Updated: Jun 12, 2020
The final registration day for The Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb- First Ever E-Bike Exhibition Ride, found my children and I traveling back home from Cortez, Colorado with three e-bikes loaded in the back of my Chevy truck. While visiting my dear family we ended up putting together three bikes for my budding e-bike rental business. I was hemming and hawing about entering the race as we hit the wide open prairie outside of Alamosa. As I made my nervous and uncertain monologue listing off all the daunting stats of the 12 mile ride up America’s Mountain...
My three kids enthusiastically exclaimed, “C’mon Mom! You can do it!”
I protested for awhile longer, hesitated briefly and then finally said, “Ah, what do I have to lose, let’s do it!”
I handed the phone to my eldest daughter and she registered me for the event scheduled a mere five days away.
I had not rode my traditional bike let alone an e-bike much all summer and so I was not in great condition. I was anxious all week and thought I might have to pack a second battery to make the climb. I rode one of my Cruiser e-bikes to and from work on Thursday. As I made the steady and then steep couple miles up to my home I was not confident this bike would summit Pikes Peak. It climbed the mountain with relative ease, but too much battery was consumed. I could not lean into the pedals to compensate for the battery use either. I had to make it up 12 MILES of uphill ascent! The next day and the day before the race I rode a Mountain Bike E-Bike, (one assembled in Cortez) and I just knew I would stand a chance on this bike.
I told Dad, “Yeah, I don’t think I will have to pack another battery. I think I can do it. If I stay low in the battery assist and low in my gear and pedal as steady as I can... I think I will make it.”
He agreed, “Fate favors the bold!” he hollered excitedly!
I smiled and told him I would see him early in the morning and headed off to continue preparations. I packed the bare essentials, which actually was an awful lot compared to the streamlined and sleek traditional cyclists.
We all woke with our alarms too excited to even consider hitting the snooze button. I made myself a couple pieces of toast slathered with almond butter, drank a liter of water with apple cider vinegar, sat and listened to my favorite inspirational YouTube video and finally dressed for the bike ride up Pikes Peak. We loaded up and arrived to Mile Marker 7 at around 5:30am. I started feeling a little out of place, because my whole damn bike was shockingly HUGE compared to the sly and svelte bikes and for that matter the cyclists too! No one looked at us four e-bikers and if they did it was a brief sideways glance. But I was all smiles. I just decided I was going to be there and there was no other place to be.
We were the first to start. We lined up and took off at exactly 6:13am. My pit crew of young children, really the only children present were so excited and waved us off with enthusiasm!
We easily started rolling. We happily smiled at each other remarking how beautiful it was as the rising sun started to illuminate our path more and more. Then the four of us started drifting apart after about only a mile. It was soon clear this was not going to be an easy race. One man pulled away ahead fast right out of the gate. The other two men were not too far ahead of me, I could still see them for another mile, but soon I was left behind. The last I saw of my fellow competitors for most of the race was when my other teammates pulled away and passed the first rider. I thought I would probably be the last one to reach the top, because of several considerations. I was the only woman, two of the four of us were in really good riding condition, (I wasn't one of them) and the others had more powerful bikes. However, I just pressed on.
I started to look around and it was just so incredibly beautiful. The wet spring and summer made it just that more exquisite. I found myself wishing I could stop to take pictures and enjoy the scenery more too, but we were in a “race.” It actually wasn’t a race, but an exhibition ride and yet you couldn’t help but feel pushed to give it all you had!
My good friend before I left for the start told me jokingly, “Now just don’t let one of these guys pass you!"
He was referring to the traditional cyclists and as I kept climbing up the mountain only 3 or 4 miles in I estimated (I had forgotten to reset my odometer to 0, and so I wasn’t entirely certain how far I had traveled), but it could be very possible for the extremely in shape, amazing athletes to catch me!
