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Gold Hill, Colorado

Colorado, The Centennial State.

A place so magical for all the right reasons.

The trip up to that point seemed like a dream, or perhaps a simulation! All the places I visited and the people I met along the way made it memorable and a life-long memory. I mean, getting to build my own camper from the ground up to set off on the longest road trip of my life so far is something I wouldn't even have dreamt of 3 years ago.

Colorado has been on my radar, second only to Oregon. Home of the American Rockies, with a whopping 54 Rocky Mountain peaks over 14,000ft (4267m) in elevation. Those numbers alone take my breath away (pun intended).

When I was brainstorming places to visit on this trip, I reached out to a handful of close friends in Portland for recommendations. The one person that came to mind when planning for Colorado was Doug Higley. I trust his words blindly, especially when it comes to cycling.

Let's just say that Doug knows Colorado like the back of his hands.

When I told him I was headed to Colorado, the first thing he said was, "oh man, you have to ride up to Gold Hill!!" The second thing he said was, "leave early in the morning to avoid the monsoon rains."

So here I am writing about the best ride I've done in Colorado so far.

I was already in Colorado for a few days at that point. I rode the hills west of Fort Collins, caught up with an old friend, and made new friends with the guys at Adventure Vehicle Concepts.

At an elevation of 8,300ft (2530m), Gold Hill is perched on a mountainside above Left Hand Canyon. What used to be a bustling gold mining town is an incorporated community in Boulder County. Seemingly stuck in time (very well persevered), with its old wooden buildings and close net community that was very welcoming.

Starting the ride from Boulder, I head west, following the locals up the mountain. From what Doug told me about cyclists here, It's not unusual for a local on a Full Sus to drop you like you're standing still (as pictured above). I was in shape, with thousands of miles under my heels at that point, and humbled by the strong riders of Colorado. I spent 20 days at an elevation of +5ft. On the other hand, they live at elevation, compared to ~150ft back in Oregon.

Boulder is on a whole other level of awesome. The Boulder Creek Path leading up to Fourmile Canyon runs alongside Boulder Creek from the heart of the city. A multi-use path of packed gravel, bridges, and underpasses, and arguably the best way out to the mountains for first-time visitors like me.

So far into the ride, the views were breathtaking, even more than catching my breath at

6000ft. The Path ends where you either merge with the traffic on the main road or continue onto Fourmile Canyon. Doug's route took me to the latter.

Surprisingly enough, I expected a lot more traffic on the road. Thankfully, it was a very slow day for that. I actually saw more cyclists than I did cars.

Down the road, I saw a cutout of Smoky. I realized that Up until Colorado, I was engulfed in smoke from wildfires across the west since I crossed the Northern Cascades Highway more than 20 days before I got to Boulder. So it was great to get a break from the smoke and wildfires. After all, with the current trajectory of human activity and lack of action, that might as well be the new norm.

Putting aside the reality of climate change, I followed the meandering roads up the mountain, trying to keep up with the locals as they were headed in the same direction. Nestled within the foothills of the Rockies, I felt the bittersweetness kick in, as it did every day for the last 3-4 years in the US. I've delved into this before, so I won't beat a dead horse here.

The feeling of riding at 7000f (2133m), knowing that you're halfway up the tallest peaks in the region, is why I'm mesmerized by Colorado. Think of it this way, you climb a mountain just to find another one on top of that.

Mind blown.

Fourmile canyon road forked into Gold Run and a backroad where Fourmile Canyon continues past the junction leading into Roosevelt National Forest. As the sign shows, I followed the route to Wallstreet, whereas the locals stayed on Gold Run Rd, a more direct way to Gold Hill.

Doug knows I rarely take the most direct road unless I have to. I instead loop around and discover the nooks and crannies of the area and find the hidden stuff or even forgotten ghost trails. Given that this was my first ride in Boulder, I stuck to the route. The road passes by a handful of gulches, most notably Potato Gulch, about a mile before the historic Switzerland railroad grade, which is now a trail, my next cue.

As I was riding up, I kept an eye on the monsoon clouds that were building up. The clouds gradually accumulated the closer time got to noon. If you take a second look at the photos (except for the first one), you'll see the clouds rolling in each photo. This is because the build-up of moisture in the air from the Gulf of Mexico reaches the Rockies at elevations of ~18,000ft (~5485m). And thanks to the convergence of different pressure zones that situate it over the area where it squeezes the moister out of the heavy clouds.

I was roughly at 9000ft (2743m), at the edge of the foothills, looking over the east front where it meets the plains. So somewhat out of range of the heavy pour (?). Switzerland Railgrade Trail leads to a high point called Mt. Alto, the summit of the route, and once a stop along the rails in not so distant past. I did find what looked like an old rusty railroad cart on the side of the trail, however, didn't find any rails!

Reaching the high point of the route, I stopped at one of the viewpoints to pinch myself because I couldn't believe I was in the Rockies! This brings me back to when I applied to CU Boulder and researched the area. I wondered if I had turned to cycling if I did live in Boulder instead of Portland. Of course, I'll never know, but I know this won't be my last time visiting Boulder (inshallah).

Gold Hill was just down the road from that point. I heard about this place from Doug many times until that ride. Doug was almost more excited than I was to ride one of his favorite routes in Boulder, and I was very excited too! I mean, an old mining town on a mountainside that is still preserved would never not be on my list. Throw in a delicious quiche, and now it's a must-do. The town's general store is known for its quiches apparently.

I wanted to stop there for a quick coffee/quiche break, but that turned into a 40-minute conversation with the locals, if not longer. I pulled up, and the guys on the right (picture above) struck a conversation with me like I was an old-time friend passing by the store like usual. If you ask me what I love about America the most, it's how easy it is to talk & meet people everywhere I go. I honestly don't recall their names, but I can confidently say that the next time I see them, they'll welcome me the same as I first met them.

What about the quiche, Abe?

Oh, the quiche? I inhaled that on the spot, broccoli cheese quiche, 10 out of 10 would eat that again.

The store itself is a vibe. The wooden floor creaks, and you sense the patina in the air and on the things in the store. Everything seemed untouched and original to when it was made.

I waved goodbye, "See you guys later, stay out of trouble" as I mounted the saddle on my way out of Gold Hill and back down. And since I had already paid the toll, I had a long descent ahead back into Boulder. The view coming around the bend was jaw-dropping. Sunshine Canyon extends as far as I could see, with the frontline in the background. It's a beautiful view, regardless of damage from wildfires in the 2010s.

You could imagine how good that descent back into town was, following the main gravel road you see in the photo above. Not every day, you get to climb up the Rockies, have a snack at an old mining town, and fly down a road that you can see clearly from a viewpoint on a mountainside. Or perhaps that is the reality of Boulderites!

In any case, I felt at home on this ride, even though that was my only ride in Boulder, but it definitely won't be the last.

Thanks for the recommendations, Doug!

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