A Courageous Attempt at Trail Ridge

This was one for the books. My friend, and TransRockies partner, Amber Monforte and I attempted to ride from Boulder to Fraser on Saturday via Trail Ridge Road. For those of you who don’t know, this is roughly 130 miles through the Colorado Rockies, topping out at an elevation over 12,000 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park. Well I’m sad to say… we didn’t make it the whole way. BUT,  after 83 miles of grinding away at the peddles of my Opal, hamming out over 9,000ft of climbing , and logging 6+ hours in the saddle, we had what Amber calls “A Conrad Adventure.”

***FYI – All the photos in this blog were taken from the internet. Both Amber and I forgot our cameras, and even if we hadn’t our fingers were to cold to operate one properly. To bad we didn’t have the weather in these pics because that would have been a whole different story!

The ride started a little later than anticipated due to the Tour addiction that has infected our household. The 8am start time was quickly nixed and we casually rolled out of town around 10am. The ride was going quite smoothly with a warm up to Lyons, a peppy climb to Raymond (where we stopped to see the crazy guy who runs the general store), a refreshing rain shower on our approach to Estes Park, and a snack once we arrived there.

The REAL story begins once we entered Rocky Mountain National Park. Dodging dozens of Chinese tourists and a herd of mountain goats we started the climb to 12,000+ feet with smiles on our faces. Those smiles faded quickly as the weather turned on a dime and went from sunny and warm to windy and raining. I take that back… raining is the wrong word. Stinging water lasers of death would be a better term. It hurt! The wind, S.W.L.D, and quickly dropping temperatures left Amber and I soaked to the bone and on a downward spiral that would inevitably end our ride.

We kept pushing through the rain, wind, and cold in hopes that once we reached the Alpine Visitor Center, about half way through the park, we could get some hot food and warm our tired dogs. That never happened.

We pushed and pushed and pushed, but the cold was to much. Once I realized I had lost most of the mobility of my hands, and I began shaking so violently falling off my bike was becoming a real concern, I had to stop. Huddled next to a tracker tire with my hands in my arm pits trying to avoid the wind and rain, I watched Amber slowly roll up in a similar condition. We had made it almost to the visitor center, but fell just a couple miles short.

A family from Nebraska was nice enough to let us stumble into their suburban and attempt to warm up. The heat was blasting and the heated seats cranking. Not 5 minutes after we climbed into the suburban a park ranger pulled up to the parking lot. Amber jumped out to go ask him if we could get a ride to the visitor center. For reasons unknown to us, he simply replied “no.” No explanation, no reasoning, not even an attempt to help, just ‘no.’  Amber shivered and shook her way back to the suburban and said its sounds like we’re S.O.L.  Our Nebraskan saviours wouldn’t stand for that and went over to the ranger to ask for him to take us to the visitor center. His response to them was “they got themselves into this situation, they can get themselves out.”

For the next 45 minutes we begged and pleaded for someone to give us a ride the 2 miles or so up to the visitor center, but the combination of 2 bikes and 2 people was more that any could fit in their vehicle. The ranger sat and watched a lot of this, but still did not offer to help. Eventually we found a Jeep of guys who offered to take our bikes if the Nebraskans would take us. Finally! We would make it to the visitor center, warm up, and then be back on the road.

Wrong! The visitor center, and restaurant, were closing the moment we arrived.  We tried to go inside for just a moment to try and warm up, but they refused and simply said “get out.” Had we not had to spent 45 minutes tracking down a ride, we would have been fine, but now we were stuck. We were still slightly hypodermic, and now had no way to warm up. We again begged and pleaded for someone to give us a ride to the town of Grand Lake right outside the park, so that we could attempt our warm-up-and-continue-riding plan, but this time to no avail. We were truly stuck. We couldn’t ride down because we were to cold to hold onto the bars, we had no way to warm up, we couldn’t get a ride out, and our cell phones didn’t work. Now what do we do?!?

With little choice left, we huddled in the corner of the entry way to the outdoor restrooms. Trying to make the best of the situation, we pulled out Amber’s new iPod Nano and shot our “last will and testament.” As we sat huddled by the toilets people would walk by, take pictures and stare, but did little to help. Several times we were asked “Are you ok?” to which we would reply “no” and they would say “Well, good luck with that!”

The next sequence of events can be a little confusing, so I’ll be as clear as I can. As we sat there shivering, an incredibly nice guy from Denver offered to give us blankets, sweatshirts, and whatever other warm stuff he had in his car. He also took our names and phone numbers to relay a message to Shelby. He headed off to Estes Park, planning to make a phone call to Shelby telling her we were safe, but she needed to come get us. It would take him 45 minutes or so to drive down there, and another hour or so for Shelby to come get us, but we would have no idea if all of this was actually happening since he wouldn’t be able to get ahold of us. This was our best plan for the moment, so we went with it and waiting patiently. Watching the ranger drive by again,  look at us, and give us the cold shoulder he drove away, we wondered if we would end up spending the night up there. Time would tell.

An hour later the ranger drove by a second time and must have thought to himself “They weren’t my problem before, but they are my problem now” and came over to ask if we were ok? He took our names and phone numbers and relayed the same message to Shelby, via dispatch, that we would need to be picked up. However, he didn’t add the part in about how we were just fine, but rather said “they are hypothermic.” This of course put Shelby in a worry frienzy and she torn up the mountain side in my minivan doing mach 4. Meanwhile the ranger unlocked the visitor center and lead us in where we immediately warmed up. Funny… if we had just been able to do that hours earlier, this whole fiasco could have been avoided.

Shelby came tearing up to the visitor center thinking that we were sitting outside in the horrible wind and cold, only to find us just fine, sitting inside with the ranger. She held her tongue (along with Amber and I) as we loaded the bikes into the car, gave a nasty look to the ranger, and headed to the condo in Fraser. Bella (Shelby’s dog), kept Amber’s feet warm as she and I retold the entire adventure to Shelby during our drive home.

All and all it was one of those days that as you are living it, it sucks, but later on it makes a great story! So will I go back and attempt this ride again? HELL YES! But this time I’m going to prepare a little better… on second thought though… where’s the fun it that!


One response to “A Courageous Attempt at Trail Ridge”

  1. Jeff Hemperley says:

    Stumbled upon this by chance. Great adventure. I have a few of those to tell.


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