I slept so warm and comfortable last night. The altitude didn't seem to effect me at all and I didn't have anyone try to kick me off of their porch. I wasn't going to hang around to give them a chance though, packing up quietly and quickly just after daybreak. I tried getting a shot of my "digs" but this new Nikon camera is very bad at low light photography and this is the best I could do.
All packed up and about to leave my dry little hideaway.
The road went downhill into the cold morning air and I shivered but was happy not to be going uphill for a change.
I was entering South Park. No, not "the" South Park but apparently the show is modelled on a small town round here abouts....
A "park" is a large shallow basin and I would be following it all the way to breakfast in Hartzel this morning. Looking across, west, to the Holy Cross Wilderness these were 14ers in the distance. In the foreground, the wildflowers looked amazing bathed in early morning light.
The road was pretty good with a bit of washboarding but not too much loose gravel meaning I could make good time. What traffic that came along was doing at least 60 mph - bloody fast when passing on a dirt road. Everyone looked like they were headed to work which is a dangerous time to be on the road for a lonely cyclist.
As I pedalled along I was looking for tyre tracks in front of me. I guess this road gets a lot of traffic compared with most of the divide route and the tracks were obliterated as I couldn't see any this morning. Perhaps the rain last night helped wash them away? I did pass a couple of northbound (NoBo) racers but we didn't stop to chat, instead just waving at each other. I was on a bit of a mission to get to Hartzel and breakfast this morning and they were grinding uphill toward Como.
The last few miles into Hartzel were paved and mercifully, downhill. I arrived to find the Highline Cafe & Saloon half full of locals. I got that "you're not from round here, are you" stare but I was used to it now.
Plonking myself down, I ordered the big breakfast and proceeded to gulp hot coffee. There is something about riding 50km (31mi) or more for breakfast that makes even the crappiest filter coffee taste like liquid gold. The waitress slapped my plate down then came back with the cheque shortly thereafter. I finished up, then asked if I could have another look at the menu. Don't just assume I'm done, love!
Walking outside I had to take a photo of the old gas station that is painted up like a jail. Probably the most famous building in Hartzel.
It was about 75km (47mi) to Salida, the next town along route. Salida is home to one of the most renowned bike shops on the route, Absolute Bikes. I was hoping to get there in good time so that they could take a look at my munted up rear shifting. But first there was going to be a little bit of pedalling involved. The road was all at 9-9500ft but I had a good tailwind pushing me along for quite a while and I made good time. As I climbed up into the San Isabel National Forest, I was reduced to a crawl. There was a huge thunderstorm bearing down on me however it looked like it might slide behind me if I could just get some forward movement happening.
I managed to get out from under it's path but there was plenty of thunder and lightening plus a few spots of rain around me. Stopping for a short rest at the top of the climb I didn't realise how good the next 30 minutes of descent was going to be.
The road was wide and while covered in a thick, loose layer of gravel, it was faaaast! The views out toward the continental divide and Monarch Pass we stunning. I gulped as I figured I would be climbing those puppies later today....
First up, I had to descend into the valley ahead, then it would be time to climb again. The constant theme of the divide.
I passed a group of kids on mountain bikes, all stopped by the side of the road. It looked like one of the adults with them was cleaning up some gravel rash on one of the kids legs. I was having fun on the drifty gravel but clearly it could go pear shaped pretty quickly.
Off the mountain, I was soon rolling into Salida. Not sure where the bike shop was, I headed in on the main road. There was a huge sign on the side of a building for Absolute Bikes and I quickly followed it's directions to the shop.
Walking in I immediately noticed Patrick's bike leaning against the counter. We meet again! The staff were straight over to me to see if they could help with anything. I explained about my shifter issues and they said they would take a look. One of the young ladies took my bike out to the workshop and as she was maneuvering it she exclaimed "this thing is as heavy as a motorcycle"! Well, I guess I was used to it but damn, it was bloody heavy! That is part of what makes this whole ride so hard.
I explained to one of the mechanics (sorry, I can't recall his name but I think it was Scot) who was very attentive and listened to what I was saying. He nodded and said he would get right on it. I said I would leave him be and go find a supermarket to buy some real food.
Sydney (I can remember her name as she was very cute ;) ) gave me directions to the supermarket and I set off for a short walk. Salida was a kind of funky town and I wish I had more time to explore it. I soon returned with all sorts of yummy food, even getting my moostache trimmed while I was out! Joining Pat out the back of the shop, on the staff deck, I made turkey and avocado bagels and wolfed down greek yogurt and strawberries while comparing notes of the last 20 hours.
S is for Salida
It seems Pat had powered on ahead of me out of Breck, been caught in the rain as I had but had kept riding late into the night toward Hartzel. He camped in a kids playground a few miles outside Hartzel but didn't sleep well. It made my decision to stop at Como seem a good one as I slept well and was dry. Using the shop computer, I saw that Tom must have stayed in Breck last night as he was just leaving Hartzel now at about 2pm. I could also see Beth and Simon about 20 miles in front of me, going over Marshall Pass.
The guys in the workshop called me in to look at my bike. The shifting was much slicker and they said the cable had been installed with a kink in it near the shifter head! So much for high-fiving-too-cool-for-school bike shops.....They should take a leaf out of Absolute Bikes book on how to be professional.
How bike friendly is this town?
I bought another bite valve for my Camelbak (remember valve-gate on Fleecer Ridge?) finally and thanked the guys and girls profusely, donating to their beer fund in lieu of tips.
