Tuesday, September 1, 2015

2015_08_22 Cycling Up Pikes Peak

Author:  Leon Matz

For the last 7 years, John Summerson’s list of the U.S.’s 100 most difficult climbs has been my major goal in cycling. In the original list, Pikes Peak was not ranked because it had a significant segment unpaved and the route was not open to cyclists.  3 years ago the climb became fully paved, and last year it was opened to cyclists.  In John Summerson’s newest addition, Pikes Peak was moved up to the 2nd most difficult climb in the U.S. I felt that it was only right that I complete that climb now.  Since I have a daughter living in Colorado Springs, it was a wonderful way to spend time with her and do the climb.
One of my major concern’s in doing this climb was trying to get adjusted to altitude.  Since the trip was a weekend trip, that was going to be a big challenge. Thursday afternoon I flew out of sea level Sea-Tac and headed to Denver and then Colorado Springs. Friday morning my daughter Heather and I drove to Breckenridge to watch the USA Pro Challenge TT for men and women. It was great fun watching the pro’s race over the short course. Breckenridge is a beautiful little town that was overrun by cyclists on this day.
Saturday morning Frankie (Heather’s boyfriend) and I went on a short ride through The Garden of the God’s.  It is an incredibly beautiful place with red rock’s and cliffs jetting out of the landscape.  It is a must see if you make it to Colorado Springs.

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

Saturday night I didn’t sleep very well as I kept worrying about the challenge ahead. After having only two days to get used to the 6,000 feet above sea level of Colorado Springs, I was worried about trying to make it to the 14,100 ft. summit of Pikes Peak.
Frankie and I were in the car and off to the beginning of the climb by 7:00. We arrived at the parking lot and were on our bikes slightly before 7:30.  We started out at 7,000 ft. and were going to hopefully end at 14,100 the summit of Pikes Peak.  Almost immediately the pitch of the climb hit double digits.  My legs were pretty fresh and the cool 50 degree temperatures made the first few miles feel not too bad. When we entered the park and paid our $12 to climb PP, the ranger cautioned us that the wind was blowing 25 mph at the summit and that the current temperature was 33 degrees. Yikes!
Heading up Pikes Peak...
As we were climbing, racing cars came rolling down the climb. They must have had an early morning rally for the cars. It was fun watching them come down. It distracted us from the pain of the climb.  The riding went fairly well until we hit 11,000 ft. At that point, the wind started to blowing in our face.  Soon, I found myself in my 36x34 gear with my head down and pedaling as hard as I could. The talking stopped and our strongest effort possible started. I had to move my riding line in a foot or so inside the white line to avoid being blown off the road. I prayed that the cars following me up the climb would watch out for me because I had my head down just trying to minimize the effects of the wind and was not able to watch out for them.  I didn’t feel very safe doing this, but didn’t feel I had a choice. The wind was horrible in deterring our progress. My arms started to ache as I had to hold firmly on the handlebar to keep the wind from jerking me out of my intended line. I had brought my phone and had intended to take some pictures but that was no longer an option.  The next 3,000 ft. went by slowly as the pitch of the road ranged from 12-16%. With the addition of the wind I wish I had brought my racing bike with my 36 cassette. I also wished that I had arrived in Colorado a few days earlier to give my body more time to adjust to the altitude. Breathing was not easy.

Frankie and Leon at top of Pikes Peak...

After 3 hours and 2 minutes of suffering, I arrived at the top exhausted and relieved. I was hunched over my handlebar desperately trying to get my breathing under control. After about 5 min Frankie arrived. We found someone to take our picture and then retreated into the restaurant at the top. We were both shaky and unstable from the extreme effort and the altitude. After grabbing some food and drink, I checked my HR and was shocked to see it still at 118.  

After about 15 min. of re-cooperating, we headed back down climb. The first part was rather cold, but it went by quickly. Frankie was pretty aggressive on the downhill, and we passed numerous cars and even some motorcycles. In 45 minutes, we were down and climbing back into the car.
Summerson has the climb listed as #2 behind Mt. Washington. With the wind we encountered today, I would make Pikes Peak thee # 1 climb in the US. It was 3 hours of very hard work!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome, I don't think I would have the courage to do that climb.