Cycling to the Maroon Bells the Last Day of September

Every time I have ever seen a list of Colorado’s most photographed places, the Maroon Bells, photographed from somewhere around Maroon Lake, has been near the top. I moved to Colorado just over eight years ago and still had never been to the Maroon Bells. Maybe I thought to myself that there are so many other beautiful places in Colorado. Why go to the one that is the most high profile? That may be crowded and “touristy”? After all, there are many situations where the most high profile destination is not the best experience.

But maybe I was also kind of thinking of the entire Aspen area as out of my reach. It is one of the wealthiest places in the world. It is the land of multi-million dollar homes, where people eat at fancy restaurants surrounded by some of the most spectacular natural beauty and some of the best skiing in the world. It is often referred to as a “bubble” where many of the problems people experience elsewhere in the world (poverty, crime, violence, homelessness, etc.) simply don’t exist.

Per Capita Income by County with Pitkin County (Aspen) circled

It is easy to get into the mindset that places like these are only for those special, super rich, extremely successful people.

I did not realize until quite recently how destructive that mindset can be. Regardless of whether any of us desire to become wealthy, thinking of things as out of our reach can often lead to developing a mindset that we are not quite deserving of what we desire out of life, regardless of what that is.

It’s an 8 mile ride from the Aspen Highland parking garage to Maroon Lake, with a elevation gain of 1500 feet (450m).

It’s only $10 to park up to three hours.

The trip could not have worked out more perfectly! The road was not too crowded, and the final day of September was the perfect time to see the fall colors near Aspen.

The first part of the ride is not too steep, with only one annoying section with speed bumps near a ranch with some interesting animals.

As the ride progresses, the road gets steeper, the mountains get closer, and the fall colors (at the right time of year) get even more vivid.

I was so glad to be experiencing this from the seat of a bicycle. On a bicycle, one can smell, hear and feel the world around them in a way they just don’t from inside a motor vehicle. I felt like I was actually in the moment, as opposed to just observing it from afar.

About two miles before the lake, there is an amazing scenic overlook and a great stopping point. Cyclists in great shape can probably complete this ride without needing to stop. However, seeing how hard I can push myself is not typically my goal while cycling. I push myself to get better but my ultimate goal is having experiences.

Maroon Lake Road certainly is an experience. Around every curve is something spectacular. The last two miles are perhaps the most challenging part of the ride as the Maroon Bells appear closer and closer.

I would say the biggest surprise of this ride was the amount of people riding e-bikes. E-bikes, or electronic bikes, most likely made up over 80% of the bikes on the road.

I eventually found myself giving some kind of strange head nod to anyone I came across that was riding a standard bike, and pedaling their way up to Maroon Lake without any electronic assistance.

My experience at Maroon Lake was about what I had expected. I knew it was one of the most stunning places in the country and this is the peak time for fall colors at this elevation. The crowd level was also around what I had expected.

In this challenging time for humanity, it is hard not to get emotional. Lately I have been having emotional responses to both natural beauty and observing beautiful moments in humanity. On this ride, I saw both. In addition to the natural beauty all around us, there were a lot of people riding up the road together enjoying each other’s company. At the scenic overlook, we even talked to a few people who were making jokes about locking their bike locks but not their bikes.

I thought about so many other of humanity’s beautiful moments. When people turn their dreams into reality. Or, witnessing a bunch of children playing in the playground across the street, laughing and smiling. None of them involve computers, cubicles, corporate jargon, performance measurement, organizational hierarchy and all that nonsense. I almost feel in disbelief about how much of my youth I spent dealing with things like that when there is a big beautiful world out there full of natural beauty and beautiful moments between people.

We can make life far more beautiful only if we believe ourselves to be deserving of it, which is why it is so important to stop thinking of places, people or experiences as out of reach. It’s more that some places, people or experiences just require a little bit more effort to get to.

The descent was rapid. It took almost an hour, stop included, to cycle from the Aspen Highlands parking garage to Maroon Lake. The return trip probably took about 15 minutes. There are sections where it is quite possible to reach speeds in excess of 40 miles per hour (65 km/hr), another amazing experience!

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