Sunday, January 26, 2014

January Denver Ride Tour: Lookout, Deer Creek, Downtown

60 degrees in January.  It's not necessarily novel for Colorado, but it feels like it's been awhile.  
I started going for a jog on Friday, and then did some mental math: Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon, which had always been coming up in a "month or two," was now only 3 weeks away.  And I hadn't really been riding the bike much at all, other than a few short errands.  Riding the bike is what I used to do instead of running, so I became accustomed to always having some sort of bike fitness.  Yet I was a bit worried.
The trails were still a bit muddy anyway.  I turned around and hopped on the bike for a quick spin.

Rolling around, I felt a bit out of sorts, but I rekindled some of that old interest.  I could see that the roads were dry enough, even in shady areas, and extrapolated that it would be even better the next day.
Having already saturated most of the interesting runs that leave from my doorstep, hopping in the bike brought up the old fun of figuring out how far away I can get away under my own power.

I figured hitting a century would be a nice way to kick off the new year, as I could work on a modest goal of a self-powered century at least once a month.  (In running terms, it's not that hard, probably equivalent to 25-30M depending on terrain).  In Fort Collins, I had hit all of the classic 100-mile radius several years ago, so it was exciting to pore over maps and find new routes.

Always overthinking on these things, I went with a route that put the climbs in the beginning, with the busier roads in the earlier afternoon (so as to get more melting as well as visibility), and then ending with a bit more mindless bike paths and bike routes as the sun got lower.

So I started with the classic climb up Lookout Mountain in Golden under perfect blue skies:

The summit (well, Buffalo Bill's gravesite) is 11 miles from my apartment, and it's above 7300': about a 1600' climb, or almost double what I used to get riding to Horsetooth Mountain Park.  It's a steady, rideable grade with great views, with good bike traffic on a nice Saturday and relatively light but aware car traffic.

Continuing westward, the road rolls and climbs a bit more.  I didn't make the exquisite, pine-tree climb up Colorow Road this time, but instead continued on Lookout until hitting Mt. Vernon Country Club, which is a minor thoroughfare into a quiet community.  I enjoyed pastoral views and empty roads (albeit with liberal use of sand/gravel, so caveat biker), although hadn't really prepared for several hundred more feet of climbing.

I finally made my way back down, with a slow average speed/time due to all the climbing.  Now I reached my next goal for the day: riding on I-70 for a bit.

2 miles, to be precise.  Cycling enthusiasts, especially cross-country riders, know this well, but the legalities of riding on freeway shoulders are a patchwork of interstate and intrastate laws.  Some states allow it everywhere, some allow it nowhere, but in Colorado, it's allowed in certain sections where there are no easy and sensible nearby alternatives.  I've previously ridden part of I-5 in San Diego (through Camp Pendleton, and the short Torrey Pines/La Jolla deathtrap!) and I-80 in Wyoming, but this would be my first time on I-70.

It was nice to make quick progress on a generous shoulder, and to advertise the lifestyle to tourists and native-stickered skiers alike.  Just as soon, I was off, where navigating Evergreen Pkwy/74 was trickier than the interstate itself.

I made a few wrong turns, but righted myself back onto a short jaunt on 74 before peeling off into Kerr Gulch.  
Finally, some descent, with a bit of technicality (for road biking) on tight, 15mph turns, in a quiet, narrow and shaded canyon.  No real ice or snow to deal with, though.  A final descent leading to Bear Creek had about a mile or so of degraded road conditions, so was on the brakes a bit more than if it had been smooth.  And again cutting in to rapid forward progress!

Soon enough, Myers Gulch to Parmalee Gulch didn't disappoint, with rolling uphills followed by speedy downhills.  Great visibility makes up for lack of shoulder.

This dropped me down to Hwy 285 quicker than I expected, and I had to make a quick choice, looking for Turkey Creek but getting confused on the options.  I made the wrong one, which led me on a long ramp that dropped me onto 285 North.  No problem, except for I needed to make a U-turn on that infamous spot of S-curves (I notice it when driving) with a barrier median.  And the thin shoulder was shaded and icy, so things were a bit nerve-wracking here.

