Day 9: Mancos -> Durango -> Pagosa Springs, CO; Day 5/7 in the mountains- hard climbing but so beautiful
Today turned out to be the shortest day of TDSU17, just 92 miles. I considered adding a few more to get to 100, but it was a windy day, and I managed to stay focused on the ultimate goal of riding across the US- not 28 straight 100 mile days. But I was tempted!
I only rode for 8 hours today, limited once again by available towns for stops. After Pagosa Springs, the next town large enough to have a hotel or Warmshowers host was 50 miles away, seperated by the Continental Divide.
I enjoyed coffee and homemade granola with Kenny & Patsy Smith before I pulled myself away from Mancos. Here’s one last picture as I climbed up to almost 8,000ft- just 7 miles into the day:
Today’s ride featured 3 big climbs, and the first time above 8000ft on the ride. Here’s the elevation profile-
Kenny warned me as I got up that it was chilly out, and he was right. I started the morning with leg warmers for first time as the temperature dropped below 40F. Tailwinds most of the day didn’t help much, and by day’s end, I had averaged 11.7mph- one of 3 days under 12mph.
With a shorter day, I made an impromptu detour in Durango to see the town briefly- and reserved a hotel as I sat on a bench outside the Silverton-Durango Scenic Railroad for the following night when a Warmshowers stop fell through. I texted this picture to my Uncle Pete- a railroad enthusiast- and he quickly responded that he’s ridden it. That would be fun!
The sight of this bike path is part of what motivated me to detour through Durango:
Pictures tell the story- mountain peaks and valleys, green landscape, and streams. Late spring was a great time to be riding- not too hot and warm enough after the cool start. The roads were so-so. I was forced to stay on US and state highways to avoid meandering. Backroads would certainly have been even more scenic with much less traffic- but I didn’t have time for the miles that would have added.
A frequently seen sign through Colorado- the benefit of the work of the climb is the speed of the descent:
My stop for the night was a Warmshowers stop with Deni and Marlin. I arrived with no one home, but a note on the door and towels waiting. Amazing! Dinner included a diverse conversation with their friend Dean, a Unitarian Minister- which he called “the most liberal of Protestant demoninations”.
My Warmshowers host was still sleeping but left me cereal for breakfast- a typical example of the hospitality and friendliness of Warmshowers. With a long day ahead including a climb of 4000ft over the Continental Divide, I was up and riding at 520am. This morning was easily the coldest of the ride, with temps in the mid-30’s. That’s generally not especially cold for me, but I was freezing as I descended several hundred feet before beginning the climb. I was anxious for sunshine and hard climbing in order to warm up.
After a quick photo stop at a waterfall at the base, I started up:
It took about 2 ½ hours to make the 8 mile climb to Wolf Creek Pass and the Continental Divide. By the time I reached the top, I had ridden only 30 miles in 4 ½ hours!
As I slowly rode up, a lady in a parked car at a turn off yelled encouragement to me. When I reached the top, a runner came striding up to the car she was in (obviously his wife or girlfriend). There’s always someone doing something more extreme- running up the Continental Divide!
The top of the Continental Divide was definitely one of the highlights of riding across America. I met an extended family who took these pictures and we chatted about my ride. As we finished, one of the aunts told me a story of her father fighting in WWII and coming home safely. She said they always felt he was protected by a “guardian angel” and then gave me a medallion to pray for safety. It was a touching moment with total strangers.
Then it was time to head down the mountain- and I was extremely cold again with the wind on the descent. The data tells the story- the bottom plot is cadence. After a steady grind of 50-60rpm up the mountain for 2+ hours, I wasn’t pedaling at all for about 5-6 miles.
Although today was a much longer day, I was desperate for “real food” and started looking for breakfast. I hoped for a good option in South Fork, but had to continue another 15 miles and finally found The Mystic Biscuit in Del Norte. But there were no biscuits! That would have been great. And on Sunday at noon, no breakfast (my favorite cycling meal). I had to settle for salad, roast potatoes, and toast. But I enjoyed the respite and chatted with the cook owner for a bit. Then it was time for another 75 miles to Salida- which didn’t sound so bad, but seemed longer.
I also crossed the Rio Grande River as it headed south:
As often happened during the ride, I received texts from friends and co-workers. Today (Sunday afternoon), I received one from my co-worker Rex just as I stopped to take a couple pictures- so I was able to respond which I often couldn’t.
The San Luis Valley was breathtakingly beautiful- snow capped peaks all around. Again, pictures tell the story. I rode and rode, and absolutely reveled in the scenery:
Surprisingly, the #1 reason that people don’t finish endurance events is not conditioning or muscle fatigue. Surveys I’ve seen show that “intestinal distress” is easily the top cause. Although I had few problems during my ride, today I did. I went too long without eating and took a short break on the side of the road to wolf down a Clif pouch of sweet potatoes and some applesauce. Not a good combination….
