It says something about today’s ride that when I proofed my first draft of this post, I used the phrase “kicked my butt” 4 times. I’ve tried to trim it down but at this altitude I don’t trust my brain as much as usual so who knows how many are left.
Well I wanted mountains and mountains I got. Today’s ride was pretty easy for the first 30 miles and then it turned uphill for the next 15, all the way to a 9000+ ft summit. But I’m jumping ahead.
The road out of Pueblo rose slowly and I had to skirt around the Pueblo reservoir to get to the real objective of the day. I enjoyed the slow transition from old Pueblo out to the edge of town and I was happy to see little canyons and creeks as I rose. I crossed a high plain up above the reservoir and all was good up to Wetmore.
Then the road started a steady climb that my ACA map told me to expect. That would have been fine but I was not prepared for leaving all the oxygen behind in the valley. It was just as slow and gradual as the climb but I found my heart rate climbing and I had to go slower and slower. My legs were fine but I started to feel all the classic symptoms of altitude sickness – fatigue, nausea, and by the time I reached the top, a head ache. I had to take frequent stops just to be safe but the thin air was clearly kicking my butt. I can’t remember the last time I had to stop at the top of a climb and just catch my breath before descending. But I knew I had to get down soon. All that and the Colorado DOT didn’t even see fit to put an elevation sign at the top. I guess 9000 foot passes are a dime a dozen here.
I coasted down the other side of the mountain and my head started to clear. The nausea abated but I had to even take rests on the 5 mile descent to be safe. A beautiful valley opened up where I’m staying tonight, with huge peaks on the other side that I’ll need to cross soon. In two days my route takes me over an 11,000 foot pass. That pass was present in my mind when I made it to the top – “what if you were 2000 ft higher? Fortunately I have a couple of days at this altitude to acclimate, but I’ll take more if I need it.
When I made it down to Silver Cliff I stopped at the local museum to learn a little about it. Like a lot of former mining towns, Silver Cliff used to be relatively big – over 5,000 but that was for a short time until the silver thinned out. You can easily see the scars from the mines and the tailings that they left behind. It’s worth learning to recognize mine tailings because it’s an easy way to spot mine entrances that often have cool relics and buildings around. All the mining tools in the museum just make me glad I was never a miner. They used a crazy combination of hard labor, explosives, and chemicals to extract and separate the silver from the ore. Combine that with a crazy map showing the hundreds of claims in the area, the riches brought by the silver and you have the stage set well for trouble.
I found lunch and headed on down the hill to Westcliffe where I knew there was a campground. I found it and set up camp quickly, just in time for a thunderstorm to roll in. I curled up in my tent and went right to sleep for an hour, feeling absolutely spent.
I think I’ll sleep well tonight and I hope it doesn’t storm too much. My tent is pretty comfy but the gusts were ferocious this afternoon and I need a good rest. Tomorrow’s an easy, relatively level pedal and sure glad that I built in time to get used to this air. So far, the thin air is kicking my butt.