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.


  1. But you did it, and got some beautiful photos, and know for sure that you’d rather ride tandem with Felkerino than solo with Rollins. 🙂

    There were many times along my ride where I found myself saying, “It’s okay to feel this way. It’s okay to not like “x”. It doesn’t mean I’m not a good cyclist. It means I have preferences and they’re okay to have!” For a long time when I was riding I thought I was supposed to be a particular “type”…and anything else was a failure.

    Remember your piece about not having to be “the image” but learning to love the reality? Yeah, this is one of those times …and in the write-up, you ROCKED this, Mary!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great job, Mary and Felkerino! Well, at least now you know what you’ve been missing taking those main highways. Grin. The back roads humble. Humble: of the earth, the clay. Strong, unassuming, unpretentious, confident, bold within one’s authority. Humble.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You shouldn’t be too heartbroken, just accept that it wasn’t meant to be a permanent thing. You were together for awhile and parts of that were good. You learned something about yourself, and that is even better.

    Thinking of building a tandem mtb. Will be headed out to Utah for the month of September. Not sure i can pull it together by then. And thank you for the post. The pictures are awesome, and hearing about your adventures is always a thrill.


    • True! In the end, a good experience, especially now that I’ve had a chance to rest and reflect. Good luck building up the bike!


  4. If Rollins Pass comes begging on its knees and promises it’ll never do it again, next time will be better, etc etc etc … just remember that’s how all abusive relationships go … (Great write up!!!).


  5. I think I can relate to your analogy with regards to your tandem as it’s a similar feeling I get with several of my bikes. In pursuit of ” the perfect bike ” I have a couple of tourers and three racers, two being Carbon fibre, but as much as I so much want to love the racers it’s the tourers where my love lies. Ok they’re not what you might call very sexy and when riding them those on CF sexy bikes whizz by without even a knod of their head but given how comfortable the tourers are I can live with that.
    And just like that boy friend who doesn’t quite steal your heart I am sure as your tandem experience will he,ll probably leave you with some happy memories.
    Still loving your reports and best wishes to you both.


  6. I read this account to John. Looked like a long day with far too many rocks. We were both impressed by so many rocks. Gravel riding looks like a piece of cake compared to Rollins Pass.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your NM to CO adventure! Sounds like it was a trip full of ups and downs (literally and figuratively), but I hope it is a trip you’ll remember fondly. It would’ve been nice to connect IRL while you were in Boulder, but I’m sure you had a tight schedule and were ready to head home (and I always seem to get to your posts a day or two after the fact, which doesn’t help matters). 😦

    Glad you both made it safely through and wishing you happy riding back at home! 🙂


    • G.E., I hope you read this… apologies for the delay in reply. It would have been wonderful to meet you! We’ll be back to Colorado, I’m sure, so I’ll ping you next time we are there. What a great state for riding and vacationing!


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