Winter Park to Boulder via Rollins Pass
Have you ever dated someone you knew in your heart wasn’t for you, but they had potential and you wanted it to work?
A thrill coursed through you every time you looked at them.
You tried hard. When you spent hours together it started out awesome, but as time passed you always ended up arguing, until you eventually resigned yourself to the fact that you weren’t meant to be together.
After 11 days of riding between Albuquerque and Boulder, yesterday’s climb up Rollins Pass on our tandem felt like a dysfunctional relationship. In part this was due to our weariness from the accumulated miles of the last couple weeks, but I know that I tried to make Rollins Pass something that it wasn’t.
It’s silly to be saddened by a ride that didn’t go as hoped, but all the same I am. Rollins Pass never presented itself as anything other than what it is – a rocky beast that ascends to over 11,700 feet. A rough and tumble ascent from Winter Park with an even rougher descent before connecting with the main road that leads into Boulder.
I let all of Rollins Pass’s positive qualities beguile me. Silent riding off the highway. Panoramic views. Blooming high country flowers against a backdrop of snow-patched peaks. Our tandem belongs here, I convinced myself. I belong here.
The initial miles lulled me. Not too bumpy, not outrageously technical. On occasion, a stray rock would bounce the bike but nothing too awful. The summit neared, and cascades and wildflowers gave the climb an almost innocent appearance.
Then more rocks. A snow patch. The vertigo-inducing trestles followed by a hike-a-bike over the closed Needle’s Eye Tunnel and another short snow patch. And rocks. And rocks. And rocks.
We exchanged our 35 Clements for burlier 42s in Winter Park, but swapping tires could not transform our Co-Motion Java tandem with no suspension into a worthy companion for Rollins Pass.
Our stilted descent down the mountain humbled me more than any ride in recent years. Felkerino and I herked and jerked our way over the rough road surface, sucked it up over four flats in the span of two miles, and drained over 5 hours to ride 35 miles.
The mountain didn’t want us to depart quickly, sending us mixed messages through flat tires and the weather. At various points thunder sounded and clouds moved in, but no rain fell. Then the sun would pop out, as if to encourage us to linger.
We persevered and, except for one weepy moment from me when a rock threw the bike into a big fishtail, kept our wits about us. Felkerino was fast with our flat fixing and eventual tire change. (Thank goodness for bringing along those extra tubes and tire.)
The road surface mocked us as the clock ticked the hours away. Why is this all so hard? Why can’t we make Rollins Pass work?
I was a poor match for Rollins Pass, which is better paired with single mountain bikes and more seasoned off-road riders accustomed to rolling their way over rocky stretches.
Felkerino and I gave it our best shot. We tried to make it work, and we did manage to go up and down the pass together (and not fall), which I see as some kind of accomplishment. However, it was at the limit of my tandem skills, and I’m not willing to trade in the tandem touring we’ve been doing for another kind of riding.
Rollins, you’re forever imprinted in my memories. I’ll never forget your stunning mountaintop views and our immersive, if not maddening hours together.
You thrilled me while you cracked my heart and injured my pride. For now, let us agree – we should probably go our separate ways. Probably.