Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Pikes Peak & more

The main reason I came through Colorado Springs was to go up Pikes Peak! My first (and likely only) 14er and I could drive right up it! The only rule on the Pikes Peak highway was that your vehicle had to have a wheelbase of less than 19 feet or 288 inches, according to google the max wheel base for a Sprinter is 170 inches, so I was good to go! I couldn't believe they'd let me drive my big heavy RV up the 14k foot mountain but I was happy about it!

I had wanted to get an early start and since I'm usually up around 5, that wasn't hard! They opened the gates at 7:30 and I was there by 7:35, and I wasn't the first car in line either! I'm so glad I did this early because it was getting crowded when I came down, the whole drive was much easier since I had the road to myself.

It's 20 miles up to the summit from the base and you gain over 7,000 feet of elevation. It's a constant 6-10% grade the whole way (but surprisingly it doesn't go above 10%!). There are several picnic areas and gift shops along the way and lots of overlooks to pull out and enjoy the view and let people pass. Just above the timberline there are some serious switchbacks with 10 mph hairpin turns. One after the other. And going up you are on the outside lane. Usually with no guardrail. I was worried about getting down, I had no fears about getting up, but I was very worried about burning up the brakes getting down. Turns out getting up was harder than going down! On the way down I just put it in 1st gear and coasted. Going up required more thinking!


I'd never been over 12,000 feet so going to 14 was going to be interesting! I started noticing the elevation just before the summit - I started to get a headache! At the summit it was almost surreal, the wind was blowing like crazy and it was cold and if I moved faster than a crawl I suddenly couldn't breathe! Oddly it was worse when I was in the van and in the gift shop. I took a quick, slow, walk around and headed down. I'm glad I didn't take the cog rail ra because then I would have had to stay on the summit until the train went down and I don't think I would have been comfortable. I was glad to head back to a lower elevation quickly! I stopped at the gift shop just below the timberline - 11,000ft and even there I was still feeling it, but I continued on to the Crystal Reservoir visitor center area at 9,000 and was much better!

I'd read somewhere that there were hikes along the road, but I couldn't find any. I did find a path, possibly a rogue trail, around part of Crystal Reservoir and walked that and got some great views of Pikes Peak. It was still early, just barely 11, but I ate lunch at the picnic table in front of Pikes Peak and then continued the rest of the way down.


It was a spectacular drive up and down! I wish I could have taken more pictures but there was no taking my hands of the wheel or my eyes off the road!

I was back down the mountain and it was only noon. Now what?

I'd found a rail trail, the New Santa Fe Regional Trail, that looked interesting so I decided to check it out. It was back in Colorado Springs along I25 so I googled mapped how to get there. Google maps lead to me to a spot that was inside the Air Force Academy. Hmmm... I could see the trail on the map, the trail went through the academy, maybe there was a special permission for trail users to gain access? I also figured once I found the trail I might be able to find other access points.


So I headed back to I25. They are doing some major construction where I25 and US24 meet and I have to say that going through that & merging onto the interstate was scarier than Pikes Peak! Once I got out of the construction it was only a few miles to my exit and I had expansive views of the whole mountain range the whole way!

The spot google maps lead me to was one of the major trailheads for the trail! Big parking lot right outside the gates to the Air Force Academy! There was one spot let that I fit into!

It was crazy hot and the trail had no shade. Great views of the Front Range, but no shade. I decided I'd just do a quick ride, about 10 miles out and back. I'm so glad I'd planned on a quick ride! Heading north on the trail I was pedaling into a stiff wind and the trail surface was sandy, very loose in places! The part of the trail that I rode heading south was well packed and it was a very nice ride, but I had to ride back!


Now it was 1:45. What's next? The US Olympic Training Center is in Colorado Springs and they offer tours! Google maps once again provided me with perfect guidance on how to get there and off I went!

The training center was really neat! The athletes come there and live and train sometimes for up to 5 or 6 years! They also train Paralympic athletes! These are the athletes in the sports I don't usually watch - modern decathlon (I'm gonna watch that in Aug, it looks neat!), shooting, wrestling (US has never gotten a gold in women's wrestling, this might be our year!), men's gymnastics (3 members of the team going to Rio trained here!). They don't have women's gymnastics here because you have to be 16 to come and live on campus and most women gymnasts are younger than that, so the women's gymnastics works different. As does swimming, most swimmers train at private clubs. The Olympic training center does train paraolympic swimmers. As part of the tour they showed a video, in the video they featured many of the paraolympians including a one armed cyclist. One arm. Riding a bike. Amazing. I'm going to have to watch the Paralympics this summer! Those athletes are totally hardcore.

After the tour I headed back to the campground. Brandon wasn't around to help me into my site so I did it myself. It was at least a 10 point turn but I shoehorned myself into my site without hitting the RV next to me! I finally got the laundry done. While I was waiting for it I was chatting with these old guys who work/live at the park. They were really nice and it was fun chatting. Then dinner and cleaning up, putting away the laundry!

Tomorrow it's off to Creede!


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