Friday, September 26, 2014

Road Trip: Rocky Mountain High (Cross Country Road Trip Ep. 5)

After some delicious KC BBQ, our road-weary travelers, now more than halfway across the United States, are back on the road and driving through the plains of Kansas. Catch up on the last installment of their adventure here.

A late morning start put the Rocky Mountains in view around late afternoon. At first, little more than a faint outline in the distance, the profiles of the jagged peaks came more sharply into focus as time passed and the sun sank in the sky. The corn fields of Kansas in our rear-view, we began the climb up to the Mile High City, arriving on the outskirts of downtown Denver just as the sun set. Dinner that evening at Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs included some interesting selections (pheasant and rattlesnake, anyone?), though it was the blackened cauliflower that was the real highlight of the evening.

The next morning, we biked downtown for breakfast, before reloading all our gear in the TSX and setting out for Mt. Evans, the highest paved road in North America. Despite the thinning air taking a massive chunk out of the TSX's performance, the winding road as we raced for the peak proved enjoyable nonetheless, each switchback and hairpin revealing ever more breathtaking scenery. The ascent revealed the excellent chassis control and communicative steering of the TSX, but also just how direly this well-developed chassis calls out for a light-weight, high performance motor, preferably of the forced-induction variety.

As we reached the parking lot just below the peak, we could look back down the mountain and see the tiny strip of asphalt that we just climbed. At over 14,000 feet, the air is thin and the impact is immediate as we take our first few steps. We grabbed a day pack with our camera and began the short hike to the highest point.

Standing on the peak, we could see for miles and miles. A small lake that we passed on the way up looked like little more than a swimming pool from this height and the road leading up was little more than a thin thread winding its way up the side of the mountain. From here, it was easy to feel like we had not another care in the world, surrounded by the peaks of the Rocky Mountains as far as the eye could see and isolated from any vestiges of civilization. Climbing over to a nearby ledge, we sat down, allowing our feet to dangle over the side, breathing in the fresh mountain air and surveying the surroundings.

We spent a while up on the top of the mountain, shooting various landscape shots, playing around with the settings on our camera, and just having a great time. However, a quick glance at my watch revealed that we needed to get going soon as we were slated to be in Boulder that evening for a dinner. So we climbed down to the car and started our descent. If going up was strenuous on the motor, coming down certainly was hard on the brakes (especially considering the jerk in front who kept straddling the center dividing line and blocking any passing opportunities). Doing my best to keep the TSX brakes from overheating, I avoided using them for extended periods and kept the car in a lower gear to allow the engine braking to help keep the speed in check. An added benefit to this was that it kept the TSX in a stronger part of its rev range, allowing for much stronger response from the car when the throttle was applied.

Approaching the base of the mountain, we stopped for a quick snack before continuing on our way to Boulder. Another city nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains and still over a mile high in elevation, Boulder is noted for being not only a great place for craft beers, but also for having one of the most prolific cycling cultures among cities in the United States. As we entered the city limits, it was evident that a great deal of time and effort had gone into making the city extremely bike friendly, including the creation of dozens of miles of bike lanes and cycle tracks as well as the inclusion of underpasses for pedestrians and cyclists to keep that traffic separated where possible. In fact, bike racks were present everywhere around the city and even the hotel where we would spend the night had bike racks out front for their guests as well as bicycles for rent.

The city itself radiates out from the Pearl Street Mall, the central commerce district for the city and right by where we would be enjoying dinner. The Mall is really an outdoor shopping area, that has been set up to be closed off to motor vehicle traffic and allows for shoppers to wander freely between the stores or enjoy the green spaces that periodically appear, like oasis in a desert of cobblestone. At night, there are often events that take place and, as we walked through this evening, we passed by at least one concert going on, surrounded by a crowd of rowdy drunks. Strolling along the mall, this being my first visit to Boulder, I could start to see why my wife had enjoyed it so much when she was here the previous summer. It is small enough not to lose that small-town vibe, but large enough to ensure a thriving economy and instill vitality into its community. Add in the rather prolific bike culture, both human-powered and motorized, this little city felt comfortable even after only being there for just a few hours.

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