I grew up hunting and fishing with my Dad and Brother. A few years ago I was at an annual dove hunt, camping with some family friends and late at night around the campfire I overheard Chris Prater talking about the San Francisco Giants (World Series Champs!). He was saying that since Barry Bonds retired, he has taken up cycling, he even did a ride up Pike’s Peak which is over 14,000′. Immediately my ears perked up. What!? There is a paved road that goes higher than 14,000’!? I had never heard of it before. I think many people dream of climbing mountains – I cannot walk on my own anymore so this one seemed perfect for me! I committed the name of it to memory and looked it up when I got home.
I found out that there is a bike race to the summit each year so I kept searching and talking to friends and family about it. Uncle Steve sent me this Review from Bicycling magazine: Extremely Long and Incredibly Close. The article kept me excited because it made it sound very challenging yet doable. So I kept searching. I looked at visitors info, race results, and even called a few bike shops in Colorado Springs to get as much info as I could.
During my search I came across Mt Evans which is very close in proximity, and has a paved road all the way to the top. So I started looking there. The ride to the top of MT Evans is longer and the finish line is a few hundred feet higher on the highest paved road in the country. So my focus shifted.
From Wikipedia: “Begun in 1962, the race has been held forty-one times excepting three cancellations. In 1981 it was renamed in honor of five-time race winner Bob Cook, who died of cancer at the age of 23. The race is 27.4 miles (44.1 kilometers) in length.
The race takes place on the highest paved road in the United States, starting at an altitude of 7,540 feet (2,298 meters) and terminating at 14,130 feet (4,306 meters), 130 feet (39 meters) below Mount Evans’ summit. Due to the altitude, the event is sometimes marked by inclement weather.”
At the same time I started working with a coach to train my body to complete the hill climb. During our conversations it became clear that I had an interest in completing a triathlon. So I put 14,000′ on hold and spent the next two years training and advocating for more inclusive rules and finally completed a triathlon (see: Atlantic City Triathlon In The Bag!).
During these two years, the idea for this epic hill climb up the highest paved road in the country kept creeping into my thoughts. And I kept the dream alive by continuing to talk about it and do my research. After completing the triathlon in Atlantic City I was able to completely shift my focus to Mt Evans.
Sidebar: One of the things I love is attending fundraisers for FA research. I love meeting the people behind the push to fund research; these are the people that are truly getting the hard work done and making it happen. So when Doug McGrady and Tammy Anderson decided to make their annual fundraiser in Colorado to benefit FARA research, I was incredibly excited to meet all these new folks. Doug is Anna Gordon’s cousin (see: #AnnasArmy Purple Out) so Anna and Melissa Gordon came out from West Virginia and we met Harley and her Mom at the all day Rocky Mountain Bird & Birdie – clay shoot and golf tournament all in one day. Thanks to the generosity of all the participants, the event raised over $30,000!
The reason I mention the Rocky Mountain Bird & Birdie is because it takes place right outside of Denver, not too far from Mt. Evans. It also just so happens that after spending three years living in China (see: Conqueror), my friend Cole now lives in Denver. So After the event I went to visit Cole with the intent to drive up Mt. Evans to check it out.
I rented a car and headed to Cole’s place. The neighborhood he is in reminded me so much of East Sacramento and I got a little Nostalgic. We ate sandwiches at this local place that reminded me of Roxie Deli in East Sac, crazy. After our sandwiches we took the 1.5 hour drive out to Idaho Springs which is at the foot of Mt. Evans and serves as the start of the Bob Cook Memorial Mt Evans Hill Climb.
Our first stop was the visitor’s center where we might find some maps and local information. We spoke with the nice lady at the counter and told her what our plan was. She admitted that she found cyclists to be a nuisance on the road but was very supportive of our idea and gave us some maps and advice on the best time of year. Her strong suggestion was to do it during the annual bike race so we could have the benefit of closed roads and support for cyclists. She also let us know that the road to the summit was closed that day so we would have to settle for 11,000′. We were a little disappointed but continued up the mountain to see what we could see.
The road was steep in parts (not surprising) and the shoulder was pretty narrow so the suggestion about planning to do it on the day of the Bob Cook Memorial was starting to make a lot more sense. Our trip up the mountain happened to coincide with the leaves changing on the aspen trees so we joined in with all the Leaf Peepers.
We got to Echo Lake at 10,000 feet and pulled over at the tourist center there. We found the turn to the summit road and there was no mistaking that it was closed for construction.
Near the tourist center we got a nice couple to take our photo and then dropped to the ground for pushups to see how the elevation treated us. It was fine at 10,000′ but they say (and it’s not hard to imagine) 13,000′-14,000′ is a different world.
In the tourist center I bought a few post cards, one for my fridge, and one for each of my wingmen – My Brother, Collin; Dad, Mike; and Uncle Steve.
I am incredibly stoked that Blake Andrews (SLOtography.com) will be joining us in Colorado to document the journey.
I am glad we went up the hill that day to check it out. It was clear that the best time to make the trip is during the Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb, July 25, 2015 so when I got home I called to make hotel reservations – the guy said I was the first one to call with a reservation for July, 2015. Additionally, registration for the race opened on Tuesday so we all got registered. Here is the route map and elevation profile (up and back): http://ridewithgps.com/routes/3264869
I am very excited and nervous for this challenge. I have never even been to 14,000′ except in an airplane with a pressurized cabin. During RAAM we crossed the Rockies but that was about 10,000′. I live at sea level and the highest “mountain” this side of the Mississippi is the 6,684′ Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. I am not sure how my body is going to react between 12,000′ and 14,000′ plus I don’t have a simple way to test it out. One of the best reference points I have is Iain Fryatt who has FA and made it to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro – 19,341 (see Aint No Mountain High Enough For Ataxia Patient). I hope to meet Iain when I am in London for the International Ataxia Research Conference in March. For now, If anyone has any training tips they would like to share please let me know.
Next Stop, 14,000’! Go Team FARA!