New gravel roads! It’s been awhile since I’ve ridden something brand-new, so as I rounded every corner into the unknown, it was very obvious to me that that was exactly what I needed to feel excited about getting on the bike again.
When I lived in Florida, I rode the same roads every single day because there were only a handful of great routes that were fairly safe in traffic and also weren’t major highways. Living and riding on the water was beautiful, don’t get me wrong (Tampa to Clearwater Beach was one of my favorites), but after eight years of that, I was happy to arrive in Colorado where it seems I have endless options any day of the week.
On Friday I scoped out some new routes and remembered there’s a fork in the road one on of my favorite climbs, and up until last weekend, I’d only taken the fork to the right. I think one time I heard from a friend that the road to the left dead ended after a couple miles and that there wasn’t much to see…so I never rode it. But I wanted to see for myself, and when I did, boy was she wrong. (Or maybe I’d heard her wrong.)
The road I’m talking about is Fourmile. It’s a winding canyon road that snakes up into the mountains west of Boulder. It’s all paved until a few miles left and right of that fork I was talking about. The right is a dirt road that goes all the way up to Gold Hill with steep sections somewhere in the painful range of 10-14%. I haaaaate riding roads that steep; it feels like you’re stuck in the mud going up and you’re going to tumble over your handlebars on the way down.
Left of the fork, I learned, is also a way to get up to Gold Hill, but it’s a much more manageable grade and, therefore, immensely more enjoyable. When you take that left, the sign says WALL STREET, but in all my research, every map just says Fourmile, so I’m not sure what that meant. Anyway, that left is a long paved 6-mile road that eventually runs into Switzerland Trail, which is a dirt road that was formerly a railroad from 1883-1919. It transported people and supplies between all of Boulder’s mining communities including Gold Hill, Ward, Cardinal, Nederland and Eldora. So cool! I found all of that out after the fact, but it made the gradual nature of the climb make sense.
When you run into Switzerland Trail, you can take a left and descend or take a right and keep climbing. I took a right because that was the section I discovered on the map. The beginning was brutal; very rocky, filled with ditches formed by rainwater that created its own mini rivers in the middle of the road, and barely any shade. But I felt very prepared to take on the rough terrain after riding so many Tabletop Tuesday rides that were borderline inappropriate for my gravel bike. I stopped a couple times to regroup as it wound around the sides of the mountains, sometimes to take a drink of water and others to take in the stunning views of the front range.
Before I knew it, I was already above 8,000 feet and had climbed almost 4,000…but it felt like nothing! When you take the right turn on Fourmile, you are so acutely aware of how much you’ve climbed because you feel every single foot in your quads and your back and on the bottoms of your feet. At least I do! This ride really made me realize how much I don’t love climbing sections that are above an 8% grade. Maybe that makes me a weeny, but I don’t care.
If I had to guess I’d say the section of Switzerland I rode was about 4.5-5 miles with an average grade of 4-5%. Perfection. The only downside of Switzerland is it’s pretty narrow and open to cars and motorbikes who don’t give an F about anyone else on the road. I had to swerve over to the left side at one point to avoid some crazy rocks and two riders came whizzing by me not happy I was on the left side. Ugh, whatever.
After those five miles, Switzerland Trail crosses over Gold Run Rd. At that point, you can continue on Switzerland which takes you to Ward, turn left which takes you to Peak to Peak Hwy, or turn right which takes you to Gold Hill. I went right because the few gulps of water I had left in my bottles were scorching hot and I was already out of food. The air was also pretty smoky because of the fires in the mountains nearby, so my throat had been dry and scratchy for miles.
About three miles later, I rolled into the teeny tiny town of Gold Hill, threw my bike against a gate, and marched right into the general store, making a bee line for the fridges. I picked out two fizzy drinks and a Gatorade to guzzle as I sat in the shade, watching other bikers come and go. The porch on the Gold Hill General Store is prime real estate for relaxing and people watching between big miles. I would love to live up in Gold Hill one day, but only if I had a fully remote job; the commute down to Boulder is long and can get nasty and near impossible in the winter.
My way back down to town on another section of Fourmile was pretty uneventful, but I couldn’t stop smiling and planning another day to visit Switzerland. I ended up doing the same route again on Sunday, but I think when it gets cooler out, I’ll take Switzerland further and see what the rest of it is like.
^^^ Stopped for a Topo Chico on the way home and it was the best decision ever.
I think I’d even like to run part of it one day if I can find a good place to park.
Explore anywhere new lately?