Colorado Mountains 2006 Trip Report
Jim and Mark Drove to Topeka Kansas via Franklin Kentucky, dropping Diane's cat Tara off at her sister's Vet clinic. Traffic backed up badly in St. Louis that afternoon, with bridge work (probably patching a pothole) so we bailed and navigated our way to HWY-255 via back roads through East St. Louis. Made Topeka late at night, stopping to eat most of a cow in Kansas City.
Mark: Tara seemed relieved to be off the roof rack but I think she preferred the fresh air over the stuffy interior. We made a lot of friends in East St. Louis, sorry we didn't get to re-establish those tight bonds on the way back. Took them in a pickup game of basketball; Jim slams a mean basketball. In what would be a continuing trend, we didn't get any photos.
Jim and Mark arrived at Keystone around 4:30pm after a short traffic delay just above Denver, Diane and Tom arrived from the airport about an hour later after a long layover at Dallas-Ft. Worth. Highway traffic leaving the mountains was even worse, backed up for many miles, everyone returning from their weekend escape from the 105 degree heat. Diane, Jim and Mark did an easy ride down the bike path and back up to Montezuma Rd. (Tom was still tired from a hard ride in Huntsville.) We rushed back downhill, chased by an evening shower. The cool mountain air was invigorating.
Dining: Spaghetti at the Maxwell Street Grill & Pizzeria near the grocery store was great, and we did a bit of quick grocery shopping.
Mark: Difficult to believe but the east third of Colorado was even more boring than Kansas. We dropped Diane's rear wheel off the bike rack and her cyclometer registered close to 90-mph. Good to be back in the mountains.
The condo's interior...
Monday July 17 - "Easy" day
Planned as an easy check-out ride, we all rode the bike path thru Dillon to Frisco, up to Copper Mountain and up the Vail pass bike path, then back to Frisco and toward Breckenridge. A thunderstorm between us and Breckenridge sent us over Swan Mountain Road and back to Keystone, avoiding getting wet.
Dining: Ate at a small restaurant at the River Run resort, open face sandwiches that didn't quite match up to the excellent spaghetti the day before.
We all climbed Mt. Evans starting from Idaho Springs, Tom and Jim riding together and Diane and Mark together until the park entrance (about halfway). After reaching the top (passed by Tom and Jim as they descended), Mark passed Diane on his first descent, then returned to the top to meet up with her. As Diane and Mark started their descent together, the weather started looking questionable, so Mark encouraged Diane to return to the top and find a ride down. Mark ran into a bad hailstorm just below Summit Lake, which coated the road with a white 1/2" of ice; he continued down a few miles trying to ride through the hail but finally gave up when the lightning got too close, and dived into a small building on the side of the road. Diane had found a ride and they stopped and picked Mark up. Jim and Tom drove back up to find them and the vehicles passed in the rain on the lower slopes; we all got back together at Tom's car in Idaho Springs.
Dining: We ate Beau Jo's pizza in Idaho Springs; very hungry but the pizza didn't quite live up to Diane and Mark's memories from their 2001 trip.
Mark: In a rush to begin my descent I dropped a toe cover and balaclava at the top, hopefully some bighorn sheep is making good use of them now. I was approached and congratulated by several strangers, including a little girl who "high fived" me. Glad I had an LED taillight in the bad weather, everyone should have one in the mountains. The "small building" actually was a source of humor the rest of the week, it was a portable toilet; difficult to look dignified freezing your butt off in a toilet. (In 2001 when I first climbed Mt. Evans I descended in light sleet, which became a raging rainstorm on the lower slopes, water washing across the roads. That year it was the first snow of the season at the summit, in August, and we were passed by television vans on their way up to report it.)
