I’m not saying I’m always on the verge of feeling sick, but today – Monday, I’m there.
And I’m not ready, anyways. This surprisingly happens quite a bit: underestimating the time it takes to get gear together to make a trip happen. Even with my style of cobbling things together that, if you would talk to someone with bike know-how would raise an eyebrow, and let out an audible, “eeeehh…?”, I think I got things straight:
The bike is looking like this: 7 speed rear derailer, 9 speed cassette and chain, unknown vintage big ring (no manufacture’s name, no shiftingramps/pins), 10 speed small ring, 6 speed downtube shifters, set to, “friction”, rear wheel found in the barn – off a bike I bought with a huge dent in the downtube (it was cheap!) some 10 years ago.
I think I have 4 separate decades represented.
I would say this re-conversion of a single speed bicycle to a 18 speed touring get-up is 100% successful! I mean, what do I know? The rear rack – also found in the barn isn’t happening – it’s hitting my heels and the plan to ignore this and/or adjust my bio-mechanical pedaling style is failing.
Too bad, it would have given me another decade of nascence to this build.
At least I tried.
“Hmm. Trailer.”, I mumbled to myself.
Back to the barn to pull out the B.O.B. Yak. I haven’t used this thing in years – bought it cheap from someone that used it once in Alaska for… something and then never used it again. I always forget why I don’t use it more often – its utility seems almost obvious.
I throw in the absolute essentials: crampons, snowshoes, supposedly waterproof boots – enough clothes to spend a few nights @ 12,000 feet. Enough room for a small backpack that’s gonna be holding my laptop (work on the go!). I lash an ice axe to the top tube of the bike, afix my sleep system to the handlebars and a few necessary essentials into the saddle bag (toiletries, toolbag, electronic gizmos (mostly batteries, insanely powerful light). Now – now I think I’m ready.
Where am I going?
A race in Salida – the Dirty Double Fondo: 125 miles of gravel roads outside of Salida. Some of the route I know fairly intimately, as it follows the Tour Divide; some I don’t – so part of the plan is to preride the route: I hate surprises. But Salida is about 200 miles away from Denver, and I hate riding in a car to a bike race: that seems almost sacrilegious – and riding bikes is as close to religion that I GOT man, so I’m gonna be riding to the race. Takes a few days, at a casual pace.
And – well, who goes all this way – through all these mountains, and doesn’t climb them? Not I, my dear reader. So that’s what all that climbing gear’s for. Not sure what I want to climb, but the options are literally everywhere on my route: Grays via Loveland Pass, Peak 1 (to 2, to 3), the DeCaLiBron, any of the myriad of Collegiates on the way – all offer enticing spring routes. The problem will certainly be picking which ones to do, and still get on the race on time.
Tuesday morning, still feeling sick. Cough that won’t go away. Def. infection forming in my chest. But the hell with it, we’ve gotta shove off, or we’re never going to make it in time – time again being measured in days. The luxury of slow-moving, human-powered travel. Time of departure is logged at around 8:30am, with calm winds and mild skies. It takes maybe 10 miles before I realize why I don’t use the trailer all that much: it’s a Boat Anchor. The amount of energy it saps out of me – even before the climbs, is incredible. The trailer itself adds easily 15 pounds to the rig, and the back wheel ridicules my effort with its own rolling resistance. At least it’s taking a little bit of the grunt out of my back wheel… that thing’s looking like its best days have past – the non-drive side spokes are feeling a little off in the tensioning dept.
We’ll get there, somehow.
Arriving in Golden, I settle in for the long grind up to almost 12,000 feet, around 60 miles away. I have around 7,000 feet of elevation gain to go. It’s a long haul, any way you look at it, but once you’re there, I’ll be at around 9,000 feet give or take, for most of the trip. With all the weight, the speed is generally between 6 and 10 mph, depending. I know the route well – up the, “backside” of Lookout Mountain and down HW 40, only to go up again at Floyd Hill, only to go down again, into Idaho Springs.
I take a little break at Idaho Springs. My favorite coffee shop is closed for weird reasons, so I stop at a new donut shop and get some vital nourishment in the form of a apple fritter and a medium coffee. Plan was to stop and check up on my business – as I want to do throughout the trip. Trips like these aren’t going to work, unless I can work, so I have time put away for a few hours a day to make sure nothing’s on fire, and there’s time to write. Guess that’ll have to wait, as nighttime won’t.
