Epic Continental Divide Ride: Estes to Tabernash via Old Fall River Road

On 26 June, 2013 by denvercx

The Continental Divide Tour, Day 2, August 2012.

We awoke on day two in our homely YMCA of the Rockies cabin to the sound of “yak yak yak”, the muffled nasal call of the Black-billed Magpie, a real Colorado Native. Turns out, alongside riparian groves, Magpies love YMCA camps (source, Wikipedia). He was unashamedly scavenging for bread crumbs from our very mediocre pizza the night before, hopping hither and thither without much luck, for we are good stewards with our glutinous food. Every calorie counts on a bicycle tour, and nothing is left to waste. Poor, poor, Pica hudsonia.

After a much appreciated Sysco-foods all-you-can-eat breakfast bonanza in the canteen, we filled our CamelBaks with water, loaded our bikes with the touring gear, and studied the maps. So we pedaled away from our cabin, faced with an 80 mile day over the Continental Divide before we could rest at AJ’s brand new LEED-certified mountain chateau at Devil’s Thumb Ranch.

We had heard that there was a “back way” into Rocky Mountain National Park from the adjacent YMCA camp, so we followed some dirt roads, crossed Glacier Creek, did a insignificant amount of hike-a-bike on a decent hiking trail, and emerged…right onto Bear Lake Road, inside RMNP. Wahoo!!!

Bridge over pedaled waters

Bridge over pedaled waters (Glacier Creek)

Glacier Creek

Glacier Creek

That's exactly what we did. We went.

The seedy underbelly of RMNP.

Our scofflaw excitement soon turned to dust as we hit construction. They were repaving the interior park roads. The side we would be traveling was torn up and rough. The opposite side was beautiful and smooth – the smooth-as-butter glistening black tar/asphalt surface we cyclists dream about riding. The kind of road that makes you double check your speed, as surely, you can’t be that fast pedaling this easy. After getting waved through, we rode through the demolished segment, feeling a little guilty pleasure at the light traffic.

RMNP road construction

RMNP road construction

Before long, we had climbed enough to get a nice vista of the Diamond of Long’s Peak, which is a very popular climbing route of this frequently summited 14er.

Cycling through RMNP on an "off" peak summer day was spectacular. Long's Peak Diamond Face in the distance.

Cycling through RMNP on an “off” peak summer day was spectacular. Long’s Peak Diamond Face in the distance on the left. Larry, AJ, and Brian, L–>R.

Obligatory "we're lost" map shot... intersection of S. Navy Hill Rd and Fall River Rd. RMNP

Obligatory “we’re lost” aka “studying map” shot… intersection of S. Navy Hill Rd and Fall River Rd. RMNP

Once to the top of South Navy Hill Road, we took the fast winding descent of Fall River Road north to the western (left) turnoff for the “Old Fall River Road.” There’s some nice brown Federal Signage warning people BEWARE! WOE TO ALL WHO ENTER! about the one-way dirt/gravel road ahead.

We were all smiling at this point in the journey.

We were all smiling at this point in the journey.

The first bit of the road is paved, skirting gently up a beautiful verdant valley past the small Alluvial Falls of the Roaring River. Although we pressed on without stopping, this is what those falls look like in the fall:

Alluvial Falls, RMNP. 17 Oct 2010.

Alluvial Falls, RMNP. 17 Oct 2010.

Shortly after the parking area for the falls hiking trail, our destiny lied clearly ahead of us. The 9.1 mi long gravel section of Old Fall River Road. Average grade is manageable, 6.7%. I knew the 42-17 would be a little low, and the knees certainly confirmed that fact near the top. The climb really is quite fantastic. This surprisingly well-maintained gravel road is only open during the summer to one-way vehicle traffic. Fortunately, vehicles over 25 ft are prohibited, so the passing cars, jeeps, and SUVs were not much to worry about. All cars were going slow, and it was a Monday, so the traffic was pleasingly light.

Small river seen early alongside the Old Fall River Rd.

Small river seen early alongside the Old Fall River Rd.

Old Fall River Rd. switchbacks and light traffic, looking east down the valley.

Old Fall River Rd. switchbacks and light traffic, looking east down the valley.

Some of the crags visualized along the Old Fall River Rd.

Some of the crags visualized along the Old Fall River Rd.

Old Fall River Rd, GoAm still image.

Old Fall River Rd, GoAm still image. If there ever was a road made for Rapha, this is probably it.

