When we awoke the next morning the very first thing I noticed was that Jon’s face looked kind of funny. Something had bit his upper lip in the middle of the night, and it was now swollen and tender to the touch.
We stopped to grab him a razor and some allergy medicine, then pushed on towards Grand Junction. Today was going to be our last day in Colorado, and I was getting excited about seeing the high desert for the first time. Our route was starting to flatten out as we made our way along the I-70 corridor towards the state line, although the surrounding land still contained smaller canyons and mesas as we moved across the western foothills of the Rockies.
We rode past the Roan Plateau as we moved into the small De Beque-Palisade-Grand Junction valley area. Peaches and wine grapes are extensively farmed in the valley, creating an extremely vibrant little field of intense emerald green that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the area. There are numerous wineries and roadside produce stands as you move towards Grand Junction, and we definitely stopped at our share of them. The local wines are wonderful, and the peaches- well, I have never eaten a tastier (or larger) peach than the one we bought from a stand just outside the De Beque Canyon Winery.
Once you enter Grand Junction, however, all of that changes pretty quickly. Grand Junction is fairly large, as it is the only real city until you reach Moab, just over 100 miles away. We cruised around for a bit, finally stopping for a bite to eat. We hung out for a few hours and chatted with some locals while we let Jon’s phone charge since we weren’t certain of having an outlet where we crashed for the night. Once we left we made our way to a fairly large park where the Peach Festival had been held that day. We originally planned on camping under the pavilion, until we found ourselves too deeply engaged in a conversation with a slightly unhinged (but kind and soft-spoken) older homeless man. He insisted on talking our ears off which is ultimately what prompted us to the move to a different park- there was no way we would be able to get to sleep around him.
The second park we went to seemed perfect at first. There was a covered pavilion with outlets to charge our stuff, and a large evergreen close by that, oddly enough, had a triangular section missing from the bottom that hid us and our gear perfectly from view of any cops. We quickly scouted the area to make sure that there were no sprinklers close by, and started to settle in for the night. About five minutes after getting comfortable, we heard the sounds of people yelling from a few hundred feet away. Suddenly, a guy and girl- both only in undergarments and clenching their clothes, ran into our line of few. The male was yelling his displeasure over something at some other people that we could hear but not see as he ran out of the park. We laughed about it and went back to getting comfortable for the night, when we heard the telltale sign of the sprinklers popping up. This startled us as the sound was coming from an area that we thought was free of them. I decided to get up and check one last time to make sure our area was safe- and as I did, I saw a cop car pull and an officer get out. He had definitely seen me, and once he asked for my id there was no way to avoid the fact that we were attempting to camp out in the park. As I was walking back to our tree, sprinklers suddenly started going off around us. They were about 30 seconds away from soaking our campsite, and the cop laughed as we scrambled to move our stuff under the pavilion and out of the way. The timing and humor of the entire situation ended up being our saving grace; while running our ids, he, in a very roundabout way, let us know that as long as we relocated to a different park and no one saw us, we could get away with camping out for the night. We thanked him for his lenience and made our way to a new spot, finally putting the day to an end.
Archive for the ‘Colorado’ Category
When we awoke the next morning the very first thing I noticed was that Jon’s face looked kind of funny. Something had bit his upper lip in the middle of the night, and it was now swollen and tender to the touch.
Before I get started with this post, obviously the first thing that needs to be addressed is the long hiatus the website has taken. I’m not going to give away the ending just yet; suffice to say that between chaos back home in Texas, various injuries, illness, pitfalls, and crises, all mixed in with an unexpected change of plans, working on this has had to be placed on the back burner. Jon and I are still alive however, and we thank everyone wholeheartedly who expressed concern over our disappearance.
The morning we left Glenwood Springs was another one of those where we got off to an unexpectedly late start. Riding in the storm the day before had left us with soaked and muddy clothing which was certainly the first thing to attend to. We also decided that on the way out of town it would be a good idea to stop and clean off our bikes again, so we decided to hit up a cool looking shop called the Gear Exchange for some bike TLC.
