It’s been two years since I rode my bike up the infamous and unbelievably beautiful Fall River Rd. in Rocky Mountain National Park outside of Estes Park, CO. At the time, that first ride felt like a transformational experience. It changed everything I believed about my own cycling abilities, my doubts about whether or not I’d made the right choice to move here, and my place in this community.
That first time up FRR was nearly two years ago in 2018 while I was working at Rapha. The company gave each of the Rapha locations a free day to close down the store for the day and head out on a ride with our co-workers—while getting paid. You can read about the whole thing right here.
When we rode it in 2018, the road was open to cars, so we had to deal with a bit of traffic on our way up, but we had the most beautiful weather, and shared so many laughs on the way up. This past weekend, however, a friend and I decided to make the trip out there while Fall River Rd. was still closed to motorists. I believe it’s supposed to open for cars in July, but that also depends on whether the snow melts or can be plowed all the way up.
Last week on Friday we made plans to ride it on Saturday morning. My friend had never ridden FRR, so I suggested we get an early start to beat traffic into Estes Park, which gets heavy on weekends with visitors and tourists trying to get to the trails. I left my house around 6 a.m. to make the 70-ish minute drive to Estes Park. I was painfully early like I always am, so I stopped into Kind Coffee for a hot Americano, a couple Bobo’s bars, and a bathroom break.
* I’ve tried to make it a habit to buy my bars and other sports nutrition items from independent shops instead of grocery stores. A rider I follow started doing that, and I loved the idea. It’s more expensive, of course, but not by a lot, and it’s a great way to support the small guys instead of a chain store or online giant like Amazon. *
Anyway. When my friend got to town, we rolled out of town at 7:30 a.m. sharp on Highway 34, which is a straight shot into Rocky Mountain National Park. (I was so excited to use my annual park pass for the first time this year, and I can’t wait to put it to good use this summer as the parks slowly begin to open up again.)
We’d already ridden about ten miles by the time we hit the dirt at the base of FRR, and just as we scooted around the gates and started climbing, the sky opened up and it started to rain. Just a sprinkle at first.
But one by one, I watched little droplets fall onto my bike computer’s screen, and I tried with all my might to will the rain clouds away with my mind. I paid close attention to the weather all morning and expected it to hold off until the afternoon, but all bets are off once you’re in the mountains. Things can change quickly in either direction.
I looked over at my friend and said, “Soooo…what’s your pain tolerance with the rain?”
He laughed a little and we both agreed that if either one of us didn’t want to deal with the weather anymore, we’d turn around and call it a day. So, we kept on pedaling and eventually, my prayers were answered because the rain let up and didn’t fall on us the rest of the day.
Up we went over the dirt and rocks and mud, an 8% grade here and then a 13% grade there. Every so often we’d get a “break” when things flattened out to a 3-4% grade or when we’d have to get off our bikes and hike them over a snow drift blocking the trail.
Those were some of my favorite sections. I used the deep footprints left from previous riders and hikers, which made the journey feel a bit less treacherous.
Towards the top, we got to our last snow-covered section. A giant wall of snow maybe about 20 feet high stood on our right; it had been semi-plowed by the park rangers and created a sort of shelf halfway up.
My friend helped me hoist my bike up onto the shelf for fun. It was incredible how deep the snow was above the road. I’m not sure why the park rangers didn’t plow the whole way through, but it was definitely something to see. I would say that was at about 11,000 feet—almost the turnaround point.
When we reached the top at 12,000 feet, we decided to head back down FRR instead of circling around and descending Trail Ridge Rd. to make it a loop. Trail Ridge Rd. is open to cars, very exposed, and paved. A slick road with massive and unpredictable wind gusts wasn’t something we wanted to go up against, so we turned around a enjoyed a truly amazing descent on the dirt.
Most of the way to the top I kept forgetting to LOOK UP, so on the way down, we took our time, stopped often for photos and videos, and gawked at the giant snow-covered mountains that towered above us, thick green trees that surrounded us, and Fall River that rushed below us.
I would’ve guessed we were in Narnia had I not known better. It was completely magical even in the rain, and I appreciated this ride so much more than the first because most of the day it felt like it was just the two of us for 100 miles. No cars. No noise. No cell service. That’s something I try not to take for granted living here.
In total, I’d say we were out there for a good 4-4.5 hours. We parted ways back in Estes Park and I rode the entire way home with a smile on my face. What a day. What a life we get to live here if we try to make the most of it.
Go on any adventures recently?