The views of the widening valley below to the south of the road were cinematic and certainly widescreen. Above timberline, the wind and grade picked up a bit as the road wound through alpine meadows.

Old Fall River Road to Trail Ridge Alpine Visitor Center, Rocky Mountain National Park.

Old Fall River Road to Trail Ridge Alpine Visitor Center, Rocky Mountain National Park.

Soon, I could see the Trail Ridge Alpine Visitor Center, certainly a worthy goal. I was in bib shorts and short sleeve jersey and sweating when I arrived, but a jacket and leg warmers were soon necessary, as the temperature at nearly 12k feet was rather less than when we started far below. I quickly snapped a few pictures with the motor tourists, who had all sorts of quizzical looks at us, the only cyclists there that day. “What are you doing?” “How far have you come this morning?” “How far are you going today?” “Where are you all from?”, and most commonly, “Why are you doing this???”  Hot coffee was found inside, as there is a full service coffee shop (no rosetta on your latte here!) and small cafe next to the typical “Made in China” American tourist shop.

I made it! Primus Mootry single speed cross bike (yes, those are Reynolds tubulars)

I made it! Primus Mootry single speed cross bike (yes, those are Reynolds tubulars). #speedvagen hat

View of the large  valley looking east from the Trail Ridge Visitor's Center

View of the large valley looking east from the Trail Ridge Visitor’s Center

View from Trail Ridge Visitor's Center

View from Trail Ridge Visitor’s Center

A whole darn herd of elk, lazing the morning away above timberline near Trail Ridge

A whole darn herd of elk, lazing the morning away above timberline near Trail Ridge

The crew - note the smart ones with jackets and leg warmers soon after arriving.

The crew – note the smart fellas with jackets and leg warmers soon after arriving.

After refilling our bidons and donning our rain jackets (for it had started to sprinkle), we began the long descent down from the Continental Divide toward our lunch stop, Grand Lake, some chilly 23 wet miles away. The descent was a little slippery, but the RVs, cars, and big trucks gave us plenty of room. We were all wishing we had brought a set of fenders right about now, but with the rear seat bags we brought, we would be just fine. I stopped a few times along the way down to snap some photos of the beautiful landscape, with some great light.

Poudre (Fr. "powder") Lake, which is a dead lake, since the lake freezes completely in the winters.

Poudre (Fr. “powder”) Lake, which is a dead lake, since the lake freezes completely in the winters.

When the road started to level out a bit, there were some striking vistas of the far away mountains and the nearby meadows.

Rocky Mountain National Park, near west entrance.

Rocky Mountain National Park, near west entrance.

Rocky Mountain National Park, near west entrance.

Rocky Mountain National Park, near west entrance.

Soon, we found ourselves exiting the park and saying our goodbyes to the kindly brown park rangers we had met along the way. For sure, we were ready for lunch by the time we rolled into Grand Lake.

Grand Lake, and, more importantly, Mexican food.

Grand Lake, and, more importantly, Mexican food.

The sun was shining again, and it was suddenly comfy and warm. AJ had done his research correctly and found us a great place to eat lunch, Pancho and Lefty’s, home of the tastiest, most filling, mediocre Mexican food money can buy. Great service and a back patio table in the sun were all we needed. And calories. Lots and lots of calories. Several thousand calories and Cokes later, we begrudgingly threw our legs back over our bikes and set out for our final destination vis a vis Granby and some sweet sweet single track between there and Tabernash, another 30 miles or so. We had already gone about 50.

We slowly leave Grand Lake, our stomachs full of tacos, Coke, rice, and beans.

We slowly leave Grand Lake, our stomachs full of tacos, Coke, rice, and beans. Notice the sweated salt stains on my left jersey shoulder…

Just out of town, heading south on Highway 40, we rode alongshore of Lake Granby, Colorado’s 2nd largest body of water (behind Pueblo Reservoir), which was created in 1950 as part of the gargantuan Colorado-Big Thompson project, which was begun in 1930 to divert water on the western slope to the rapidly growing front range population via the 13.2 mile Alva B. Adams Tunnel underneath the Continental Divide (completed in the late 30’s). Lake Granby boasts one of the highest-elevation yacht clubs in the world (over 8000 ft), and for this reason, we stopped to snap many pictures of the sailboats in Rainbow Bay.

Some people like to boat in their free time instead of bicycle. Some are lucky enough to do both. Lake Granby Yacht Club.

Some people like to boat in their free time instead of bicycle. Some are lucky enough to do both. Lake Granby Yacht Club.