I leave Idaho Spring for the grind up Loveland Pass – literally: it starts here. Still 4,000 feet to go. Surprisingly, I’ve found my legs, and time is going well. Pass all these weird small towns, some without services, some without much except gold mining gravel piles and trailer parks. I get to the Grays Peak Trailhead, via the bike route system of frontage roads that parallel I-70 and meet up, and pass some cyclists on a day trip. It’s always weird to pass people so loaded down. They yell out, “hey, you look strong!”. I reply with, “I FEEL strong!” and away I go, onto the newish isolated bike path, that helps cyclists miss the 8-odd miles from Grays Peak Winter TH, to the Loveland Ski Area, where you used to have to ride on the shoulder of I-70. Not fun, but not particularly dangerous or anything.
But, it’s also prettier on the bike path, and I’m a sucker for beauty, I guess. at 9,800 feet, the trail is mostly free snow, but every few hundred meters, there’s a little patch of snow, and this pattern seems to escalate. The little patch of snow, turns into a big ol’ pile of snow I can barely skirt. This turns into a much larger pile of snow, I need to unmount and walk. I can still see the bottom of the tarmac of the trail, as my wheels plow down into them.
And it continues to escalate, as I continue to ascend.
The piles of snow turn into full coverage, and I’m relegated to simply push through. I do, at this point, realize that it’s best to just, you know, turn around, but I’m either stupid, or stubborn, or both, ’cause I keep on going. The snowed-in path gets deeper and deeper and I start post-holing. A few more hundred meters of this, and it’s impossible to actual push the bike. The Boat Anchor trailer is acting like a plow: I’ve sunk in so deep, that instead of skimming over the snow, it’s now in the snow. Taking a minute to breathe, I adjust my bike-pushing technique, I straddle the front of the bike, grab the handlebars with both hands and start the mantra:
Step, step, PULL, Step, step, PULL. Step, step, PULL.
I make a foot or so forward, for each completion of the pattern. I am caught in this snowed in path for what seems like hours – what actually turns out to be hours.
It begins to rain lightly – and then: hard. Daylight is waning and I’m running out of time. It’s not fun to go over a mountain pass at night – especially this one, where any truck with chemicals too dangerous to go through the much lower tunnel bored into the mountain besides it have to also go over. My strength is also being sapped pulling, rather than riding. I continue. Until, honestly I can’t, without a break. I decide to revert to pushing, but it’s too hard in my weakened state. A laughable state if you think about it. I give myself 5, and return to pulling the bike.
In time, I do finally crest the highpoint, and the path turns drastically to the right, and down, and to my escape point. The whizzing of cars and trucks in the nearby I-70 is now crystal clear. I’ve made it back onto the map.
And I am wet, and cold. The rain lightens up, and I sneak under one of the buildings that make up the ski area to do a quick swap from wet clothes – it’s an absolute luxury to be now have all these clothes I’ve been schlepping with me, in the trailer. I usually make due with the absolute bare minimum while in Race Mode. I change out of almost everything, including shoes – they’re just that wet. Guess I’ll have to make the summit of the pass in… hiking boots! I shake off the rest of the wetness like a shaggy dog and continue. Four more miles to the top of the pass – not so bad.
But I am tired. Riding in these boots is not going to work – it feels like I’m walking on the top of a very pointy fence, and I switch back over to the wet and cold cycling shoes to make it to the top. It’s just a long grind that I’ve done many times before, and I enjoy it, as much as I can. The views are spectacular and I am mostly alone.
Topping out, I take the summit pass, “shot” and say, “hello” to a couple from Washington that have decided to set up camp near the road for an overnight stay. That reinvigorates me for the 8+ miles of free downhill travel, into Summit County, where – given the time of day, I’ll have to end for the night. My hope was to get to Alma, but Alma is another Continental Divide crossing further – and, it’s just not happening. I have remind myself (actually) that I’m not racing (yet) and simply touring, and this should be fun! So I head to Frisco, where I know a cheap (enough) motel, that’s close (enough) to mass quantities of food.
