No Name Tour: Day 26 – Conquering the Monarch

It was 39 degrees outside when I woke up. Not gonna happen. I ate breakfast of sorts on my room then hit the road at 7. Before even leaving the parking lot, I took off my long pants and my jacket. It had jumped to the 50s and I had a tailwind.

I was heading to Monarch Pass in US 50. A few days ago I utterly failed on a 9,000 foot mountain. How’ll I ever get over this 11,300 foot beast?

Don’t get too excited. The first four miles were a false flat, an almost imperceptible incline to the road. I gained 400 feet in elevation on what looked like level ground.

At Poncha Springs, the fun began: 18 miles and over 6,000 feet of climbing. I surprised myself by doing the first six miles in my middle chainring. The tailwind surely helped.

But at about 8,500 feet I started to feel the effort. I took a hit of albuterol to see if it would clear my lungs. No dice. Thin air is what it is.

With 12 miles to go I implemented my climbing plan. Stop when I get tired. Drink lots of water, eat something. Start again when my heart rate comes back to normal.

I did this five or six times. Once I stopped because a family of mountain goats were coming out into the road. I gave them lots of room.

As I climbed riders on (mostly) road bikes we’re flying down the mountain. Go ahead; make my day. The road very much reminded me of US 60 in West Virginia at Hawks Nest.

My itinerary called for me stopping 2 miles

Ride the Rockies riders descending
Hours of this

My itinerary called for me stopping 2 miles from the top and camping. When I got there I thought “Why waste a tailwind and eight hours of daylight?” I was prepared to walk the last mile, which had switchbacks that looked brutal. After a five minute break, The Mule and I managed to find a nice pedaling rhythm and went right to the top.

The parking lot of the general store was filled with hundreds of bikes and their riders. They were participating in Ride the Rockies, an annual event in these parts. They had just arrived at the top from Gunnison about 45 miles to the west.

I went into the store and bought a cup of coffee. It was about 55 degrees outside but I was shaking. The coffee helped with my body temperature but made me nauseous.

I was starting to feel the elevation big time. I got my picture taken at the pass sign then took off down the western slope of the mountain. It was a thrill ride comparable to last summer’s descent from Washington Pass.

My summit picture

There were hundreds of Ride the Rockies participants crawling up the mountain. I dropped from 11,300 feet to 8,450 feet in ten miles. All the curves were banked and the road was clear of debris. And, yes, I rode in the middle of the lane. I was passed four times on the way down.

At the base of the mountain I stopped hit lunch. A BLT, fries, and three glasses of ice water took me and hour to eat but it revived me.

I am Groot

The shop owner offered me a camping spot by the creek out back. I was tempted but decided to ride 32 miles to Gunnison.

Looking back toward Monarch
Bizarro rocks along the road to Gunnison

Stupid me. The wind had changed direction on this side of the pass. A strong headwind beat me numb the whole way. Once I got a cellphone signal, I called The Wanderlust Hostel in town. There I will stay until the morrow.

Apropos of nothing, I saw more dead deer between Sargent and Gunnison than I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Miles today: 64

Tour miles: 1,555

Top speed: 37.9 mph

No Name Tour: Day 25 – Resting Hard

I am staying at a motel just outside Salida. Last night the place was quiet. I slept well so I booked the room for tonight as well.

The motel manager told me of a breakfast place down the road but I couldn’t find it. The wind was blowing hard from the east and it was 53 degrees. Not shorts weather.

I headed into town letting the wind push me. I visited two coffee shops. Neither served a proper breakfast so I made do with coffee, a breakfast bagel (it had an egg in the middle), and a blueberry scone. After that I went to a grocery store and bought some things for tomorrow’s ride as well as a salad for lunch.

Salida mural

Then I went back to my hotel room and loafed. About mid afternoon I took my pulse to see if it was high from the altitude. Nope. 50. Just about right.

I heard from Corey. He reports that Mark and he crossed 11,000+ foot Hoosier Pass this morning after camping overnight at 9,000 feet. I’ll bet they are relieved.

I stayed in my room all day trying to avoid any more physical activity and to stay warm.

After too much TV (I sent my book home yesterday), meditation, and failed napping, I headed out for dinner. There is a McDonalds about a mile downhill from the motel so I headed into the still blowing wind. Even with long pants and a jacket I was cold.