Lake Granby

Lake Granby

The road from Grand Lake to Granby is a not-too-busy highway road but with very wide shoulders, and we never felt as if our lives were in any immediate danger. There were many rolling hills, and we kind of strung out, each taking the miles at his own pace. Cars gave way to trucks, and trucks gave way to farm implements.

The backbone of America.

The backbone of America.  New Holland bailer.

Ubiquitous Red Barn Shot, near Granby

Ubiquitous Red Barn Shot, near Granby

Near Granby, we wait for each other at the intersection, taking in the “crossroads commerce” so unique to small town America. I have to be honest, I just love these places and the people. Unfortunately, we were all cashless, so we had to walk away without any elk jerky. This time.

Brian surveys the crossroads commerce options

Brian surveys the crossroads commerce options

Finally, we arrive in sleepy Granby (although not so sleepy it turns out) as the sky is turning very dark blue and the wind picks up. Quickly, we get on the single track of the Fraser to Granby Trail. This, as it turns out, was a ton of fun, even on my single speed and Brian’s touring bike. All of a sudden, we were smiling again, hooting and hollering like a bunch of fools.

Brian is liking the single track, even on his touring bike.

Brian is liking the single track, even on his touring bike.

On the north end of this trail near Granby, this trail skirts the hills around the Sol Vista ski area.

Larry takes a little breather from the Fraser to Granby Trail single track.

Larry takes a little breather from the Fraser to Granby Trail single track.

More pics of this single track.

More pics of Fraser to Granby single track.

The Primus Mootry on the aspen grove single track of the Granby Fraser Trail.

The Primus Mootry on the aspen grove single track of the Granby Fraser Trail.

Granby Fraser Trail

Fraser to Granby Trail (it wasn’t all marked this well, unfortunately)

Aspen grove of the Fraser Granby Trail.

Aspen grove of the Fraser to Granby Trail.

Dark Shadows.

Dark Shadows.

The Fraser to Granby Trail is a mix of single track, gravel roads, and off-highway gravel trails that also takes you right by the YMCA of the Rockies, Snow Mountain Ranch (where I’d later, the next winter, take biathlon lessons).  Once on the south side of Tabernash, we simply found the road to Devil’s Thumb Ranch and limped slowly the last couple of miles to AJ’s mountain home, enjoying the perfect light of the “golden hour” before parking our bikes and falling into the couch to rest after a long day in the saddle.

Golden hour shot of a meadow before the Continental Divide and Indian Peaks range

Golden hour shot of a meadow before the Continental Divide and Indian Peaks range

As the sun glided behind the mountain ridge to the west, we slipped into our chairs to feast on our home cooked dinner and microbrew- calories well-deserved. We all slept well that night, thinking of the sights, smells, tastes, and feeling of traveling over the Divide on our bicycles. We hadn’t a single mechanical the entire day, of which I was especially happy, since Larry had rightfully disapproved of my gear choice (single speed with carbon rims and tubular tyres). While we were looking forward to a “rest day” of mountain biking the nearby Winter Park/Fraser trails (including the infamous Tipperary Creek Trail), we were content with what we had achieved this day.

Chapeau!

Peder

 

AJ put together a nice video of the entire bike tour. This post’s segment begins at 2’40” if you want to skip ahead.

The stats:

  • Total distance: 80.2 mi (129 km)
  • Elapsed Time: 10:39:30
  • Moving Time: 06:20:07
  • Average Speed: 12.7 mph
  • Maximum Speed: 38.7 mph
  • Total Ascent: 7066 feet
  • Total Descent: 5914 feet
  • Calories burned: 3507
  • Mexican food calories consumed at lunch: 3507
  • STRAVA map data

Profile/STRAVA snapshot:

Stravaaaaaahhhh

Stravaaaaaahhhh

 

The gear:

  • Primus Mootry single speed (42×17) cyclocross bike; Reynolds DVT46ULT carbon wheels with Tufo Flexus Primus tubular tires
  • Small Camelbak race hydration system + one water bottle on frame
  • Topeak seat post rear mounted rack with touring bag
  • Still cameras and GoPro
  • AJ and Larry rode hard-tail 29ers with great success (one carbon Giant, and one aluminum Scott); Brian rode a Surly Long Haul Trucker touring rig with 32 mm clincher tires
  • Black Rapha Pro Team bib shorts, black Rapha Classic Jersey, green/pink Vanilla Speedvagen cap; S-Works MTB shoes with Eggbeater 3 pedals

 

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