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Granby, CO

July 11, 2012

Today was certainly a highlight of the trip and one that words cannot do justice to describe.

The ride started out with a ten-mile coast to the Rocky Mountain National Park. On the way, many of us rode within just a few feet of a huge elk that stood in the shoulder next to us.

Shortly after we entered the park, we met Trail Ridge Pass. This road is the highest continuous paved road in the nation. It was not this fact that made me nervous, but the many experienced cyclists we had met in the days prior, on very vigorous rides, telling us that they hoped to bike this pass “someday.” Nonetheless, we were all there and ready to at least take a swing at it.

Many were carried up the first few miles from pure excitement, but we quickly felt the effects of the elevation. The incline slipped down our list of challenges as we climbed higher and higher, and it became seemingly impossible to catch your breath even after just a few pedal strokes because of the thin air. Luckily, each viewpoint we passed was more beautiful than the last, so the stigma of stopping was lifted for the sake of enjoying our hard work.

For most, the climb continued in a pattern of climbing, snacking, resting, climbing, snacking, resting, as we gained elevation all the way to the “Two miles above sea level” mark. Past this mark, the air seemed as if it was not even entering our lungs.

Most riders made it to the peak of the mountain, but not without hardship. Some experienced effects of altitude sickness, such as tunnel vision, while others, like myself, had to take upwards of three breaks in the last mile and a half before the summit.

When we reached lunch, at over 12,100 feet, the winds picked up, and we piled on as many warm things as we could possibly find. There was even bartering of massages in exchange for leg warmers.

We took a few minutes to take in one final glance at our work before climbing the final half mile to the summit, and gift shop, where my only regret of the entire day would take place. Here we had our one casualty of the day–my sunglasses were lost to the depths of the pit toilet- a minor loss compared to the reward of the day, especially considering that the incident itself was quite comical.

After picking up some goodies to weigh ourselves down for the descent, we rode the switchbacks down the mountainside.

We all had a different experience in the descent. Some were greeted with sunshine, while others got caught under a storm cloud that pelted hail like little bullets as we sped down the mountain, but all enjoyed stunning views poking through the beautiful greenery.

The slope of the downhill became more mild, but was enough to nearly glide us the final 15 miles into the town of Granby, Colorado.

Reaching the peak today was a great challenge, but there is no doubt in my mind that there is no better way to see this park than on a bicycle. The envy I felt for motorized vehicles passing me on the ascent quickly changed to pity when I realized how much they were missing. We spent the entire day being engulfed in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, while most park visitors spent the day staring out of the tiny windows of their cars. We were the lucky ones.

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