This shop is definitely one of my favorites- the vibe is great, they have an awesome eclectic selection of merchandise, and the employees were all really friendly and fun to talk to. We chatted about the scene in Glenwood and somewhere during the conversation it was brought up that Koichi Yamaguchi and his school were located just down the road in Rifle, an leisurely 27 miles away. Since we were already farther behind schedule than we had intended for the day (it was almost noon by the time we left town), we decided that we might as well just stop in Rifle for the night and see if it would be possible to meet him and see the school.
We finally left Glenwood and headed off to the west. There were some nice rolling hills as we made our way through New Castle and Silt into Rifle, and the overall descent made the few hours of riding we did a breeze. The landscape was slowly growing hotter and more arid as we made our way across the Western Slope, preparing us for what we would experience in Utah. Despite the bias I had developed towards the lush coolness of the mountains, the area we were crossing now was not without its own beauty, many parts of it reminiscent of the terrain we had seen passing from Texas into New Mexico.
We arrived in town that afternoon and set off looking for Yamaguchi’s school. We asked a couple of people for directions but no one seemed to know exactly where we needed to go. We rode around the neighborhood that everyone indicated; we didn’t find the school but we did find a random hill at a 20% grade that lasted for about 7-8 blocks, sloping down towards the main street. Of course, we decided to try it out- it was a ton of fun.
As riding around the neighborhood didn’t seem to be helping us find Yamaguchi, we finally decided just to call and ask where the school was located. Unfortunately, we were told (very politely) that they are not so keen on having visitors, which was disappointing to hear. There wasn’t anything to be done about it though so we decided that we might as well just find a spot to hang out and figure out where to camp for the night. We grabbed a couple of happy hour drinks and listened to a gaggle of ladies enjoying some Friday afternoon refreshments while we sat and talked about what the next few days were going to bring. As the sun started setting we made our way out to the edge of town in search of a soft, quiet spot to sleep for the night. It was still early enough that the parks were all off limits, but we finally found a ridge at the back of a park under a weeping willow, quiet and peaceful. I was definitely in the mood to turn in early and relax while watching the stars. We did just that, and drifted off to sleep for the night.
Luck was not on our side the morning we left Silverthorne. Gray, drizzly, and cold, we just held out hope that Vail Pass wouldn’t be too slick on the way down- at least we had a bike path, and could stay away from traffic if anything went wrong. We left Silverthorne and headed for Copper, where we would begin the climb up the pass. Copper is just up the way, and we passed through Frisco before getting there. All of the little resort towns are nestled together in a small cluster, so it was just a hop and a skip from one town to the next. Once in town we changed into rain gear and flipped our wheels before heading out, and encountered an older couple from Texas that was out in Colorado for the summer. They were doing the pass as well, and we talked on and off with them during the way. From the Copper side, it's only about 5 miles to the summit of the pass, which sits at 10,600+. It was still sprinkling off and on as we made our way up, but it felt much easier than other places we had biked through (for me at least), due to the bike path. Most of the area on either side of the trail is off-limits, as it's a wildlife protected area. It was very pretty, even though we missed the wildflower bloom for the summer. We made it to the top after a little, and took a small breather before switching our wheels back around to the 15t. At the very top of the pass I convinced Jon to take a break with me for some Colorado relaxation, since it was going to be one of the last times we would be at such a high altitude (I had wanted to do it at the top of Loveland, which obviously did not happen). About 15 minutes into the descent the sun finally made its appearance. About 5 minutes after that I realized I was having more fun than I had ever had doing anything, ever. I’ve been mulling over how I would describe the experience of coming down the pass, but I am still mostly at a loss for the right words. There are moments where you feel suspended in space- the mountainside instantly disappears downwards to the left, the path stretches out before you, and with breakneck swiftness you approach what feels like the edge of the earth. I could feel my strength coming back as the elevation dropped rapidly and the air warmed and thickened. Trucks were crawling up the mountain on the highway to my right, and with a maniacal smile I laughed and waved and sped downwards, skidding as the trail wove in and out of forest areas with hairpin turns and sharp drops. As we approached the base we started seeing other cyclists, mountain bikers and roadies making the long, hard ride up to the top. They, too, wished to be rewarded with the thrill of speeding back down the mountain. It started to depress me