Saturday, November 30, 2013

Post-Flood Canyon Highways ... and our Brevet Season

On Thanksgiving, my wife Pat and I drove up Hwy. 7 (St. Vrain Canyon) and down US-34 (Big Thompson Canyon) on our way to/from Rocky Mountain National Park.  We wanted to see what these newly-reopened highways were like.

With these excursions, we have now visited all of the reopened highways - including Golden Gate Canyon / Hwy. 46 and Boulder Canyon / Hwy. 119 - except for Coal Creek Canyon / Hwy. 72.  Of course non-highways such as Lefthand Canyon, James Canyon, and Buckhorn Rd. (Stove Prairie) are still closed, so we'll have to see what happens with these.

Here is the helpful Boulder County Cycling Closure map.  As you can see, even Coal Creek Canyon is closed and much of the Peak-to-Peak Highway:
The repair and reopening (ahead-of-schedule) of US-36 from Lyons to Estes Park was rightly heralded as an heroic effort by CDOT, the National Guard, and contractors.  Bad as though the damage to US-36 was, it looked like Hwy. 7 actually has more and longer repaired segments, and US-34 even more than that.  So, again an impressive effort and accomplishment.

Bikes are still prohibited in both canyons (as well as Boulder Canyon and on US-36), probably because there is a lot of road work and off-road work going on: e.g., rebuilding feeder roads to homes and other structures.  I haven't found out the plans for allowing cyclists later on.

Jersey barriers in St. Vrain Canyon
If the roads open to cyclists, on most segments which have been reconstructed, the road is narrower than before, with little or no shoulder. Many of these segments have jersey barriers rather than dirt shoulders, so cyclists really would have no place to go to evade problems or just get off the road. (The jersey barriers are there because they have only built up the road bed so wide, beyond which are sheer dropoffs, or cliff walls.)

Another curve in St. Vrain Canyon

The original shoulder width - St. Vrain Canyon
Above the canyons had less damage - Trail Ridge Road in good shape

In contrast to Hwy. 7, US-34 carries heavy traffic - comparable to US-36 - but has been much more safe / comfortable to ride than US-36 because of its ample shoulders. The new layout with narrower segments and jersey barriers changes that.

Big Thompson exhibits a swath of descruction - Pat Heller photo
This is in no way a criticism of CDOT or the contractors, who've made the compromises they needed to and provided a safe, well-engineered roadway for motorists on an ambitious schedule. Also, while the stretches of new asphalt are apparent, the underlying efforts are less obvious. In many places, contractors had to recreate the entire roadbed, to a depth of ten or twenty feet or more, judging from the scoured-away areas you can see on the opposite bank.

Big Thompson: the riverbed now a field of boulders and silt; houses perilously cling, or were swept away without a trace - Pat Heller photo
Brevets Impact
  • Drake Doubleback April 200k - Kersey Kick has been substituted.  Even assuming cyclists are allowed on US-34 by April, it would probably not be a very comfortable riding prospect.
  • Stove Prairie April 200k - Larimer County says the currently closed Buckhorn Road probably won't reopen until 2014.  When in 2014 is not clear.  So we may have to reroute.
  • 400k's, 600k's, and June 1000k - These three weekends of events in May and June are the most problematic, because it may not be feasible to use the roads they depend on: Lefthand Canyon (probably will open and be ok to ride), James Canyon (may not be), St. Vrain Canyon, Devil's Gulch (still closed at this point), and Big Thompson Canyon.  So new routes will likely be needed.
  • Golden Gate Gadabout July 200k - May require a change, or we use the Vail Pass Volley instead!
  • Peak-to-Peak 300k - Because of Big Thompson and Devil's Gulch, this route may need changing.
  • James Canyon Jaunt October 200k - We'll just have to see, but there are plenty of alternatives.
On the bright side, this may introduce some variety and novelty in our brevet routes.  All while we keep our mountain neighbors in our thoughts.