Stepping into the motel, I’m greeted by the night person, who has a copy of a John Muir book. I ask him how the book is, and he gives it positive reviews. I realize I’m doing something very anti-Muir-like and also realize I could probably ditch it in the National Forest boundary, that’s nary a mile away. But the night person clues me in on the Jacuzzi available for my use until 10:00 pm, and the deal is sealed.
I take a shower, make coffee and (coffee hidden in my jacket) make my way to the Jacuzzi, where I do my best attempt at a self-massage. The relief is audible, but I’m one of maybe two other guests at the motel. It’s the off season in the mountains. “Mud Season”, it’s called. I redress, and spend about $30.00 on food at the local Safeway, just across the street, and take it all back to my room, where I eat, check in on work, watch a shitty movie on the T.V. and set the alarm for 5:00am. The objective tomorrow is to climb Peak 1 and beyond, whose trailhead is conveniently only a few blocks away.
It doesn’t happen. The previous day – or rather: the previous day’s stomping around, post holing in the snow, pushing and pulling an over-loaded bike has defeated me. I keep resetting my alarm, 6:00am. 7:00 am. Finally, at 9:00am, I saunter out of bed, put on some damn clothes and get out the door. I’ll try for Peak 1 anyways – running up and down mountains in Boulder should give me some sort of speed on these things, even though I’m starting a good 4,000′ farther up.
I ride to the Trailhead, tuck things away to not be too obvious that everything I have, and need to complete this trip, including a laptop, is available for anyone to grab off this bike. There’s a weird thrill to this and I shiver at the thought of coming back to a disturbed bike with gear missing.
“Fuck it!”, I think, “It’s just stuff”.
I’m happy to be on trail – it’s nice to have been able to bring all this gear with me, and utilize it: Boots on my feet and snowshoes/crampons stashed on my backpack. It’s a full load, on this tiny backpack. Bringing along simply a raincoat would be a full load with this thing. The weather looks perfect, but I know it’ll change at any time. My uneducated guess is that a repeat of yesterday: amazing, until later in the afternoon and then: RAIN, will hold true, and I keep my expectations for the day low.
I reach the strange weather center, found after the J Chute and the weather has already come down on me. Every single degree in the sky is filled with dark, angry clouds and rain coming down in streams. I duck below the stairwell to the boarded up weather station and eat some leftover food from yesterday and asses the rest of the hike – which is about to get serious, given the snow and weather conditions. We’re basically at treeline here, and It won’t take long to reach the top – distances are always hard to gauge, but the summit can’t be that far away, could it?
The problem really lies in the last few meters of the climb: a nasty cornice has developed at the top of the summit, and to avoid it, you’d have to exit the North ridge right below it earlier than usual, scamper to the East ridge and make your way from there. It’s impossible to know how realistic it is to do such a maneuver from this vantage point and given the weather, it may not even be worth trying. It starts to rain on me.
I pull the plug on the climb and retrace my steps.
Part of the Freedom of the Hills, is realizing the summiting is never, ever a given and being comfortable about turning back earlier than expected is part of the game – even on simple, short climbs like this one. No one ever likes bailing – but, shit: this is only the starter course: I have a race to recon, a race to race, and plenty of bigger mountains to challenge. It’s been a good re-calibration to alpine weather: To Top Off, You Must Begin Earlier Than Most.
I wait for the weather to figure itself out, and drink coffee, eat ice cream. Never too early to compensate for the additional calories required. The weather is being stubborn and comedic: it seems it’s only going to move, when I do, so I come to terms with the Fates, leave the safe confines of the café, don a raincoat and start off. It immediately starts to rain in earnest and Peak 1 evaporates from view,
Route now takes me from Frisco, through Breckenridge via a bike path, and then onto HW 9, up and over Hoosier Pass, down in to Alma, Fairplay, and finally: Hartsel, where I’ll spend the night, tucked in between a church, a fire department, and a dive bar. Hoosier is another Continental Divide crossing – back to the Atlantic side for me, I guess, and another long grind up, starting literally from Main Street Breckenridge. Traffic is sparse and a few cars give an encouraging, “honk”, rather than the discouraging ones. Second days of touring are usually the worst: delayed onset muscle soreness takes hold, while you’re trying to find your rhythm, pace, etc.