I enjoyed a tailwind and got down in my aero bars and felt like I was making good speed for what seemed like 2-3 hours. I was thinking that Salida, my stop for the night, had to be no more than 20 or so miles away, which always felt like a good milestone to reach each day.
Then I saw a mileage sign: 45 miles to go…. It was perhaps the single most discouraging mental moment of the ride. I often hit a point each day that I thought to myself “I’m ready to be done”. This was that point, but still had well over 3 hours and one more mountain pass to go.
The climb to Poncha Pass was gradual but long- only 1200 ft but continuous for 25 miles, exacerbating the feeling of slow progress.
My stop was brief as I realized that I had now bicycled up to 9000ft for the 3rd time in my life- and 2nd time today! (the 3rd was Pikes Peak in 2014).
Warmshowers had fallen through, which probably was good as I didn’t arrive at my hotel- the Colorado Lodge- until about 8pm after 14 hours on the bike. Dinner was a local restaurant “The Bounty” but portions weren’t “bountiful” and service was poor. I definitely needed an all you can eat buffet.
Breakfast at the hotel didn’t start until 7am, so I made do with buffalo jerky purchased at a roadside stand in Arizona, Clif Oatmeal, and breakfast biscuits before starting to ride at about 615am.
I took few pictures as my phone didn’t charge- but this was one of the most beautiful stretches of the ride, through canyon country.
I kept my phone off but kept being tempted to stop for a quick photo. Among the sites today were riding past Royal Gorge where I’d gone white water rafting a couple years ago. I made good time and was in Canon City by 945- so I stopped at the Big Daddy Diner for a huge breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, potatoes, and French toast as I wrote out notes for the first 10 days of the ride, then found an AT&T store open on Sunday to get a new phone cable.
Although I loved riding in the mountains, as I continued to Colorado Springs, I had to endure a tough stretch on CO115 of rolling hills gradually up to 6000+ feet with some headwind and lots of traffic.
Finally I made it into “the Springs”, and was met by my co-worker Ed Herrington. Here’s what Ed did for me:
- Tracked my progress via my Quarq Qollector gps and texted directions when my route went askew
- Met me at the SRAM office to take pictures as I rode in and posted them to Facebook
- Helped me install new tires
- Found a good place for dinner
- Gave me a comfy bed at his house to sleep in
- Let me do laundry
All of this on his day off (Memorial Day). Then he fed me breakfast, plus granola for the road, drove me back to the office (the one and only time I was in a car during the ride) to get some brake engineers to inspect my brakes (sort of important on a 3000+ mile ride with well over 100,000 feet of descending), and took more pictures as I headed out of town. All of this as he closed up his house and then left 2 days later to spend 2 months in Taiwan! Amazing! Thank you is so insufficient!
Pikes Peak- a beautiful sight in Colorado Springs:
I started the day at SRAM’s Colorado Springs office- on Tuesday morning after Memorial Day. Not wanting to start much past 8am, I had a few co-workers join for pictures at the office:
One last picture as I left Colorado Springs:
Straightest section of the ride- 2 turns in 104 miles!:
The Mojave Desert, the Rocky Mountains, and wind were my 3 primary geographic obstacles- and now I’d overcome the 2nd of the 3! The next obstacle was the Great Plains with the wind, but I also had monotony to deal with. The longer the distance, the more mental the challenge becomes.
There were fewer pictures just because there wasn’t much different during the day. But I did enjoy views over my shoulder of Pikes Peak- something I never tire of.
One of my many quick picture stops was in Punkin Center, Colorado. I had noticed it while route planning months earlier and texted a picture to my daughter, Jenna. Why? Her pet name growing up was… you guessed it, “Punkin”.
This lonely tractor epitomized the plains states. Not a soul in site, but well tended ground.
I also saw many of these 3-sided structures. I couldn’t figure out their purpose until my Warmshowers host in Ohio educated me. It’s a cattle shelter (from wind and snow).
My stop for the night was in the tiny town of Kit Carson. I was now 1600 miles and 12 days into the ride- perfectly on plan. There were many more hotel options ahead and less certainty on the schedule the further into the ride I got, so this was the last pre-planned night. It was also the first day with less than 2000ft of climbing.
The Kit Carson Inn is run by Pam & Shue. Pam grew up in Indy and Shue in North Carolina, so that led to easy conversation.
They have a special rate for cyclists ($40 per night instead of $60)- and told me of a 60 year cyclist who stayed with them the year before on his way from Key West to Anchorage. Did I mention there’s always someone doing something more extreme?!
Today was my 5th and final night in Colorado- the most of any state during the ride. It was an incredible feeling to have planned out the first 12 days and clicked them off to perfection, despite a few surprises.
Next up: onto the Plains of Kansas & Nebraska