On Monday, my wife said she needed to pick something up in Twin Lakes. I decided that if I was driving all the way out there, I might as well do something different.
I brought my rollerskis and set out on Highway 82, just passed the turn from Highway 24. Feeling surprisingly spry, I had the thought that I might try and just go all the way to the top.
The first five miles is a relatively flat half-circumnavigation of the lake in a run-up to the town of Twin Lakes. I had to go a lot slower than I’d hoped because the road quality was much worse than it appeared from the car. The shoulder isn’t smooth and contains a bevy of larger pebbles. Since the traffic wasn’t high, I spent a great deal of time just in the road, but the constant task of checking for cars from either end was an annoying chore.
Twin Lakes is right between mile-marker 80 and 79, which means I did about 4 miles worth of prologue. There are a few steeper climbs in the first three miles, but really, it’s shockingly gradual. The first 11 miles or so went by in roughly 70 minutes. I stopped for a swig of water from Christie, who was my SAG wagon.
I went another 3-4 miles before checking in with her again. This area, somewhere around mm 69, is where I skated to last year. I went up and down on that workout – doable even for a guy like me. I was feeling great, had exclusively double-poled to that point, and was confident about reaching the top.
I remembered how climbing IP from the Twin Lakes side usually meant fighting a slight headwind. To this point, I hadn’t felt much, but I could tell this would be a battle to fight in the next 20 minutes and on. What I forgot, however, was how IP really has a way of tightening the screws on people trying to climb by getting steeper and steeper as you ascend.
At Joanie’s Turn, the first switchback right before the stretch containing a sheer cliff dropoff, I received a warm cheer from a group of older passengers who had stopped to video tape the bizarre man in 1″ Swedish flag shorts and a matching Hoka One One singlet.
“I’m impressed,” a gal in the back, holding a phone out the side-window, said.
I thanked them and rounded the corner. Up ahead, I could see Christie parked precariously on the cliff edge, getting ready to film me. Right in front of her, a large moving truck was doing the unthinkable: backing up and turning around.
A man a few feet from his death, guiding the driver, as a pile up formed to wait for this anxious moment to pass. It did, right about as I churned up to the area. The grade here had noticeably increased, to the point where, if I was racing, I would have classic strode for sure. however, I wasn’t about to give up the DP attempt quite yet. I soldiered on.
Christie video-taped me going by and I didn’t stop. It was the last I’d see her until the top, which ended up really stinking from a hydration standpoint.
The last 3.5-4 miles was absolutely brutal. The steepest straightaway, right after seeing Christie, coincided with a stiff headwind. I stopped to rest twice in what was probably a 1200-meter section. I kept telling myself, if I could just make it to the next switchback, I’d get to the top. Plus, I figured Christie would be there waiting, as I recalled it being a much less sketchy pull out.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I reached the switchback and made the turn, the headwind morphing into a nice tailwind. The grade lessened slightly, too. Christie, however, was nowhere, and I knew then that something was wrong. Maybe Novi needed something and she just decided to get all the way to the top. She had been so gracious SAG-wagoning for me to this point, I could only be grateful.
In the moment, though, I was exhausted, super-thirsty, and kind of mad. What I had looked forward to as being the most awe-inspiring visuals of the entire journey became muddied by my lousy attitude. I stopped a few times to rest, classic strode, just to ruin my DP attempt out of spite (and my elbows were getting a little tight from the steep grade) and sat at the final, majestic switchback for 7 or 8 minutes, just because I figured Christie might be watching, and I selfishly wanted her to wander …maybe even worry…if I was alright.
That wasn’t super nice, I thought, and I started up again. A few minutes later, I was at the top, greeted by Ajee, Christie and Novi, who cheered for me. From start to finish, counting all of the stops, the 22-mile, 3,000-foot climb had taken almost exactly 3-hours.
A few notes for those wanting to try themselves:
- Not really worth it to start anywhere but Twin Lakes itself….
- I think, had I raced the 22-mile route, it is certainly possible to do in around 2:20-2:30, especially if one decided to classic stride a few really steep sections. I would guess starting in Twin Lakes, the 17-miler could be done in under 2.
- This is actually a pretty great climb and workout from mm. 79 – mm. 67/66. I even think going back down wouldn’t be out of the question, but I’d probably rather descend on my slower skate skis. The pavement is pretty nice, there’s a few run-out areas to check your speed, and if done on a weekday, especially in the fall, I bet there’s hardly any traffic from the Twin Lakes side.
- I’m curious if going up from Aspen would actually be faster. One reason: you get the Alpe d’Huez fan effect of all the hippies who drive up from Aspen just to see the top (this is actually I thing…every time I bike from that side, there are tons of kids, busses, you name it…). The other is the wind. The wind seems to blow up from the Aspen side and into your face on the Twin Lakes side.
I know this post would have been enhanced by pics, but seriously, if you read this blog enough, you know we’re terrible at that stuff….
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