Date: March 31st, 2017
From/To: Cañon City, CO to Salida, CO
Daily Mileage: 60 miles
Total Mileage: 1780 miles
Current Elevation: 7200 feet
Conditions: Overcast, rain that later turned to snow, then a blizzard.
How can I describe something inexplicable? I simply can’t. Photos may help, but they can never replace feeling the presence of the Rockies. The air smelled natural and refreshing, the colors of the rocks painted scenes far more sophisticated than anything the human mind could create. The Rockies date back over one billion years, and it seemed as though traveling through them today brought me back to a time far before man walked the Earth. Every detail, every contour showed something different. I thought my excitement would dwindle as I became visually saturated by these monuments of nature, but I couldn’t take my eyes off anything but the road. On both sides of me these mountains rose into the clouds, running endlessly into the sky, a stairway to heaven. The clouds enchanted my surroundings in a way that can’t be explained, their mysterious appearance as wondrous as the Arkansas River slithering through the valleys and canyons I biked along. Rather than passing by farmers markets, gas stations, and residential parts I was now passing signs for white water rafting, fly fishing, and camping. This is the wilderness I was looking for. Now I just need to keep an eye out for bears. I had to deal with a constant mist at first, which later turned into snow and soon after a blizzard, but looking back I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve had plenty of sunny days. It’s days like these that distinguish the journey into memorable periods of time. It’s the unexpected or undesired challenges that provide the most rewarding feeling upon completion. Today was one of those days I’ll remember vividly; a thrill that was quenched; a bliss that was discovered.
I guess having someone to rationalize with finally convinced me to break the original plan and head south to get out of the snow. Having mom around is nice for many reasons, one of them is a car and another is a second opinion (there are plenty more mom). “Matt, this is crazy” sounds much more threatening from mom than it does from my inner voice. I usually think I’m going soft if I decide to back out of something or change my route, but this time around it was the smarter choice and certainly more forgiving with the weather I’d be encountering. I’ve also been consulting five experts on the matter, one’s in the Colorado State Patrol (Doug), another’s an avid biker from Denver (Greg), there’s Jamie the athletic trainer and bike enthusiast I met on the first day of riding, of course there’s Uncle Paul who used to live in Lamar and La Junta, and finally John, my good friend and fellow cross country tour biker. Everyone has their way of advising me on this endeavor, but the general consensus is: Rain is always better than snow, head as south as possible to avoid the heavy snowfall this time of year. Even driving back down to Pueblo was only a temperature change slightly above sub freezing. Regardless of how north or south I go, my battles are made or broken based on the altitudes I’m dealing with. As I head into the Rockies, I’m only climbing until I reach the other side of the divide in a few days. Tomorrow I’ll (probably but not certainly) be taking on Monarch Pass, taking me up to about 11,000 feet. Not only is it cold, but low oxygen levels provide a new challenge I’ll have to take on. I’ve already felt the difficulty of biking 6,000 feet above sea level the last few days, it’s not easy nor will it get any easier until I cross the divide. I just need to cross the divide, then “it’s all downhill from here” takes a literal meaning.
Today mom and I woke up early and left Denver around 7:45AM for Pueblo as planned. It was a two hour drive from Denver and I needed to make it to Cañon City around 10AM to start pedaling so I could beat the incoming blizzard that was expected in Salida (if you haven’t noticed already, I didn’t beat it). I set off around 10AM as planned heading west into the Rockies. I left most of my gear with mom which helped me ride faster and with less pain when I was climbing the mountains. It was drizzling out and very cloudy but I still enjoyed my last views of the flats as I neared the mountains. It was surreal to see them up close finally, as I’ve said many times I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment. I started a climb that I thought would last the entire ride, but it leveled out after about 10 miles and I was coasting through the valleys and canyons of the Rockies for a majority of the trek.
Towards the second half of the ride I started to see snow flurries. No big deal at first, but an hour later those flurries were heavy flakes, falling much heavier. Luckily I had purchased a new Gore-Tex jacket at the REI in Denver, which was a significant improvement from my unbreathable Colombia shell with no zipper vents. I can’t tell you how many times I’d overheat in that jacket, soon after freezing when my trapped sweat turned cold. It really makes a difference in these endurance rides, especially when you’re riding through climate that can range dramatically throughout the day. The Gore-Tex allows sweat to escape without allowing moisture to enter from the outside. Additionally when it gets too hot I can open the ventilation zippers strategically located by my armpits. Money well spent if you ask me, and I’ve only had it for one day so far.
As I mentioned earlier, the blizzard hit about an hour out from Salida. Mom was around but I kept myself from giving in. I had plenty of hesitation towards the end especially when I lost feeling in my feet, but I knew I had to push on and finish the ride on my own to be happy with my progress. The last few days have been pretty spotty and I know I may possibly need help in the next few days looking at the weather and climbs I have to make (even without all my gear). I finished strong, and made it to the hotel mom had booked just minutes before we arrived.
My first stop after removing all my soaking wet articles of clothing was the hot tub, for 30 minutes fully submerged. By this point the snow storm wasn’t easing up, in fact it was doing the opposite. For the remainder of the evening we were dealing with a heavy snowfall that progressed into the night. Mom and I made it out to a nice restaurant in downtown Salida despite the harsh weather. Salida’s a really cool town out here in the Rockies. It was the first town with more than three buildings that we hit after leaving Cañon City which is why we decided to stop here. It’s right on the Arkansas River, with plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants in the downtown area. A perfect place for ski bums might I add. After dinner we made out way back to the hotel and prepared for the next days trek. Monarch Pass, here I come.
Enjoy The Ride,