Central Colorado bicycle tour, 2012

Our bicycle route beginning and ending in Colorado Springs (430 miles.)

Page 1: Colorado Springs to Gunnison
Page 2: Gunnison to Buena Vista
Page 3: Buena Vista to Breckenridge
Page 4: Breckenridge to Manitou Springs
Page 5: Manitou Springs to Colorado Springs

Friday, July 6, 2012

We are finally starting a family summer vacation that I had worried would never happen. Deadlines at work have been so demanding that many of my co-workers have cancelled their summer vacations, and for me any vacation longer than two weeks was out of the question. I've managed to schedule a 2-week bicycle tour, and to keep our travel time to the starting point low, we're riding a loop in the Colorado Rockies. Our starting and finishing point is Colorado Springs, just 130 miles from our home in Fort Collins. We drove there today and will spend the night with Ryan, a host who we met through the Warm Showers bike touring website. His wife Elisha and his children are out of town this weekend, but we might get to meet them at the end of our trip.

For the past couple of weeks we've worried about forest fires along our route. This has been the hottest, driest spring ever recorded for most of Colorado, and forest fires have closed highways and destroyed homes throughout the state, including more than 300 homes right here in Colorado Springs. This weekend the weather is shifting, and now strong thunderstorms and flash floods are a risk. I guess there is rarely a perfect time for a Colorado bicycle tour. We will try to avoid thunderstorms by riding early in the day, and make the best of whatever nature gives us.

The route we've chosen should be beautiful and challenging: six mountain passes and 430 miles, with several historic towns along the way. I may even take time to climb a mountain peak.

Daniel and Maggie are 7 and 4 this summer, and will ride behind Kathy and me on a trailerbike and in a child trailer. Maggie is tall enough to take turns with Daniel on the trailerbike this year.

Ryan (far right) cooked dinner for our family.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Distance: 60.0 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 55 minutes
Average speed: 10.1 mph
Maximum speed: 45.9 mph

It's so nice to start the day in someone's house, rather than in a tent. This morning we got up early to get ready, but let Daniel keep sleeping for another hour (that never works in a tent.) Ryan served us breakfast in his kitchen, and we washed up in a private bathroom - luxuries compared to wild camping or even private campgrounds. Best of all, our loaded bicycle was in the garage waiting for us to ride it away. At a campsite breaking camp and loading the bicycle can take hours.

All of these efficiencies helped us start riding at 8:45 a.m., which is early for our family. We wanted an early start to avoid the predicted afternoon thunderstorms. We left town going south on highway 115, with growing cumulus clouds looming over the mountains west of us.

Leaving Colorado Springs.

Much of Hwy 115 is hilly and high-traffic, but it's scenic as well. On the west side of the road are mountains, and on the east is the vast and largely undeveloped Fort Carson. After almost 40 miles we rolled down into the Arkansas River valley, where the road was flat and the biking was easy. We made a nice lunch at a small town park in Florence, and continued on to Canon City. Although the rain clouds threatened us all day, we only encountered a light drizzle for 20 minutes or so, and it barely made the road wet. We could see the clouds raining elsewhere, be we were lucky and stayed mostly dry.

At the end of the day we had one last large climb because Highway 50 does not follow the Arkansas River through the deep and narrow Royal Gorge, but instead takes another route up and over a huge hill. We were exhausted and had to walk most of the way up the hill, then checked into a campground just past the hill's crest.

Nearby Royal Gorge is a major tourist attraction, featuring a tourist train deep in the gorge, a suspension bridge over the gorge (highest bridge in the U.S.A,) rafting trips through the gorge, and an amusement park on hundreds of acres beside the canyon rim. Our kids would love to visit it tomorrow, and so would I, but I hesitate to take a day off so early in our trip before we've crossed a single mountain pass. I think we'll continue west, and once we've crossed Monarch Pass we'll have a better idea of how fast we can travel and how much time we can spare for other things.

We walked a few of the steep hills on Highway 115.

Daniel tries his climbing skills on a road embankment.

A ranch in the foothills outside of Colorado Springs

Daniel and Maggie play on the flagpole at a park in Florence.

Our campsite.

Daniel and Maggie play by throwing rocks and dirt while Kathy cooks dinner.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Distance: 52.6 miles
Riding time: 4 hours, 58 minutes
Average speed: 10.5 mph
Maximum speed: 34.1 mph

Kathy and I slept well in our tent last night, making me happy that I bought it new for this summer. Our old 4-person tent served us well for ten years, but as the kids grew bigger it became way too small, and last summer the kids spent most nights sleeping on top of Kathy, which made her grumpy. I'm tall (6'6",) so our family had to sleep parallel to the longest tent walls, limiting our space. Our new 4-person tent is roomy and heavy (10+ pounds,) takes longer to pitch and take down, and we pack it in two compression sacks instead of one. But if we sleep better then it's worth all the extra weight and hassle.

Climbing trees while waiting for breakfast.

