Musings and Amusings

Just a Notch Too Steep

August has come and gone, and Labor Day is upon us. While twilight eves of summer give way to autumn’s cooler dawn, I offer another example of doors in Colorado’s foothills – this time featuring gateways.

This particular gate awaits me at an intersection of paths where this dirt trail lopes south and my paved bike path curves northward to eventually circle Arvada Reservoir. This gate is my stopping point to catch my breath, sip my water and examine the plants.


Open gate; is the trail open?

Although I enjoy riding the dirt trail parallel to a dry ditch, the path is sometimes closed two miles south. The following sign is permanent, but the gate might be open as shown above or closed and locked, as it appears below. I haven’t figured out the logic between open and closed gate, nor does the sign give an accurate status for the trail which has, in fact, been open to ride much further than two miles despite this permanent sign!



Closed gate ; is the trail open?


Sticking to my ride clockwise around the Reservoir, by the time I reach this gate, I’ve mastered the long, gradual climb westbound and have only an oddly enjoyable series of steeper switchbacks to reach the top and coast down the other side.

Riding up any series of switchbacks brings back many memories.

On our Vermont ride, there were no switchbacks. There were notches (basically grades straight uphill). As one local explained, “We call ‘em notches because they are always a notch steeper than you wish they were.”

10 days of rainy Vermont notches

10 days of rainy Vermont notches

 I’ve ridden all my life,, but I never participated in high-altitude or long-distance rides until I met Hub. Our years sharing those adventures – especially with my brother, Jim, and our friends, Joe and Laura, remain some of my favorite memories.

Laura looking at her sox; Copper ride to Vail Pass

Laura looking at her sox; Copper ride to Vail Pass

The first time Hub and I attempted to ride Vail Pass from the Frisco side (east to west), we encountered a series of steep, short switchbacks. If you’d asked me after that first ride how many switchbacks, I’d have panted “at least nine!”

 Much to my surprise the next time I tackled that ride, some kind soul had reduced the number of switchbacks to three, and made them measurably easier. Isn’t that always the way with something unknown and challenging – the second time is much easier? And how do you come to that understanding except by being willing to challenge yourself the first time?

Riding Vail Pass from the Vail side (west to east) is considerably more challenging. Several miles of grinding gradual-but-tiring uphill on a road now closed to cars,

Just the beginning ...

Just the beginning …

after which you gear up to dip steeply downhill passing under I-70 which looms far above. Immediately on the other side of the underpass, you make a sharp turn to the left while frantically gearing down to your lowest gear because the steep angle of climb is immediate and formidable. The one span of trail where switchbacks are desperately needed but the terrain doesn’t allow that luxury. (notice I don’t stop here for pictures)

If you make it up that impossible grade without having a heart attack, the rest of the climb is a comparatively manageable meandering climb.

Vail Mountain; not Vail Pass

Total climb is from altitude 8120 feet in Vail to 10,662 feet at the top of Vail pass. Generally it’s a wild and wooly scream back down from the top. But one time the wind was blowing in our faces in such fierce gusts that we had to pedal in low gear the whole way down. It was like riding up to the top twice in one day. Utter exhaustion.

The door to the condo was a welcome sight that afternoon!

This post is linked to Norm Frampton’s Thursday Doors. Thank you, Norm!

Comments on: "Just a Notch Too Steep" (56)

  1. I love riding and these sound like great adventures Sammy. I have experienced the wind-in-your-face robbing me of a downhill coast, I still feel that the wind owes me one or two for that. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I was used to short steep hills but I haven’t done the kind of sustained elevation gain that you are talking about. It makes me a little tired just reading about it 🙂 I love the gate. It looks inviting but I did stop to think about coming back to find it locked. Oh well, I could put my bike over that.

    • “…the wind owes me one or two …” I like that, Dan.

      There’s one 15-mile stretch of a state highway we used to ride on our way home from a back roads day-trip to a lake much further north. Already tired from the rest of the ride, we hit that stretch during an unrelenting windstorm. It took us three hours to ride those 15 miles.

      If we now drive that highway, the “Remember that day when …” is inevitably mentioned with an accompanying shudder 😊

      I’m glad you ride. Connecticut must have a good trail system, yes?

      • Connecticut is building a pretty good trail system but it isn’t really there yet. When my daughter was in high school, we rode in the New York Five Borough Bike Tour (twice) we decided to practice by getting up to 30 miles at 15 mph (the tour is 44, but you have to ride at a good pace). One day, it was very windy and I kept telling Faith that we would get to a point where “the wind will be our friend” but it kept changing direction and was ALWAYS in our face. We still use that expression today 🙂

      • Great phrase!! Glad you two share it!

