This morning I woke up at 3:30. I rolled over and went back to sleep for a bit, but the dark corners of my mind harbored questions about the day ahead… Would I be stricken with altitude sickness upon reaching the top of Pikes Peak? Would I lose control of my bike and plunge to my death in a rocky crevasse? Would I get to see a mountain goat?
A few hours later, we were at the bike office. We signed the paperwork that said we would not sue them if we got hurt or died. We ate a quick breakfast and then they loaded us into the vans and took us up to the cog railway station. There was a bit of milling about there while we waited for the departure time. One of the guides pointed out the staircase that goes up the mountain, called the Manitou Springs Incline. People hike this. On purpose.
I can’t even
At 8 am, our cog train began the ascent. The first part was through Aspen and Pine forests. I saw a Pika scurry through the underbrush. The train conductor told interesting historical facts and some punny jokes on the way up.
A bubbling brook.
After a while we got up above the tree line. The conductor told about how Katharine Lee Bates went up Pikes Peak in the summer of 1893 and was so inspired that she wrote the poem that we now know as America the Beautiful. Her original words were a tad different…
O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
God shed His grace on thee,
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!
Then, we rounded a corner and I got a glimpse of the fruited plain, and I suddenly became verklempt. The pictures I took don’t do it justice, but let me tell you, it was amazing. I managed to keep myself from weeping openly, but It took effort. My heart and soul were overcome by the grandeur of it all.
This picture really doesn’t capture how awesome it was.
The trees can’t grow above a certrtain point because of the permafrost.
Alpine zone. I can almost see Maria singing the Sound of Music.
The little cog train that could.
Look at this. Just LOOK at it!
Now, on to the part you really want to know about… We got to the top and almost instantly we were shrouded in clouds, so there was no scenic overlooking, unfortunately. I noticed I felt a little buzzed, which apparently is how you feel at 14,000+ feet. (My normal home is at 750 feet).
Lets do this!
We applied more layers (it was 32 degrees up there) and got situated with the bikes. Mom even had a Go-Pro, so there will be video evidence of our journey. The guide gave everyone instructions on how to operate the bikes and how to not die.
And then we were off. The slope was steep and there were no guardrails, but everyone in our group managed to stay on the road and not have any problems. After the first mile or so, I felt more confident and began passing I some of the slower bikers. ZOOM ZOOM!
Here are a couple of photos.
View from the first stop
Panorama of a later stop. Please disregard the messed up cars.
The road ahead… those hairpin turns were a blast!
Looking back up.
A reservoir near the end of the trip.
Once we were almost to the bottom, the group pulled over and I noticed a vehicle with Pennsylvania license plates pull over. Suzanne and Will (also in the area for the upcoming NFED conference) popped out and ran over to say a quick hello. I had told them we’d be doing this, but it was still pretty cool that the timing worked out!After that it was only a mile or so to get to the restaurant where we would have lunch. Ahh. We were exhilarated and excited to have completed such a cool adventure!
Mom is euphoric.
In the afternoon we headed up to Boulder, where we are staying in an odd hotel which seems to have once been an apartment building. I don’t know. But it’s quiet, at least. We went to Pearl Street to mosey around and shop, and then had a yummy veg dinner. Our waiter was a total stoner and kept giggling after every interaction we had with him. It was hilarious.
Pearl Street Mall, Boulder… looks a lot like Church Street Mall in Burlington, VT
Tomorrow is Celestial Seasonings (don’t laugh, I enjoy tea!) and then down to Denver to get ready for the research study that I and other EEC and AEC people will be doing on Wednesday morning.
Now I shall rest comfortably with the knowledge that I can actually handle 14,114 feet above sea level and also I ride a mountain bike downhill like nobody’s business.
Oh, and I did not get to see any wildlife except for the aforementioned pika and a couple of marmots (so cuute!). Apparently we rode past some sheep but I was concentrating on not having a heart attack (it was during one of the rare uphill parts) and failed to notice. However, it seems that Mom caught it with the Go-Pro so I will get to see it (and myself whizzing by it) later.