After 3/4 of a mile or so, a break in the median allowed for a left turn, so I waited for a suitable gap among speeders before reversing course.  Much better on the other side, and I was now headed south on Turkey Creek.

I've always been intrigued by the "Tiny Town" sign here...and was glad to finally see it in person!
Definitely need to bring niece Hannah out here when it's open.

Turkey Creek was otherwise a pleasant road, and my last canyon road was soon coming up: Deer Creek Canyon.

I've only been there a few times for mountain biking and running the park, but the road biking is also really popular.  It's also contentious, with some problems between cyclists and drivers during busy summer weekends.  I was curious as to what to expect.

The shoulders are indeed narrow, but I was able to keep a decent speed in the short and rare sections where cars didn't have room to pass; otherwise, they were able to pass with plenty of room.  The slower riding sections actually had a bit of ice and snow in the shade, which was surprising to me because it felt lower than the other areas I had been riding.  But a clear advantage of riding solo is how much easier it is for a car to pass one rider at a time than a group of 3 or 4, let alone a longer peloton.  So I "get" that frustration of drivers, and not only do I make a point to single up on group rides any time a car is approaching, but also keep pack sizes small so car traffic doesn't back up.  Everybody wins.

Although not overwhelming, I saw more riders here, mostly in the other (climbing) direction.  By the end of the canyon, it was starting to feel like summer, and the pink sandstone gave it a desert feel.

At the very bottom, I saw all the cars parked with bikes and bike racks on them.
Mixed feelings here, and mostly a matter of style, mixed with chagrin and liberal parts of my own hypocrisy, but it's interesting to me to think of road bike riding as something that needs driving.  I get that some, or maybe many -- or even all, what do I know -- of the parked cars are from faraway lands checking out this ride or that by driving to this ride this one time.  But I suspect that many "do" road biking by popping the bike onto rack and driving to the Beginning of a Popular Ride, as I've seen the same thing at the bottom of other classic canyon rides.  (Check out St. Vrain and Lefthand to see guys in team kits crushing it, fresh from a 7-mile drive from home.  For example).  My road ride experience started with meeting at my house, or Neil's house, or John's house -- or we met somewhere in the middle.  If we had to ride some crappy and repetitive roads to get to the Good Stuff, so be it.  That's the way it was...and we liked it!
Anyway, there's something to be said for the riding and exploring that comes from not starting where everyone else does.  It's not skiing or snowmobiling: you can do it from your house, I promise!
But I digress.

Now onto the C-470 bike path.  A bit of interesting scenery in Chatfield, and then functional, flat miles.  Easier to be more social here by seeing more riders -- by the way, most riders I encountered were of the friendly nod-type I was used to in Larimer Co. -- but the seemingly flat stretch was slowed down a bit with solid patches of ice on some shaded ramps and curves, as well as short climbs up to major intersections and waiting for stoplights.    

Parker was the southeast quadrant of my ride, so now time to go North.  I went with Jordan Road and was pleased to cruise along with a zippy tailwind, and quickly made it into Cherry Creek State Park.

This was all familiar territory now, so I enjoyed a leisurely cruise on the inner trails and roads.  Fair amount of cycling and walking traffic out.

I didn't really pay attention to the map here as I'd run and biked there to Cherry Creek Trail more than a dozen times when we lived in Aurora, but of course I got a bit turned around/confused looking for the Highline/Cherry Creek junction.  I abandoned that and headed in the generally direction on busier roads, before taking Holly straight up to Cherry Creek.

I always enjoy the urban feel of Cherry Creek, a nice spot in the city that actually feels like a big city.
Quite an interesting juxtaposition with the morning's canyon rides.

The confluence of Cherry Creek and Platte is a natural center of the city...

...a city wrapped up in Bronco-mania.

And finally back on 20th for a loop around Sloans Lake, and back in time to beat the setting sun.

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  1. Thanks for the tour! Felt like I was there. Looks a bit different this weekend! It's a good weekend to stay indoors football?

  2. Thanks for reading, Alene -- getting out on a bike on a nice day was certainly a great option, since we now have plenty of opportunity to slog through or slide on snow.