Rocky Mountains - the E-bike Tour's Ultimate Challenge
Some days have passed since we left the MTB mekka Moab behind as we approach the Rocky Mountains. It is the last stage of the Sand to Snow tour before the final in Denver. Once more, we expect to see snow and will reach elevations over 3,000 kilometres.
The first sight and taste of the rocky wilderness we get just around the corner from Moab. We are amazed to see that within a few miles, the countryside has completely changed. Red rocks have turned into snow-covered mountains. Instead of riding through sand and green bushes, we now pass through pine and leave woods, cross small creeks and find flowers in all colours.
The gravel road climbs up steadily to almost 9000 ft / 3000 m.
By now we know: Where there is an uphill there is always a downhill following and this will be true for days.
We make little detours twice. One is to meet bike engineer and pioneer Zac Krapfl in Paonia, another to hit the world famous ski resort Aspen. The ride alone was absolutely worth it. The Grande Rio Trail we followed to Aspen is super nice, in perfect condition and runs through the most beautiful mountain scenery along Chrystal River.
The real adventure however was to begin when overcoming Haggerman Pass - or trying to.
Our first climb or better, our electric bikes' first task of the day, led over the paved Frying Pan Road. Soon, however, the asphalt turned into gravel and is very bumpy at times, with water to cross. Yet, amazing views make the ride worthwhile and the surrounding mountain peaks come closer and closer. But so does the snow.
Suddenly, there is a sign that says: ROAD CLOSED. We stop to think - have come that far just to turn around with the Haggerman pass only a 1000ft climb away? Should we really ride all the way back down to basalt, then up to Aspen again to go across Independence Pass to Leadville? That would mean another detour of 150 km.
While we stand to contemplate our options and remaining battery and leg strength, a ranger pulls up. We inquire about the road conditions higher up. "There is still snow," he says and explains that the road has been snow ploughed but not all the way up to the top. The peak is covered in a snow drift. Hiking the pass is possible but the ranger is not sure if the Haibike pedelecs can make it. For cars, the road won’t open before July 4.
Ultimately, we decide to give it a try - with electric bikes and gear and all. We seek the adventure!
We make sure to take enough water, food, cooker, tent, and everything we need to get through the snow and possibly stay over night. Our support vehicle has no other chance but turn around and drive over Independence pass.
Andy and I climb behind the gate that carries the Road-Closed-Sign and continue our uphill ride. Soon, the road turns into a river. The water is ice-cold and hip-deep. Just at the very moment we are prepared to take our shoes off and walk our bikes through the icey river, the ranger shows up again on the other shore. With ease, he drives his 4x4 through the water, surprised to see how far we have got. Impressed, he kindly offers to put our bikes on his truck and drive us through the river and up the mountain as far as his colleague, who is also in the car, has been able to plough the road.
Once the electric bikes are safely stowed in the pick-up, we climb behind the driver’s seat with all our panniers and the bumpy ride begins. After a while, there are walls of snow mounting on both sides of the truck. The ground gets totally muddy and wet from melt water. Just before the road ends, there is an almost snow-free stretch towards the pass. This is the end of the road for the car. The snow is about as high as the seats when we unload the bikes.
Andy gives the rangers our Gipfel-beer as a thanks and I love the idea that he firstly carried them all the way up and now hands them to our heroes. We wish each other well and they drive back down the road, backwards, as there is no way to turn around. Now, we are on our own.
Soon we find that the small path that is not covered in snow is too steep to ride and the bikes with luggage are too heavy to push them uphill. The only chance is to take off the panniers, carry them uphill, come back down, carry more bags up, and come back down again for the bike. We are able to cross the first snow field that way until we reach the road after more than an hour. It is ok to ride - for a few yards. Then, we get stuck in too much snow permanently. The only way to go further is to make a track for the bike walking, and then pushing it through after.
The sun is going down and we are not even sure where the road is. Luckily, the rangers advised us to stay close to the power line to find the road that runs alongside it. Finally, we set up camp. We have the entire mountain to ourselves - dead tired.
The next day sees us crossing snow fields for another three hours. It is much easier than last night as the snow froze over but often the snow fields are slopes and we have a hard time not sliding off. At times, I wonder if this was the right decision but answer such thought with "yes" and embrace the adventure. Real adventure does not come by itself. You have to look for it and take a risk.
Finally, the road is clear. After our hard morning work there is nothing better than ride a bumpy gravel road downhill. As we get close to Lake Turquoise it turns into a paved road and we can’t believe how easy it can be to cover distance on a bike. Wow!
It is here we reunite with Liesa and Mikael. All that remains is cross the Continental Divide all together in our electric bikes before we head to Denver to finish this Pedelec Adventure.