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Pikes Peak
Extremely Long and Incredibly Close
What's it like to pedal 7,710 vertical feet to the summit of Colorado's Pikes Peak? Our correspondent set off to find out whether it's the hardest fun thing you can do on a bike, or the most enjoyable dumb thing. If she can reach the top, she just might get to the bottom of it.
ByEvelyn Spence
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I will not fail.


I will not fail.


I cling to that phrase, that monosyllabic mantra, at 12,000 feet, where the sign reads Timberline. I am above Glen Cove but still below something called the Devil's Playground, and up here where the boulders are red like Mars and even the brown grass can't catch enough of a breath to grow, I'm flailing. I'm doing everything you're not supposed to do when you climb hills on a bike: swaying back and forth like a heavy mast, straining to maintain a cadence in the upper 40s, feeling my heart jackhammer in my ears, all while going a mere 3 miles per hour. Over my left shoulder, down below and foreshortened the way only enormous mountains can foreshorten things, are switchbacks piled on top of each other like the coils of a snake. Ahead of me, a man stopped on the shoulder rests his head on his handlebar, his body heaving. Just beyond him, where pewter storm clouds smudge the sky, the road turns and becomes steeper.


I came here to ride up Pikes Peak, the Colorado giant that tops out at 14,110 feet. But for the first time in my life as a longtime athlete and sometime perfectionist, a life of ticking off some fairly challenging endurance events, I'm ready to give up, U-turn, blow it off. The feeling of disheartenment, with almost 6,000 feet of climbing already behind me, comes in amplifying waves.


As I prepare to pull my bike to the shoulder, where the grade tips up to a soul-crushing 12 percent, I console myself. There is historical precedent here. In 1806, Zebulon Pike, an army lieutenant, tried scaling the peak and was turned back by huge snowdrifts some 4,000 feet below the summit. And they named the mountain after him, right?


But just as I can barely keep going, I can also not quite get myself to stop. I stand on the pedals. After a few revolutions, I sit back down. Still creeping forward, I choke down two energy gummies and imagine they're made of EPO and fortitude.


I will not fail?


Okay, I might fail. But maybe not for the next 50 feet.


The road up Pikes Peak makes 162 turns on its way to the top. That's almost as many twists as my life as an athlete has taken to this point. I won my first and only national championship at age 10, running the leadoff—in white tube socks pulled to my knees—on a 4x100 relay team. My father called me Bread-Truck Blitz—because of, yes, how quickly I could move my buns. My CV indicates I was a fast-twitcher: I played soccer seven days a week until I was 18, then abruptly quit, citing burnout but hiding the fact that I'd reached the point at which raw talent wasn't enough to make up for my allergy to increasingly harder work. Or at least that's what my dad seemed to be saying, the disappointment in his eyes as clear as the sky.


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This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the leisure here! Keep up the good work. I have been meaning to write something like this on my website and you have given me an idea. Wedding Ideas
This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the leisure here! Keep up the good work. I have been meaning to write something like this on my website and you have given me an idea. Zynga Poker
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I love this article. I have read it before, about a year ago when I first got into cycling again, and it means a lot more now because I understand the pain of a lot of successive hill climbs. This story is inspiring because I also don't set my goals too high because then I don't feel bad if I don't meet them, and this story inspires me to set my goals higher because you don't know what you can do until you really go for it and once you're there you can't quit. It pushes you to realize your real potential. Hopefully someday I can ride Pike's Peak!
Great read. The mind definitely plays tricks on you when you're grinding those gears up hills. My stinkin' thinkin' always inhibited me, but my cycling buddies would have none of it. Their encouragement helped me break through to my best year...with plenty of climbing and fantastic descents.
Evelyn, your article inspired me to finally tackle Pike's Peak. Was in Colorado Springs recently on business and figured I'd give it a go. I live in LA and am used to sea level rides along PCH and local climbs in the San Gabriel and Santa Monica mountains. Didn't realize how wicked things get over 13K. I was a blubbering wreck when I got to the top. That last 4 miles was as tough as anything I've ever ridden... But I'm so glad I did it. Thanks Evelyn for your engaging, honest approach to your ride, it really captured the dimension of this horribly wonderful experience.
Haleakala is much harder, with much more elevation gain. I'm also a little put off by the constant self-doubt---the questioning of getting there, rather than enjoying the challenge. I'm also a *lot* put off by the drama-drama of it all. Go ride. Stop complaining. Enjoy the ride.
Great story Evelyn. We usually have the same experience on one of our most epic stages, 82 kms of climbing, from 700 mts (2100 ft) way up to 14.000 ft in one of our tours. Feeling breathless exhausted and having to keep on going is an amazing experience! Bear with the pain and it's a live changing experience.
...except for one day per year, and you have to pay 75$ and start at 6:30am. Also they changed the start so the elevation gain is about 4900ft. Finally everyone has to summit by 9:30, so you no longer have time to take many breaks.
This article is one of my all-time favorite pieces from Bicycling magazine. Wonderfully written, honest and expressive, it perfectly captures the essence of climbing for me. My favorite thing about it, though, is its near total gender neutrality. Minus a couple of pronouns, one would have no idea whether it was written by a woman or a man. I love that! It is just about the ride. Thank you and well done! I hope to give the ride a shot someday.