Nothing beats waking up in the morning and hearing a slow-moving musical symphony conducted by a clear mountain stream. At first, as you gain consciousness from a good night’s sleep deep in an aspen grove, you might hear a few birds chirping. Next, as your brain clears, you hear water rushing over rocks and branches. Subsequently, you open your eyes to bright sunshine gleaming into your tent. Nature’s soothing hand gladdens your spirit in a comforting melody. The waters dance through your mind in a melodic and mystic reverie. Whatever direction your life takes you, the harmonies of a stream carry, pull and guide you back to center, to peace and to a spiritual tranquility in every cell of your body.
After awakening, I heard my friends unzipping their sleeping bags as they prepared for the coming day. Adventure always calls to the next moment, the next event, the next challenge. It never tarries with yesterday. Adventure awaits no man or woman. The word’s origin stems from Middle English, and means: “bold and unusual undertaking;” “risky task.”
We launched ourselves up Vail Pass.
Mother Nature knew how to put on an art show! On our left, gold, red and burgundy aspen leaves. On our right, shimmering burnt orange shrubs from ground brush. Ahead, blue sky backing up the golden aspen. Alongside, the river splashing downward.
We followed switchbacks until we reached Vail Pass at 10,500 feet.
After an 18-mile downhill, Vail’s town center offered flower boxes in every window, fountains, statues and restaurants.
Later, we cranked those pedals up Battle Summit Mountain. We started at the Eagle River to see it slowly fade below us.
At the top, Robert Montgomery decided to let our camp spot “reveal” itself. We cut off the road, down a path with a stand of aspens, to a ledge on the edge of a cliff. As we sat there eating dinner, the sun dropped lower in the sky, which changed the golden aspen leaves to many different shades. The valley below us dropped over 2,000 feet to the Eagle River. We sat on our camp seats watching the grand drama before us, both high on the mountain peaks and below us in the deep valley.
The next morning, it was an amazing sight to watch the sun rise over the mountains. Once over the peaks, it sprayed light downward into the deep canyons. As we watched it, we enjoyed a spectacular light show from many different angles. As we looked into the sun, it backlit the changing leaves to make them resemble golden lightbulbs.
From Camp Hale, we climbed to the top of Tennessee Pass at 10,424 feet.
Riding south on Route 24, Mount Elbert jutted into the sky at 14,455 feet, the tallest mountain in Colorado. We rolled along the entire chain of mountains until we reached the highest city in America: Leadville, at 10,152 feet. Its 1880 brick buildings lined Main Street. They housed hotels, saloons, shops, liveries, barbershops and the Tabor Opera House.
After eating lunch, we rolled along the Arkansas River to the Route 82 cut-off to Aspen. We found a spot near Twin Lakes to camp.
Next morning, I said, “Let’s get ourselves up that pass.”
We mounted the bikes with golden leaves lining the roadway. At that moment, we pedaled up the valley near the river. With each passing mile, we continued our climb out of the woods and into mountain tundra. At the top, we strolled around and pulled on more layers to keep warm in the cool wind at the top of Independence Pass at 12,095 feet.
Ahead of us was 18 miles of coasting through paradise. Whatever it took to pedal our butts up that mountain, our minds relayed to our bodies that we were about to coast downhill for 18 miles of something akin to the Coney Island Rollercoaster. We coasted through tight mountain curves, long sweeping avenues of splendor and a reintroduction into the pines along the road. Soon, golden aspen exploded in front of us.
Upon reaching Aspen, we found ourselves in the middle of an arts and crafts festival. After enjoying the festival, late in the afternoon, we followed Maroon Creek Road that led 13 miles upward to the fabled Maroon Bells.
You don’t want it to end. You want it to keep going because you feel so good inside your heart. You love pedaling along without a care in the world.
Two hours later, we reached the lake reflecting the stunning 14,000-foot peak of three Maroon Bells. They tip slightly as if eternally ringing. A slight snow accented their uppermost elevations. They profiled a cobalt sky. The sun hung off the very top peak. As we stood there on the lake, golden aspen groves swept up the right side of the valley.
“Well boys,” I said, “it doesn’t get any better than this.”
After a half hour of walking around, talking to tourists and watching the sun go down—we mounted the bikes for the 13-mile downhill coast back to Aspen.
“Let’s head ’em up and move ’em out,” I said. “Life is good!”