First thing in the morning was a descent. This wouldn't be the last time the early descent was unpleasant. Scattered light made it difficult to dodge rocks so I had a bumpy ride. I started the day with just snacks for breakfast, hoping for a meal from the town at the base of the descent. I was to be disappointed, having to wait another 2.5 hours until I reached Hartsel for a burger and beer.
After a long stop in Hartsel, where I managed to pull off and partially fix a zipper on my frame bag I got going. The ride continued along a surface that ranged from good fast rolling to rocky, with some sand mixed in for variety. Eventually I started the climb up to the watershed, with only one steep pinch to troubled me. I found a flat spot at the top and got myself sorted for the night.
A frosty morning greeted me, and another tricky descent followed, dodging rocks in bad light. I had to drag my eyes away from the amazing views of the Sawatch Range, my first sight of Colorado's "14ers". Further down I passed through rocky gullies before entering Salida.
Salida was a cool town, a major base for mtb'ers. After lunch a bit further along in Poncha Springs I started climbing to Marshal Pass. Describing this as a long climb is an understatement, a headwind further extending it. The generally easy gradient made it quite manageable though. Once I reached the gravel the problems with the wind was more due to dust, but any issues were far outweighed by stunning views.
I was enjoying the descent, a great surface and shelter from the wind making for a cruisy ride. The wind picked up making things tougher, and a puncture caused even more problems, but it was finding out that the place I was camping wasn't open for breakfast that really ruined my day! Oh and I found a broken spoke, but with the wheel still reasonably true I just ignored it.
Today was a day of dealing with weather. A cold start and a headwind slowed the morning, but a couple of changes in direction later and I was cruising along with a headwind, right into black clouds, again...
Reaching the top of a pass a bunch of bikers were setting up camp. A storm was coming and they had decided they didn't want to risk being out in it. I would have joined them, except I was running short on food so I pushed on. Some highway riding allowed for some good speed, but I almost came to grief when a pickup came around a wide open corner on my side of the road, swerving a few seconds before reaching me. Any longer and I would have ditched it to avoid the collision.
After that scare it was great to get onto the forestry roads again. With the storm still threatening I setup camp early. Some rain did come through, requiring a short stay in the tent but after the long build up it was a bit of a fizzer.
Waking up and feeling awesome I powered up Carnera Pass and enjoyed a cruisy descent down the other side. After a small climb up to a watershed I started down ever more primitive roads. Eventually I was down to some duel track, having a ball. Deep sand had me close to crashing a few times but it was more thrilling than scary. The final stretch into Del Norte was a bit of a drag, but I made it and the folks at the bike shop got working on my wheel, finding I had not one but two broken spokes, they were quite surprised at how well the wheel held up!
Around the time my bike was ready the wind picked up, big time. I was not going anywhere. Eventually decided on staying in a hostel, advertised for divide riders. I managed to reach it without getting blown over, grinning the whole time with how ridiculous the wind was. Inside I met Tim, another Divide cyclist. His experience of the sandy duel track was much less complementary.
In the morning I went and grabbed breakfast, seeing a couple just heading out of town, I suspected I'd see them a bit later. A long climb started the day. The highest pass along the route seemed as good as any point to end my Divide ride. I also wanted to head back north so it was also a pointless climb as well.
A long steady opening climb got me warmed up before the real climbing started. This climb slightly exceeded the gain of Boreas Pass, and was harder, but other than a few steeper spots it was just a matter of crusing up. towards the top I caught the cyclists from the morning, a French couple travelling with a baby. After a quick chat I continued on. I was starting to give up hope of catching Tim, but right at the top I saw him stopped enjoying the view.
I've mentioned riding towards bad weather a lot. Today I got to see the weather ahead and turn around. 4 hours to get up and 1.25 hours of fun to get down, only the occasional loose surface slowing me down.
After the big climb of the morning, nearly anything would appear flat, but the road ahead was about as flat as I'd had for months. Flat roads have often been synonymous with boring roads, but with stunning views and a tailwind I was enjoying myself. To begin with the wind had me cruising along at 25kmph, but a turn in the road had me cruising just under 30kmph. Approaching Saguache I started to tire, so I looked at places to stay. With no public land around my options were limited, so I dropped into a motel sort of thing. I was told they don't allow camping, but there was some forestry land "only" 10 miles away.
I was exhausted, but got on my bike anyway. Ignoring my fatigue the ride had been fun, and with the sun setting the scenery only got better. Off to the side I saw the smallest of forestry signs, and went down the path a bit to minimise the highway noises. With my tent being the tallest thing around distance was also my only cover. I managed to get set up with the light that was left and got to enjoy the sunset over dinner before I got some much needed sleep.
I awoke to silence. Switching to my road tyres I got on the road. Another fairly flat day, but with great views across the valley to mountain ranges, and a tailwind I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Poncha Pass was barely a climb from this side, and with decent grade down towards Poncha Springs and kind winds I was once again in Salida, in time for lunch.
The flat riding continued as I entered the Arkansas Canyon. I can imagine that this would make for an awesome mass participation ride route, but it with plenty of sections with no shoulder it wasn't particularly relaxing. It was pretty though. 10 miles in and I was getting bored of it. I was ecstatic when It ended, after 50 miles. After another long day I resorted to staying in an RV park. After the previous nights amazing spot, paying a ridiculous amount to be camped on gravel next to a family who spent a the evening yelling at the kids was a rude shock.
