Photos & Article by Giancarlo Bianchi

It’s summer, and there’s record heatwaves everywhere. While in most places in the US, you pretty much just have to suck it up, here in Colorado we have the luxury of heading into the mountains to escape the heat. For every 1000 feet the temperature decreases approximately 3.3 degrees. So given that it was forecast to get well over 100 degrees on Sunday, Andrew Kruse and I finally decided to ride Rollins Pass. A ride we had been talking about doing for about 2 years.

What’s Rollins Pass?

Well, it’s a mountain pass that takes you over the Continental Divide. It starts off peak to peak highway in Rollinsville on the east side and spits you out in Winter Park, a ski town, on the west side. Steeped in history, this route is probably most well known for being an historic railroad route which was made obsolete by the construction of the Moffat Tunnel.

So what’s the big deal?

Well, Rollins Pass is one of those local bucket list kinds of rides. You know, the kind of rides that you [should] plan for, offers epic views basically the entire time, while you’re doing it you’ll keep asking yourself why [type A fun] but if completed successfully you’ll feel quite accomplished #DoEpicShit

It’s also a ride that you can only do about 2-3 months in the summer to complete it successfully, otherwise you might have massive snow banks blocking your path and/or run into very dangerous weather.

You know that saying, fail to plan, plan to fail? Well, Andrew and I decided to do the ride at about 7am day of (planned AF). He also invited local strong dude and friend, Jameson Ribbens. I didn’t bother to take a look at the route (though I should have). I also only packed a energy bar and ham and cheese sandwich, 1 bottle with nuun, 1 liter of water in my camelback and of course a beer.

The ride out of Rollinsville was basic enough, pretty standard Colorado dirt road, honestly something you can do on a road bike. Jameson didn’t ride on Saturday so we were at the mercy of his pace setting from the get go.

Oye! Tranquilo y Tropical bro! 

At about mile 5, we ran into a bike touring gang. Most of them were riding +tire bikes laden with gear. One or 2 of them were on proper fat bikes if I remember correctly. As we approached them, we waved and said hello, but then they started drafting us! The next few minutes became the strangest pace line I’ve ever been in. I mean, we weren’t exactly going easy, but they were keeping up with us, and then they began to set the pace too! One guy was even barefoot #patasucia #mindblown

After they tired we continued on and started the real ascent to Rollins Pass. Now this is about the place where I’d say if you didn’t have a mountain bike, then don’t go any further. While you might be able to make your way up on say, a gravel bike/cx bike, the way down won’t be very fun for you. The climb itself isn’t very difficult in terms of steepness, about 3% for about 12 miles (for my Miami peeps, that’s the same gradient of Key biscayne bridge), but what makes it challenging is:

1. Elevation: You start the climb at 9200 feet above sea level
2. The rocks: while nothing really that technical, the rocks range in size which makes it hard to really get in a groove while climbing.

So anyways, we began the ascent and it was pretty much views for days. When we finished the ride I realized I had taken over 80 photos! Somewhere along the way I asked Andrew, hey how many miles to the top?
“I’m not sure, I really didn’t look at the route.”
Uh oh, I thought to myself, and with no phone signal I couldn’t consult strava to quickly look this up. But we soldiered on. Jameson rode well ahead of both Andrew and I, while I dragged ass. Personally, I just find it pretty hard to ride hard at elevation, so I was definitely taking it pretty easy. We would regroup every now and then so that we wouldn’t get too separated from each other. #foreshadowing
At about mile 17 you pass Yankee Doodle Lake, silly name, gorgeous lake surrounded by wild flowers and waterfalls. I asked a guy touring on his motor bike how much further to the top, he said another 4 miles but that there was snow. Things might get interesting I thought to myself.

