Friday, June 13, 2008

Colorado Trip Planning

I'm bad. I spend about as much time planning a trip as I do on the trip. Anybody else guilty of this? About a month from now Dave Penney and I will head to Colorado. First up will be the Mt Evans Hillclimb Race on July 19. The race starts in Idaho Springs right off I-70, climbing from about 7500ft to 14,200ft. It is the highest paved road in the US.

Since the trip will primarily be a mountain biking trip, trail rigs will be pre-shipped out there. This means we'll probably be doing the hillclimb on rented road bikes. Haven't worked these logistics out yet. My philosophy on this is low landers are not going to be very competitive with the high altitude mountain goats from the Rockies, so why fret over having a perfectly dialed, gram shaving road bike? I'll save that for the Rock Pile in my neck of the woods. At most, a rented bike might cost a couple minutes and knock me down from 12th to 15th. BFD. The climb should take around 2hrs, 15min for me, 27 miles, almost all up. The decent is pure bliss, no brakes, except for the upper switchbacks where there isn't enough air to slow you down much.

There's been much debate over whether Mt Evans or Mt Washington is "harder." Mt Washington is certainly less predictable. Out of two July dates (Sat/Sun) and two August dates (Sat/Sun) last year, no race was held up Mt Washington due to weather. I think this might have happened once in 30+ years on Mt Evans. Like most Colorado climbs, Mt Evans is very gradual. I may want compact gearing, but not for the grade. I'll need it for going 40% of the way to space. That's right, at 14,000ft, you lose 40% of the oxygen. A 7% grade might as well be a 12% grade at New England altitudes. I won't have enough oxygen at 14,000ft to turn a modest ratio over at a decent cadence. Those that live at 7000ft will not have this problem. Some riders believe that these people carry the same advantage when they compete at sea level. They don't. The playing field is much more level. Sure, they can transport a little more O2 down here, but it makes a big difference at altitude where somebody like me will be O2 starved. It's a very asymmetrical problem. Mainly, it is just us that are disadvantaged at altitude.

Several people have asked why I would go to Colorado for a hillclimb if I don't expect to be competitive. It's simple. Like our Mt Washington, the Mt Evans climb has an air of mysticism about it, something like cult status in the fringes of the cycling community. I've biked Mt Evans once before on a mountain bike. Nearly had the mountain to myself since the upper gate was closed for the season. I shared the upper road with only a few other cyclists. Now I want to try it with 1200 cyclists on race day. Ought to be a festive occasion. Hope to see Ned Overend there kicking butt at 52 years old. If it weren't for a suspended doper, he would have taken the top podium spot on Mt Washington two years ago.

The real meat of the trip will be trail riding afterwards. Dave and I have sampled various parts of Colorado on previous trips, once together, other times on solo trips. We'll spend more days this trip and cover a bigger swath of SW Colorado and part of New Mexico. Here's a tentative list of what we plan to hit:
  • Monarch Crest Trail, Salida
  • South Boundary Trail, Taos, NM
  • Hermosa Creek Loop, Durango
  • Juncton Creek Loop, Durango
  • Colorado Trail, Molas Pass to Cascade Creek, Durango
  • Alien Run, Aztec, NM
  • Flight of Icarus, Fruita
  • Bookcliffs Trails, Zippity-do-da and Kessels Run, Fruita

End of July is a dicy time to ride in the Rockies. It's monsoon season, and in many parts lightning storms can pop up out of clear blue sky in less than an hour anytime after noon. You simply cannot be caught on an open ridgeline at 12,000ft. So rides will have to start early to finish before storms pop up. In June, some of the high altitude riding is still under snow. In September, early snow storms can shut you out. The riding season is a sliver of a window.


brent said...

I definitely spend more time planning trips and rides than actually riding. That's about 1/2 the fun for me! I couldn't possibly count the number of hours I've spent looking for big hills (by Rhode Island standards) using the terrain view on veloroutes. btw, do you happen to know what average/good times are for the western route up the kanc? I did it on Monday from Woodstock, and I'm wondering how good my climb was...

Hill Junkie said...

Brent- Planning is half the fun. I find when I finally get someplace new, it's almost as if I've been there already.

Last spring a few of us drilled the Kanc from the west, but none of us thought to time it. It was at the end of a long day. Not aware of anybody's time on this side. The other side has a TT each year, Crank the Kanc.

I dropped in on your blog. Great stuff there. And yeah, I need to update Big Blue to show only the access road. I guess I can relax my "rule" for 500ft min gain. I have yet to time myself on Big Blue. Your profile plots are awesome. What are you using to create them?

brent said...

the program for the plots is one of my own creation. It basically just parses a veloroutes gpx file and then draws a series of lines in the right place and (now) adds some color codes. It seems to run into problems with bigger climbs like mt. washington - partly because veloroutes usually shows huge (100% or more) spikes, and partly because I haven't quite figured out how to scale it properly. Once I get some of that worked out, I'll put the program up for anyone to play around with.

Hill Junkie said...

I would be interested in your program. I find detailing percent grade along a climb can be very sensitive to the elevation data map you use. Anything less than 500m distance becomes suspect, especially if you use public domain elevation data as many online route planners use. The USGS data set also has many discontinuities or gaps in data where quadrangles don't quite mesh well together.

The color profiles I've generated are quite labor intensive. I first profile the climb in DeLorme Topo 7.0, plot to bitmap image file, then use a MATLAB script I wrote to scan the image for profile info. I have to manually enter min/max elevation and terrain distance. Then, I manually select inflection points by which to break up the climb. I generally avoid any segments less than a few hundred meters or so, especially if I know they are suspect. I pick segments as you would feel or perceive them on the bike rather than periodic divisions like every 1km as the Euro folks tend to do. It can take 15 minutes to creat a single profile this way.

I like DeLorme's elevation data, as it is very fine resolution and rarely has any discontinuities in it. They must apply some type of smoothing/correction filter to the raw elevation data that others use.

I haven't thought about parsing a GPX file for profile generation. DeLorme didn't add GPX export until v7.0. Going this route might save me a bunch of time, as the bitmaps I scan in are not always consistently the same size and I have to manually enter quantitative figures. I scan the image only for the shape of the profile. The MATLAB script should become much simpler using GPX data. What I haven't figured out yet is a good algorithm to find the grade inflection points to color code. Perhaps you have some tips on that one.

Ryan Amirault said...

Hey Doug,

I love your site and blog, keep up the good work. I am originally from Massachusetts and now live in Colorado. I did the Mt. Washington hill climb in 2000 & 2001 and will be headed back there again this year. I must say that MW is certainly more difficult that Evans. I have done Evans probably a dozen time out here and twice already this year, with my third ride up it this weekend. You will certainly enjoy Mt. Evans in 2 weeks. My advice to you is to run a 34x25 on your bike and the altitude is certainly felt, so ibuprofen for me is a must so that I can actually see straight. The hardest part of Evans is from Summit Lake to the top. It gets fairly steep, but the altitude really kicks into full gear. Make sure you have some warm gear for the descent. We have had awesome weather so far this summer on Evans, but you never can tell.

Are you racing MW in August? We should meet up.

Ryan Amirault <--needs serious updating :)