Bicycle touring in the Colorado mountains, page 2

Page 1: Fort Collins to Buena Vista
Page 2: Buena Vista to Carbondale
Page 3: Carbondale to La Plata Peak
Page 4: La Plata Peak to Fort Collins

Sunday, July 12

Distance: 68.0 miles
Riding time: 6 hours, 0 minutes
Average speed: 11.3 mph
Maximum speed: 31.9 mph
Mountain passes: Cottonwood (12126 feet)

Buena Vista, which means "good view", has great views of mountains. The mountains are on both the east and west, but the Collegiate Peaks to the west are among the tallest mountains in the state, and Mt. Princeton, Mt. Yale and Mt. Columbia tower over the town. I rode into the historic downtown this morning hoping to find a breakfast cafe, but none were there (plenty of saloons, though.) I cooked my own breakfast beside a local church, and the church service ended while I was eating so the pastor's wife talked to me for a while. I always like talking to locals to learn about the area.

After breakfast I started the long, 20-mile climb to Cottonwood Pass. I didn't know that it would be that far when I started. Occasionally I thought that the top of the pass was just around the corner, but then I would smell the burning brakes of a descending vehicle, implying that there was still plenty of steep road ahead. I reached the top at 3 o'clock, just in time to snap a few pictures before a thunderstorm started.

Mount Princeton stands high above the western edge of Buena Vista.

Riding up Cottonwood Pass Road.

Looking back down the road on my way to the pass.

The dirt road back down from Cottonwood Pass was in good condition, but even the best dirt is a mess during a rainstorm. I zipped down the hill as fast as I could, hoping to find warmer weather at a lower altitude, and in the process covered my bicycle and me with sandy road grit. My brakes quickly wore out from rubbing against my sandy rims, so I'll need to replace the brake pads tomorrow. Eventually the rain stopped and the air became hot again. It's funny how the weather can go from shivering cold to sweaty hot in less than one hour. At dinnertime it happened again - a storm moved in for about half an hour, chilling everything down, and then the sun heated everything up again. I was on a covered restaurant patio at the time, so the rain didn't affect me much, but I'm getting tired of changing clothes several times a day to adapt to the weather.

At the end of the day I was halfway between Altmont and Crested Butte, wondering where I would camp. There was no public land or private campgrounds along the highway, so at 8 o'clock I stopped at a cattle ranch to ask if I could camp there. The owners, Kurt and Leah, said that I could camp under their hay shelter, but soon Kurt had an even better idea. Tonight I'm sleeping in an unfinished guestroom that's inside an extremely nice barn. There's no bedroom furniture, but I have my own bathroom and kitchen, and the guestroom is warm and dry. Kurt and Leah raise longhorn cattle and horses, and they've invited me to join them for coffee in the morning before they start working.

Riding down from Cottonwood Pass on a dirt road during a rainstorm.

Taylor River.

The weather became clear and warm near the bottom of Taylor Canyon.

The deluxe barn/guesthouse where Kurt and Leah let me spend the night.

A longhorn bull on the ranch. "Don't get too close to him," Kurt warned me, "he'll kill you."

Cooking dinner in my private kitchen. The kitchen stovetop hadn't been installed yet, so I used my own stove.

Monday, July 13

Distance: 83.8 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 58 minutes
Average speed: 14.0 mph
Maximum speed: 42.0 mph
Mountain passes: Kebler (9980 feet,) McClure (8755 feet)

Kurt and Leah were out in the pasture this morning, roping up horses so that they could get new horseshoes. Their friend Roger arrived soon after and began the long process of fitting the horses with new shoes. I almost felt like I was visiting a dude ranch. After breakfast I rode away to visit Crested Butte and get my bike tuned up at a bike shop there.

The weather showed me again how unpredictable rain is in the mountains. As I rolled into Crested Butte a rainstorm started, so I hurried into a bike shop. For some reason it took the mechanic two hours to clean up the chain and replace the brake pads, and meanwhile it rained three separate times. "Your ride is going to be muddy," the mechanics told me, because Kebler Pass has about 30 miles of dirt road. The roads were dry again by the time I left town, but I mentally prepared myself for rain because I knew it was coming. Sure enough, a little while later the clouds darkened, thunder rumbled, and a wall of rain swept over me. I quickly ducked under a tree and put on my raingear, but when I stepped back out from under the tree... Where did my rainstorm go? The dark clouds had been replaced by blue sky, and I saw no more rain for the rest of the day.

Since the roads were dry, I thought Kebler Pass was a great ride. The dirt surface was smooth, and I cruised through the aspen forest without worrying about potholes. The forest was lush, full of aspen trees and ferns and wildflowers in bloom. There was almost no traffic, so I just enjoyed the sounds of the breeze and the streams - and the bell. Who was ringing that bell? Around the next curve in the road I looked down into the forest and saw hundreds of sheep grazing among the aspen. The lead sheep wore a bell, and on the road was a single white sheepdog watching over the herd. I'd never heard sheep bleating in a forest before.

Kurt, Leah and their dogs rounded up the horses.

Roger nails on a new horseshoe. It looked like the process of removing the old shoes, trimming the hooves, and fitting the hooves with new shoes would take several hours for 5 horses. The horses need new shoes about once every 7 weeks, except during the winter when they don't wear shoes (because Kurt and Leah don't ride in the winter.)

The small town of Crested Butte.

A knight in shining armor near the edge of town. The sculpture of the knight is about 10 feet tall.

Although Crested Butte has a ski resort, the resort housing is all up on the mountain, well away from the rest of town.

Wildflowers along Coal Creek.

The final climb up to Kebler Pass.

Mountains near the top of Kebler Pass.

Anthracite Creek on the way down from Kebler Pass.

Lush aspen forest.

Sheep grazing in the aspen forest.

The friendly sheepdog. He seemed to be the only one guarding the hundreds of grazing sheep, since there were no other dogs or shepherds anywhere in sight.

After a long descent from Kebler Pass, I started up McClure Pass, which has a long gradual climb followed by six miles of steep climbing right at the end. I was about three miles from the summit when a young man came flying down the hill past me - on a skateboard! He had his arms held out for balance, but wasn't wearing a helmet or any other safety gear. Isn't that dangerous? I don't think I'll ever buy my son a skateboard.

As I rode, I assumed that I would not make it to Carbondale tonight, because 82 miles and 2 mountains passes would be too much. That annoyed me, because in Carbondale were some hosts who had e-mailed me before my trip started. They had recently finished a 2-year bicycle trip from Alaska down to the southern tip of South America, and I wanted to visit them and hear their touring stories. I need to be at Maroon Lake (near Aspen) tomorrow night, so I had to visit Ralph and Pat tonight or never. What I had forgotten is that the road from McClure Pass to Carbondale is a fast, 23-mile descent through the steep and narrow Crystal River Canyon.

I arrived at Ralph and Pat's house just in time to eat dinner with them. They did all the cooking, and I ate most of the food. I told them that I had my own food, but they told me to save it for later. After two years on a bicycle tour, they understand how nice it is to get a home-cooked meal. We talked on and on about bicycle touring; it's so nice to meet people who share this relatively rare hobby. I get to sleep in a bed tonight, but I don't have time to soak in the hot tub.

Paonia Reservoir, below McClure Pass.

Racing down from McClure Pass.

A home deep in the narrow Crystal River Canyon.


Page 1: Fort Collins to Buena Vista
Page 2: Buena Vista to Carbondale
Page 3: Carbondale to La Plata Peak
Page 4: La Plata Peak to Fort Collins