I just pedaled on, trying not to think about it though. I needed to keep my own pace and not lose my breath. If you do, you send your body and mind into unnecessary stress and you can’t keep your cadence. I believe many people probably think e-biking is easy and you can just cruise on up, similar to a motorcycle ride. This however, is not the case. All of us didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t even really know how to ride up the beast of a mountain. As I climbed I realized if I increased my battery assist to make it easier on me, my battery started going down too fast. So, I had to keep low in my assist and low in my gears so I could pedal the extremely heavy 80 pound e-bike up the mountain. Since the bicycle is so heavy, you have to have battery assist, especially going uphill. The e-bike I rode had 5 levels of assist I stayed in 2 and 3 the whole way, and never went into 4 and 5. I pedaled the entire time.
After awhile of riding I noticed I still hadn’t passed the treeline. I started wondering how much farther I had to go to reach just the halfway mark. Soon though I had a distraction from my worry of not even making it halfway. I saw the man who raced out in front right in the beginning and bragged about his bike at the start line.
As I passed him I asked, “Are you alright?”
He replied, “Yes, I’m just trying to catch my breath.”
I thought to myself, no kidding! This is no joke! But instead I just replied, “Yeah, hang in there!”
I kept pedaling with a renewed sense of feeling like I belonged in the race. A few more miles after passing the man I finally saw the first rest station.
I rolled up and asked the girl breathlessly, my legs and arms were shaking as I grabbed a cup of water, “So how far have I gone?”
She smilingly replied, “You are halfway! You’re doing great!”
I responded by repeating her, “HALFWAY! Oh wow, I am so glad, but I still have quite a ways to go! How long ago did the men ahead of me come by?”
She answered, “Oh, actually only about 5 minutes or so! Keep it up, you can do it!”
I stood straddling my bike, ate a small portion of a banana and drank one more cup of water. We chatted back and forth and she and another man asked me questions about my bike. I quickly told them it was an electric bike and that yes indeed I had to pedal very much in order to make it to the top on my one battery. I then thanked them and waved as I pushed onward and upward.
The twists and turns of the road become even more exaggerated and it is quite a feeling as you start to rise above treeline. The expansive horizon and speckled city below is amazing! I took out my phone and took a bit of video and snapped one picture, but this took a lot of energy and I wished I had a GoPro instead. I put away my phone and started to get serious.
The road demanded it even more now! I kept my head down and focused on my breath and thoughts. I thanked my bike, I thanked my legs, I thanked so many people in my life and how I was where I was now. I really enjoyed experiencing the mountain for the majority of the time, all alone... watching my thoughts and the environment pass by in unison almost dreamlike.
I however, also started to think I was actually being quite a baby really! I thought about the people and horses who actually spent long hard days building the Manitou Cog Railway in the late 1880’s and then the Pikes Peak Highway itself in 1915! It just really blew my mind as I meandered along the unbelievable road. It amazes me how everything really starts with a thought! People like Simmons, Hulbert, Baxter, Penrose and countless others all had to think about and then actually create a way to get people to the incredible heights of Pikes Peak!
It is otherworldly and dizzyingly spectacular! I looked out to the east over Colorado Springs. The rays of the rising sun beamed out from the clouds above the horizon and I thought about the name the Utes gave this mountain, Tava, meaning “Sun Mountain.” The Utes called themselves Tabeguache, “People of Sun Mountain.” I liked that, “Sun Mountain!” It is a venerable, constant and ancient over-looker of us Colorado Springs inhabitants, and the sun does make it gleam a beautiful pink when it reflects off of the rocky, barren peak.
I also started to notice the small, fluffy marmots on the side of the road. Several of them just sat there watching me in parade-like style, the only spectators to my ascent. I saw them in my periphery, periodically dart in and out of the rugged rocks throughout my ride above treeline.
The road kept winding around and around. Every now and then I would tilt my head up and I could see turns after turns stacked on top of each other, just out of reach for what seemed forever. I slowed to about 6-7 miles per hour during my trek through Double Cut and Devil’s Playground. I was trying to keep up in the 8-9 mile per hour range. I couldn’t sustain a faster time without upping my battery assist and I still had many miles to go. I just did the best I could.
As I was looping around I saw one of my fellow e-bikers and couldn’t believe my eyes! I pedaled harder trying to catch him. I eventually did!
I hollered out, “Hi!! I didn’t expect to see you!”
He replied a little disheartened, “Yeah, I think my battery is going out.”
