BOB COOK MEMORIAL/MT EVANS HILLCLIMB
The two most famous hillclimbs in the United States are Mt. Washington, in New Hampshire, and Mt. Evans in Colorado. Mt. Washington is known for it’s incredibly steep, unrelenting mostly paved road to the summit of Mt. Washington, 6,200’, 7.6 miles long, 4700’ vertical gained.
On July 22nd this year, the Bob Cook Memorial race was held again on Mt. Evans, Colorado. This race started in 1962 and has been run all but three years since then, two of those because of weather. The paved road up Mt. Evans is the highest paved road in North America. It is the highest finishing bicycle race in North America, possibly the World. The race is held in memory of Bob Cook, a superstar in American cycling in the 70’s, who won the race five years in a row, the first two when he was a junior. He passed away at 23, from cancer.
Riders come from all over the United States and in the past the race has had riders from France, Switzerland, Germany, and Australia compete. The age range of the participants is from 9 to 85 years of age. The race is also supported by any individuals in the Colorado cycling community who help marshal, drive support, officiate and work the picnic. The race includes categories for all levels of racing and encourages riders who are not racers to try their hand at challenging the highest paved road in North America.
The race is a climber’s delight and the scenery cannot be beat by any other place in the world. Riders meet all kinds of indiginous Colorado animals including Mountain Goats and sheep as well as an occasionaly marmot along the climb as well as run into all kinds of weather.
Mt. Evans (14,264’ – 4378 meters) speaks volumes for itself. I do not believe that there is a more classic and challenging ride in all of Colorado. There are other high passes in the state, none this high, and some long climbs, but none this long. Mt. Evans is a bona fide, mountaintop finish with breathtaking views that reach far across Colorado, and on a clear day, views of Denver.
This route involves over 7,500’ (2286 meters) of climbing in 28 miles (45km) of uninterrupted pavement. It pretty much is a heinous route. This is one place not to crack on, it can get ugly. This is one race that you do not want to push through a bonk, if you do, you will suffer through nausea, shivers, and an overwhelming feeling of suffocation. It is the elevation that will crush you here, you must remember that you are climbing one of Colorado’s fourteeners, and basic mountaineering sense must prevail. This is NO ordinary 28 mile coker ride/race. Lightning, hail, snow, and Hypothermia are big concerns here. And for us unicyclist, it is especially hard to get down the mountain very fast trying to outrun the dangerous situation. One must have all the appropriate gear/nutrition with you, as there is no water or shelter once above treeline, which is at around 11,500’ , (3505 meters).
Here is the story of my adventure from this years Bob Cook Memorial Race/Mt. Evans Hillclimb. Thanks in advance for reading it. My pre-race preparations consisted of very limited training, especially at high elevations. Granted, I live at 8,000’ (2438 meters), which helped, but racing at 12,000’ –14,100’ (3658-4267 meters), really requires anyone to get acclimated to that high elevation. The race was on a Saturday; the Thursday before, the family and I almost did an all nighter, on purpose. CSN & Y played in Denver at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. This meant work all day, drive 3 hours, spend 5 hours at the concert, then drive three hours home. That wasn’t so bad, what was crazy was driving back down to Idaho Springs 12 hours later, after working a full day again. The concert was spectacular, and well worth every lost hour of sleep. I was able to wake up at the starting place of the race by driving back down on Friday.
The morning brought cool temperatures, but somewhat hazy skies. I double checked my Camelbak to make sure I had all the appropriate items packed. The damn thing must have weighed almost 25lbs, (11kgm). I planned on being out for 8-10 hours, of that 4 ½ - 5 hours of climbing; even only taking the minimum gear/nutrition, the camelbak still weighed too much. Check tire pressure, 65psi, ok, check seat pressure, ok, cranks tight, pedals tight, sunglasses, helmet ok. I leave the motorhome, after an appropriate pre-race meal, and head towards the start line. Bicyclist appear from every nook and cranny, as I pedal through the quiet little town. I begin to smile with fear as I realize just how big this race really is. Even a mile from the start line, the masses of bicyclists is overwhelming, and of course, the looks from them are priceless. No more than 30 seconds after I pass the registration tables, two official looking people walk up to me. I don’t panic, as there wasn’t anything in the forms that disallowed unicyclist. All they made me do was move my number plate to a more visible location on my camelbak. They both displayed a serious look of disbelief though.
