Colorado’s Rocky Mountains hold a special place in the stories and history of the American West. Inspired both by his personal history and the history of the region, Mavic communications manager Zack Vestal imagined a long route through these mountains. Remembering a particular breakthrough ride 20 years ago, he planned another big ride, 230 miles in a single day. Now nearly 40 years old, he set out with the goal of expanding and exploring his limits of endurance. During one day last summer, he completed this memorable ride through the expansive terrain. Ride along by watching the film documenting the journey.
Starting from Buena Vista, Colorado, in the darkness of early morning, Vestal conquered Independence Pass, McClure Pass, the gravel roads of Kebler Pass, and at last the final ascent, Cottonwood Pass, before rolling back to Buena Vista to finish the 230-mile loop. Two of those passes (Independence and Cottonwood) cross the Continental Divide, and almost 35 miles of the route is on gravel road. Here’s what the ride looked like on Strava.
The ride started at 4:30 a.m. under the light of a full moon. Rolling out early was essential to minimize the risk of being caught by afternoon thunderstorms in the high mountains.
Twenty miles of tempo ridden by the light of a head lamp and the full moon, Vestal tried to get as far up the road as early as possible. Miles ridden before sunrise feel like a head start, giving an advantage on the entire route.
Sunrise on Independence Pass was one of the most memorable experience of a lifetime, warm sunshine cutting through the thin, cold air at 12,000 feet.
It was early afternoon by the time Vestal reached McClure pass. It’s not as high in elevation, but no less of a challenge, especially after 7 hours on the bike.
High up on Kebler Pass, the famous aspen tree forests are silent, save for the sound of the wind and wildlife.
Clouds building over Cottonwood Pass threaten cold wind, rain, and even hail. But fortunately they look worse than the weather they bring, and Vestal pedaled through nothing more than gusty wind and light rain to reach the summit.
Reaching the summit of Cottonwood Pass marks the second crossing of the Continental Divide, and a second trip over 12,000 feet. From here, it’s 20 miles all downhill back to the start of the ride in Buena Vista.
This little town at the heart of the Colorado Rockies is a gateway to the high mountains. This visit to BV is particularly sweet, because it meant Vestal was finally home after 230 miles, 16,000 feet of climbing, and 15 hours on the bike.