On the Road: New Heights | AspenTimes.com

On the Road: New Heights

Upper Cattle Creek Road has been taunting me.It is the Smuggler Mountain Road of the midvalley – a sharp, steep cut up the side of a mountain. The only difference is Upper Cattle Creek is paved, making it an obvious choice for a road bike challenge.Like Smuggler, the road cut is clearly visible from town – in this case, El Jebel – climbing at a daunting slant toward Missouri Heights. I had avoided it this spring, though, reasoning I’d better put some miles beneath me before putting my legs and lungs to that test. Wise move.This week, I decided the time had come to tackle it for the first time ever. For a quick afternoon ride, pedaling up to Missouri Heights was an obvious choice. It’s only about four miles until the pavement ends, but what a four miles.I was in granny gear before I made the sharp left turn that marks the true start of the climb and I stayed there for virtually the entire four miles. It’s never encouraging to start a ride knowing there will be no more looking to your chainrings for added assistance.Nonetheless, I managed to complete the climb without stopping to gasp, and I possibly set a new land-speed record in the process – the slowest pace ever recorded on a moving bicycle.Well beyond the steep grade of the visible road cut, Upper Cattle Creek continues to climb mercilessly. I was nearly to the end of the blacktop before I finally shifted, briefly, into a higher gear. I got to do so once more as I approached the reservoir, shifting into a comfortable, powerful pedaling rhythm for maybe more than a hundred yards. Then the road turned to gravel and I had to turn around.The ride down is a blur of stellar views of snow-capped Sopris and the slopes of Snowmass. As I’m not one of those speed freaks who enjoys balancing my life on two skinny tires, I gripped the brakes in terror. Back at home, it was my hands that ached, not my legs.Next time: Fat tires take me beyond the pavement’s end (or not).

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