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Colorado Springs, CO
Over drinks and a round of pork chops we discussed the ride. Called
'Phantom Canyon', our host John Phillips hasn’t ridden it in five years so Pierre asks John if that's because it’s taken that long to forget how painful it is. John says "No, it’s taken five years and the Rapha Continental to find someone, or a group of someone's foolish enough to ride it with him." This revelation is punctuated with news of the 23-mile, 2.5 hour dirt climb that is the ride's headliner.
That night, in the bed of the loud and bright motel room just off the freeway, Pierre awakes for the third time. Nightmares. Nightmares about dirt and elevation and a climb that takes John, a competitive Cat 1 racer, 2.5 hours to complete.
The climb greets us 60 miles into the day, after 15 miles of headwind. It’s not easy on account of the heat, length and the dirt—rutted and riddled with depressions, holes and rocks. But it’s not immediately difficult either. Once a railroad route and one of only three ways to the town of Victor, a mining town perched on a ridge 9,708 above sea level, Phantom Canyon ascends at a leisurely 3% grade. In spots the road is tight and narrow between high rock walls and ledges. Midway up we pass through two 100-yard primitive tunnels. Scraggly pines and a river line the road while we periodically cross several gorgeous wood-slatted bridges spanning deep canyons.
In the end, Phantom Canyon takes exactly 2.5 hours, just as predicted. Towards the top it does steepen significantly. While the climb alone is gorgeous, Phantom Canyon’s true gift might be the view from top of the world. It takes nearly three hours but once you punch through the trees and roll out of the canyon and onto the ridge the last 23 miles come acutely into perspective. On one end, parched farmland, cactus and a trickle. On the other, an esoteric and uniquely Colorado'ian amalgamation of big mountains, gold mines and pioneer spirit.
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