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posted by DL Byron on June 13, 2005

From Telluride to Lizard Head Pass

It was a cold day, mixed with rain, hail, sleet, snow, and a climb up Lizard Head Pass to an altitude of 10, 255 ft. My clothes were soaked through in less than five minutes, as the dark clouds I'd been watching opened up and the downpour started. Pam agreed to drive a support car or I wouldn't have started the ride. It's 9 miles from the Mountain Village near Telluride (aka To-hell-u-ride) to Lizard Head Pass and the most difficult miles I've ever ridden. I tried to stay focused on my cadence and breathing, while my mind drifted into worrying about how much could go wrong. As I descended into the first of several valleys on the way up the climb, I noticed that there were no guardrails or shoulders. It's a long way down jagged rocky cliffs, over the edge of the road, and I was scared. I tensed up on the bike, as I swerved to avoid rocks that had fallen from the cliffs above.

More photos are posted here.

Passing the 10kt feet mark, my thighs ached and my heart rate was elevated. I breathed shorter breaths, backed off the cadence, and stood up occasionally just to stretch. To me, riding at elevation feels like riding in the winter: heavier, heavy bike, and stiff legs. Nothing felt fluid or good. I'm no climber, live at sea level, and completed the ride in 1:07. I rode very cautiously on the descents, around corners, and s-turns. I'm sure my fear was heightened by the weather, fast-moving black clouds, and 32 degree temperatures.

Pam passed every ten minutes in the car to check on me, take a photo, and ask if I wanted to continue. After a few times, she stopped asking. I'd nod at her, take a sip from my water bottle, and keep pedaling. On the final ascent, I did start wondering when it was going to end and how much longer the climbing would go on. As I neared the summit, the euphoric, adrenaline rushes started. I didn't have anything to sprint across the line, but felt the rush, it was like completing a 40k time trail and realizing you've done well. Any climber could kick my ass up to Lizard Head, but that didn't matter today. I was at altitude and finished a ride in hellish conditions. Pam urged me repeatedly to get in the car. She knew how quickly I'd get too cold.

I opted to not ride back to Telluride, stripped out of my soaked cycling clothes, and got in the car. I hope I can return one day and ride it from the other side, up from Rico. It was a challenge, fucking scary, and a total rush.

More on Lizard Head

Lizard Head Pass is between the towns of Dolores and Telluride and is named for a 13,113-foot pinnacle of rock that protrudes abrupty above the eastern end of the the San Miguel Mountains. In the 1890's the peak apparently resembled a lizard. It doesn't now and the story goes that a large rock fall off the peak and it lost its lizard-like appearance.

I was in Colorado for a speaking gig at the Colorado Ski Country's Annual Meeting. I found information on the ride on the Cycling Mountain Passes website.

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