though, as I knew we were getting close to the bottom. I never wanted it to end, it was just so damn pretty and amazing. I will say this- having down the descent brakeless, if I ever have the chance to do it again, I will choose to do it the same way. It was absolutely too much fun.We finally came to the end of the pass, and rode into Vail. A mountain biker passed us while we were stripping out of our rain gear, and he led us to a bike shop so that we could get our bikes cleaned up and our chains lubed. It was here that we changed our first tire- between Mt. Evans and the pass, Jon had finally worn through his rear tire. Being considerably lighter and carrying less stuff, as well as not having done Evans, my tire was still going strong. As Murphy’s Law would have it, as soon as we got our stuff cleaned up and got ready to go, it started raining again. It wasn’t bad, and as the rain hadn’t lasted very long earlier we just decided to push on through. We made it about as far as Gypsum when all of the sudden the weather turned incredibly nasty. the rain started pelting us, and it was cold, tiny, needle-like drops being propelled into our bodies at incredibly high speeds. It was definitely the most painful storm I have ever been in, and all we could do was try to push our way out of the valley into the lighter skies we could see further down the road. Finally, we made it out of the rain, and approached the trail head for the Glenwood Canyon bike trail. It was our good fortune that we would get to see two incredibly beautiful stretches of Colorado in one day, and it made up for the butt-kicking we received from the storm. The Glenwood Canyon is described often as one of the most scenic and beautiful stretches of highway in the US, but that definition seems to come from people who mostly drive through it. Scenic and beautiful are not strong enough words to describe the experience of watching cliff walls shoot straight up and towards a thousand feet over you on both sides and you ride along the Colorado River. We finally rolled into town right as it started getting dark, and made a beeline for the liquor store before heading down to the secret hot springs. After the cold, wet, tiring day, soaking in a private, secluded hot spring while drinking a beer was exactly what my body wanted from me. We were also waiting to hear back from a couple that we had contacted via WarmShowers.org, which is a website that puts tourers and hosts in touch with each other. We hung out at the springs for a long time, watching the sun come down and the moon rise. The Colorado was extremely high and rushing by at tremendous speed, and the bright moon glittered off the water while we soaked and lounged in the hot springs. Right as we were thinking it was time to get a hold of our hosts, threatening clouds appeared again and we saw lightening coming from downstream. We got out and headed back to the main street for some food, right as the rain came down on us once again. We rode up to our hosts’ house and crashed out fairly quickly, as 92 miles had made it a long day, even without the rain.
Today was the day we had been worrying about, the day we would finally be facing the Loveland Pass. There is a bike path out of town, that goes up to the frontage road right before the pass. The climb starts as soon as you leave Georgetown, winding through the thickly and beautifully forested path. The trail finally let us out at the base of the pass, putting us at 10,800 ft. We saw the sign marking the start of the pass, reading “Summit 4 miles”. This was decision time. Do we attempt the pass, which has barely a shoulder either up or down, grades up to 10%, and a plethora of large tanker trucks that are not allowed in the Eisenhower Tunnel? For probably the first time in the entire trip, we ran straight to the side of caution. Jon’s legs could barely carry him from the climb up Mt. Evans the day before, and I am barely functional above 10,00 ft. And I was terrified of getting run off the road by a tanker truck. We flagged down a ride at the base, and ended up getting to talk to a Colorado native named Kevin (who turned out to be a professional mountain bike/downhill racer) about extreme physical exertion in places of high elevation. It helped to ease our wounded pride from not doing the pass, and also helped give us a bit more rest. There was still the Vail Pass to attempt, after all. Kevin dropped us off at the Arapahoe Basin, and we rode the rest of the way into Keystone.We hung around the resort for a little bit, did a little maintenance on our bikes, and looked into winter jobs. Jon wanted to take me to the <a href=”http://www.dambrewery.com“>Dillon Dam Brewery</a> the next town over in Silverthorne, so we took off in that direction for a late lunch. We ended up staying that night in Silverthorne instead of pressing on to Copper, and found another playground to camp at. Clouds were looking threatening overhead, and we hoped that they would pass over and drop the rain somewhere else. We weren’t that lucky, although the playground equipment did a very good job of protecting us from most of it. Our main hope was that we could make it out the next morning without too much rain, and, thinking of what we would have to face the next morning, fell asleep for the night.
While Jon was off conquering Mt. Evans, I spent the day in Idaho Springs hanging out with Brian at the hot dog stand.
