Brainard Lake and the Best Ride of my Recent Life

Highs and lows seem to go together. When things are so good, you've got to come back down to reality. Similarly, the perfect moments and average moments are intertwined, it often requires the latter to set up, prepare for and provide scale for the former. 

Tuesday's ride in Boulder set up Wednesday's ride, both heightening the stoke and revealing the route. We had decided that Tuesday's 20 mile climb would make an incredible, rip roaring descent that couldn't be avoided, and chose to climb the mountain via a dirt road I had spotted off the Peak to Peak highway not far from Ward.

The plan started with coffee of course, the caffeination shooting us straight into the hills. Lee Hill to Left Hand Canyon would take us to James Canyon Drive then on to Overland road, which would turn to dirt somewhere as we approached the top. 

Climbing from the beginning 

Unlike the day before, serious climbing began in earnest the moment we left Boulder. There was no gently graded continuous road, rather a serious of continuously steep pitches begging for hard efforts and standing grinds on the gears. In return for this output was a much less trafficked road that beckoned us higher and higher. 

Pavement Ends

The road plateaued all of a sudden, which would have been  thrilling in itself were it not for the range of snowy mountains that chose that very moment to peak their heads out beyond the trees. These peaks, some higher than 14,000 ft were brilliant enough to stop John Muir in his tracks and leave him blushing. Turns out we'd ridden right by yesterday unknowing thanks to a shroud of cold and fog. 


It'd be appropriate to call this moment a turning point, as if in secret communication with the mountains, the road turned to dirt. Friends and family will easily remember that my relationship with dirt is shaky at best, though one may even describe it as rocky. This road however was indicative of exactly why I want to embrace dirt. 

What followed this turning point were a few of the most serene miles I've ever ridden. After miles of steep pitches, the dirt gently undulated with the signs of a single other living soul, save for the company of the peaks looming tantalizingly close in the distance. Dirt and gravel roads offer a seclusion that tarmac can't replicate, one feels further removed from the trails of the quotidian. To ride on dirt feels to slip back in time slightly, to when exploration was more original and authentic. 

As good as it gets

Just like a mountain, bike rides are meditative. Coming of the dirt and quickly passing our high point of the day before, we remarked in sincere awe at the marvels of roads that go so high, through trees and snow to the bases of mountains. Somewhere deep down as well, the realization that the truer beauty is that we can get up there with our own two legs, and our own to lungs. Anyone can explore, it takes only initiative and a bit of curiosity, but to be your own motor takes a self-inspired zeal that few possess.

What makes it special is that it is in no way easy. Meditative as a mountain, I began to think that this one of my best rides ever. The hypocrisy seems evident to an outsider looking in, how is a best ride filled with so much suffering. But it is exactly for that reason that it is so memorable, every gasping breathe, every tough push of the pedal made the spoils so much more well-earned. 

Getting snowy

Trees gave way to snow banks and finally at 10,500 feet we could  go no further. We rejoiced at our summit that was the doorstep to the mountains, attained in short sleeves on road bicycles. Brainard Lake, where we had arrived, was one of the most beautiful places I'd been, aided by the difficulty in the quest. 

Hardstyle cyclists

Welcome to the mountains

Things went downhill from there, in more ways than one. We had a perfect twenty mile descent, nice pavement and wide sweeping corners had us screaming by mountain goats and stone canyon walls. Thirty minutes at highest speed was just another wonderful reward after such a long climb

It wasn't all fun and games however. So much climbing, not enough food, and the lower oxygen content had left me totally spent. Bonked. We filled bottles during a stop that was nowhere near long enough into a headwind that seemed to sap every last reserve out of me. 

It is frustrating, infuriating even to turn the pedals, exert everything, and get nothing back. It was disappointing to think that I had let myself get to this low place, Had I really used up every reserve going up the hill? Maybe. A meal and a true stop would have changed it probably.

Low to High to Low

Salvation came in the form of a flat, and the few minutes off the bike gave me time to breathe and digest what I'd eaten. In turn, the legs felt good again and I finished the ride smiling.

The bonk puts things in perspective nicely. A perfect ride doesn't necessarily mean that everything goes swimmingly. Rather, the perfection is illuminated by the raw humanity - that you have to struggle and even go to a deep dark place to get what you want. I think I'll look back more favorably on this adventure because of how much it took  out of me. It sets it apart from the daily difficulty, to deal with adversity and challenges gives a satisfaction that is  best coupled with mountain memories and cold beer.