Tag Archives: Bike trails

Cycling in Summit County

The Appropriately named Summit County (Colorado) sits right in the heart of the Central Rocky Mountains.   With multiple mountain ranges extending into the County on all sides, anywhere you will travel within the County, you will be pretty much surrounded by mountains in all directions.  In fact, Summit County is one of only six counties in the entire nation with a mean elevation of over 10,000 feet.

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All six of these Counties are within the State of Colorado.  Outside of Colorado, not only are there no counties with mean elevations greater than 9,000 feet (Colorado has a total of 15), but only three counties outside of Colorado have mean elevations exceeding 8,000 feet (Colorado has 24).  Those looking to “go to the Mountains”, would be hard pressed to find a more suitable place than this one.

Summit County is probably best known as a skiing destination, with five popular ski resorts, including the incredibly popular Breckenridge and Copper Mountain.  However, it may also be one of the best places in the world for high-altitude cycling, which is important for those who train at high altitude to increase lung capacity.

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Due in part to a series of rail lines that were created during gold and silver rushes and later abandoned in subsequent bust years, the county has an extensive network of recreational pathways.    The re-purposing of abandoned railways as recreational trails is actually the source of some of the nation’s best bicycling trails.  For those interested in seeing these rails-to-trails well maintained, and seeing more created, there is an advocacy group called the rails-to-trails conservancy leading this effort.

These recreational paths connect almost all destinations within the county.  Within this network of trails, one can find relatively flat rides, as well as intense climbing, all with a variety of amazing scenery.  The network is largely centered around the town of Frisco, a town of roughly 2700 people at an elevation just under 9,100 feet.  Located just off of Interstate 70, it is a relatively easy place to get to (when there aren’t traffic delays), and as good of a place as any to use as a home base for a weekend of high altitude cycling.

My first ride of the weekend was also the toughest one, from Frisco west to Vail Pass.  This ride involves two trails, the Tenmile Canyon trail and the Vail Pass trail.  Heading Southwest from Frisco, the first few miles on the Tenmile Canyon trail includes a fairly significant amount of climbing.

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Indicative of how recreation-centric this part of the country is, the entire trail network is well marked, with signage indicating which trails lead to which towns, and a significant number of signs like this one, indicating mileage.

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This sign denotes the halfway point between Frisco and Copper Mountain.  And while the total mileage to Copper is 7.4, a cyclist that has reached this point has already done most of the climbing from Frisco’s 9,100′ elevation to Copper’s 9,800′.

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In fact, the final couple of miles of this trail, headed into Copper is pretty much flat.  But, even during this flat segment, I knew where I would be headed, which would bring me farther up into the mountains.

IMG_3474 IMG_3475With it not being ski season, and there not being an actual town there, there was not much going on in Copper Village.  Many places were closed.  The most notable thing I encountered while at Copper was a junction with both the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which share the same path here.  Just the thought that anyone I encounter cycling or hiking could be headed as far as Durango, or the Mexican border, is just incredible!  At the West end of Copper Village is the Vail Pass trailhead.  Despite what is indicated in the signage, the trek from Copper to Vail Pass is actually only four miles.  Not only did I clock this myself, but a cyclist with over twenty years of experience cycling here told me that this sign has been “wrong for over 20 years”.

IMG_3476 IMG_3479The Vail Pass trail is kind of a mixed bag.  Over four miles, the trail climbs somewhere between 800 and 900 feet.  However, it is a mix of some fairly flat segments, and some fairly intense areas with switchbacks and such.  I would say there are three sections of this trail that are intense climbing.  One fairly shortly after beginning the climb from copper, one right in the middle, or about two miles from Copper (pictured here), and one close to the top.

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Strangely, most of this trail is actually in the middle of I-70, between the Eastbound and Westbound lanes, which are farther apart for much of the segment between Copper Mountain (exit 195) and the Vail Pass summit (exit 190).  The top of the trail is a rest area that cyclists share with motorists.  Here, a connection could be made with the Eagle County tail network, and cyclists could continue West towards Vail Villiage.

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However, my plans take my back towards Frisco, where, I not only encountered another sign indicating that the trail is six miles long rather than four, but a speed limit sign.  I am not sure if and how this speed limit of 25 is enforced.  But, it does provide those concerned with safety with a guideline.

The descent back to Frisco, just over 12 miles in total when one includes getting from the tailhead back to home base (in my case Hotel Frisco on Main St.) went rather rapidly, at a speed that must have averaged fairly close to that assigned speed limit.

