Coast to Coast 2022 Adventure Day 17: Grand Lake, CO to Estes Park, CO

This post is part of a series detailing my 2022 coast to coast cycling adventure.

Today’s ride was a fantasy. It had everything we could want on this trip — jaw-dropping scenery, challenging climbs, thrilling descents, perfect weather, and meeting lots of cool people.

“They should have sent a poet.” — Ellie Arroway

Day 17 Highlights:

Song of the day: Rocky Mountain High by John Denver
Start: Grand Lake, CO
End: Estes Park, CO
Distance: 45.0 miles
Elevation: 4,072 ft
Breakfast: Blue Water Bakery in Grand Lake
Lunch: Wayfinder in Estes Park
Dinner: Bighorn Restaurant in Estes Park

Progress so far: 1,398.5 miles, 54,262 ft. climbed.

The journey so far, with today’s ride in blue

Here are all of the details on today’s ride:

The first half of our journey featured three mountain ranges, each seemingly better than the previous. Going over Mckenzie Pass in the Cascades was amazing. Going over and along the Tetons was breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Going through and over, and I mean over, the Rockies today was… well I have run out of adjectives. I’m giddy and numb. I’ll do my best to describe it here with words and pictures.

The day started off with a little snag. When I was route planning, I thought of this section as a road that happened to go through a national park, rather than a national park that had a road. National parks have rules, reservations, and fees. The first sign (literally) of trouble was a marquee that flashed “Trail Ridge Road reservations required 9AM-3PM.” And sure enough when we rolled up the gate, the ranger asked us if we had a reservation. I looked at my watch and it read 8:57. Phew! Fortunately, that was all there was to it for us and we paid our fee and were in. Unfortunately, that did not cover Dee, who would be coming through later to support us and get to Estes Park. We explained the situation to the ranger, who talked to her supervisor, and kindly arranged for Dee to later follow without a reservation. I love it when human kindness overrules bureaucracy.

Another iconic national park

As we started our climb through the park, the scars from the 2020 wildfires dominated the landscape. Horrific as it was, it also had its own beauty, and signs of life reclaiming the landscape were everywhere.

Fresh scars from the 2020 wildfires with new life starting to take hold

As we continued to climb, we passed through the burn area and started to see glimpses of the majesty that awaited us.

Beyond the burn area and slowly climbing
In a word, “Colorado”
Though often true, on this day the weather was very kind to us
Now we are really starting to get some elevation
“Mile high?” Pshaw! That’s kid stuff.

One of the truly magical parts of this climb was as we started to rise above the tree line and see the road ahead as it zig-zagged up and over the 12K+ ft. summit. There is something about being above the tree line that I just find thrilling. Like you have been given privileged access (even through there were hundreds of cars up there) to something special and rare.

Starting to rise above the tree line
Fully above the tree line, looking back from whence we came
Almost to the top

Finally, we hit the top — over 12,000 ft. up.

The views from the top were… magical… other-worldly… breathtaking… hard to find the right words. We were actually looking down on snow-covered peaks.

The view from 12,000 feet up
Dave and I enjoying the view from the top

We met a really cool family, Jose, Jaykob (both pictured below in our our selfie), Sherri who were doing a similar route to us but in a car.

Dave and I with our new friends Jaykob and Jose

It’s hard to describe a cyclist’s relationship to their bike. On one hand, it is just a thing. On the other hand, this “thing” has taken me nearly half way across the country, and I have trusted “her” with my life at over 40 MPH, screaming down mountains. Here’s to you, my trusted faithful partner (well, the non-human one), in this adventure.

My trusted non-human partner in this adventure

Now… descending down the mountain into Estes Park is another, completely different, but indescribable and amazing experience. It was great fun. It was thrilling. And it kept coming and coming and coming. 20 miles and 4,500 feet of incredible downhill pleasure. Ever eat Lucky Charms as a kid? Remember that amazing feeling when all that is left are marshmallows and you get two or three spoonfuls of just marshmallows? It was like that, except you keep getting more… and more… and more… and…

Flying down the mountain provides a different kind of joy than the climb, and is a heck of a lot easier

Once in Estes Park, we had a great lunch at the Wayfinder restaurant and met a couple of cool families, one from Savannah (our destination!) and other from St. Louis, who were really interested in our trip.

Tomorrow we get a well-earned day off and we say farewell to Dee, who has been a wonderful, amazing support angel. And Sue joins the merry band!

We’re already looking to the next leg of the trip, which features fairly flat conditions across eastern Colorado and Kansas but 100+ degree temperatures and very strong crosswinds. We’re already thinking about how to mitigate that (hint: we will be seeing the sun rise during our rides).

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