I got to learn a bit about the town, and see a lot of the local color. I spent most of the day working on pictures, and thinking about how awesome it would be to move to Colorado. After a few hours Jon returned, and he rested up a bit so that we could do the 13 miles into Georgetown, the last stop before we would have to try and face the Loveland Pass. Brian treated us both to his gourmet hot dogs (I had the Southwest Buffalo, Jon got the Bratwurst), and hooked us up with snacks and goodies for the road. Since he had to head out to his second job that night, he even gave us a lift to the edge of town.
At first we were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to take the frontage road out, as the heavy rains had washed out the exit we needed to hop on. It turned out to be all clear for cyclists, however, and as we were headed out one of the workers said to Jon, “The road’s all yours”.
The ride out was pretty uneventful, and we made it into town a little before the sun started going down. We tried to stop by Canyon Wind Cellars for a tasting, but they had just closed about 10 minutes before. As Georgetown is pretty small, there wasn’t a lot open other than the gas station, a restaurant, and the grocery store. The older, “historic” section of town is pretty neat, however, and we rode around there for a little bit before grabbing some groceries and having a meal on some picnic benches next to the entrance for the historic district. Finally, the sun went down the entire way, and we made our back to the city park to find a spot to camp out for the night.
The city park is very pretty, from a touristy standpoint. The gazebo in the middle had electrical outlets underneath, so we plugged in our stuff and set up camp on the soft, bouncy, rubberized ground under the massive playground structures.
The night was very uneventful, except for the animals that crept up on us while sleeping. I’m pretty sure it was a skunk family, but they were friendly and just sniffed around at some wrappers on the ground. Peaceful night and a short day (for me at least).
I don’t remember the date but it was the morning of what would be our 28th day since we left Austin. I woke up early, knowing we still had to leave Idaho Springs that afternoon after I finished my solo adventure. Nikol had a hard time getting up as usual. She was planning using Brian’s computer to work on the website while I was out. We ate breakfast, had a little coffee and got our stuff packed up. Brian had to go down into town to open his hot dog stand, so Nikol decided to go with him and I would just head straight back down to Idaho Springs after climbing Evans. I left most of my gear with them and headed out carrying my tool pouch, water bladder, and jacket in my bag.
The road up Mt. Evans starts near Echo Lake at 10,600 feet. From there it is 15 miles and a 3,530 foot climb to the summit. From the entrance station the climb starts with steep switchbacks through an alpine forest. I started to worry I was in over my head as I started getting winded so early on. At about 3 miles you start to break out above the the tree line and see some of the road ahead.The road turns back north around a large mound and opens up a view of the peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park off in the distance.From here there is about another mile of steep grades before it starts to relax a little.Each of the first five miles average between 5% and 6% grade. By this point I had already climbed 1500 feet and I felt a real loss of breath. The next 4 miles smooth out a bit with the average grade ranging from as little as 1.2% up to 4.8%. As you approach Summit Lake there is even a slight dip in elevation. I stopped here to catch my breath (as best one can at just under 13,000 feet) before the final push to the top.I had less than 6 miles left to the end of the road. The first mile past the lake averages only 2.4% and I’m felt pretty good about finishing the climb. However, each mile after that gets steeper and steeper. I had been fighting the wind since I got out of the trees but now it really starts to pick up. My best estimate would be that they were holding steady above 20mph with frequent gusts of 30-35. With 2 more miles to go you come around the back side of the peak and an amazing view south opens up.From here you have to climb a series of steep switchbacks up the southern face. The winds, blowing from the West, are even stronger now. My muscles were getting sore and my lungs could not get enough oxygen for them to recover. Then I come around the first switchback and the headwind turned to a tailwind and practically swooped me right up to the next turn. And then more headwinds. At moments it felt as if I was pushing and not going anywhere. Back and forth like this several more times and I am almost at the top. A young roadie who passed me back when I was taking the previous picture is now on his descent. He screamed down the mountain and said, “Thats fucking incredible man,” as I feebly tried to finish the climb. With just a few hundred feet to the end of the road, I looked back down on all the hairpin turns I just came up and started thinking about the brakeless descent.One last push and I was finally in the