Having eaten far too much I donated my remaining strawberries to Sydney and got my arse back on the road. I stopped in Poncha Springs for a few minutes to post some ACA maps back home. I needed to lighten the load with some big climbs coming up. Also, you might note the cloud above the sign in this photo. It is the standard thunderstorm that sat on whatever pass needed climbing each afternoon.
Yes, heading out of Poncha Springs and up the steep roadway I was crawling along as trucks and cars whizzed past at 65mph. Just look at that storm now! Guess where Marshall Pass is?
As with other storms on mountains, I figured that by the time I reached the pass the storm would be long gone. It only took 45 minutes to climb the highway but it felt muuch longer with all the traffic and the heat of the afternoon. I sure was glad when I saw the turnoff to Marshall Pass.
I began climbing a very wide, smooth dirt road on a gentle grade. After a while I came to a sign pointing right, to the Pass. This road was steep and I put my ear buds in, gritted my teeth and grunted up the climb. I was feeling good and making great progress........but I should have looked at my gps!
The next sign I came to was another right turn but then I noticed a trail coming in from the left. I looked at my gps and the magenta line didn't look right. It was coming in from the left as well! What the?
Before the boo-boo....
I rolled down the trail to the left a bit then it hit me. I had taken a wrong turn back down there where the trail kicked up steeply! This is an old railway line and the grade is gentle all the way. I should have followed the gps and not the trailside signs, which were for cars and campers. Grrr. I continued down the correct trail, figuring that if I followed it to where I turned off I couldn't miss any of it. I descended 3 kilometres and 150m, passing a bewildered Patrick, as he climbed, on my way down.
...after I realised...
I was actually remarkably calm and didn't beat up on myself. I reasoned that I had made the mistake and there was nothing to do but fix it. I could fix it and with only 6 kilometres in total wasted and an extra 300m climbing. If I had realised my mistake tomorrow or the next day there might be hundreds of miles to undo the error or I would be relegated!
Anyway, I chastised myself a bit but really it was my only significant navigation error in 1800 miles of sleep deprived
A little while later I caught up to Patrick again who was sitting on the side of the trail, overlooking O'Haver Lake and campground, eating a sandwich. He said he was struggling with this never ending, boring climb. I was a bit too but I was still relieved that I had caught my navigation error with minimal extra riding so was feeling good about the climb as a whole.
Snack stop overlooking......
There was obvious signs of recent rain but it was pleasing that during the time it took to climb the pass, the thunderstorm had moved well to the east. I began singing to pass the time as I grovelled along. I took photos and I did an update to my video journal. Yes, I did a few of these but I don't think I will post them as they are pretty raw and rough. But while doing this one a guy on a Suzuki DR400 came riding down the trail. He stopped to say hi and told me he was a blue dot watcher as well. We exchanged some pleasantries before I said I had better get on with it.
Climbing into the Aspens again the climate changed altogether. It got cooler, the trail got wetter and I was enjoying the ride again.
I had been climbing non stop (apart from my error) for just on 4.5 hours now. 4.5 hours! Without a flat or downhill of any sort! Incredible.
I finally came to the trail head. There was one car parked near the trail head sign and I was trying to balance my camera on it's side mirror to get a photo when I sensed someone behind me (my ear buds were in). It was Pat and I hurriedly said it wasn't what it looked like (me trying to break into the car), just that I was trying to get a photo. He offered to take one of me, then I got one for him.
As you can see, I was feeling pretty good for someone who slept on a porch at 9500ft and had ridden 170km (106mi) and was standing near the top of a 10 842ft pass!
Just 500 metres (yards) further along the road I came to the actual pass. I was going to be peeing into the Pacific again. I felt that much closer to home....
Of course, 5 hours of climbing was going to lead to a nice descent. While it wouldn't be super fast, the railway grade meant it would go on for longer. I liked the thought of that and began down toward Sargents.
The descent was very pleasant as I wasn't gripping the bars, holding on for dear life like some other descents. About a third of the way down I saw something wander onto the trail from the right, then dart off again. As I passed it I could see what looked like a porcupine. It was huge and I was glad I didn't hit it!
Photo courtesey of Mike McElveen-"Taking a Shot at the Divide"
I was also following some bike tyre tracks. They had left a mark in what was muddy ground so I was guessing it was either Simon or Bethany. I wondered how far in front of me they were.
As I reached the lower, more open slopes the wind began to pick up substantially and I had to pedal quite hard downhill! This was how it was for the last few miles into Sargents. I was dumped onto a sealed road and there was a gas station and campground right there! This must be Sargents but I can't see anything saying "Sargents" anywhere. I can see Tomichi Creek Trading Post on everything and it isn't until I check my ACA map that I see that this IS Sargents.
As I make my way into the roadhouse Patrick is just pulling in as well. The room is empty except for two guys sitting at a table and as I look around for the staff I come to realise they are it. Asking about a cooked meal I get the almost standard response of "the grill is off". It is only around 8 pm and they are closing up? I manage to talk them into making me a turkey sandwich and I buy some supplies for tomorrow morning as well.
Pat joins me sitting at a table and we chat over a beer (thanks Pat!) to the owner and his employee for a while. They tell us there was another rider, an Australian, here about 45 minutes ago. They describe him and it is Simon for sure, but he has pressed on. Perhaps he saw us approaching on Trackleaders? I can only guess how far he might be going tonight and wonder if I will ever cross paths with him on the divide despite chasing him for a week now. Enquiring about one of the cabins out back they reply it will be $40 for the night. $20 each for a warm, dry bed and a shower sounds quite reasonable so we pay up and rock into cabin number 1. Smelly gear explodes from our bike bags as we prep our bikes for the planned early morning start.
A quick shower and it is lights out at about 9 pm tonight. I warn Patrick that I might snore and I know no more today...............