IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. — The climb up 14,265-foot Mount Evans on the highest paved road in North America has got to be one of the toughest bike rides in the United States.
I gave the cyclists as wide a berth as I could on the road, with its hairpin turns and precipitous drop-offs.
The road, which has no barriers on its outer edge to impede a plunge into oblivion, climbs about 14 miles from Idaho Springs, which is at an altitude of 8,700 feet, to a U.S Forest Service station where cyclists pay a fee of $3 and motor vehicles $10.
The first four miles out of Idaho Springs on Colorado 103 are relatively flat, followed by grades of 4 to 6 percent to the Forest Service station.
The next 14 miles from the entrance station to the top is not a journey for the faint of heart — whether on a bicycle or in a car.
The last five miles have grades of 2 to 5 percent, says a website about Mount Evans, but because you are above 12,000 feet it will feel like a 10-15 percent grade to the top. At 14,000 feet, there is one-half the amount of oxygen in the air as at sea level.
At the parking lot just below the summit, which has to be reached on foot, my wife, Mary Ellen, and I talked to a couple of local cyclists who had made it to the top.
Although it was sunny and warm in Idaho Springs about 5,500 feet below, storm clouds were gathering on Mount Evans, the temperature was in the low 40s and freezing rain called “gropple” was beginning to fall.
Cyclist John, a teacher in the Denver school system, had set out from Denver that morning and rode 65 miles to the summit of Mount Evans. We probably talked longer than we should have because John had to get down off the mountain and back to Denver, making the ride a roundtrip of 130 miles. He later e-mailed to say he had arrived home safely and attached a photo he had taken of me, my wife and our dog, Bailey, at the summit.
The other cyclist, Mike, had set out from Idaho Springs and would finish the day with a total of about 60 miles.
I’ve ridden in the annual Bicycle Tour of Colorado five times and climbed over many of Colorado’s highest passes, but I don’t recall a climb quite as daunting as Mount Evans.
The highest I’ve ever been on a bicycle was 12,095 feet at Independence Pass above Aspen.
So on Thursday I relived my Colorado climbs vicariously through John and Mike and wondered if my aging body would still be up to such a challenge.