On the way down from Hoosier, I do recon for DeCaLiBron – it’s almost four 14ers in one circuit to do – which is appealing, but the mountain itself lacks a certain interesting character. Not to slander a landmass, but it’s a pile of rubble, pockmarked with mining tunnels, and covered in red tape, as multiple people have dibs on the same mining claims, some located on the summits. I pass by what I think is the road to the trailhead and keep going. I have to start recon for the race by tomorrow.
The rain, starting lightly, now begins to pour. I worry about my computer getting damaged, and my cold escalating. It’s like my own little Giro d’Italia 2013 here in the mountains. The alpine weather pattern this time of year is strikingly similar, no matter which continent you see to be on. I make my way to Hartsel, in surprisingly good time. It’s all downhill from the pass and the roads are mostly empty.
Harstel. Nothing open but a bar. I make my way quietly into the church/school area and find what looks like an old barn, without doors or windows that I’ll use as a shelter for the night. Hang up most all my clothes that are wet and reset the alarm for 5:00 am. In the morning, I’ll get up, and take on the second half of the race course, on my way to Salida.
Sleep is intermittent, and lousy. HW 24 isn’t but a few hundred feet away, and headlights trace the path of traffic, even from where I’m tucked in. I can here the bar close and locals walk back to their homes. 5:00am comes soon enough and this time I rise up – more to not get found out, than for a general early start of the day.
I begin the new-to-me part of the course. Other than the wind, my fatigue, and this ridiculous weight I’m carrying, it turns out to be very pleasant indeed. The route meanders around and through some reservoirs, past cows and a few bison, a few hills you don’t have to climb, and hits up a little township called, “Guffey”. Guffey is somewhat of a weird tourist town, far outside the realm of usual traffic, unless you happen to be traveling the TransAmerica bicycle route, whereby you might pass right through it. I fill my bottles at the local K-6 school (class was in session) in the spigot, right outside the front door, and make the hard-right turn, and see the other side of town: a café, a bar. Another turn, and I’m back on gravel, with what may be the largest climb of the day, the downhill and then into somewhat familiar territory, as the terrain looks quite a bit like what you’ll see on the GDMBR route.
It doesn’t take but a few hours at my pace to get to the point where the GDMBR route meets up to my route and I know what’s coming: a stiff, but short climb into the Indian Hills, and then a huge downhill into Salida. I’m glad that I’ve began this ride so early – I’ll be in Salida by early afternoon. But before the climb: a nap. I’m almost out of water, so I use some purification tablets to try out the water next to me. It looks pretty suspect, with all the moo’ing near me, but what the hell.
I start the last crux, and say hello to familiar, but personal landmarks: there’s the pine tree I stayed a night under, after cruising a 180+ mile day on the Tour Divide last year. There’s a sign I was delighted to have seen, after so much wind, the year before.
The climb is steep. Steeper than I remember. I eject the water I just purified and relegate the walking the hill – hoping not to bump into anyone else, in this embarrassing situation. The Boat Anchor is doing it’s job, even if I’m not. I guess 34 x 26 is not the ultimate touring low-gear ratio I thought it may be. The hill relents, as they usually do, and I’m on top, with beautiful views of the Collegiates and Salida. Rocketing down a gravel hill is terrifying with a trailer: just so many interesting things that could go Wrong and render your bicycle into a very uneven sphere careening off the intended route. But I get done, and finish tracing the route. And onto Mama D’s, for the traditional Burrito stop,
At this point of the story, I’ve lost about an hour’s worth of writing, because of a shitty cafe internet connection that likes to reset itself, every hour, and a auto-save feature in software that fails to work in interesting ways, when coupled with this sort of connection.
Since my queue for future stories is already overflowing, I give you the outline of the rest:
Rested a day, raced the race called the Dirty Double Fondo. 125 miles! Tired! Sore! Got third! Rejoice!
Looking up from the base of the snowclimb (pretty straightforward),
Dopey summit shot!
Weather looks iffy for Tabeguache, so the hell with it.
Ride to Buena Vista, windy!
Ride to Fairplace, windier!
Sleep at Alma skatepark. Hilarity ensued.
Say hello to my Brother in Breckenridge, rest a day.
Ride back home. Tired Sore! Took I-70 this time, instead of that stupid bikepath.
Apologies for the condensed version, this has been on my plate for weeks