Cycling junkie has a passion for passes
May 6, 2002
Rising to new heights is something more than just a warm, fuzzy platitude for cycling enthusiast John Wilkinson.
Wilkinson is crazy about conquering passes on his bicycles – both the steep, rugged grunts in the backcountry and the lung-rippers on paved routes winding through Colorado’s mountains.
Like many locals, he’s accomplished the standard climbs of passes like Independence and McClure. But he’s also used a hybrid bike – capable of both road and mountain travel – to knock off epic rides like a five-pass route near La Veta, Colo.
He’s on a mission to identify all ridable passes on roads – paved and four-wheel variety – in Colorado. Then he plans to tackle as many as possible.
He’s identified more than 350 passes so far, and bagged about 150 of them. His list excludes passes in federally designated wilderness, where mechanical contraptions such as bicycles are banned.
The thrill of tackling passes isn’t so much about bagging new routes as it is about seeing parts of Colorado that are infrequently seen, Wilkinson said. He prefers the obscure passes along forgotten wagon roads or old railroad grades – the proverbial roads less traveled.
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It helps that Wilkinson is as passionate about maps as he is about cycling. Through his research, he’s turned up passes that all but the most dedicated riders have probably never heard of, in all parts of Colorado.
There’s Hog Park Pass on the Colorado-Wyoming border, for example, or Anger Pass, closer to home. His latest “discovery” is Pawnee Pass, on the plains just west of Sterling.
Wilkinson shares many of his discoveries on a Web site located at http://www.geocities.com/johnwilkjohn. He’s marked the passes that are in federal wilderness or are otherwise unridable with blacks X’s.
Wilkinson’s pursuit of passes isn’t limited to Colorado. He travels to Europe with friends and family every other summer and rides there. During a trip to France five years ago he heard about a riding club that shares his passion for passes.
He became the Colorado ambassador and, as far as he knows, the only American member of Club des Cent Cols, the 100 pass club. The organization has special jerseys and holds special events throughout the riding season in Europe. Membership is based more on a rider’s word than documentation of 100 passes.
“It’s on an honor system. You have to make the pass. It doesn’t count if you don’t,” said Wilkinson. “The pass must be on a map, and it must be named.”
At least five of the passes must exceed 2,000 meters. Wilkinson had little trouble with that qualification – the base of many Colorado passes is above 6,400 feet, let alone the summit.
Wilkinson believes his colleagues from Europe have a distinct advantage in adding passes to their collection.
“What are passes in France are not necessarily considered passes here,” he said. While there are tough climbs worthy of challenging the world’s best riders during the Tour de France, there are also bumps between drainages that get labeled “pass.” France has about 7,500 passes, he said.
Some members of Club des Cent Cols get into interesting Internet chats on topics such as whether tiny passes on roads atop sand dunes in the Netherlands really qualify as passes, or whether it counts as bagging a pass when the rider has to push a bike over the top.
Wilkinson suspects the latter will be more a topic of discussion than the former when six Club des Cent Cols members from Grenoble, France, visit Colorado in July. The riders became interested in riding in the state when they checked out information on Wilkinson’s Web site.
They plan to ride Rocky Mountain National Park, where they can ride four passes, then check out the Steamboat Springs area and the Collegiate Range. Wilkinson hopes to hook up with them when they ride up Independence Pass from the east side.
“They’re going to be extremely challenged,” he said. “The elevation is going to kill them, and the distances are going to kill them.”
But it’s all in a good day’s ride for members of the Club des Cent Cols.