The Up Side of Colorado Springs

For all of its faults, the up side of Colorado Springs is immediately apparent. The Rocky Mountain front range is the first thing you see when you exit the airplane, or, for that matter, any building or other semi-enclosed area. The mountains are your compass, guiding you when you are deliriously tired and trying to ride home from, approximately, Kansas.

As a swimmer, I literally never experienced anything of Colorado Springs beyond the airport, the Training Center, and the Walgreens across the street. I would stare at the mountains and wonder, what’s over there? What’s up that road that traverses such a wide swath of the view? Where does it start? Where does it go? Curiosity burned inside me. When I returned as a cyclist, I wanted to ride into the mountains and find the road.

The other day, I had my chance. It turns out that giant scar on the mountainside is the “alpe d’huez” of Colorado Springs. It goes up for eight miles, twisting and winding its way across and up and back and up and into the range.

Actually, that’s about the extent of its comparison to the iconic Tour de France climb – the average grade is reportedly somewhere between six and eight percent, and I’m pretty sure the actual Alpe d’Huez is a lot steeper than that.

The Colorado Springs version is also, I should have guessed, a private road. And not just a casually “we paid for this so it’s technically not public” road. But a vigilantly guarded private road. There are several layers of security, the most obvious being the guardhouse at the bottom and the password-protected iron gate beyond that. The less obvious, but more intimidating, layer involves angry men, trucks and guns.

Needless to say, we were greeted on the public side of the guardhouse by a friend of a friend who lives up the road. In a weird small-world-after-all coincidence, this friend recognized me from Bicycle Tour of Colorado back in 2005. We had a lovely time riding at a conversational pace as we wound our way up over 8000 feet of elevation.

Do I need to say that the views were jaw-dropping? In some sections, you couldn’t see a single building – just layers of forested mountain – and it felt like we were a hundred of miles into the wilderness. (We were, in actuality, a 10-minute-ride from the nearest Starbucks.)

The best thing about getting to ride up there was that I could see a whole bunch of other roads and trails criss-crossing and cresting the mountains. And, now, I really can’t wait to ride them. But I’m going to need a mountain bike, a few more weeks of training camp, and, maybe, a truck….with a……uh, bike rack.

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