        One of my ‘out there’ hippy boyfriends used to say “Let it blow through you not against you.” I think of that when I grab a lamp post to keep from blowing into the street!

      • Ha. I’m too big a target for the wind to go through or around.

    • So did I Dan! Then you have to climb with the bike!

  2. I’m glad you have healed and are back riding again. I am definitely not in your riding class. I do the “easy” VBT rides these days, although at one period in my life, I was peddling up hills–but those days are a distant memory.

    • Thanks, Shelley, i’m happy to be back in the saddle. We, too, are VBT ‘easy’ riders these days. 20-35 miles of flat is much more my speed, especially for five consecutive days!

      We rode Vail pass last summer from the Vail (tougher) side, and I struggled mightily. I had to stop many more times to catch my breath. I would like to nail it one last time next year at 65, but I’m not sure my lungs and thighs are going to cooperate.

      Didn’t you take a meander through Rhode Island a few months ago? I was anticipating your colorful reporting (?)

      I always enjoy hearing from you!

      • Great memory, Sammy. Thanks. I DID start the ride in RI, but got slammed with a summer cold, and left so that I didn’t infect my friends.
        Since then, I have been consumed with my parents’ health issues and a major remodel on our house. The house redo is coming to a close, after more than 3 months, and we seem to have things stabilized with my parents.
        If all goes well, we will be traveling to Italy in a few weeks, and I will have the time and energy to blog about it.

      • Shelley, I’m sorry to hear so many issues have plagued your season. I know the worries and time for parental care. We want to enjoy our (coming-to-a-close) time with them, but much of it is consumed with ‘have to’s’ to keep them safe and cared for.

        Hopefully your patience and endurance will be rewarded by italian flavors, sights and sounds. I’m rubbing my hands in anticipation.

  3. I’m exhausted reading this post! I’m not a great cyclist and an even worse climber. Descents, on the other hand, make me very happy 😉 Now I tend to favour terrain described as “gently rolling”.
    However, if I lived in your gorgeous part of the world, I think I might learn to embrace the mountains too!!

    • Don’t sell yourself short! You were a road warrior yourself!!

      😊 unfortunately up and down come with the terrain here. I do much better on the short steep inclines and switchbacks than I do on long, gradual stretches because I never find the right gear for those ‘pulls’ – like Goldilocks, I find every gear except ‘just right’.

      It’s fun no matter what though, eh? And definitely more fun to be finished *grin*

  4. “You don’t get much hill training in Minot, do ya?”

    “Don’t need it, we have the wind.”

  5. Wow Sammy! a feat indeed at such high feet! In South Africa biking is a huge newish favourite sport and I hear from my golfing husband that golf membership is declining – the younger ones are taking to biking! Not the provenance of only the younger ones – many of my age go biking. I’m tempted to explore this and go cycling around South Africa on some amazing trails .. maybe one day you’ll come here to SA and ‘do’ one or more of our trails?

    • Great play on words, Susan!

      I’m thrilled to hear biking is becoming more popular there, and your hubby is most likely thrilled to have fewer golfers slowing his pace of play!! After seeing some of your photos, i think a bike tour in South Africa would be splendid! Especially if you are along for the ride 😊

  6. cardamone5 said:

    Awesome. You make me want to ride, and I don’t even own a bike! I live the pics and your descriptions. I can see why you love biking so much.


  7. What an adventure! And what an achievement, too. I love my hiking boots but doing this with a bike… I doubt I could.

  8. Oh wow, that sounds like an intense workout. But I imagine the view makes it worth it. Or at least I hope it does!

    • Yes, it’s one I want to try one last time next summer at 65, but I’m pretty sure I’ll either have to walk part of it or tow an oxygen canister! The scenery is beautuful. More importantly those rides gave me so much mental stamina to face challenges. They were great years.

  9. Carol Ferenc said:

    I admire your energy and determination, Sammy. Years ago I took a ski trip to Breckenridge – elevation about 10,000 feet. I could hardly catch my breath. Trying to bike out there would have put my in a coma!

    • 😉. When I first moved to Boulder from Michigan I couldn’t walk a block without becoming winded. You do acclimate, but I still get winded and racing heart climbing some trails; at least I know I won’t die (so far!).

      It’s always funny with skiing because you think “Geez, I’m going downhill; why can’t I catch my breath?”