I mounted the GB4 36er as the gun sounded. It was very difficult to stay on the first 500 meters, as the bicyclist were all scrambling to clip in, and were moving like a heard of turtles. As I pedaled away from the start, I heard the announcer enunciate over the speakers, “Look there, #1256 is on a unicycle!” I went off with the first wave of riders, “Citizens Class”, we started at 7:30. The pro’s wouldn’t start for another two hours. I began to overheat and get a little tummy turmoil. Once again, I didn’t panic, and worked through it. The first 6.5 miles has a very gradual grade, so most riders passed me. But, right at the sharp left turn where Chicago Creek crosses the road, the road picked up in steepness. In addition to being steep, we were now riding in the shade. I immediately began to feel better, as my cadence increased. The climbing was so fun, some switchbacks combined with long straight stretches. The first feeling of finally being “above” the valley was occurring now.
I love this stuff, climbing in the mountains on a uni. At MM 9, looking ahead I see the first sign of mountain peaks, and I think that that is the summit of Mt. Evans. A large group of riders were in sight of me for most of the morning so far, and as I climbed higher and higher, I began to pick one after the other off. I set my sights on a woman who was climbing at about my pace, but was still ahead of me. I wanted to catch and pass her before Echo Lake, about the ½ way point. My tummy turmoil had gone away, and my legs were feeling solid. Passing bicyclist on a hard climb on a uni definitely gets the adrenilene flowing. This year, for the first time, the road was closed to traffic, and boy how great that was. The roads are often canted towards the edges, so I like to ride towards the middle if possible. Plus, with the exposed route that I was on, it mentally helped to be away from the edge. Echo Lake, about 13 miles into the ride, must be getting close, there are lots of spectators lining the road now, cheering all of us athletes on. The usual “Oh my God” and Did you see that guy” are heard I as keep spinning up the mountain. I finally catch and pass that one women, she gives out a Wow. Lot’s of cheering and enthusiam givin out at Echo Lake, a fairly flat spot in the route.
BOB COOK MEMORIAL/MT EVANS HILLCLIMB
Part II ENJOY
Passing the gate, this section of road is closed for over ½ of the year, I feel good, but also deep down know that the hardest part is yet to come. My time to Echo Lake was good, and I also felt good. Maybe today would be a good day in the saddle. The whole feel of the road changes now, as I enter near treeline vegetation. Some of these tree’s are over 1,000 years old. I began to rise above the world-the feeling of enormity is incredible. More switchbacks come at me, and I finally tell myself to stop for a pressure break. It is at a nice wide spot, not many up here, in the road. I stretch, fuel up and talk to another rider who is also stopped. Turns out, he is from Aspen, and is a crazy Frenchman who is pysched to see me here. Support vehicles begin to come up the road, and sure enough, the pro men are flying up the hill. A group of about 8 or so are working together, (including Jonathan Vaughters, Ned Overend, & the eventual winner, Scott Moniger), then another group behind them. Quite impressive to see, as I know these guys are all world class bike racers. Frenchy and I mount our wheels and ride up the road. We are now riding above the trees, and I find it hard to stay on the road, the views are just, so unbelievable. I am now looking down at Echo Lake and the road that we have been riding up. That feeling of being above it all is really setting in, and I really like it!