Mt. Evans: The highest paved road in north American, a 28 mile ride with 7,000' of climbing, passing the beautiful Echo Lake at 10,600' and the usually frigid Summit Lake at 12,800'. Later in the week the Bob Cook Memorial Hillclimb was held on the same roads, where Scott Moninger and Ned Overend (age 51!) sprinted to finish in one hour and 50 minutes. Scott Dooley, son of our condo's owners, also raced in the 35+ cat 4 division this year, finishing in a respectable two hours 45 minutes.
Tom and Jim on the lower slopes of Mt. Evans, photos taken by a friendly motorcyclist...
Wednesday July 19 - Rocky Mountain National Park
Drove over Berthoud Pass to Winter Park and rode toward Rocky Mountain National Park, but HWY 40 was poor riding along this section, with heavy truck traffic. Not surprisingly Mark got a flat (large staple in tire). Tom had ridden ahead so Jim rode back and got his vehicle and the three drove on to Grand Lake and parked. Back on the bikes, riding toward the park we met up with Tom. Rode into the park (after debating the $10 entry fee for several minutes, the ranger was out to lunch so we got in free) and rode about 10 miles, most of the way to the base of the climb, but traffic was moderate and we didn't want to do any climbing the day after Mt. Evans.
On the way out of the park we were chased by a thunderstorm, had lunch at Grand Lake (nice place) and then rode high tempo back to the vehicle. Stopped at the lake, beautiful sunlit water with the dark mountains in the background. Diane got a rock.
Drove back via Kremmling, a longer drive back to Keystone but interesting high desert terrain. Rain soaked the bikes as we passed thru Silverthorne.
Mark: Jim claims he saw a moose in the park, but no photos.
Dining: JJ Chinese Seafood Restaurant had good internet reviews but the strip mall atmosphere was a bit lacking. The food was good.
All smiles after the ride, at Grand Lake...
Tom rode on his own this morning (before leaving to pick up Dottie at the airport), while Jim, Diane and Mark rode to Breckenridge later. We left our bikes at a friendly local bike shop and caught Jim's 2nd cousin Sandy, who plays oboe for the chamber orchestra, just at the end of her practice. We made arrangements to see the symphony that night and had a quick Mexican dinner, followed by a fast downhill ride on the bike path back to Swam Mountain Road, where dark clouds and lightning were threatening. We were rained on over the mountain but traffic wasn't too bad and the lightning stayed distant. Dottie's flight was cancelled and she arrived late; she and Tom ate at Beau Jo's on the way back.
The symphony was good, Herold's Overture to Zampa, Mozart's Violin Concerto No.3, and Beethoven's Symphony No.4. Diane bought a poster and had it autographed, and we had a nice time at a comfortable lounge/restaurant with Sandy and her roommate, making for a late night.
Dining: The mexican restaurant in Breckenridge was very good, though maybe not the best choice just before riding.
Mark: The acoustics in the theater were excellent, even though our seats were near the back we could hear very well. Found out I had been in Sewanee, Tennessee the same time as Sandy's roommate, for the 4th of July festival earlier that month; interesting coincidence. I'm still waiting for my quilt (we all bought raffle tickets to support the symphony).
Tom and Dottie went horseback riding and explored Leadville, which they really enjoyed, while Diane and Jim went for a high-altitude hike on a trail not far off HWY-70. Mark explored the Keystone area on foot and by bike, looking for condos in more secluded areas; the penthouse had a problem with noise from trucks on HWY-6 late at night so we'll try a different location for our next visit.
Tom and Dottie: "Mega Mountain Magic" (on Hwy 24 near Leadville) is an outfitter that specializes in horse related activities. Dottie's opinion is that the these stables were much better than the stables at Keystone. Worth the 40mi drive? Yes, especially if you stop in Leadville and eat at Scott & Steph's Columbine Cafe and have desert and coffee at The Proving Grounds.
Dining: Dottie prepared an excellent dinner and we had a great time as Jim retold his infamous Snowmobile story (you'll have to contact Jim for more info on the national exposure he and his friends received on their winter snowmobile trip). Diane made a delicious banana pudding that was quickly devoured. Best meal of the week for sure. Jim commented that it was about time the women got to work. He was a brave man...
