My favorite kind of riding is completing a loop route. I love being able to start and finish at the same place without having to backtrack. There is an inherent satisfaction in completing a journey with just you and your bike. This can be done as an out and back ride but you lose some of the sense of discovery. The downside of a loop route is that it can be too time-consuming (especially if you are cycling over the continental divide). One way to overcome this is to incorporate an Amtrak train ride into your plans. It’s not a true loop route but the train portion continues the sense of discovery that a loop route offers.
Use an Amtrak train to get back
Cycling over the continental divide is an achievement that you remember. I had done it once before (on an 18-pound bicycle) but now my plan was to do it on a fully loaded 88-pound touring bicycle. I was going to ride from Denver to Glenwood Springs over four days, camping along the way where possible, and return to Denver by train.
Amtrak has greatly expanded their bicycle service over the years. Go to https://www.amtrak.com/bring-your-bicycle-onboard for the latest information. They used to have bicycle service on just a handful of routes. If you wanted to take your bicycle with you on any of the other routes you would have to box it up and it would be treated like baggage.
Now you carry your bike on board with you to a bike rack in the passenger car. Or, depending on the route, you hand your bicycle up to an Amtrak crew member inside the baggage car. Reservations are required (for the most part) and space is limited. Also, they are only able to handle traditional bikes, so no tandems, recumbents, or fat-tire bikes (tires are too wide for the bike racks).
Denver to Georgetown -50 miles -5000ft climb
I started my bicycle journey from my friends’ place in Denver. They live 3.5 miles from Union Station so it was a good place to start. If you’re not fortunate enough to have friends that live close to an Amtrak station you can find parking at https://spothero.com/amtrak-stations/.
My friend Lars accompanied me from his place in Denver to Golden. His plan was to get a good training ride in. My plan was to make it up into the mountains at whatever pace I could handle. My route would be along the I-70 corridor.
Thankfully, I would be using roads and bicycle trails that paralleled the actual interstate. At the beginning of my climb into the mountains, I stopped at a c-store near Dinosaur Ridge. I needed to get something cold to drink and to mentally prepare for my journey ahead. After a quick break, I was back on my bike.
Less than two miles later, I rounded a corner and was hit with a tremendous headwind. I knew that the mountains could be windy but I was caught off-guard by the intensity of it. At this point, so early in the journey, I started having serious doubts. Ironically, it was the dark clouds in the sky that gave me hope.
Up, up, and up to Buffalo Overlook
I had made it only 17 miles and I was taking shelter from the wind just 2 miles since my last stop. My hope was that the dark clouds meant that the intense wind I was experiencing would diminish once the clouds passed. It sprinkled, quickly stopped, and then I was on the move again. I’m still not sure if the wind had relented or my resolve had strengthened.
After cycling another 5 miles on US-40 I made it to Buffalo Overlook. It was cool to see the bison but what really caught my eye was the multi-use trail. It started out as a mile-long downhill and it was glorious. I let my speed shoot up to 30 mph. Since I had been traveling at single-digit speeds for so long, it felt like I was now traveling at interstate speed.
The trail was short-lived at 2.5 miles long but it was very enjoyable. At the end of the trail, I crossed over I-70 to Evergreen and rejoined US-40. Almost immediately, US-40 crosses back over I-70. Hopefully, the trail is extended to eliminate the need to go back and forth over I-70.
A fast descent to Clear Creek then a scenic ride to Idaho Springs
I continued with US-40 riding on another welcome downhill section. It was over too fast and then it was back to climbing again. After 3 miles of climbing, I was rewarded with a steep downhill section for 2 miles where I hit my top speed (39mph) of the day. At the bottom of the hill, US-40 crosses Clear Creek and then hits HWY-6.
After briefly cycling on HWY-6, I crossed back over Clear Creek on a multi-use trail that follows the creek. For the rest of the day, I would be following this creek uphill. The good news was that it was a gentle incline compared to what I had already climbed. This was fortunate since I was feeling pretty tired by this point.
It was very scenic traveling on the trail right next to the creek. I decided it would be a good spot to take a break. Soon I found a shady spot and got out my chair and some snacks. After that, I continued up the trail. It turned into a frontage road and shortly after that, I was in Idaho Springs.