The ride from here takes on a new identity. It’s remote and really exposed, and can look like a moonscape at times, except, that is, for the lush green carpet of tundra and wildflowers. The climbing is still moderate, and I can tell that my body is having a harder time making energy from my fuel stash. At one point, I can see the road way ahead, as it traverses across the tundra, but even further in the distance, the white dome of the observatory is visible. This is where the finish is, unbelievable, how far away it still is. At this point, I have traveled about 22 miles, (35km) and gained about 5000’(1500 meters) vertical. My ass starts to hurt, and the wind begins to pick up and push me towards the exposed edge of the road. Summit Lake, finally comes into sight, I will stop and take another pressure break here. The hardest part of the ride is just up ahead, and you can’t help but see it.
I am awestruck with this route/race. I know I am going to finish, and I am enjoying (almost), every moment so far. I have such respect for this mountain, and I know that, not just the toughest physical part , but the toughest mental part is yet to come. I will have to draw from my deepest mental reserves today, to finish strong. I see riders that are suffering, & riders that are rippin it up. I prepare for the ride of my life, what lies ahead is EPIC is every way. I know my focus must be spot on from here on to the finish, so I mount and pedal up the road.
It’s 5 miles to the top. There are 15 major switchbacks ahead, and I am at 13,000’ with over another 1,000’ vertical feet to climb. There is NO air up here, or actually oxygen. There is less than ½ the available oxygen here than there was at the start, ouch. The road is not that steep, but the switchbacks are very canted, and very steep through them. I totally focus upon enterning every switchback, the inside turns are the hardest to stay on the wheel as the canting is at least 45 degrees. The weather, oh yeah, I am wearing a short sleeve jersey, and am very comfortable. I praise Jah, and the weather gods for the perfect day that they have given us, so far. With 3 miles to go, you can look up the southern face and see the final headwall that needs to be conquered. You can also see the riders ascending the headwall, switchback above switchback. I pass about as many riders as are passing me now, it kind of bums me out, but it also builds mental strength for me to push harder. The going is getting tougher, but still I am able to push ahead. I am starting to feel cramping in my quad and hamstring on my right leg. Breathing through the cramp did not work while riding, so I dismount. What I found was the most rigid, rock hard quad and hamstring, that I have ever personally had, or seen. It was unreal, I could barely stand up. For the next three minutes, I meditated and tried to stretch it out. Coming out of the meditation, I looked over to the side, and there standing 20 yards in front of me, was a mountain goat.
They love it up here, at the high elevation of Mt. Evans, and are spotted frequently towards the summit. This was a sure sign to me that everything was going to be alright. Sure enough, the cramp was gone and I was ready to cross that finish line on my unicycle. I was only 500 meters from the finish, shame I cramped up, but this is a brutal race. Besides, I’m not young like most of you riders. As always, mounting on a steep incline is difficult, but I was ready this time, and got right on. The screaming, the yelling, the hooting and hollering began before the last switchback. “The UNI Guy”. I could see the finish line, I was going to finish this race. I turned the corner with arms raised high into the sky, thanking my family for allowing me this opportunity to live life, to work hard, to achieve a huge goal, to ride and finish the legendary Bob Cook Memorial/Mt Evans Hillclimb. Crossing the finish line, with happy tears flowing down my cheeks, I high fived everyone I could find in the parking lot. The cheering lasted for what seemed like eternity, as I made a second lap around the summit parking lot. The only thing above you here is about 100 vertical feet of rock, that comprise the actual summit. The views from here, as you can imagine, are simply sublime. You are on top of the world. I stopped to check my fuel storage and to take some pictures, it would have been so nice to stay longer, but it was time to head down. The afternoon cumulus clouds were threatening, and this was no place to be in a thunderstorm. I knew that I wanted to enjoy the awards party, which meant I couldn’t ride the whole way down. I lined up a ride, and was able to ride down all the 15 switchbacks before being picked up. That was cool!!!
Quote from organizer –“You certainly shocked all
of us at the start line as you rode out.”
- “I hope you come back and ride again next year.
It was a hoot to have you and you are truly amazing”
Quote from photographer-“It was amazing to watch you charge up the mountain on a unicycle!!”