A footnote about Flagstaff Road (not used on rando routes, but just FYI) - Flagstaff Road reopened a couple weeks ago to the general public.  The only actual road damage (at least as far up as the amphitheatre) is near the base, just up from Gregory Canyon: most of the upbound lane has been washed away for 100 ft. or so, so it's one lane travel there, governed by a traffic light.  Elsewhere, considerable shoulder work has been done to remove excess soil in some places and replace dirt that washed away in others.

Update 30-Dec-2013
Now that the canyon highways have been reopened to cyclists, certain sections now bear this warning, such as here, at the top of St. Vrain Canyon, graced by Meeker Peak in the background. 
This particular section - between Hwy. 72 and Estes Park - seems odd, because it has little discernible damage, except for some dirt shoulder erosion near Longs Peak, and between this sign and Meeker Park, there's a full paved shoulder.
In other cases, only sections of canyons (e.g., Big Thompson) are signed with this warning.
 A reminder that some of these repairs are temporary, and work is continuing. 

For example, a short stretch of Hwy. 119 (Boulder Canyon) has been dug up for some road base repair.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Riding the New "Black Forest and Back" 209km Permanent!

On November 9, I tried out the new "Black Forest and Back" 209km Permanent.   It was a nice day, starting in the upper 30's and zooming up into the 60's under sunny skies.  With some wind, of course.
The route is pretty straight and straighforward, heading up from the Plains into more rolling terrain and then into some wooded areas at the turnaround, gaining 2,000 ft. along the way.
An early start heading out to Bennett, in the land of the flat horizons.
I head off into a moderate SE/SW headwind, the typical prevailing wind pouring off the Palmer Divide.

Kiowa-Bennett Road is now fully paved, but some sections are older and "wearier" than others, such as the Arapahoe County section out of Bennett.  (Still, very light traffic, and even the large ag trucks are polite.)

Outbound, Pikes Peak is a beacon from early on.

This section crosses gully after gully, reminiscent of Eastern Colorado on the Last Chance.

Through Elbert, the valley becomes more wooded and meadow-like, some of the most pleasant scenery of the route.  Black Forest 300k riders are familiar with this stretch.
 And yes, it's Pikes Peak again!

After transiting Kiowa and Elbert, we're turning west.  Here's Pikes Peak framed by a (pioneer?) cabin and a Manitou Springs streetcar, mysteriously relocated and juxtaposed.

On Hodgen Road, they've smoothed off a couple of the rollingest segments with cut and fill.  There's now a nice bike shoulder, and trees cut back from the shoulders.  This should provide a fire break, and more sun during icy times of year (an issue, if you believe the warning signs along this stretch).  The short but steep rollers impeded visibility, so this ought to be safer for everyone.
This new layout gives a park-like feeling (in contrast to the former "woody thicket" atmosphere characteristic of Black Forest).

 Our route traverses some of the severest burn sections from last summer's Black Forest fire.  This is the first time I'd seen this in person, and it made a strong impression.

Lots of cleanup, but still a lot of ashe and charcoaled trees, too.

Turning on Black Forest Road near the turnaround, a final glimpse at our friend, PP.

The Black Forest checkpoint is aptly named, and I had been looking forward to a BBQ sandwich for some miles. 
Ironically the real firehouse across the street is no more.  Only an empty lot strewn with straw and posted with neighbors' signs about the fire.

The way back reminds you of how evocative area this is, with big, old farms and ranches, like the Triple B. 
Downhill with a tailwind made the trip back more than hour faster than getting to Black Forest.
Nothing like that to put a smile on your face!
You just never know the connections you'll make. At a store in Kiowa, the checkout guy asked me about my jersey - turns out he used to live in Los Gatos, just down the road from Santa Cruz. What a change of scene for him this must be!
Driving back west into the sun, after a great ride of expansive terrain and quietude, it's been a good day.