parking lot at 14,130 feet above sea level (The actual peak is another 134 feet up on a trail.) I asked a stranger to take a picture of me.I was exhausted and it is freezing at the top of that mountain. I threw on my rain jacket to block the wind and warm myself up a bit. I was also hoping it would have somewhat of a parachute effect on the way back down. I flipped my wheel around from the 18t cog I use for climbing back to the 15t on the other side. I ate carrot I had packed for a snack. I wish I could have stayed up there longer but the wind was brutal and I couldn’t feel my hands or feet because it’s so cold. I looked over everything on my bike to make sure it was safe. It looked good so I thought to myself, “Here goes nothing.” You can try to resist as you descend but your pedals will start to spin out so you have to do a lot of skidding to control your speed. As I’m bombing down the side of the peak I passed another roadie on his way up. He smiled cordially, then did a double-take, realizing I was riding fixed, and gives a real drawn out “God damn!” I was pretty scared after I got around a couple sharp turns. I knew I had the skill to handle this descent, but I was freaking out thinking, “What if my chain were to pop off or my shoe unclipped right before a big turn?” Then I got distracted by something up a head. A deer was stopped right in front of a car begging for food. It was the most mangy, pitiful deer I have ever seen and I was able to slow down enough to snap a photo as I rode by.Alas, I made It down off the mountain alive and with a lot less rubber on my tires. I met up with Nikol and Brian down in Idaho Springs and we got ready to head down the road a bit before the day was done.
Leaving Denver was hard after a week of relaxation, fun, and riding around a real city. But the road was calling and our budget was getting stretched from all of the indulging, so it was time to carry on.
The rain that had been following us since entering New Mexico had abated during our stay in Denver, but started up again the day we left. Typical. It was gray and drizzly, and made for a very annoying climb out of town. The winds were the real culprit in slowing down the ride- if there’s one thing I absolutely can not stand, it’s a strong crosswind when there is no real shoulder to ride on.
There were some wonderful downhills once we started getting further from the city though, including a marked 6% grade.
As soon as we finished up the most awesome of the downhills we encountered that day, we got to jump onto a bike path that would take us all the way into the next town. The path was awesome- it was the beautiful, unruly cousin of the Platte River Trail that we took on the way into Denver. Slightly less maintained, more overgrown, but completely empty the entire way.
We made it into the outskirts of Idaho Springs right as the first few raindrops started to hit us. We ducked into a gas station and Jon asked where we could find some good, cheap, local food. This would be the question that would lead us to meeting one of the coolest people I have ever met, Brian. He told us to hit up Mangia!, the Italian restaurant where he works as a cook. We headed down that way, but detoured to a bike shop before eating. The shop was closed, so we hung out for a minute before going back to the restaurant.
While hanging out, Brian popped up again and we talked more in depth with him about the trip and what we were up to. He offered us a place to crash for the night, which ended up carrying another hidden benefit- it would give Jon the chance to climb Mt. Evans (which is the highest paved road in America, leading to the top of a 14,000 ft. peak). Brian’s house was just up the road from Echo Lake, the entrance to Mt. Evans Rd. We thought that he had missed the chance once we left Denver, and here it was, literally falling in his lap. We accepted, and Brian told us to hurry up and get down to Mangia! for happy hour, and that he would see us in a bit.
Our meal was delicious, and right as we finished up, there was Brian again, ready to escort us to his mountainside house- he lives somewhere over 10,000 ft. in elevation, so high up that you can see Denver at night when the city is lit up. Riding up the mountain to get to his place was a blast. The mountains rise up rapidly on all sides, and there’s even evidence of old mining shafts in certain places. We also got to see this:
Up at the house we got to meet his wife, Jackie, and the three dogs: Andrew, Berkman, and Chloe. We hung out for awhile, and then the neighbor came over so we headed over to his place, which was even further up on the mountain. Once we got up there we got to meet Beaker, a very vocal (and old) parrot. Unfortunately none of my pictures came out, but let me tell ya, he is a hoot. I hung out with him for a long time, having a blast listening to him talk. Somewhere in the midst of hanging out pictures were taken, but they have disappeared for some reason.
The hospitality and drastic rise in elevation really did a number on me, and Jon needed rest if he was going to conquer the hill the following day. We wrapped it up and went back down to Brian and Jackie’s, and crashed out on the couch. It had been an unexpectedly awesome day.