· 28 MILES –45 KILOMETERS CLIMB ONLY
· 7516’ VERTICAL GAINED – 2291 METERS
· 11,000’ AVERAGE RIDING ELEVATION- 3353 METERS
· 14,100’ SUMMIT ELEVATION - 4298 METERS
· 164 BPM AVERAGE HEART RATE
· 176 MAX HEART RATE
· 3HR 58 MINUTES TO FINISH
· 3HR 30 MINUTES RIDING TIME
· 1HR 49 MINUTES FASTEST MALE BICYCLIST
· 1,100+ RIDERS STARTED
· 950 RIDERS FINISHED
· FIRST UNICYCLIST TO ENTER AND FINISH RACE
-myself and gbarnes have been to the top before on uni’s
Mike, thanks for taking the time to post such a great write-up, and congratulations on (once again) establishing a new upper limit on what can be achieved on a distance unicycle. Just stunning.
The image of you coming out of your anti-cramp meditation to see the mountain goat will stay with me for a while.
PS: We were in NH last weekend, and passing by Mt. Washington. Thought we might do the auto rode to see just what it was you and Ben climbed, so we detoured down to check it out. Changed our mind when we got to the gate and found out how much it would cost to be bumper-to-bumper for the next several hours, but just driving up to the mountain and seeing where the road went was enough to scare me. I was climbing it on my “mental coker”, and man did it hurt…
Congratulations on this achievement, Mike! We now have a legend living among us. I feel like I’m with you on these rides, in a small way, and thanks for that!
That was a very impressive story. Nice write up!
Awesome job, Mike. I’d love to try that one someday.
I am gunning for your MW record next year though…
Really, really enjoyed the writeup. Clearly, “going big” is an understatement here. Way to raise the bar into the stratosphere, man! Rock on.
Well done mate! I have the utmost respect for you.
(I’ve got to get myself a coker!)
Re: Bob Cook Memorial/Mt. Evans Hillclimb
What an excellent writeup on a super achievement. I enjoyed reading
every word of it, and being with you in my own little way…
Klaas Bil - Newsgroup Addict
“I’m slowly but surely stealing Wales and bringing it back to my house on the wheel, frame and cranks of my muni. - phil”
wow, that is amazing!
that is such a gnarly climb, i have driven that road lots of times and can fully appreciate how insane you really are:D
that was really nice to read, great pictures also. i’ve hiked Mt. washington a few times, and been up it on a motorcycle even more than that, but i would never dream that someone would go up on a unicycle. and this mt. evans sounds about a billionX harder. congrats!
Thank you all for the congrats and kind words. I really like to share my adventures, and this was one not to miss. Keep riding and peace. One last photo from the road that leads to the heavens.
The AP has got ahold of this so FYI.
Please keep this side of the divide up to date on this!
Saw a story here:
and also in the Aspen Times…Pasted for posterity.
Unicyclist continues to conquer the impossible - Aspen’s human mountain goat climbs Mount Evans on one wheel
Mount Evans is “the toughest hill climb I’ve ever done,” Aspen unicyclist Mike Tierney said.
BY NATE PETERSON
Pitkin County Correspondent
August 19, 2006
ASPEN - After more than 27 miles and some 7,500 feet of climbing, the unicyclist couldn’t pedal anymore. The finish line was only 500 meters off in the distance, but it might as well have been 500 miles away.
Mount Evans had won. Mike Tierney had lost. For nearly four hours on July 22, the nation’s highest paved road had yielded to the will of the 47-year-old Aspen local as he strained atop his solitary 36-inch wheel. But when it mattered most, the mountain refused to roll over.
His right quad and hamstring frozen from cramps, Tierney hopped off his bike, hobbled to the side of the road and sat on a rock to stretch and meditate.
“I don’t know, I just believe in that stuff,” said Tierney, a part-time Aspen Highlands ski patroller and president of Aspen Solar Inc. “I just do it from time to time to gain energy. I’m a spiritual person.”