After stopping for lunch, in the afternoon, I took on another ride to explore more of the Summit County trail system.  This one, a loop around the Dillon Reservoir.

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The ride starts out “flat”, as the trail stays at roughly the elevation of the lake.  However, “flat” here is a relative term.  Even the rides described as flat and easier, here in Summit County, can contain some rolling hills.  And, while significantly easier than a “climb”, these trails are nowhere near as flat as a trail one would find in a place like Illinois where there is pretty much no terrain change.  There are small rolling hills, as nowhere in Summit County is really flat.

After a fairly “flat” ride on the Dillon Dam recpath and the Snake River recpath, in order to traverse the entire loop around the reservoir, one must climb Swan Mountain, which is actually a 1200′ climb.

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After two significant climbs, and nearly 50 miles of exploring this amazing system of trails, I was ready to call it a day.

I did a little more exploring on Sunday, mostly on the easier trails.

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I came to really appreciate the portions of these trails that wind through the trees, often with small rolling hills.  While getting up to the top of a major climb provided me with a sense of accomplishment, these trail segments were just pleasant and enjoyable to ride through.  The smell of the pine trees reminded me of cabins, and camping, and all the things we do in life to get away from our day to day responsibilities.  The twists and turns just made me feel like I was on a ride of sorts, almost like a roller coaster in some places.  And, there were some other interesting areas, like these bogs.  In the end, I am glad I did both the big challenging climbs, and the gentler trail sections.

And, I was also glad to have experienced the town of Frisco a little bit more.

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Frisco is somewhat of an interesting place.  It has that Western feel that many of these towns have, with a Main Street lined with stores, and mountains in the backdrop.  It is somewhat touristy, but not overwhelmingly so.  It seems to occupy some kind of middle ground.  With bus service to Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and Keystone ski resorts, they get their fair share of ski related tourism.  But, not as much as there is in Breckenridge, or any other town that is actually adjacent to the ski resort.  This appears to have created demand for a variety of different hotels and restaurants, but without some of the major crowds, or the dozens of souvenir shops that line the streets of many other tourist destinations.

Over the course of the weekend, I tried five different restaurants in Frisco; Boatyard American Grill, Begalis, Prost, Butterhorn Bakery and Cafe, and Lost Cajun.  All were within a block of Hotel Frisco, and each one provided a different experience.  Boatyard is a great place to get a burger, or bar type food.  Begalis provides a nice moderately upscale Italian dining experience.  The sausages at Prost were amazing.  Butterhorn is a very popular place for breakfast/ brunch.  And, I am particularly impressed by the free samples provided to customers at Lost Cajun prior to ordering.  And, I enjoyed the casual Louisiana style experience.

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Overall, it is hard for me to imagine a better place for high altitude bicycle training.  Right in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, there is a place with an extensive network of recreational paths that connect nearly every community in the area.

The Future of Transportation

This weekend, I got a glimpse into the future in an unexpected place … Wyoming.  Not to say that I have any kind of preconceived notion that Wyoming is backwards in any sort of way.  It is just that in mainstream American culture, people tend to look elsewhere for glimpses of the future.  More frequently, people will look to the latest gadgets being developed in Silicon Valley, the newest fashion designs coming out of New York, or even a new dance craze coming out of a place like Miami before they look into anything going on in a more remote area of the country.

However, my experience in Wyoming this past weekend felt oddly futuristic, albeit in a more subtle way.  As a travel lover, I pay close attention to all issues related to transportation and how we get around.  We are a mobile country full of people (such as myself) who love to be in motion.  And, regardless of what changes, I sincerely hope we (as a nation) never lose that zest for life and exploration that draws us out of our homes, and out of our day to day lives, to new places, experiences, and adventures.

While many novels and films set in the future immediately focus on some kind of major technological breakthrough that ultimately changes the way we live, the changes we actually observe are typically more gradual.  And, while many people are anticipating electric, driver-less cars coming out of Silicon Valley, over the last fifteen years, we have achieved some less high-profile, but still significant changes, such as the proliferation of hybrid cars, incremental efficiency improvements, a general increase in interest in bicycle commuting, and a few new rail lines in some cities.  Once again, nothing monumental, but the results of these changes, and how they impact our lives is easy to spot.