Approaching Colorado Springs I had no choice but to ride on boring, busy highways. Thankfully I was off the above highway early, heading north. The contrast of the mountains to my left and the flatlands to my right was at least interesting to see. With a tail wind once again I arrived at another Warmshowers host, Ryan and Elisha, very early. This should have given me plenty of time to prepare for the coming days, but once the kids (Jade, Dylan and Eva) got home I became the designated entertainer. I can't complain too much.
Much later than I'd have liked, and after dark I headed off to the supermarket. Along the way I nearly T-boned a deer. The surprises didn't end there, with a stranger buying my food for me!
The main reason for my detour back north was to climb a mountain. America's Mountain, Pikes Peak to be exact. Famous for a hill climb rally, it had captured my attention as soon as I started thinking about cycling the States. With an altitude gain of over 2000m its almost double my previous biggest climb, and to make it even more interesting the summit is at 4302m, over 14,000ft, so it would also be my first "14er".
I started my day early, slowly getting my things sorted for my climb. I only took what I thought I'd need, erring on caution for clothing as I was conscious of dramatic weather changes at altitude. With a lift from Ryan part of the way I begun climbing, at the low altitude of 1800m. The climbing started out easy. An unavoidable ride along the very narrow HWY 24 wasn't too bad, but it definitely made for a nervous start. Soon enough I turned onto the Pikes Peak Toll Rd.
The gradient kicked up and I settled in for a long ride. I wouldn't stop climbing for another 4 hours. Early on the scenery was nothing spectacular. Signs warning of Big Foot gave me a smile, and as if I didn't already know it, I was also reminded of exactly how far up I had to go.
Eventually I passed above the treeline to reveal stunning views. I was frequently stopping, purely to take photos. Seeing the road wind its way up the mountain for miles beneath me was amazing. As I ascended the wind started to pick up, a nasty bite to it was enough for me to feel it, despite my exertion.
Towards the top my photo stops became a good excuse to catch my breath. Everyone I'd talked to had mentioned that no matter your fitness the climb from 13,000ft sucked. At 10% for the final 3km the climb is significant, but after such a long climb, and with a lack of oxygen it becomes as much as you can handle. I was thankful for my touring gearing, but even so I had to be careful with my efforts as even short stints of higher power took a long time to recover from. The road just kept disappearing into the sky ahead of me, but eventually, after tonnes of encouragement from drivers I rounded the corner to find a car park full of people.
I rugged up, and took the obligatory photo, having a chuckle at all the people also taking photos most of whom had just clambered out of a car. A couple of world famous donuts and a coffee later and I was ready for the descent. The descent was nothing short of stunning. Passing cars is always fun. I'm pretty sure I had a grin on my face the entire time, at least when I didn't have to concentrate on the many switchbacks. Unfortunately the descent is broken up by a few climbs. I nearly overheated due to my many layers. At the bottom I had a chat to another cyclist who'd done the climb, he was waiting on some friends to arrive, who I'd wizzed passed near the top.
I cruised back to Colorado Springs, a few small hills providing the last bit of challenge but I arrived back feeling amazing. I couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate 100 days of cycling.
Leaving Colorado Springs the next day was an extended process. Eventually I headed off and took a look at the Garden of the Gods, a park with some amazing rock formations. Soon after that my fun ended. I should have been able to follow a bike path practically to the door of another Warmshowers host, but google thought otherwise and took me along busy roads with tricky navigation. I was exhausted when I rolled up to a warm welcome, including beer!
Denver was the last destination on this leg of the trip. I also had a place to stay thanks to Joe. He'd even promised to have a working shower for my arrival! My ride into Denver couldn't have been any more different to the previous days ride. A great surface and minimal traffic got me rolling along nicely, and a tailwind and a steady decline all day made it even better. Eventually though I was onto a more busy road with the old disappearing shoulder trick, but just as I was tiring off the traffic I was onto bikepaths. These were great, and I was able to cruise along at a great pace. Towards the end I ran into crowds heading to a Broncos match, but soon enough I was through and a few suburban streets later I was rolling into Joe's place.
I planned staying a few nights here, with rest and another small hill to climb on the agenda. Pikes Peak may be America's Mountain, but Mt Evans is America's highest sealed road, so I thought I may as well climb it!
After a rest day I got a lift to the base with Joe's partner, Whitney, on the way to work, I never felt great climbing, so even with a max gradient equal to the average of Pikes Peak I was much slower. The road quality to the half way point was great, but after that surface degraded. The upside was that there was next to no-one else around. I only saw a couple of dozen cars.
Just like Pikes Peak the real fun begun when the trees dropped away. The day was significantly grayer, reducing the visibility, but it was still spectacular. From Summit lake the road was closed to cars, and any semblance of maintenance disappeared as well. This was also where I started to feel the effects of altitude. Right near the top, unlike Pikes Peak, I had some adverse effects, a mild headache and shortness of breath, but not enough to worry me.
Reaching the top I was greeted by Mountain Goats. The contrast to Pikes Peak was astounding, gone was the cafe and hundreds of people. The place had all signs removed or boarded up, and I only saw one person. I took a short walk up to the summit before starting the descent. Unlike Pikes Peak I saw a handful of cyclists heading up. The descent down to the halfway point was a little bumpy, definitely not as fun as Pikes Peak. Descending Squaw Pass started off really cruisy, before tightening up enough for me to get my lean on.
Fatigue was setting in, but with mostly descending along very pretty canyon roads I managed fine. I arrived back to Joe's exhausted, needing a nap before getting my things sorted for the final leg of the trip.