It’s a day for big milestones; 50 days on tour means I’m about 2/3 of the time I expected this journey would take, and, more significantly, I crossed the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass.
Chuck and I had a great time and I really appreciate him making the trek to visit and support my ride. Seeing him really energized me for the day ahead. I’m so glad that Chuck, Kent, and Adam have found me on the ride. The older I get, the more I value those connections with good, old friends.
Chuck and I had a huge breakfast at the local Mexican place before I started out of Salida under clear, blue skies. While we were seated there an older guy strolled in, said “Hi Chuck” to which his friend answered, “Hi Jim” we cracked up but I hope they didn’t think they were laughing at them. Anyway, with perfect temps, food in my belly, and Mariah at my back, it was a perfect opportunity to summit the pass.
I got an idea of what I was in for when, about an hour up the pass, a truck drove by with smoking brakes. And I’m not talking a little smoke, or a faint odor. I mean this thing was belching dark smoke from its brakes while 4 cars followed it down the hill. Why the guy didn’t pull over and let them cool is beyond me. I hoped I would’nt hear about him in the news tonight and pedaled on with a new view of what must be coming up ahead.
I climbed, slowly. For the first 15 miles or so it was a steady, gentle climb but when I hit the real climb I put it in an easy gear and spun. I focused on hydrating much more than the Hardscrable climb the day before yesterday, and I think it paid off. As I got higher and higher, I noticed the air thinning again but it didn’t seem nearly as fatiguing as before. Seems those days at altitude really helped. Near the top I took frequent breaks -I kind of had to. I found I couldn’t drink and ride at the same time at this elevation too often – it would leave me huffing and puffing.
As I neared the summit the temperature dropped by 10 degrees or so and some big dark clouds rolled in. The tough thing about summit rides is that you’re hot and sweaty as you hit the top, and as you walk around taking selfies and snacking on pretzels (no kidding at the summit was a mini-cafe and gift shop) you quickly get cold. You don’t want to do a 7 mile, 6% grade descent cold or heaven forbid wet, which I was because as I was noodling around at the top those clouds started to drop big freezing droplets.
It was an interesting scene at the top – an eclectic mix of tourists in shorts and tees buying ice cream and snacks, Harley riders doing their thing in chaps and full leathers, me – the only cyclist I saw all day, and a bunch of Colorado Trail hikers. Turns out the store there is a mail drop and there were probably 10 hikers picking up boxes of food that they mailed themselves for their journey along the Divide. They all looked lean, tan, dirty and unshaven but all seemed in good spirits as they joked to each other about the silly souvenirs for sale.
So I waited a bit more and started digging out my cold weather gear. But even knowing what I do about descending, I didn’t get it warm enough the first time so I had to stop and put on all my cold weather stuff; arm warmers, knee warmers, rain jacket, vest, buff (for my neck and nose), and full finger gloves. Finally I could make it down the hill without shivering and risking hypothermia.
It was a quick descent and I gave up the hard won altitude in a matter of minutes. Literally about 8 miles down the road and I had to pull over to take all that stuff off again, and before you know it I was down to the legal minimum again (at least for a guy my age) and it was getting hot.
Farther down the valley I was happy to be warm again and glad that I’d made it over this big pass. But I also had a strong twinge of loss and a desire to cling on to this trip as long as I can. You know the bites of the cookie often get more dear as you get down to the last ones, but really they’re all the same right? So I’ll take the renewed sense of appreciation for the opportunity to do this, and cherish the moments.
Gunnison was my destination for the day, which I expected to be an easy pedal. And it was that, mostly downhill, Mariah firmly at my back most of the way. But those puffy clouds on the horizon kept getting darker and darker and before I knew it, here come those big, freezing drops again.
Once again I had to pull over, suit up with warm stuff, before continuing down the hill in a continuous pour. Sun, rain, sun, rain – welcome to Colorado said a local when I described my day. The rain really wasn’t too bad but by the time I hit Gunnison I was ready for something warm and dry. So here I sit in the local cafe trying to see if the storm will abate and I can hit the local camp, or if I’m going to have to hotel it again. Frankly I was looking forward to sleeping under the stars but these skies doen’t show much sign of that.