Saturday July 22 - Horseback riding and the Copper Triangle ride
Dottie and Diane went horseback riding while Tom, Jim and Mark drove to nearby Copper Mountain early in the morning to ride the Copper Triangle, an 80-mile loop over three passes. The ride over Fremont Pass in the early morning cold was spectacular, and after turning onto HWY-24 (bypassing Leadville) we ran into a stage of the multi-day 2,000-rider Courage Classic, a pledge ride to benefit a Children's Hospital. It was a great loop; most of the climbs were short with long descents (more than half the elevation gain came at the very end, up Vail Pass, for a total of 5,500'). The weather was great after the cool start, hot even, and enthusiastic ride volunteers cheered us on. Tom and Jim contested the mountain sprints while Mark, slow and steady, saved enough to ride back to the condo, total 98 miles.
Dining: for Diane, Dottie and Tom was at the Horseshoe Cafe in Breckenridge. Very good. Jim and Mark revisited the Maxwell Street Grill & Pizzeria for a large all meat pizza, also excellent.
An early morning ride for everyone up to Montezuma, a road behind Keystone that travels up through some undeveloped areas to the small mountain town of Montezuma at 10,400 feet. Later, Diane and Mark explored the shuttle bus system, which took them to Breckenridge (only 12 miles away) in about an hour and a half. Though long, the shuttle toured some of the prettier parts of Summit county, including the Walmart in Frisco. The majority language on the bus was not english, and at one point may have been an Eastern European dialect; apparently Keystone attracts workers from around the world. Diane bought some original art in Breckenridge, a dog on a sled, painted using wax and stains on silk, very beautiful. Jim returned to Montezuma to explore Webster Pass in his vehicle, eventually four-wheeling up along Deer creek into mountain bike-only country.
Tom and Dottie: After riding in the morning, Dottie and Tom drove to Leadville to take photos and to soak up some more atmosphere at The Proving Grounds. Dinner was at the Dillon Dam Brewery. Excellent food! And most restaurants had a solid selection of vegetarian dishes!
Mark: Jim claims he saw a large deer on his off-road trek, but once again, no photos.
Dining: Diane and Mark ate at the simply named "Steak & Rib" at the north end of Breckenridge, an excellent restaurant with a great outdoor dining area covered with wildflowers and a view of the mountains.
Tom, Dottie and Diane left early for their flight back to Huntsville. Jim and Mark checked out a couple of hours later. They stopped at Loveland Pass for a photo op. The drive through Kansas was livened by getting off the main highway on a two-lane road which turned out to be almost as boring, but much quieter and slightly different scenery. Stumbled upon the world's largest ball of sisal twine in Cawker Kansas, elevating the alternate route to a clear win. We were both very tired when we reached Columbia, Missouri; possibly too many miles the first day.
Jim and Mark's record for poor food on the road reached its apex in Evansville Indiana, as we were once again amazed at our poor luck finding a good local restaurant between Alabama and Colorado. It did give us a chance to share a common hobby, extended food criticism. We picked up Diane's cat Tara in Franklin and hit Nashville at 5:00pm, coming to a stop a few times but no major delays.
Mark: We were slowed by work on the bridge again in St. Louis. Ignoring Jim's warnings to merge right I passed most of the congestion and then cut back in front of everyone at the last moment; I'm sure that was appreciated. Out-of-state plates! Miles of traffic jams for a few pavement repairs performed at mid-morning.
Overall, a great vacation, producing surprisingly few photographs despite the number of cameras we brought along. We taped the Tour de France and watched three spectacular days in the the Alps while lounging after some incredible rides. The weather was great, with only a few mountain showers. Weather in Huntsville was in the 100's, hot and humid. Mission accomplished!
We didn't get to explore Leadville, Aspen, or ride Independence Pass. Also, riding the trail ridge road up into the mountains in the Rocky Mountain National Park would be nice, if done early on a weekday to avoid the heavy traffic we ran into inside the park. Mountain bikes would be nice to explore the countryside, so there's lots to do on future visits.