I responded, “Oh no! Well I am glad to see you! Pedal on!”
I kept on too, and soon was starting to come out of all the hard switchbacks. Then I saw the last rest station! I could not believe it!
I rolled up again showing everyone I was not simply sitting on a bike, but rather was working awfully hard. I grabbed a cup of water and asked, “So how much further now?!”
The attendant replied, “You are only 5 kilometers from the top! You are doing it!”
I sheepishly smiled, “So my brain can’t think right now, how far is 5 kilometers in miles?”
He laughed, “It’s okay! The air is pretty thin up here! Only a little over 3 miles to go!”
I looked down at my screen and saw I had three bars left of battery!
I yelled out, “Wow! I think I am going to make it!! I got to go! Thank you! Bye!”
I took off pumping like I was a regular cyclist. I moved like I knew what I was doing and had done it a million times before. My body and my mind was on a high of adrenaline and I was so excited to see the top! My mantra was now, “I am doing it! I am doing it! I am going to make it!”
There was nothing to stop me. I realized it was quite pertinent I had heart reflectors on my spokes, because that was really what was getting me up the mountain. It was all heart! And I suppose some good legs too that could be even better if I had trained. I flew down the first of the only two downhills in the race reaching about 30 miles per hour, still pedaling to reach that speed. I started climbing again and came around a bend and just then three massive Big Horn Mountain Sheep ran across the road right in front of me! I had been thinking about my three children and it was so auspicious. They were absolutely incredible! I was about to just keep pedaling, thinking I can’t stop because I am in a race. However, I also thought I didn’t know when the next time I would be up there again would be and I might as well enjoy this moment. The numbers of these beautiful animals are dwindling and it is becoming more and more of a rare sight to see these majestic creatures.
So I hopped off and took a couple pictures. I also stood for a moment watching them as they stood watching me. I got back on smiling thinking this was a pretty big sign of good things coming into my life, not just in the race.
I climbed up and dropped down for the last downhill of the ride. Everything was relatively smooth sailing until the last 3 kilometers. So the relief and the exhilaration of the downhills was pretty short lived. The last portion of the race is brutal. Little signs on the side of the road counted down from 3km to 1km and it wasn’t helpful to know I wasn’t going all together that fast. I thought it would never end!
My body strained to keep going because I was at only one bar of battery left. My assist was in 1 and I was in the lowest gear possible. After I finally passed the 2km sign, I decided I better calm down and get used to the long rise. So I just lowered my head and powered on. I rounded the last turn of the race. After 156 turns it is a little unbelievable to round the final one! I saw the finish line and the race staff at the end. I hollered out, “Oh wow! I am here! I am going to make it!” They all cheered and I think they were all in a bit of disbelief too!
It isn’t everyday you see a behemoth of a pedal bicycle roll to 14,115 feet above sea level! I came to an abrupt halt after the finish line because it was still uphill and I braced myself to hold the bike up with my quivering legs. The people at the finish line all congregated around me and started asking questions.
One man said, “But you didn’t pedal, did you?!”
A woman said, “Well look at her!”
And I replied visibly winded, “Oh yes, I most certainly DID pedal. I pedaled the entire time!”
There was a unanimous “Wow... Okay!”
Another person asked, “But did you bring another battery?”
I answered, “Well, I was thinking I should, but I ended up not and I am glad I didn’t because the batteries are heavy and it ended up well! I made it on one!”
I then proceeded to tell them about my bike. How powerful the battery was: 16 amp, 750 watt, 45 mile range on relatively flat land. This mountain though pushed the battery and it was amazing we made it though! Most rides we take and the people who ride my bikes will feel like a delightful workout occurred where you see many miles of beautiful mountains, but they are never near this difficult.
Another man asked to ride it, I said, “Of course!”
I gave him a short lesson and he tried it out without the motor on and he was quite interested. I said goodbye and then started to maneuver between all of the heavy equipment for the construction of the new Summit House.
I found my teammate, Kent Drummond who is 77 years old and who made it to the top in FIRST place! He made it to the top in 1:04! This time was 4 minutes faster than the record of a traditional cyclist! He couldn’t really believe I made it right behind him in second place with an unofficial time of 1:13 (we were not officially timed in this first e-bike race)! I rolled over the finish line at 7:26 am. Our bikes, e-bikes built by Biktrix were the only two e-bikes to make it on one battery. We were on an athletic high, literally and figuratively!
