Day 50 – Salida to Gunnison CO

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.

Jim and Chuck on the bridge over the Arkansas.  We were introduced in college because people said we looked alike, but I don’t see it. 
The hotel was swank! Well not very but from the right angle…

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.

Classic Ford on the way out of Salida
Encouraging words on the shoulder that would follow me all day. “TODAY MAKE IT COUNT” which is pretty good advice for any day. Judging from the other marks painted farther along the road, I’d guess it was for a bike race from Salida to Gunnison – about 100k.
Ski pole spokes, skis for bike frame, misc bike gears and some little engine to boot. Would fit right in in Humbolt perhaps.

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.

New flowers. They look poppy-ish.
The daunting road 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.

Our last glimpse of the Arkansas, that I’ve followed for so long. Here you could hop across. Sad to leave it behind.

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.

Made it! Pay no attention to the big dark clouds, enjoy your pretzel and warm up.

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.

The road ahead. Down, down, down – no pedaling required to keep it at 30 mph or so. Fortunately, on the dry pavement down the hill my terminal velocity (i.e. My w/o brakes speed) was quite manageable. I didn’t want my brakes smoking at the bottom either.

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.

A tap in the rock pours water continuously.
Meandering mountain meadow brook. I saw fly fishermen upstream from here and, once again wish the fly rod had made the cut on the packing list.
I saw lots of ranches raising horses and cattle in the valley below the pass.
You have to appreciate that they’ve kept these old split rail fences.
The mountains ahead, I’m told, are more like table-tops, or mesas, but high nonetheless.
Sometimes these creeks seem to have forgotten where they’re headed.

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.

Adventure. Yes, you’re having an adventure.

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.

8 thoughts on “Day 50 – Salida to Gunnison CO”

  1. Hey Jimmer – sounds like you had a very busy / interesting day! Good job getting over that pass…I know you were a bit anxious about it. So nice to see you in person. I’m super impressed by your passion for climate issues and your follow through with this huge effort. Glad we got to share a bourbon and some laughs / memories. Keep up the good work and hope to see you again soon!

    Love Chuck

    P.S. – we looked an awful lot alike in college b/c of our long bangs and clothing. Though I was much taller and better looking! 🙂 We still look alike if you put your glasses on.

  2. Congratulations on crossing the Continental Divide, Jim! We’ve really been enjoying reading about your journey, and appreciate the reminders about what is happening to our climate and what we can do about it. I especially love the stories of people you meet, your musings, and your photos.

    What a delight to see a pic of you and Chuck after all these years! I have to say I did and still do see a resemblance 😀

    May Mariah continue to smile on you as you make your way home!

    Cheers, Sima

    1. Hi Sima! Nice to see your comment. You were the first one to notice the resemblance when you came up behind me at Lovett and patted my head…thinking I was Jim! Hope you are well.

      Chuck

  3. I could relate to your smaller cookie size vs. increased appreciation reference. Ha!

    But I think I need more explanation about the tap in the rock that pours water continuously into that toxic-waste-looking barrel. What’s up with that? Does the barrel ever fill up? What is the water used for? Anything? Who empties it?

    I have decided reading your blog is like reading The Neverending Story. Your words paint such a vivid portrait of what it feels like to ride up and over the Continental Divide. I was hot, I was cold, I was eating a pretzel. Now I’m in a local cafe waiting out a storm. Thanks for the trip.

  4. When I looked at the first pic I did think you & Chuck looked alike! You had quite a day, glad you’re at day’s end, & hope you were able to sleep under the stars. I’m sorry there wasn’t a fly rod for you to borrow at the meadow brook, but cherishing all these special moments is a great reward.

  5. Thanks everyone for all the encouraging words. It keeps me going when it gets tough.

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