Cold Cruise at Grand Canyon

South Denver 100: Ralston Creek Trail, US-6 Trail, C470 Trail, Cherry Creek Trail, and South Platte Trail

Looking West from the C470 Trail a few miles East of Chatfield Reservoir.
Thanks to Denver’s incredible system of bike trails, only a few miles of this route travels on roads.

This route offers quite a bit of climbing for a 100-mile course. Much of the climbing is on the western half of the circuit. I chose to frontload most of the climbing by going counter-clockwise.

The Ralston Creek Trail comes through Arvada and rises out of the city to lead to Golden. From Golden, the US-6 trail climbs rolling hills, then connects to the C470 trail via Rooney Road.

The C470 Trail traverses more rolling hills along the base of the foothills, then curves East and takes you through a range of conditions all the way to the Cherry Creek Trail. The Cherry Creek Trail offers lush prairie scenery with wetlands wildlife preserves.

As with most of the rides I had planned for my recent vacation, my ride at the Grand Canyon didn’t go exactly as I expected. I was only spending one night at Grand Canyon National Park, and I was either going to ride in the evening when I got there or in the morning.

In the park area, itself, there are three routes you can take, which I had thought to combine into a sort of Y-shaped ride for a total of around 40 miles.

On my way to the park, however, it had started to rain a bit. The temperature was also around 45 degrees f.

I wasn’t entirely sure how a ride would go with the weather. But I’d been riding in cold weather all winter.

In fact, just a couple weekends before my trip, I had set out to do a long ride in Denver on a day that stayed around 40 degrees, and I’d had to cut it short because my feet were cold. It served as a learning moment, as it prompted me to go buy some shoe guards.

So by the time I got to my ride at the Grand Canyon, I was reasonably sure that I could keep my whole body warm in the cold. As it turns out, that was true except for getting wet. The shoe guards are wind-proof, but not waterproof.

The Greenbelt Trail at Grand Canyon National Park cruises along forest scenes.

Anyway, I had arrived at the park early enough that I decided to ride that evening.

I set my bike up at my campsite in the Mather Campground and rode out to the access to the Greenbelt trail.

A couple of cute girls smiled at me as I rolled onto the trail, so I set out feeling good. (I saw the same girls after my ride, and they didn’t bat an eye, which made me realize they were reacting to the gear and bike as much as anything.)

There wasn’t much besides drizzle as I casually rode along the gently rolling blacktop. I was feeling really good, as I really dig pine forests. I was super happy to be riding there.

I reached the park entrance on the Greenbelt trail without much ado. I got drizzled on a little here and there, but so far the ride was cold but otherwise pleasant.

On the way back from the park entrance, the rain started to pick up. Once I realized it was going to rain in earnest, I stopped and adjusted my gear to adapt to full rain and cold.

Elk roam throughout the park area, so you might encounter them on your ride.

As I was cruising back on the Greenbelt, I ran into some elk that were on the trail, blocking the way. As I figured out how to maneuver past them, I looked around and realized I was in the middle of a small herd of elk.

It was a unique experience I definitely hadn’t planned on.

The rain was coming down pretty good by the time I got back to the Grand Canyon Village area. I decided I still wanted to ride some more, so I decided to do the ride to Yaki Point and back.

When I started riding along the trail to Yaki Point, I began to really appreciate how the cold, rainy weather cleared out the crowds and gave me an opportunity to enjoy relative solitude on my ride.

The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular parks in the world. So a typical ride through the park, unless done in the early morning, perhaps, is likely to feature slowing to pass many large groups of unaware pedestrians.

A view from the start of the trail that leads to Yaki Point.

I was quite fortunate on my ride to be able to cruise along blissfully, picking up a pretty good amount of speed and not having to constantly break my rhythm to navigate groups of heedless amblers.

The tradeoff was pretty apparent as I rode to Yaki Point. To add to the rain, it began to sleet as I made my way through this oft-switchbacking blacktop trail that traversed forest and scrub while offering a variety of canyon views.

In fact, thanks to the weather, I didn’t see basically any pedestrians along this portion of the route. There were a few people at each of the viewpoints, but it wasn’t bad at all.

By the time I arrived at Yaki Point, my feet were pretty cold, since they got wet despite my preparation. I was happy with the tradeoff of solitude for cold, rainy weather. But I was starting to be ready to get warm.

I snapped a quick picture with the bike at Yaki Point, then I was ready to get back to my campsite and warm up.

I rode back to the Mather Campground area from Yaki Point while enduring my cold feet. I had originally intended to ride to Hermit’s Rest, as well, availing myself of all the rideable distance at the park.

However, I decided that I was cold enough at this point. I also wanted to hit the park gift shop to buy a few gifts for my friends.

This ride kept to a theme with all the rides I did on my vacation: compromise. I set out with an intention to ride a certain distance based on having looked at a trail map and/or description, and then I had to adjust based on my physical readiness or weather conditions.

I have found this to be true in general in my life. I am constantly struggling to balance my expectations with the reality of my physical, mental, and emotional needs.

Around the beginning of this year, all of my roommates were starting new relationships, and I wasn’t really in that same place, myself. I was trying to focus on a programming project. But it gave me a bit of a sense of missing out.

Pretty much this whole year, I’ve been grappling with balance, trying to figure out what needs to address and how to balance everything. Waking up at 3 a.m. to work on projects then trying to ride 60-plus miles on the weekend on top of a physically demanding job, I find myself trying to do it all.

A slice of rain-slicked blacktop along the Greenbelt trail.

And as often as not, something breaks somewhere, be it my spirit, my body, or my heart.

I look back on the rides I took during my vacation, none of which went exactly as planned, as emblematic of my life situation right now.

The big thing for me is that I got myself there. I can’t control the weather on a given day any more than I can make a perfect partner manifest.

Sometimes it’s easy for me to feel like I didn’t accomplish anything because I didn’t execute exactly on my plan. Then I have to remind myself that the plan was made in theory from a computer screen.

Even after feeling guilty not going further on my rides during my vacation, I ended up straining a muscle just walking around Santa Fe on the last day of my vacation. I think it happened because my body was just so overtaxed.

It’s funny how we feel like we’re not doing enough right up until the point that we hurt ourselves overdoing it. Balance is a process.

Published by Miles of Mindfulness

My name is Mike Bragg. I'm a Denver-based cycling enthusiast and a big advocate of mindfulness. I enjoy the outdoors, and I use mindfulness practices to help myself be more present with my adventures. I like to read challenging material, and I have a keen interest in ancient history and natural sciences.

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