We spent almost all of today's ride in the Arkansas River canyon, and it was pretty. Maggie started riding in a grumpy mood, but she cheered up as soon as we saw paddlers floating down the river in whitewater rafts. She loves watching rafts so much that she pointed out every one, and I think we saw more than twenty. The climbs in the canyon were never too hard, and we ate lunch at one of the several picnic areas along the river. It was helpful that I could purify river water for drinking while Kathy prepared lunch. Incredibly, we again avoided rain even though we could see storms raining on all sides of us at various times in the day. Passing clouds helped us stay cool as we cranked up the canyon.

Hills near Royal Gorge.

Rafters navigating the Arkansas River.

Kathy and Maggie watching rafters.

Rafters stopping for lunch.

Maggie stands below a "doggie cloud" that she saw and asked me to photograph. After this she saw many more doggie clouds, but none looked as much like a dog as this one.

Lunch beside the Arkansas River.

Playing in the river.

We finished our ride just outside Salida at the home of our hosts, Harry and Myra. They served us a great dinner, and I must have eaten enough food for two people. Harry entertained the kids by handing each of them a noise-making key chain. Maggie's was a duck that quacked, and Daniel's was a moustache that said, "Hellooo therrre," in a slow, deep voice. The key chains provided steady background noise from dinner time until bed time. The house is high on a ridge, and the dining room windows look out over the Arkansas valley and the small town of Salida. In the mountains to the west I could see part of the route to Monarch Pass. We will bike to the pass tomorrow, and the route looks steep.

Climbing through the canyon on our way to Salida.

Eating welcome snacks at Harry and Myra's house.

Dinner with Harry and Myra.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Distance: 64.7 miles
Riding time: 6 hours, 49 minutes
Average speed: 9.5 mph
Maximum speed: 43.7 mph

I ate a huge amount of food for breakfast, almost an embarrassing amount, but Harry and Myra set out breakfast and told us to eat as much as we liked. I think I was frightened by the difficult ride ahead, and was subconsciously feasting with the hope that calories would make our ride easier.

We needed to cross Monarch Pass, 11312' high and 18 miles away - or so we thought. We later found it was more than 22 miles away, and those extra 4 miles were disheartening when we thought were at the end of the 6% grade climb. We were helped by a tailwind from the east, which Harry claims is rare around here. We had cool, sunny weather most of the day - perfect for biking - but we also had two rainstorms on our way to the pass. The second storm was right at the end, when we were walking our bike up the final three miles.

Daniel was walking with us because he thought it was more fun to walk than to rest in the trailer with Maggie. At times he ran up the hill ahead of us just to show how strong he was, which is impressive at 11,000 feet (the thin air is hard to breathe.) When the rain started he chose a raincoat over a sheltered ride in the trailer, and walked to the top with us despite the cold. Most days at home it's a struggle to get him to play outside and exercise (he'd rather play with Legos,) so Kathy and I were impressed and told him how proud we were.

Monarch Pass is different from most Colorado passes because a gift shop with a small restaurant sits right on the summit, surrounded by national forest. We walked in at 5:30 p.m. to get some chili and hot cocoa for dinner and to wait out the storm. All afternoon we'd eaten just a few snacks, since in our rush to the top we never had time for lunch. I was glad that I'd filled up at breakfast.

When we finally started riding again at 6:30 it was cold but clear, and we raced downhill 9 miles to warmer temperatures. Then I had to decide what to do. Last night I told Kathy that it would be fun to end our ride in Gunnison, a historic town with a museum that could be fun for our kids. But Gunnison is 65 miles from Salida, an almost impossibly long ride for us on the same day as a mountain pass. With 34 miles left to reach Gunnison this evening, I decided that this was a good night to use some hotel credit that I had earned earlier in the year through a free promotion. Staying at a hotel can save us an hour or more of time that we would otherwise spend pitching camp. With the help of a strengthening tailwind, we raced through the Tomichi Creek valley that looked beautiful in the evening sunlight. Daniel helped us by pedaling his trailerbike until he finally crawled into the child trailer at 8:30 - well past his bedtime.

At twilight we checked into a Holiday Inn just outside of town. We can shower, sleep well and eat a hot breakfast, and it won't cost us anything. We're a full day ahead of schedule now, so we can enjoy a fun morning in Gunnison tomorrow.

Our tired kids slept in later than usual.

Looking over the Arkansas River valley from Harry's patio.

Harry and Myra.

Playing at a roadside campground during a short rest break.

Snack break on the way to Monarch Pass.

An active mine near Monarch Pass.

Dinner at the Monarch Pass cafe and gift shop.

Getting ready to ride downhill.

The canyon along upper Tomichi Creek.

Farm in the Tomichi valley.

Putting Daniel in the trailer near the end of the day.


Page 1: Colorado Springs to Gunnison
Page 2: Gunnison to Buena Vista
Page 3: Buena Vista to Breckenridge
Page 4: Breckenridge to Manitou Springs
Page 5: Manitou Springs to Colorado Springs