While our condo was nice, it was located near the main highway and road noise was a problem at night. Condos in Summit county don't usually have (or need) air conditioning so the windows were open most of the time; we used fans to drown out the road noise. A condo located away from the main highway would be nicer.
Our trip was a last-minute plan, so roundtrip airline tickets from Huntsville cost about $370; mid-$200's should be possible more than two months out, maybe less than $200 flying out of Nashville (probably not worth the trouble). Nonstop flights are available but usually arrive late in the day so that could mean a night in a hotel depending on the condo's check-in policy. A shuttle from the airport to Keystone is about $60 each way, per person. Since Dottie joined us halfway through the vacation, Tom opted to rent a small car for the week, giving him more flexibility and costing about the same as the shuttle would total for him, Diane and Dottie.
Mark and Jim drove the bikes to Keystone in Jim's Toyota 4Runner; two days and 1,350 miles each way. With fuel at $3 a gallon, hotel and meals adding to the expenses, cost was about the same as flying. Having Jim's vehicle in Colorado was very nice (thanks Jim!) and we didn't have to ship our bikes, but it's a long drive. Traveling through Missouri was a real headache, lots of traffic, and Kansas is a fairly boring drive on the interstate.
Renting a van in Colorado is very expensive, and car rental agencies usually charge extra for mileage on trucks and vans, but renting two cars can be cost-effective. Probably the best strategy would be to make early flight and auto reservations, renting a car for every two people. You'd have to carry your bike on the flight, or ship it. If you fly it, you'd have to be able to load the bike in the rental vehicle, and recent experiences with TSA when flying with a bike has shown an increased chance the bike will be damaged or lost, so shipping is recommended.
FedEx has the best rates for shipping a bicycle; it's cheaper to ship ground but you're without your bike for several days while it's in transit. Second day air might be the best compromise, the longer a bike is in the system the greater the chance for damage. Second day should cost around $110 to ship each way, so carrying the bike on the plane might be cheaper (around $80 each way, but they sometimes don't charge). Some condo's can accept and hold the bicycle boxes, but not all of them can provide this service.
Another option, Tom Branch located some bike shops in Boulder that rent good road bikes...
Tom: The shop I rented from was University Bikes. As far as road bikes go, they rent what I call "sport touring" bikes with modest components for $20/day or $90/week. The Allez has a pretty sporty geometry so once I made a few minor adjustments, I felt quite at home. The only thing I noticed was that it didn't handle as quickly as my bike in the turns. They don't take reservations but they don't rent that many bikes during the week (and most of the bikes they rent aren't the sport touring bikes) so there were plenty in my size. The components were basically 105 and the bike had a triple which I used extensively.
Bike rentals in Boulder...
Our three bedroom condo rate was $150 a night, and they gave us a free night so we paid $1,050 for eight nights. Divided four ways we got a large, nice place for $38 a night, about what you'd pay for a hotel room for two. You can go even cheaper; several days after I'd committed to our condo another three bedroom condo responded to my request for a quote, $600 for the eight nights. It didn't have as many windows and I don't know what the interior was like, but that's a great price. The larger the condo and the longer the stay, the better price you're likely to get. They charge 2-3 times as much during ski season but many condos go empty in the summer.
Keystone is probably the best location in Summit county for cyclists to stay. The condos are nice and well-priced, and the cycling paths that travel throughout the county travel along the snake river that winds its way through all the condos (Keystone is really not a town, just a collection of condos near the ski slopes). I've used the VRBO website to find condos twice and it has been reliable for me. I paid by check both times, which made me nervous, but many condos accept credit cards.
Dining out is expensive and grocery store prices are high as well. You can certainly save money by cooking in but if you ride as much as we did dinner out can be a nice reward. Bringing your own food would save some money.
That's it! Email Mark with questions or suggestions.