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These gradual changes were on display this weekend when I, for the first time ever, got to drive on an 80 mile per hour road.  Prior to today, the highest speed limit I had ever observed had been 75.  In fact, it was just last year that speed limits on interstate highways in many parts of Wyoming increased to 80 miles per hour.  Higher speed limits can at least partially be attributed to vehicles becoming both safer and more fuel efficient, as historically these two concerns have prompted many to feel uncomfortable about high speed driving.

When I see the 80 mile per hour speed limit on Interstate 25, I see the future.  Growing up in the Midwest, I rarely got to drive on roads with speed limits in excess of 65 miles per hour.  I would commonly go 80, but doing so undoubtedly meant the risk of a speeding ticket.  The same speed here is not only legal, but almost necessary to keep up with the speed of traffic.  Over the years, a significant number of states have decided to allow higher speeds on their interstate highways.

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This is not the only transportation trend I observed in Wyoming this weekend.  In Wyoming’s largest city, Cheyenne, it is hard not to notice a newly built Greenway system, designed to accommodate the increasing interest in cycling, and the increased use of cycling as a form of transportation.

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And, while there are many places (such as Denver, where I live) that have built trail systems like this many years ago, Cheyenne is still ahead of the game.  As more people bicycle to get places, I expect to see many more trail systems like this one pop up in smaller to mid sized cities across the country.

Cheyenne is also ahead of the game when it comes to new and innovative road design.  On the south side of town, a diverging diamond intersection has been built to handle the large volumes of traffic that occurs when a highway has multiple popular rest stops (truck stops) at one exit.

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This particular design is best suited for intersections like this one, where most of the traffic is either turning left or right (in this case entering or exiting the highway).  A majority of U.S. States have yet to successfully implement a diverging diamond interchange.  Yet, people who live in or travel through this area have seen a significant reduction in congestion at this interchange.

When I see the future of transpiration here in Wyoming, I see a bright one, and also a realistic one.  I am not waiting for some pie-in-the-sky innovation that should suddenly fix all of our problems.  But, I see incremental improvements, as there is one commonality in all of these developments, the desire to accommodate people.  While speed limits are increasing on highways across the country, they are not increasing everywhere.  In fact, last year New York City actually decreased its speed limits on surface streets.  At first these trends appear to contradict one another, but both are actually helping accommodate more people.  Maintaining slower speed limits on surface streets in town is seen as accommodating to pedestrians and cyclists.  We are moving towards a world where drivers can drive a fast but comfortable speed and arrive at their destination quicker using limited access highways, meanwhile pedestrians and cyclists feel increasingly comfortable choosing not to drive places as they travel on Greenway-ype trails, and/or surface streets where their safety is at only minimal risk.

Accommodation of different types of people, who live different types of lives, is important beyond just methods of transportation.  If we are going to live within a diverse nation like this one, let alone a global society, we must learn to live with those who chose to do things differently than us, and not let these differences lead to violent conflict.  Although some people would probably never look to a place like Wyoming for clues as to how the future will unfold, I am quite proud to be the kind of person who can see value anywhere.  And that, despite the current political situation in our country, I can go to a place like Wyoming, but also to a place like New York, and enjoy the local culture.  It is not that I do not have strong opinions opinions about anything, it is just that I refuse to view everything through the lens of the current red-state blue-state divide that so many people focus on.  Those who view all places, ideas, and even people through this lens place unnecessary limitations upon themselves.  Recently, at a bar, an acquaintance of mine actually suggested that political affiliations are a strong consideration for potential one night stands.  Needless to say my respect for this individual evaporated that evening.

If we can find ways to accommodate one another, such as maintaining both high-speed interstates and safe places to walk and bike, we no longer need to fight with those who do things differently than us.  The more we do so in all areas of our lives, the better we will be equipped to handle the diverse world that we have, and the more opportunities for meaningful experiences we will be able to take advantage of.

Testing Our Limits

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A good friend of mine once told me that nearly all people are capable of much more than what they believe they can do.  And that, in fact, when challenged, most would actually be surprised by what they are physically able to do once they have been pushed to their very limit.

When it comes to most activities, people generally tend to stop when tired.  After all, exhaustion is generally an unpleasant experience for most, and has the potential to make an activity no longer enjoyable.  However, from time to time, life issues some kind of challenge that forces us to give everything we have, way beyond what we had been wanting to give.  Most of us have experienced that unexpectedly challenging assignment in college that forced us to “pull an all nighter”, or had to tend to someone they truly care about at a time when completely exhausted.  It is at these moments, when we completely drain ourselves, that we figure out the true boundary of what we are capable of.  And, for physical activities, such as cycling, it is when our bodies actually physically begin to give out on us, that we truly understand what we are capable of doing.

