Mondays are usually pretty hard, even when the world hasn’t been turned on its ear. Most Mondays start off with getting up early to either pick my son up or drop him off for the week with his mom. Then somehow I find my way back to bed for a couple hours to make up for the sleep I missed the night before.
This Monday was going to be different. The plan was to drop off my son, get some coffee, and then drive up to Dillon, CO to ride my bike around the perimeter of Lake Dillon on some of the best paved bike paths in the state. Well, that was the plan. Even with half of a medium Americano in my system, I decided to lie down for twenty minutes. I woke up three hours later. On my new schedule of sleep and writing during these hot summer months, this was usual, but not for my plans to get off my butt and hit the trails on my bike.
For the next couple of hours, I waffled about what to do, and finally at 2pm, I decided there would still be plenty of light left for the trip. I loaded up my bike, plenty of water, and a modest snack before driving up to Dillon, a town which has captured the imaginations of people for decades. You see, the history of Dillon is fairly recent. It was once a prospecting town, until the City of Denver needed more drinking water (and water to blast onto Denver lawns to keep them green), so the town was moved and the ruins of it were flooded. The town now boasts a marina at 9,000ft above sea level, seven different nearby ski resorts to choose from in the winter months, and during the summertime all the things you would expect from a Colorado mountain town for outdoor entertainment. Boating, hiking, backpacking, biking, and drinking craft beers.
For the last few weeks, my son and I have been loading the bikes on the back of my Jeep and hitting the bike paths of Ft. Collins. The city has a network of beautifully kept trails that run through some beautiful neighborhoods. These paths are completely set apart from automobile traffic and riding them is like entering a secret world. The miles just melt away as you pedal adjacent to places you’ve stopped, but now you have this surreal shortcut that takes you behind the scenes and changes your perspective.
Last week, we did two bike rides. A ten miler on the Spring Creek Trail and a six miler on the Poudre River Trail. He has a single speed BMX bike and I have my $10 mountain bike I got at a police auction a few years ago. Since this whole pandemic, our opportunities to get outside and enjoy the outdoors have been limited. We’ve put on some weight, and our health isn’t what it was even a year ago. Say what you will about masks/no masks, the best way to fighting this virus is having a healthy immune system, and that means exercise, eating right, and reducing stress.
On the 10-miler, we really pushed the limits of our endurance, and at the end of it, we were happy, if not worn out. The butt callouses you need for longer bike rides had not been formed, and sad to say by the six mile trip, they still hadn’t. But both were easy flat rides. The ten miler was an exercise in accomplishment. The six miler ended with my son playing in the Poudre river, excited about maybe taking a tubing trip sometime this summer.
After dropping him off on Monday, I knew the rest of my day would be shot with missing him. Mondays are usually a waste, so I decided that I could push my own limits. Paved bike trails were a lot easier than I remember them being from when I was a kid doing 25 mile bike hikes as a Boy Scout. My former girlfriend and I used to talk about hitting the Dillon trail together one day, so I figured what the hell? Why let a detail like being single again stop me?
I arrived in Dillon at around 4pm and started the Dillon Lake trail at the Marina, taking the clockwise route. The first few miles were pretty easy, with the exception of not being able to keep track of the bike path very easily as it wound through the edge of town. Soon enough, I was on the path to Summit Cove. Beyond that just a few miles was the town of Keystone. The reviews of the path warned about Swan Mountain Rd. The first leg of the 2 mile climb which gives you an altitude gain of about 900ft. according to some sources.
It was disheartening to be passed by 70 year old grandmas on E-Bikes or middle-aged riders in their neoprene body condom bike outfits and $6,000 road bikes. My $10 is light, but it weighs as much as you can expect from a $10 bike. Which at one point felt like it had been constructed from the metal extracted from the heart of a dead star. My clothes are cargo shorts and a t-shirt, along with my Osprey Daylite pack and two quarts of water. I wound up walking the majority of Swan Mt. Rd. That little hill tried to kill me, I thought as I sat on the side of the road at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, the carbs of my lunch of pasta salad long gone, now being replenished by a mealy apple I had brought with me and the remainder of my bottle of bathwater temp water. By my estimate, I had only 12 more miles to go.
I pushed my bike up to Sapphire Point, where a bride to be was having her pictures taken. Her family milled around as families do on Monday evening weddings in their jeans and t-shirts. My efforts of pushing Frankenbike up the hill were rewarded in a terrifying descent down the back half of Swan Rd, where bikes have to share the county road with cars as you wind down the mountain to Frisco. Hitting speeds of probably around 40 MPH, I had to lay on my brakes for a lot of the ride down with the image of my bike dismantling itself at speed like a Buster Keaton gag, and my health insurance a distance memory. What had taken an hour to climb took about three minutes on the downhill side.
I pushed on with about 12 miles left of the trek and my legs already feeling like they were packed with lead weights. Continual motion, pumping those legs up and down got me through the miles. With around 8 miles left, my heart started beating irregularly; the telltale sign of a panic attack. It had been a while since I had one of those. I kept going, up and down little hills, along the flank of Lake Dillon, pushing past more marinas, beaches, and then the Dillon Dam road. With the Amphitheatre in sight, I dismounted and pushed my bike back to my Jeep, passing the Arapahoe Cafe on the way.
End of the trail
I grabbed my mask from my backpack and headed back down the hill. I could already taste the cold beer and burger on my tongue. I would be eating alone, but that is the way these trips go sometimes. At nearly 45 years old, I have a hard time finding people my own age who want to do trips like this or are even physically able to do it. I was feeling like the latter at this moment, unfortunately. All that bike pushing was sobering, especially when the Ft. Collins bike paths had lulled me into a false sense of security. I wondered how the 50+ year olds were able to cruise up that damned mountain, while I thought I was going to drop over more than a few times. Equipment probably had a lot to do with it, as well as being acclimitized to being at elevation. I had doubled my personal altitude for a late-afternoon bike ride.
I watched the sun set as I drank my Stem Cider and devoured my Bison Burger. I headed back home shortly after, feeling gassed from my ride and ready for a nap from the food. By the time I got home at about 10:30pm, I was exhausted. My mind hadn’t gone to the usual places that it does on Monday, and I was able to push my limits. That is, after all, the only way you are going to figure out just how far you can go, or how far you have come.
Mondays are usually a waste because of overthinking, but when I could only think of pushing on ahead, I didn’t have a lot of headspace to dedicate to that bad habit. I just had to keep going. I lived through it. And I’m better for it.
Am I going to be a competitive bicyclist? No. But its a good tool to have in your toolbox when you want to spend an afternoon doing something that keeps you active and challenges your brain and your body. I am a little more leary of reviews online that talk about how easy a trek like this is, however.
Where is this place?
If you are interested in the trek yourself, I recommend taking the path I did. The downhill side of Swan Mt. shares traffic with cars, which you will not want to do on an uphill climb for miles and miles. It’s also a little closer to the beginning of the trip, so you will still have energy to make that climb when starting from Dillon Marina.