At about mile 19 you could see Needle’s eye tunnel. I vaguely remember seeing pictures of that thing and thought to myself, sweet! We made it, with that I found a bit more watts and made up some ground I had lost on Andrew and Jameson. This apparently is one of the three tunnels on this route. We passed the first one but I must have missed seeing it. The other one is on the west side of the route, which you’d only see if you rode from/into Winter Park.
We took a short reprieve, trying to figure out how to get around this thing. The tunnel itself was blocked off due to safety reasons. We discovered a trail of sorts that took you up and over, but it was pretty steep, the rocks and dirt was pretty loose and overall just sketchy AF. But what is an epic ride without a little adventure, am I right?
Jameson was the first to make it over, followed by Andrew and then me.

While I am not afraid of heights, I am afraid of mistakenly killing myself, so I took my sweet ass time traversing this “trail”. It did not help that my mtb bike weighs what felt like 100lbs (actually only 33lbs #armday) At one point I considering launching my bike down the mountain so I could get down faster. It also probably didn’t help that I was wearing stiff carbon soled mtb shoes with no cleats #pro
When I finally made it down the other side is when we realized we had somehow “lost” Jameson. With no cell service and no walkie talkies we pretty much had no way of reaching him. So we just resorted to yelling.
“JAMESON!!!!!!!!!!!! SON Son son”
But our yells quickly got lost in the wind. Note to self: use walkie talkies next time you do a stupid ride like this. Thankfully after about 20 minutes, he appeared, PHEW! I actually still don’t know where the fuck he went. Note to self: watch strava fly by later.

Once we regrouped, we pressed on. WHEN THE FUCK DOES THIS END?! Fear not, you’re only about 1.5 miles from the finish at this point. You ride over these two sketchy looking bridges with no guardrails to prevent you from falling to your death. Don’t look down! Seriously though, a train used to ride over this thing?! One little snowbank blocked our path but it was pretty tame and boom! We made it. We took the obligatory “let’s smile for social media even though we hate life right now” photo op by the Rollins Pass sign.
I then decided that I didn’t want to wait around much longer to take it all in. Some ominous clouds were rolling in and all I had on was my castelli san remo #aeroiseverything (I am kidding). Remember what I said about temperature difference at elevation? Well it was in the 60s at the top and when we started it was around 70-80. Before I left Andrew and Jameson, I asked, are we going the same way back?
Responded Andrew. Ok great, I wanted to get a head start cause I really suck at mtbing and didn’t want to hold these guys up too much. I reached the sketchy ass trail that takes you up and over needle’s eye tunnel and started my hike a bike. Halfway up I realized I was in trouble. How the fuck am I going to do this? Then I hear a voice, “why didn’t you go the other way?”
I look up and see Andrew above me. There’s apparently another trail I could have taken that was a bit easier, a bit less life threatening. “Well shit man, I don’t know where the fuck it is, can you help me?” Taking turns pulling up my bike we made it over. Then we started the way down. I quickly got gapped here. I looked down the switch backs and could see Jameson down the road. Jesus! I am horrendous at this mtb shit I thought to myself. So I quickly crossed myself, and just started bombing down this fucking road. All I could hear in the back of my mind was Andrew telling me a couple of months ago, “That bike can do more than what you’re letting it do.” and well, he was right. Let go of the brakes, shift your weight back and fucking roll.
Near the end of Rollins Pass road, I saw Jameson, but he was riding back up, very slowly. I came to a stop and realized something was wrong. Andrew wasn’t with him and I couldn’t yell back to Jameson to ask what had happened. I decided it best to stay put. I looked at my phone and was shocked how late it was. At some random points throughout my ride, I would get messages from my wife which went from, “Hey babe, how’s it going?” to “I have no idea where you are, I hope you’re ok” …no bueno.
I ate the last* bit of my sandwich and drank the last bit of my water in the camel back. After about 5 minutes I see Andrew and Jameson rolling down together. Andrew then tells me that he waited for me but that I had somehow took a shortcut and completely passed him. So this time, it was me who had gotten lost.

Ok, so now we were all together and safe, PHEW! Now to get back to fucking civilization. So I started just smashing watts on the road back into Rollinsville and of course Jameson was game. We averaged 21 mph for 8 miles, not bad for mtbs right? Once back I called my wife, assured her I was ok and then drank that beer I had in my backpack. Yum, warm beer!


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