Heading into a new season, I decided it was time to challenge myself.  Monday, I had an entire day available with no prior engagements, so I decided to take on a ride that would potentially test the limits of my endurance at its current state; A bike ride from Denver to Castle Rock, and back, in one day.

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The first 30 miles of this trek is on the Cherry Creek trail, from Denver to the suburb of Parker.  Most of this trail is relatively flat.  A gradual upslope, combined with a few uphill segments, takes a rider from Denver’s 5280′ in elevation to Parker’s 5900′.  This part of the journey was not too terribly challenging.  In fact, in this segment, my biggest challenge was finding water to refill my water bottle.  I had assumed, for some reason, since it was already the end of March, and that there have already been 12 days with high temperatures of 70 or above, that the water fountains around the suburbs would be turned on for the spring.  I was wrong, and was quite thirsty and relieved to see this sign, indicating that although the water fountain was not operational, that the bathroom had available water.  You would be surprised how many suburban park bathrooms do not have running water.

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To get from Parker to Castle Rock, one must follow a road called Crawfoot Valley Road.  The road is quite luxurious for cyclists, with a shoulder wide enough for roughly two bikes.  In fact, it is labelled a bike lane for some parts of this eight mile stretch of road.  The first three miles, headed southwest from Parker, however, is a bit of a climb, and a deceptive one.  The climb is nowhere near as steep as one in the mountains, and one only climbs 500-600 feet.  But, it is one of those frustrating climbs where the road winds around a bit, and, with each turn, a cyclist will wonder whether or not they are approaching the apex only to see another uphill segment gradually appear as they approach.

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Once this road levels off, facing southwest, the ride becomes almost surreal.  To the left of the road, one can see Pike’s Peak, standing there all by its lonesome.  To the right, the mountains of the Front Range, due west of Denver appear.  Riding sort of directly at these mountains, with the vantage point of being up at roughly 6500 feet in elevation, I cannot help but take a deep breath and marvel at how wondrous the world can be sometimes.

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After just over 40 miles of cycling, I arrived at Castle Rock.  When I got to Castle Rock, I decided to add on a mini-hike to my day of activity.  After all, I spent almost three hours getting here, why wouldn’t I head up to this little rock structure- my destination!

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This is a fairly short hike, with stair-step features that indicate that it was designed primarily for tourists, and not hard-core hikers.  So, I did not feel too bad about adding this hike to my already exhausting daily itinerary.

After all, the return trip to Denver would be much easier, after the initial climb out of town on Crawfoot Valley Road, the rest of the trip would be more or less downhill, descending, overall, from an elevation of 6200′ at Castle Rock back to 5280′ at Denver.

That turned out to be wrong.  As I approached Parker, a northerly wind developed, and, although the wind itself was not too terribly strong (10-12 mph range), the gusts began to pick up and become more frequent.  It was here, peddling into the wind, that an already challenging ride became one where I ended up testing the limits of what my body can do.

There are three levels of tired.  First, there is just general tiredness, where we just feel like stopping.  Many people do indeed stop at this point.  However, those who stop at this first level of tiredness generally do not develop any further endurance.  Level two tired is where we begin to ache, or feel some level of pain.  At this point, it is typically recommended that one stop.  This is the level of tiredness I had expected out of Monday’s ride.  However, the gusty winds on the return trip brought my level of tiredness to the third level, the level in which you simply cannot go anymore.

Working to each level of tiredness achieves a different goal.  An activity that stops at level 1 tiredness maximizes our enjoyment of an activity.  An activity that stops at level 2 tiredness is most beneficial to our fitness.  When we push to level 3 tiredness, we achieve personal accomplishments, the kind that make us feel as if we are achieving something with our activities.

The key is, for almost anyone involved in any kind of physical activity, to find a balance between working to each of the three levels, as they feed off of each other.  The original, and ultimate purpose of any activity should be to have fun, but, for most, an activity become even more enjoyable when we improve, take on new challenges, and accomplish new things.  Much like a skier that starts out on the green slopes, moves up to the blues, then blacks, and finally extreme terrain, I am looking to take my bike out longer distances, and to places that were previously unreachable.  However, in order to plan out how to test my own personal limits, I first have to know where those limits are.  So, as much as I can be pissed off that this ride ended up being more difficult than expected due to the wind, the wind allowed me to actually measure my personal limit, so I can start the process of improving.