In the Saddle: There’s no blast like Aspen’s Independence Pass

Scott Condon

Watching a recorded airing of the Tour de France each night over the past 2½ weeks has got me a little excited for the USA Pro Challenge. Riding Independence Pass on Friday got me very excited for the event.

For someone who doesn’t ride a bike or for riders who are too intimidated by the narrow road and busy traffic on Highway 82 east of Aspen, it’s hard to describe the magic of the route.

Here are a few of my favorite things:

Witnessing how truly placid the North Star Nature Preserve can be at 8:40 in the morning on a weekday.

Staring at the marshy, willow-choked entrance to Difficult Campground and thinking how it looks like prime moose habitat.

Passing by and giving a friendly nod to Kevin Costner, looking very much like a ranch hand while riding the periphery of his property on an ATV.

Pedaling past Weller Campground and remembering fond campouts when I first arrived in the mid-1980s.

Glancing at the Roaring Fork River and marveling how it has burrowed into and smoothed out that tough granite over millions of years.

Smelling the sweet fragrance of vegetation thriving in a wet summer and getting dazzled by the sheer amount of Indian paintbrush alongside the road from Lincoln Creek Road to the Final Cut.

Admiring the group of six older folks preparing for a hike at lower Lost Man and hoping long may my friends and I run.

Wondering what would have happened this year if the Roaring Fork River wasn’t dammed and diverted near Lost Man Campground.

Imagining what it would have been like to live in Independence during its short, sweet life in the 1880s.

Getting out of the saddle when the road makes the tight, steep switchback at Upper Lost Man and telling myself that I will ride the Final Cut better than ever.

Exhaling in relief as the sign at the summit of the pass comes into view.

I doubt any of those thoughts will occur to some of the world’s best bike racers when cross the pass from east to west Aug. 19 and from west to east Aug. 20. But it sure will be fun watching them eat up the route.