Boulder to Crested Butte, CO - 1992

In 1992 I got the idea to tour the brewpubs in central Colorado. The plan was to go from Boulder to Breckenridge, to Crested Butte, to Aspen, and back to Boulder. In August I finally gave it a go. Unfortunately, a number of factors prevented me from completing my intended circuit (knees, time, knees, weather, and knees). I decided to cut the ride short in Crested Butte (Aprox. 250 miles). My intent is to document the route in case others find it useful.

This was a good way to break in my new bike. My Bridgestone MB-6 was stolen in July and about 5 weeks later, with the help of insurance moneys (the bike was stolen from my house), I was able to move up and get an MB-3. The trouble was that when I left I hadn't ridden in over a month.

I carried a tent, sleeping bag, and pads. The complete list is attached to the end of this article.

I've also appended a summary of mileages and elevations along the route.

Cottonwood Pass

Bicycle Travel Stories Page


DAY 1 - (Monday) Boulder to Empire (56 miles)

After stopping at the grocery store for a small breakfast I was away at about 11:00 AM. I headed south on Highway 93 to Golden. This road is in much better shape than it has been in the past. There is a decent shoulder along most of it, but still a few spots that have NO shoulder. The road is manageable and has a generous mix of hills and flats.

Just before getting to Golden I felt an odd bump in my rear tire. My first thought was a flat, but that wasn't it. After careful inspection I found a 3/4 inch roofing nail sticking into the tread diagonally (not straight in). With a little effort I pulled it out. No flat. Amazing. (Specialized Crossroads II tires.)

The first intersection in Golden is highway 6. Highway 6 is a two lane road (the "old" road) that goes all the way to Idaho Springs and beyond. Bicycles are prohibited on this stretch of highway 6 due to the narrow tunnels.

A couple that I saw on the way (he towing a Burley with supplies) and later in Idaho Springs said that they had followed it anyway. A few truckers had hollered at them, but that was about it.

The intersection with highway 6 is about 20 miles from south Boulder. The "correct" route is to go straight through this intersection, through another one, and take a right turn at the third to go towards interstate 70. This turn is marked. After riding uphill through a condo development you make a quick left then right hand jog through a squirrelly intersection, then a short (less than mile climb) to the intersection with highway 40.

I was unable to find a map that clearly showed the route to Loveland Pass. I guess the service and frontage roads pale next to the mighty Interstate 70. That's part of my reason for documenting this route. It is a little unclear in spots.

I-70 is off limits to bicycles except in a few necessary spots. Bicycles must take highway 40 which parallels I-70 for about 25 miles before it swings north up to Winter Park. The turnoff onto highway 40 is just north of the turnoff to I-70. There's a small gas station/convenience store a quarter of a mile up that is a good place to take a breather (nearly 23 miles from south Boulder).

My girlfriend had given me a bag of "Brownie Bites" and I fueled up on a couple of them between Boulder and this store. There wasn't much good food at this stop, but being the only place, I had a hot dog (taking my chances) some potato chips (Mmmmmm....salt) and fruit juice.

The next 5 miles to Genesee were a hard and constant climb. If you look up to the left when you get there, across the interstate, you can see the modernistic house that Woody Allen used in the movie "Sleeper." This was a deceptively steep climb. The grade is not apparent from the lay of the land.

At this point you get onto I-70 for a mile or two (there's no sign prohibiting bicycles) and get off at the El Rancho exit (you'll see the sign prohibiting bicycles just past the exit). There is a great little convenience store at El Rancho.

The weather had been overcast all day. A low threatening, ceiling. It looked miserable. I was expecting rain at any time. In El Rancho a few big drops came down so I put my tent, sleeping bag and pads into garbage bags, put the rain covers on my panniers, and put on my nylon rain jacket.

It's another 12 or 13 miles to Idaho Springs. This section of 40 is well removed from I-70. There are actually a couple of downhills mixed with a steady gradual climb. It was scenic and enjoyable.

Once in Idaho Springs I headed for the tourist center (about 3/4 mile into town). On the way I passed a sign at a motel that said "1 double bed: $26.11." I was tempted. But I was tented.

A very helpful, elderly gentleman at the visitor center gave me advice as to where to camp. "Go on to Empire, which is on highway 40 one mile northwest of I-70 [a mile out of the way]. From there it's one more mile to a free 'government' campground. Don't forget to sign the guest book."

"Great. Thanks."

I stopped at the grocery store for an afternoon snack, the night's dinner (sandwich, chips, apple, and milk) and tomorrow's breakfast (o.j., banana, and the rest of the milk). It began to rain, so I waited it out since it appeared it wouldn't last long. Some guy walked by and said, "I guess the roof leaks on that thing, huh?"

"Huh? ..... Oh, I get it. Hardee har."

[I saw the couple that had taken highway 6. They were going to stay in Idaho Springs and climb Mt. Evans the next day.]

The rain ceased and I commenced. At the west end of Idaho Springs (the "end" of Idaho Springs) you take the left fork, under the interstate that's marked Stanley Rd. This is one of the nicest (easy and pretty) stretches of the day.

Empire is about 12-13 miles out of Idaho Springs, past the little trailer park called Lawson. There's a steep half mile (7% - 8%) into Empire. At a small market, that's open until nine on weekdays and midnight on weekends, I bought some beers and asked the woman where the campground was. She said that about a mile out of town there was a private (you pay) campground. When I asked her about the "free" camping she said I'd have to go a couple of miles further.

I rode on. I'd been dodging the rain successfully all day. I'd been in some light drizzles, but I hadn't gotten wet ..... yet. About a half mile from the private campground I was deluged. I pulled out my one gallon, heavy duty freezer ziplocs, put them over my shoes and kept going. A fella in a pickup truck stopped, turned around, came back, and asked me if I needed a ride. I'd already decided to make for the nearest campground and said "no thanks. I'm just going a half mile more, but thanks anyway."

It was a little after seven and the grey weather made it darker than usual. The manager of the campground (Mountain Meadows) said the Arapahoe forest campground was another 3 miles down the road and that he gave a slight discount for bicycles. I took it. It cost me $11.40 with tax. The advantage over a free campsite was that it was right here and it included an indoor bathroom and hot showers ($.25 for each 5 minutes).

I set up my tent, ate my simple dinner, showered, beered, and went to sleep. It only rained one more time and I'd set my tent up in the clear, out from under the trees, so I wouldn't hear latent rain drops hitting the tent all night. I was just close enough to highway 40 that I awoke a few times during the night to the sound of passing vehicles. I don't know if they woke me or they just happened to go by when I was already awake.

I'd gone 56 miles and was at about 8600 feet. That's 3,000 feet higher than where I live, but from the pain in my rib cage as I made that last climb to Empire I'm sure I'd climbed more than that during the course of the day.

The day before I had entertained the notion that I might be in Breckenridge this night. I felt like laughing at the fool who thought he could make it to Breckenridge in one day, ... but it hurt my rib cage too much.

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