“Oh, its about 25 mile to the highway and then about 25 mile to Alpine from there.”
So said the nice woman in her SUV at the rest stop along the Laguna Mountain National Park. Mark and I had riden about 85k at that point and had climbed around 4000 feet to an elevation of 6600 feet. It was a lot of altitude and a bigger day and we were about ready to get back and have some food. However, there was a slight miscalculation in how much further we had to ride.
We’d started out as a group: myself, Mark, Richard, CP, Amanda and an ex-Calgarian living in SD, Louise. We rode some cool gravel roads and climbed up from the valley into the mountains. At about 50k in we separated into two groups – with Mark and I continuing on to tag the summit of the climb, which we thought was just a few K away. It wasn’t. Like, it really wasn’t.
To quote the man in the store that we bought our second round of Snickers bars at: “It doesn’t really ever stop. You just stay up on the ridge and go peak to peak.”
He was totally right! So 40k after we thought we’d be descending back for home, we were still climbing. And laughing about it, at least. I’ve never heard McConnell go, “Man I hope this climbing stops soon.” But he did. I wholeheartedly agreed, but couldn’t actually speak. We finally decided to ask someone. And that’s what prompted the quote up there. I was incredulous.
“Did that lady just say its 25 to the HIGHWAY and then ANOTHER 25 to ALPINE?!”
“Yep. That’s what she said.”
“Oh man. That’s, like, another 80k. Dude.”
So we clipped in and started pedaling back uphill, accepting the notion that it would be a long time before we were eating hamburgers. We debated turning back the way we came but that was further to go so onward, ho. I was just thankful we didn’t buy the Belgian beer we spotted in the last store, where we stocked up on Snickers bars the first time. We lasered into the very next place we saw, which was a neat little store, bar, and series of cabins, just before this cool looking observatory and way, way, way, high up above the sprawling landscape below. There were signs warning against snowball throwing and the elevation was between 6500-7000, but I can’t be sure. This was where the guy said that it was a ridge much more that a climb and descent. But right after he said that he told us that we were, actually, at the end of it. That it “descended to the highway” from where we were. And it was more like 10 miles to Alpine once we found the highway, not 25. So not 80k to go from where we were, but more like half that, with half of that a 4000 foot descent – a freebie. I was pretty psyched.
And oh man. We descended for 15 miles non-stop. Losing about 4000 feet of elevation in half an hour. 30 minutes of non stop 60k+. We rode into a headwind, so we weren’t setting any real speed records, and you still had to give it some jam, but after climbing for 4 hours it was pretty damn rad to get in the drops and carve some corners.
We arrived at the bottom of the descent and the intersection with the highway. We had a choice: continue on the road we were riding, which rode back up into a range to parallel the highway for the final 10-12 miles. Or ignore the signs that said “NO BICYCLES PERMITTED ON FREEWAY” and go straight towards Alpine. The shoulder was huge and we decided we didn’t want to climb back up into the mountains again.
The first 10k were brutal. We were riding uphill again, into the wind, as semis thundered by. I was losing the humor brought on by the surge of adrenaline the descent had brought and we took turns quietly pulling towards the horizon. I was looking at my computer and calculating our speed. 8k an hour. At 8k an hour it would take us quite awhile to grind out the 24k back. About 3 hours, I think.
However. With one last, final push of my left pedal, we crested the hill and – behold! – we saw, shining before us, a sign from the Universe that things were Going To Be A-Ok. Specifically, we saw three signs. And specifically, two were actual road signs. One said “6% Grade, Next 15 Miles.” The second said “Alpine 12 Miles.” And the third was the fact that the asphalt was brand, spanking new. Like fresh, jet fast, black tarmac. Booom. We lit it up all the way back into town, renewed again.
It was a pretty sweet ride, no lie.