakes and lounged around until he got back, then we headed out to drive back up Trail Ridge, the road he’d just biked. It takes you up to over 12,000 feet, to the Alpine Visitor Center on the arctic tundra. It is a gorgeous road, and (for me), absolutely terrifying. Turns out I don’t do well on roads with a sheer drop-off to the side. I split my time between peering at the scenery and hiding my eyes. The boys marveled at the view, and since Leo survived the twisty trip without any carsickness, I think we can say that he’s over that phase of his life.
The road got less scary as we went up, and we saw a bunch of elk on our way to the visitor’s center. The center itself was jammed, and we only strolled a bit on the one open path—it was cold and windy up there! The alpine tundra is pretty amazing. Those little plants have to struggle to survive, and the one little twisted tree we saw (about 2 feet tall) may have been 50 years old. The vista of the surrounding peaks was just gorgeous—we could see that some of them were sunny, while lightning arced over others. Leo got his Junior Ranger badge from a really nice ranger who made a big deal out of the presentation (he introduced Leo and his fellow Junior Rangers to the whole room!), and we scampered out of the visitor center as the clouds massed overhead.
We left just in time, because not 3 minutes later all heck broke loose. It started to sleet/hail/rain like crazy. I took pictures and then hid my eyes, counting on Armin’s superior driving skills to get us down safely. He did, of course, and by the time we got back down to the valley the rain had let up quite a bit.
We had a quick cup of coffee to restore ourselves, then headed to town. We did laundry at a quaint place called Dad’s Maytag Laundry & Shower. Someone who works there is obviously a quilter, since the walls were decorated with a variety of small quilts and squares. Armin grabbed a shower (there was a long wait, so the boys and I did without) and we got all of our clothes nice and clean. Then we zipped back to camp and made a great dinner, followed by dessert with our campsite neighbors, a nice couple from the Minneapolis area who have an adorable 2 ½ year old boy who idolizes Leo and Toby. Then we took in the ranger program on squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots and headed to bed.
Today is our last full day in the park, so we’ll do one last hike. We’ll grab the shuttle bus up to Bear Lake and hike the Emerald Lake trail. It’s supposed to be a busy one, but with gorgeous views. Tomorrow morning we pack up and drive to Arches. It’ll be a 7 hour drive, ending in a much different climate. We’ll see how the boys and I handle 100 degrees! We will likely cut our time there a bit short. We were planning to stay from Friday until Monday, but now we’re thinking that we’d like to head out to Bryce Canyon on Sunday so that we can start our way up to the Tetons a day or two early.
Yesterday’s hill climb up Trail Ridge Rd. was one of my all-time peak cycling experiences, pun most certainly intended. This climb is the highest continually paved road in the U.S. and my highest climb ever on a bike. I woke early and hit the road before 7 am, hoping that I was prepared for all eventualities. I wore my thermal tights, since it was a pretty chilly morning, as well as arm warmers and wool socks. The weather was perfect, and the climbing started at a gradual 4-6% grade through the montane and into the sub-alpine tundra.
At around 9,500’ I was second-guessing my tights and had removed the warmers. I passed several other cyclists along the way and was feeling really strong and ready for the challenge of climbing over 4,000’ in the span of 15 miles. This climb is categorized as HC (hors category or beyond categorization), due to its length and persistent grade.
At around 10,000’ I felt that my rear tire was a bit mushy, and sure enough I had a slow leak at a most challenging spot. There really wasn’t a shoulder to speak of, a steep drop-off on one side and a rocky wall on the other. I scrambled a little way up the rock just to get off of the roadway, and managed a quick tube exchange.
It’s never fun to stop mid-climb, but I pressed on and was rewarded with amazing views of endless snow-capped mountains and a little marmot wrestling match on the road. The drop-offs became extreme as I approached 11K’. The final 2,000’ were the most challenging, since there were sections with nearly a 10% grade and ever-thinning air.
Reaching the summit was an indescribably rewarding experience, and then I noticed that there was a 400’ descent followed by a little more climbing and another 400’ descent before the alpine visitor center. I made my way to the visitor center and promptly turned around after getting someone to capture the photographic evidence of my accomplishment. I immediately noticed a jumpy chain, which resulted in involuntary shifting on the relatively short ascent, a real annoyance that wasn’t fixable at the moment. That little problem didn’t matter too much during the exhilarating descent, where I was able to average between mid 30s to mid 40s. I wish I didn’t have to brake for the cars, but so it goes.
Without a doubt I feel more than ready for Going to the Sun road in Glacier, and thanks to Toby’s assistance, my chain is now degunked and working just fine.
Oh yeah, my stats:
I averaged 11.8 mph on the climb, climbed a total of 5500’, and burned approximately 2700 calories. I spent the rest of the day trying to consume the equivalent amount of calories, and came pretty close.