Some classic bike touring days; you don’t plan to be riding in a cut-off t-shirt at 12,000ft on the 2nd of October in Colorado. To experience days like this, you risk rain, snow, and freezing nights– with some luck, comes sunshine, 70 degrees, and brilliant foliage.
I left Boulder (5200 ft) with a riding companion– a cousin– who showed me a locals-only route up Boulder and Fourmile Canyons; Gold Hill Road, Sawmill Road, and a final mile up Lefthand Canyon to the town of Ward (9200 ft) and the secret roadie grocery. This mixed-terrain route is exactly what my bike does well, and delivered us to Ward with a minumum of bike traffic and rewarding views of peak-season foliage. In Colorado, fall foliage is no more than some yellow aspens, but their brilliance is stunning against blue skies and scrubby pines, and can be counted on seasonally.
In Ward, I washed down a cinnamon roll with a carton of whole milk. I now know why the legs of touring cyclists are unlike the legs of roadies– liters of whole milk and a seventy pound bike.
I followed the Peak-to-Peak Highway toward Estes Park (7500 ft) descending into this bustling tourist town at the gates of Rocky Mountain National Park. Mating elk disturbed my sleep through the night; at this time of year, the meadows of RMNP are like a cheap motel with hourly rates.
Trail Ridge Road was built to shuttle motor vehicles up into the alpine tundra, which begins at about 11,400 ft. The road replaces the first route designed for motor vehicles in the park– Fall River Road (still unpaved and closed to cyclists in season, come on NPS!)– and in doing so, climbs up into the tundra at greater heights, with a gentler climb, and offering greater (more broad, and far off) scenery. Trail Ridge is the highest continuous, or “through” road in the US. I was disappointed that no marker existed at the road’s peak elevation of 12,183 ft. I was actually going to have a picture taken. It wasn’t meant to be; but it was snowing, to my delight.