Before embarking on this journey, I was told that Flagstaff Hill was one of the most intense bike rides in Colorado’s Front Range. The full ride has a vertical climb of just over 2,000 feet and an average grade of 11%! This makes it slightly more intense than Lookout Mountain near Golden.
Most cyclists follow Flagstaff Road from Chautaqua Park. This is the ride that has earned a reputation as “quad-burning” and “lung-busting”.
However, there is an alternate route up, one that is slightly less steep, but also a bit less paved. It begins with a ride up Boulder Canyon.
This part of the ride is not too intense and serves as a reminder of how easy it is to get into the mountains from Boulder. Even from the Eastern part of the City, it is only 20 minutes by bicycle to arrive at a place where the city feels completely left behind.
We did this ride on an early October day after work. So, it wouldn’t be long before the sunlight started to fade behind the mountains.
Turning off Boulder Canyon Road on Chapman Dr., the road quickly turns into an unpaved trail. The trail is not too rocky or sandy to pass on a road bike. Still, not being on pavement certainly adds an additional challenge. This part of the ride is likely as steep as any, with wide curves rather than tight switchbacks.
We huffed and we puffed. We burnt out our quads- just as had been promised. At times I felt as if this route may have even been slightly more challenging than the road route.
Less than an hour into the ride, we had reached a place where we had not only left the city limits, but felt as if we were completely in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.
Most people have to travel further by car to get a a place that feels even remotely like this!
The top of this ride is at a place called Realization Point.
We retuned to town via the paved road, where we were able to relax, let gravity do the work, and overlook the town.
It was one of those moments of pure joy we are always seeking after in life. It reminded me of scenes from movies such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Flashdance, or looking on as groups of children play in the park, good friends laugh over a great meal or that one daring snowboarder jumps off the ten foot cliff. At that moment, nothing else matters. It is a moment of pure joy. Often times in these moments, we weren’t even necessarily intentional about setting aside our worries. The experience, the sense of accomplishment, wonder and excitement has this way of overwhelming us, leaving us with no choice but to fully immerse ourselves in what is happening here and now.
Cycling is an individual experience that we often share with others. At the Adventure Cycling Association, I was told that a bike ride with n people has a total of n+1 experiences; each person’s individual experience and then the group experience. On rides like these, even among similar people, each person experiences it somewhat differently. The amount of huffing and puffing on the uphill part, which individual groves in the surface we encounter with our tires and the strength of the adrenaline rush on the descent all vary enough to make individual experiences unique.
I cannot tell you if this is the most intense ride I have ever done. My day in Yellowstone was definitely far more exhausting, and I do recall being on steeper sections of road for shorter periods of time. All I can say is that I am grateful to be in a place where this type of experience is readily accessible and to have the means by which to make it happen. I ended the day not focused on who has more money, who is in better shape, or who has more fulfillment in life. That is always a good thing.