After traveling to Colorado Springs several times and being mesmerized by the sight of Pike’s Peak on every visit, I knew I had to ride up: it is a bucket list type ride for any cyclist.
Until a few years ago, the Pikes Peak highway was mostly dirt and rarely open to bikes. Borrowing a bike from a co-worker (thanks Mike!), I stayed over an extra day on a trip, and planned my attempt to climb one of Colorado’s “14ers” (14,000 foot peaks- Colorado has over 50).
My morning warm-up did not start well. A few miles in, I flatted and then snapped the head off the replacement tube. That’s a first. I walked about 3 miles back to my hotel, found a local bike shop where I quickly purchased 3 tubes (a replacement plus 2 spares!), and headed for Pike’s Peak. Despite my troubles, I was parked and riding up the mountain by just after 9am.
I knew it would be a tough climb, easily the longest and steepest I had ever done. The challenge was compounded by a key detail: I am terrified of heights. Without guardrails and with steep drop-offs, the ride would be as mentally demanding as it was physically.
Given my late start, I shortened the climb a bit, and started from Crystal Creek Reservoir.
That meant I only had to ride 13 miles and about a mile up in ascent to reach the summit. Starting from the entry to the Pike’s Peak Toll Road would have lengthened the climb by about 6 miles and 2000 ft of elevation.
As I rode- and walked- up Pikes Peak, support from strangers was both awesome and unexpected. Near the start, a couple people yelled encouragement. Further up, the wind and lack of guardrails made me decide to walk on the inside of the exposed switchbacks. As I did so, one car slowed and rolled down their window. “Do you need….”
I scarcely let them finish “some help”, before I replied “I’m ok!”
They smiled, waved, and continued on as they read my mind. I was getting to the top of this mountain under my own power! Even if I did have to walk.
After just over 2 hours of riding, I came around the last switchback for one final section and pumped my fist in the air as I rolled onto the summit. At 14,110 ft, it is still the highest point I have ever stood on earth. That remains true even after riding across the Continental Divide on my ride across America (where Wolf’s Creek Pass was my highest point, just under 11,000 feet).
The view from Pike’s Peak was the inspiration (“Purple mountains majesty”) for America the Beautiful, and there is a marker at the summit to Katherine Lee Bates:
I headed back down after limiting my time at the summit due to the temperatures. I even had to pass on the famous Pike’s Peak donuts, due to some queasiness after the effort to climb up and the altitude.
But I did carry a souvenir, probably the only time I’ve had a coffee cup in my jersey pocket.
As I descended with frequent braking, the bike started to shimmy. It took me a minute to determine the cause: I was so cold in short-sleeves that I was shivering!
Reaching the treeline which provided shelter from the winds, the descent turned exhilarating as I sustained speeds of 30-40mph, even passing several cars as I headed down.
I didn’t record any video as I descended, but many others have. Here’s the Col Collective’s thrilling descent on YouTube: https://youtu.be/dvAy6Nzkncc
Here is the Strava post of my ride.
Walking a portion may have detracted a little from the ride, but only a little. At just a couple hours, riding up Pikes Peak is by far my shortest adventure ride, but the thrills are as big as any other!
My 2nd reward for climbing Pike’s Peak (after the adrenaline rush), was visiting a couple of Denver’s craft breweries later that day!