I make it to Georgetown after a change of plans
My original plan (I even had reservations) was to spend the night at a campground about 3 miles away from Idaho Springs. Those miles were off of the main trip route and ALL uphill. I couldn’t bring myself to pedal those uphill miles only to turn around and come back down them the next day. I decided to look for a motel in Idaho Springs.
After checking out a couple of motels, I found myself on the edge of town. I decided that if I was going to get a motel, it would be best to get one in Georgetown. Getting there meant I would have to pedal uphill another 13 miles. It would make the ride the next day that much shorter so I thought it was worth it.
I continued on the frontage road that paralleled Clear Creek, eager to make it to Georgetown. My bike was set up with a Bluetooth speaker but I decided to listen to the stream that was flowing alongside me instead. I was excited when I made it to Georgetown Lake since that meant my climbing for the day was pretty much over. Soon after, I checked into my motel for some much-needed rest and relaxation.
Georgetown to Dillon Reservoir -31 miles -3600ft climb
Cycling over the Continental Divide -very slowly
I was up early and on my bike by 6:30 am. Today I had to pedal up 3300 feet of vertical rise in just 17 miles. It was going to be extra challenging with a loaded bike.
At the Georgetown Loop Railroad on the edge of town, a multi-use trail begins. It starts with a very steep climb to get up to the road grade. The trail runs right on the edge of I-70 and goes to Silver Plume.
In Silver plume the trail ends and I started cycling up a frontage road. After a little more than 4 miles the frontage road ends and the Bakerville Loveland Trail begins. This is a very scenic trail and would be incredibly fun if I was going the opposite direction. It was a challenging climb and at times I would only be pedaling along at 4.5 mph.
Made it to Loveland Ski Area
Making it to Loveland Ski Area made me feel accomplished and apprehensive at the same time. I had climbed 13 miles from Georgetown to get here but knew the next 4 miles would be the hardest ones of the trip. Since I was running low on water I went into the closed resort to see if there was anywhere I could get some. I wandered into a maintenance building looking for someone to ask about water. I didn’t find anyone but I did find a sink. I refilled my bottles and left the resort without ever seeing anyone. It was a little eerie.
In the first picture above the Loveland Ski Area sign is prominent. That same sign is also in the second picture but it’s not so easy to see.
Cycling over the Continental Divide -I finally make it to the top
Turning out of the Loveland parking lot, I was already at an altitude of 10,800ft. In the next 4 miles, I would be climbing another 1100ft. I came up with my strategy for the climb -I would concentrate on only a half-mile at a time. I started my ascent, wondering (not for the first time) what I had got myself into.
After pedaling for a half-mile, I stopped for a moment to catch my breath. Starting up again was challenging because of the incline. I watched the tenths of a mile go by and stopped after another half-mile. Repeating this process, I made forward progress at 3.5 mph. At this point, I was watching the hundredths of a mile tick by eagerly anticipating my next break.
When I finally made it to the top, I almost couldn’t believe it. Just the day before, I had left Denver on my bicycle and now here I was at the top of Loveland Pass. I had climbed 8300ft in my 67-mile journey to get here. I was ecstatic. After a brief stop at the top (and photo op of course), I was ready for the glorious descent down the other side.
I go for a speed record and finally use my tent
From Georgetown to Loveland Pass my average speed was 4.5 mph. In contrast, on the first 9 miles of my descent, I average 30 mph. Wow! I even went as fast as possible trying to best my all-time speed record of 46 mph. However, with the aerodynamic drag of my bags, the fastest I could achieve was 42 mph.
In no time at all, I was in Keystone Resort. And hungry, very hungry. I highly recommend Pizza 101, it was delicious. Exertion and hunger make everything taste better but I’m pretty sure their pizza would be good regardless. With a full stomach and only 7 miles left to go, I leave Keystone and head towards Dillon Reservoir.
I make it to my reserved spot (I kept my reservation this time) in Prospector Campground. After setting up my home for the night, I sit down with a book. It’s both mentally and physically relaxing. After making friends with my neighbors, they invite me to dinner and I gladly accept.
I go to bed early again and think about the next days ride. I will be travelling over Vail Pass. It’s on a multi-use trail and it’s not as steep as the climb up Loveland pass. As I fall asleep, I almost convince myself that the next day with be a lot easier than the previous two days.
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