We went back to the finish line to capture a picture of us both. While we were there the third place e-biker came across the finish line on his second battery. We all congratulated him and then not long after the first place winner for the traditional bikes came flying up! He was amazing, thin and machine like himself. I looked for any hint he was actually human?! He made it to the top in almost the same time I did, which I found to be simply amazing! He dropped his GPS monitor and I picked it up and called out after him. He turned around and thanked me and that was it. Traditional cyclists are not huge fans of e-bikes and yet I hope one day when they are up in years they will try one out and realize it enables people who LOVE bicycles too, to get back in the saddle!
Regardless of what anyone thought, what a race! We all never thought we would ever attempt and achieve such a thing, but there we sat on top of America’s Mountain. I thought about Julia Archibold Holmes the first woman to climb Pikes Peak!
From the summit in a letter to her mother she wrote:
“Nearly everyone tried to discourage me from attempting it, but I believed that I should succeed; and now here I am, and I feel that I would not have missed this glorious sight for anything at all.”
I could not have agreed more with her sentiments of not missing out on the summit! I am glad I did not discourage myself and that instead I believed I should at least try. Later I have thought about how we take for granted our health and relatively good physical condition. I carry on about how I should be more fit and disparage myself when I should really temper that poor attitude. I should honor my incredible body and mind that didn’t give up and got me to the top in actually a really fast time! I was the only woman in the race, and the first woman under the race banner to make it to the top!
We took some more pictures at the old Summit Sign. I wondered for a moment what they will do with the iconic sign after the new Summit House is built? That sign has showed up in countless people's pictures after summiting the exceptional mountain! I went in to the gift shop, bought two of the famous Pikes Peak donuts and three summit stickers for my kids. Drummond and I enjoyed our donuts and then geared up for the descent. I put on my coat and gloves and we prepared to head down.
As we started out not 400 yards from the finish line, there was Drummond’s friend, Dave Powell! He unbelievably rode his bike without battery assist the last 5 kilometers! I was sure he wouldn’t make it after I had passed him long ago with his fading battery, but he was bound and determined to reach the finish line at 14,115’ and he did! I understood his fight though, because as I was climbing during the hard last 3km, I thought to myself I would walk and push my bike if I had to to get to the top! His bike was about half the weight of ours, but still an amazing feat in of itself! We said we would wait for him to finish. We then headed out the three of us, all who made it to the top... up among the clouds!
The descent was chilly, but not unbearable. As we started rounding around the drastic turns in Devil’s Playground I hollered out, “I can’t believe we just came up this!!”
The elevation gain was so much more visible and shocking going down. I really did not enjoy the downhill descent as it is pretty scary, but we had a nice, safe ride to our excitedly waiting entourage! They greeted us back to the start line with cowbells, waves and smiles! There was much celebration and joy of our successful ride up the El Capitán!
I owe much of this ride to this man pictured below, John Patrick Michael Murphy, my father-in-law who kept us in his life after a divorce. He was one of the main influences for me to start riding a bicycle back in 2016 a year after my trying separation and divorce. There is something incredible about the bicycle and the road that can start to heal a person and I am grateful for him gifting a very special bike to me three years ago.
He had been an avid cyclist and heavily active with the Olympic Cycling Team as their lawyer back in his younger days. He has been battling and kicking Stage IV Melanoma's ass for the past 9 years and inspiring many with his amazing story! He thought he would never ride a bike again, that was until he was introduced to the e-bike! He shared his enthusiasm with me and his courageous spirit and grit is utterly moving! He would have ridden himself if not for his knees giving him trouble, but there is always next year! Hopefully, there will be more e-bikers too joining in on the race to the top!
There are so many others I want to thank and you all know who you are! Even a week out my heart is so full and appreciative! I will close for now. Pikes Peak, I won't forget my time on your inclines and finally glorious summit any time soon! I now look onto our Grand Peak throughout my day in Colorado Springs much differently. Thank you.