I stopped short of McDonalds at 50 Burger which was about twice the cost. The food was twice as good. And I turned down a beer with dinner because I don’t need my tummy tossing all day tomorrow.

The ride back was a breeze, literally. I didn’t notice the incline. Since temperatures in the morning will be in the high 40s, I stopped at a gas station convenience store to buy some hand and foot warmers. They were out of stock so I did what any sane person would do: I bought some Bugles and some M&Ms.

I am trying to not get anxious about tomorrow. Just looking at the mountains is enough to freak me out. I plan on wearing March commuting gear minus the holey sweater.

Miles today: 6.5

Tour miles: 1,491

No Name Tour: Day 24 – What a Difference a Day Makes

I crashed hard last night after a burger and a beer at a Westcliffe bar.

This morning I pulled a pair of bike shorts, a pair of socks, a shirt, a book, and two Adventure Cycling maps. I mailed them back home to lower the weight on my bike. I also tossed my jar of Nutella. I’ll have to do laundry more often and get used to straight peanut butter on my tortillas but I had to cut weight.

I also went to Candy’s Coffee for, well, coffee. Emily made me a mocha and a breakfast burrito. Thanks, ma’am.

Emily makes a fine mocha java

My motel did not have a vacancy for tonight but I thanked Mo and hit the road for Salida.

Within five miles I hit a hill that my legs wanted nothing to do with. I thought that this would make for a long day. I persevered and my legs finally kicked it. It helped that I had a decent tailwind and the terrain was gently rolling. I was riding with the snow capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains to my left and a dry rocky ridge live to my right.

The curvy road made for a fun ride. I’d come around a bend and get blasted by a side or head gust. Then things would calm down and I’d grind away.

After about 25 miles I hit a fantastic downhill that reminded me of my scary ride around Square Butte in Montana last summer.

I was buzzing along at 35 mph when I saw some bike riders waving at me from the opposite side of the road. I hit my brakes gently so as not to overheat the rims. I had a long talk with Tom and Stephanie who were riding from San Francisco to Key West supported by Stephanie’s brother in law John who was towing an Airstream style trailer.

They told me tales of horrible weather and scary mountaintops. Cold, snow, rain, and hail. They were glad to be nearly done with the Western Express.

Tom, John, and Stephanie

I bid them safe travels and pointed The Mule downhill. This descent went in for a few miles and over 700 feet of elevation loss.

It turned out that I lost a little under 800 feet in elevation today nearly all of it on this one descent.

It ended at a stop sign where I took a left on good old US 50. The winding two lane road followed the Arkansas River through a gash in the rocky landscape. The river was running fast, probably fed by snow melt. River raft companies were doing big business today.

As I was going upriver I was gradually climbing. My legs handled the grade without complaint.

On arrival in Salida I went to a bike shop. The mechanic was swamped but referred me to the Sub Culture Bike Shop around the corner.

I’ve been having trouble with my rear derailed since I had a new chain and cassette put on in Pueblo. Cam, the bike mechanic, fixed it in five minutes. Then I mentioned that I could use a lower granny gear. (This is the smallest, easiest to turn gear used in climbing.) Cam dug out a chainring they had two fewer teeth than the one on The Mule.

In ten minutes he installed the ring and I took it for a test ride. Shifting into and out of the chain ring is clunky but it works. And those two teeth will make a big difference in my climbing.

Cam the Gearman

It turns out that Cam used to work in a ski shop in Incline Village, Nevada at the north end of Lake Tahoe. He remembered that Don Kanare, a friend from my college days, bought skies from him. Small world.

I have to admit that I had some trepidation about riding at all today considering the fact that yesterday was one of my worst days on a bike ever. What a surprise that despite my fatigue today was one of my best days on a bike. I had enough energy to enjoy the beautiful scenery I was riding through.

I took a room in a renovated old motel just outside Salida. Depending on how tonight goes, I might stay here tomorrow night too. In any case, I’m not leaving Salida until Monday. I need to rest.

Then I’ll begin the climb to Monarch Pass. I plan in going up six miles and camping. If I feel okay, I’ll do another six and camp. I seriously doubt I can get over the top in one day. We’ll see.

Miles today: 52

Tour Miles: 1,484.5

Top Speed: 36.8 mph