After about three minutes, Tierney sensed something and opened his eyes. He found himself in a staring match with an idle mountain goat. The pair’s eyes remained locked for a few seconds, before Tierney, suddenly re-energized, jumped on his wheel and began to pedal.
“(The mountain goat) was a sure sign to me that everything was going to be all right,” wrote Tierney, a human mountain goat himself, in a blog detailing his ride. “Sure enough, the cramp was gone and I was ready to cross that finish line on my unicycle.”
A few minutes later, with tears of joy streaming down his face, he did cross that line, to raucous cheers from the riders already on top of the 14,264-foot mountain. He was among an elite class of 950 to complete this year’s Bob Cook Memorial race, a near-annual event since 1962.
Yet his ride was different from all the rides that cyclists have made up the peak near Idaho Springs since the first running of the race.
Tierney was the first man ever to ever attempt - and complete - the race on one wheel.
“It’s the toughest hill climb I’ve ever done,” said Tierney, who set the unicycle record last August at the Mount Washington Hill Climb in New Hampshire - the steepest organized road race in the United States. “Because of the elevation, and because it’s so long, even though the road does flatten out in parts, you don’t really get to recover ever. The higher you get, the harder it is. Near the top, there is half as much oxygen as there was at the start.”
There are profound differences between the roads up Mount Evans and Mount Washington, Tierney said. The paved track in New Hampshire has an average gradient of 12 degrees and includes stretches with 18-percent grades - unmatched anywhere in the country. But from start to finish, the road is only 7.6 miles long and ascends to a peak that is only 6,288 feet.
The road for the Mount Evans Hill Climb is a 28-mile grind that sets out from an elevation of 6,500 feet - 300 feet higher than the summit of Mount Washington.
“It’s epic by any standard,” Tierney said. “(The Mount Evans Hill Climb) is a race that draws a certain breed of bike racer. It’s not everybody you see that rides down the road who will do a climb like this. We’re some pretty sick individuals.”
Tierney thought he was going to have his sanity questioned by race organizers before the starting gun even went off. He said two officials approached him with grim looks on their faces, only to tell him to move his race number to a more visible spot on his bike.
He was allowed to start, but other than himself, Tierney said no one really expected him to finish. Everyone was cheering for him, sure. But a guy on a unicycle conquering Mount Evans?
The mountain chews up its fair share of two-wheeled cyclists every year, including more than 200 last month.
As he continued to tick off the miles, however, Tierney said his confidence grew with each pedal stroke. Nine miles, the first view of the summit. Then 13 miles, marked by the sight of Echo Lake. Then, at mile marker 22, the first view of the observatory at the top of the mountain. From there, just 15 more switchbacks to go, including a fated meeting with a wild animal near the very last one.
“It’s a massive amount of energy that you get from other people,” Tierney said. "When you get mutual respect from the best bike racers in the state, and Colorado has a lot of the best in the world living right here, it’s empowering.
“I’d say I got comments from at least 90 percent of the riders as they passed me or I passed them. They’d say, ‘You’re a (expletive) legend, man. You’re the (expletive), you’re the boss, you’re on top of the world.’ I just couldn’t help but give that respect back. I was like, ‘Hey, man, you’re up here doing great, too. Keep it going, you know.’ It’s just really, really mutual. I know I probably energized a lot of people.”
What’s next for Tierney? He said his work with Aspen Solar has kept him so busy this summer that he doesn’t plan to head back to Mount Washington later this month. His busy schedule also forced him to cancel a trip to the southwest corner of the state, where he hoped to ride over Wolf Creek Pass, Slumgullion Pass and Spring Creek Pass.
There’s still next summer, however, and Tierney already has his eye on some more “epic” hill climbs.
“I’d like to do this race in Arizona,” he said. “I’d also like to do some of the hill climbs that are in the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. … I’m not a young guy anymore, but I’ve still got a lot of energy. There’s still so many hills I want to climb.”
Mountains, beware the one-wheeled man.