Every year as Memorial Day approaches, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) endeavors to clear Independence Pass for motor vehicle traffic so that tourists can drive their RVs and rented Ford Contours from the Arkansas Valley over the Continental Divide into Colorado's enchanted ski town, Aspen.
Some lucky cyclists know that there is almost always a period of time after the snow has been cleared from the road but before the gate is opened. During that time the way up to the top is free for cyclists to enjoy without worrying about being run over or even having to listen to the cars roaring by.
This year the intrepid CDOT snow-movers were not able to get the pass open for Memorial Day. Nor was much of the tarmac free for cyclists to enjoy. But this past week word got down to Salida that the road was clear at least from the east approach up to the pass, and that the closure to motors would lift on the weekend of June 6.
My girlfriend Kathy and I drove up to Twin Lakes Saturday morning, unloaded at around 10:30, and headed up to climb to the pass. There was a bit of a gusty breeze just at first but amazingly it more or less petered out as we got up higher. When we left Twin Lakes it was feeling pretty warm, but gradually it got a bit chillier. But it never got terribly chilly, just pleasant. The sights and sounds were storybook Rocky Mountain springtime; brilliant white melting snow, trickling and running water, birds, breeze in the pines--and of course me wheezing.
It's hard to imagine a nicer ride on pavement. As we made our way up higher, the sweeping panoramic views became more and more dramatic. At the very top, the breeze forced us to quickly put on wind breakers. We snapped some photos, then started heading down.
The first half of the trip down was chilly. Hard to transition from working the climb to zipping down without any effort at all. But once we had dropped 1500 feet or so the air temperature came up and the road became flatter. At times we even had to pedal.
We got back to Twin Lakes at around 2:30. We loaded Kathy's bike into the truck, then Kathy drove back to Salida. I needed a long ride, so I took off on my bike to ride back to Salida.
The ride home was much less Disney than the out and back to the pass. It was much flatter, much noisier, and notably warmer. Luckily there was not too much wind, so I was able to make pretty good time. But I got home tired at around 5 PM.
Pretty damned good day all around.