  10. Now, that takes determination and energy. Good for you, Sammy. And what beautiful scenery. The last sentence (re the door of the condo) put a big smile on my face. 🙂

  11. Those rides look so inviting! I don’t like hills very much (um… at all), but I know they often provide amazing views at the top that can make them worth it. I’ll be getting my bike out soon as the tourists are starting to leave and the roads are a lot less crowded around here. I have a favorite ride that takes me around the bay and gives me the opportunity to look into the windows of high-end homes owned by those who live along the boardwalk.

    That red gate is so intriguing. I wonder who has the job to lock and unlock it? There doesn’t appear to be any No Trespassing signs so is there anything stopping you from just climbing over when it’s locked? Is it public land?

    • Ahhh post-tourist season is the best, right? You get your town to yourself! We like to look in windows, too, and we’re forever telling each other what people should do with their landscaping and maintenance issues!!

      That gate doesn’t stop me because there is an opening about 5 feet to the right 😊 you can always ride the path 2miles to 66th; the unknown is whether the gate at 66th is unlocked and open in order to ride the path more miles! I guess I didn’t make that clear.

      Anyway, i’d trade you bay rides for a change of scenery! Be careful and have fun out there!

  12. I needed that ride out in the fresh air after being cooped up in the house thinking about your family ;). Great post! And I loved that sample of Vermontese.

    • LOL you are SO sweet to do that, Luanne. I hope your fundraising goes well, and I look forward to this special September bounty of poetry.

  13. Such amazing scenery to cycle through…sigh. Unfortunately I couldn’t handle the workout at those altitudes, but it sure is nice to admire others. Great post and thanks for joining us 🙂

  14. Love the post — unfortunately, my biking days ended with my bad back. I will have to live vicariously through you!

    • Damn injuries catching up with us. I generally rude much shirter routes these days, and hope I have one final 2016 climb to Vail pass in me. Other than that I’m living vicariously through my own memories😀. And we always recount them with my brother and ‘old’ biking buddies.

      Thanks for reading, Katie!

  15. Reading this and watching the Spanish Vuelta on TV….might get a bike! Again, love seeing your photos ❤

  16. I can’t imagine a wind so strong you have to pedal going downhill. That would take all the fun out of it. Did you ride through Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont? I’ve driven through the Notch, but by bike? Forget it! 🙂

    • I don’t remember that name! We started near Stowe and ended in Burlinton, supposedly thru the ‘Northern Kingdom’?

      It literally started raining an hour before our first day of riding; we rode through 7 days of cold, wet weather; and the sun came out an hour after our last ride ended. It was years ago and our takes of wie have grown since then 😊. Despite all that, vermont was gorgeous!!

      • Smuggler’s Notch runs from Stowe to Jeffersonville, and it’s gorgeous during foliage season. Sorry you had so much rain. Sounds a lot like this summer.

      • Yes, I heard today aspens and cottonwoods will mostly turn brown and drop without the usual seas of gold across the valleys. The rain brought leaf fungi which will affect the autumn colors. We just have to enjoy what comes; that’s better than wishing fir what we can’t control.

        I wonder how your season will be affected?

  17. Sadly, my bike never came off the storage hooks in the garage this summer. Maybe I’ll pull it down for a few autumn rides through the golden aspens. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Some years are like that. No matter what, standing amidst aspens’ shimmering gold should not be missed. I think of it as my annual blessing from God.

  18. I’m not a biker, either, but I must say this sounds like wonderful fun. There actually are some rides in Texas that are fun and challenging, One’s called The Three Sisters, formally, but the nickname is The Twisted Sisters. And it is – Twisted, that is. Miata road rallies, bikers, bicylists — even old ladies in Corollas love making the run! Here’s a little sample for you.

    • Now that’s what I call a good ride no matter kind of wheels are under you!! Great scenery (beautiful Texas Hill country), curvy road and lively ‘country’ tunes!! Thanks so much for taking me to see The Twisted Sisters. We used to love exactly that kind of day journey on a bike (altho the shoulder was a tad skinny-to-non-existent). Nowadays I could do about half that before pooping out.

      I know parts of Texas are avid running and bicycling communities. I wonder – how do drivers treat the participants?

      • Pretty well. The only real conflicts with bikers generally are in the urban areas, where there are just enough bikers who run red lights, turn against traffic, etc., to irritate the very heck out of drivers. But out in the country, there often are groups of twenty or more cyclists, and people are courteous. And we have several big races every year here in my area, where they block off roads, etc. I’ve not known anyone to get twisted over that.

      • Sounds about right. About 20% of any given group causes problems and 80% are ‘the good guys’. The races are a blast to watch – men & women. I could never ride in a pack like they do!

  19. I’m exhausted, Sammy! I had to jog to keep up 🙂

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