This is less about saying farewell to Estes Park than it is about a ride I’ve been eyeing for over five years. Not only did I have the wrong bike when I was here in September, 2015, but I learned that this route existed the day after I finished an out-and-back run of Trail Ridge Road on my old Giant roady. TRR is the downhill paved segment of today’s route.
There are a multitude of reasons to visit this beautiful town nestled at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park. There are endless hiking trails both in and out of the park, mountain biking, tons of sport climbing routes (in fact, 18 routes literally in the downtown area), great trail running, and views for days. But at the back of my mind, pulling into Estes Park five years after the last time, was the fall river road to trail ridge road loop, beginning in Estes. It’s a mixed gravel and paved route that’s known in the area as one of the greats. And indeed it is!
On September 9th winter came early in Colorado, following record-setting temperatures the previous three days over Labor Day weekend. About 8 inches of snow fell down in the valley, with up to 12-16 inches falling at the top of the of the Rockies. Initially the storm sent me into an immediate panic, because both Trail Ridge Road and Fall River Road were closed – possibly for the rest of the season. Neither of these are normal roads: they’re high, traverse the continental divide, and TRR holds the designation as the “highest continuously paved road in the United States”. So they’re kind of special.
Immediate panic transformed into eventual delight. TRR would probably reopen, but Fall River Road would probably not. That doesn’t bode well for a ride involving Fall River Road, but It all turned out to be great news. Why? First of all the entirety of RMNP is timed-entry restricted, meaning you have to have reservation in advance to enter with a car. Bikes are open game. This means the park is more empty and with fewer cars than it ever is. Secondly, gate security on a road like Fall River Road doesn’t exits, which meant I’d probably have the entire north section of the park to myself if I was willing to duck a gate and turn a blind eye to some pesky rules.
Indeed, I’ve never been more alone in RMNP. The ride was fantastic and without a soul in sight until I peaked out at the alpine visitor’s center. I have to admit that leading into this ride I was questioning whether I still had it because I’m far from peak personal fitness. I’ve been active recently, but not 1 mile of elevation gain active. So it was a bit of a surprise to finish this climb and decent in 3.5 hours. I was harboring fears of getting turned around by the elevation and steep grade, and no longer being in my 20s. I don’t know how long my first ride of TRR took back in 2015, but it was embarrassingly longer. Helluva way to end my 5 weeks in Estes Park!
Up next! I’m excited to be headed to Crested Butte bright and early tomorrow morning.