General comment: The weather in Colorado is quite cool and snowy this time of year, at least at the higher elevations. The natives assure us this is unseasonably cool. Either way, when they were predicting snow down to 8000' elevation and we were riding and camping at 9000' and higher, we made the intelligent decision to book it south quickly. We decided to bypass some of the Great Divide trail and hop on paved roads, some of it part of the TransAm Trail, some of it our own doing, to make time. Basically, this was from Kremmling to Saguache. So far, we have avoided any of the white stuff, and are hoping to make it out of the mountains before it catches us. We are back on the trail now and still at higher elevations, but the weather for the last few days has been dry, although very cold at night (below freezing).
Todd had sent us a care package which we picked up in Kremmling. Included in it were a Belgian flag, which I now have flying from the back of my trailer and some Belgian chocolate (right from Belgium). It was a little surreal sitting on a rock on top of a mountain in Colorado eating real Belgian chocolate.
Also, as to read these journals, take note of all the wonderful people we have met. The best part about bike touring is meeting people. So far, Colorado has been one of the friendliest states we have encountered.
Sept 13 44 miles to Frisco, CO (home of Jack )
Rode the paved TransAm. The last part was actually bike trail along the Dillon Reservoir. As we were stopped for lunch (and Jon to change a flat tire), we were caught by Matt (from Los Angeles) and Steve (from PA) who were doing the Great Divide Trail. They only had 29 days to do it, so, like us, had taken some shortcuts. Enjoyed talking with them and comparing notes about the rigors of the trail. They had heard about the "people with the dogs" and were hoping to meet us. At the end of the day, as we were headed towards a campground on the reservoir, Jack, who was doing a day ride on the bike trail, struck up a conversation with us and eventually invited us to his home in Frisco. Not to turn down an inside shelter, we jumped at the chance. His whole family is into biking, so we shared some good stories. Also had our first shower in 6 days!
Sept 14 33.5 miles to Fairplay, CO (Motel)
This was a day of ups and downs, warm and cold, wet and dry and meeting people. We had a short 12 mile ride up a bike trail from Frisco to Breckenridge, a big skiing resort town. Then we were to climb Hoosier Pass, at 11,539', the highest point we will cross on the continental divide. The day started out warm and sunny. We talked for awhile to a woman out riding on the trail who said we were living her dream. We stopped at a small furniture store on the trail to use the restroom and when we came out, there was a reporter and photographer for the Summit Daily News standing by our dogs in the trailers. He had seen lots of bike tourists, but never any with dogs. We agreed to an interview and photos. You can read the story at www.summitdaily.com/article/20060914/sports/109140084 . By now it was past 11 AM and we had only come 8 miles. In Breckenridge, we stopped at a couple bike stores and while we were there, the weather did a complete 180. The sky turned black and opened up and poured. By the time we left for our 2000' climb up Hoosier Pass, it was 1 PM and sleeting. We desperately wanted to make it over the pass before it turned to snow. It was 11 miles to the top. We had done this pass 8 years ago when we rode across the country, so knew what to expect, but now in such wintry weather. We put all our rain gear on. The dogs ran all the way up to stay warm. We did not stop for very long for fear of hypothermia setting in. Halfway up, some hail was added to the mix. That was a nice touch. Three miles from the top, the road was closed down to one lane for construction. The closed lane was paved-they were just seeding and blowing straw on the shoulders, so they let us ride in the closed lane. That was actually a blessing, as it gave us a very wide lane all to ourselves away from the traffic. With the wet straw, it smelled slightly like the Otsego County Fair livestock barn. The last mile, the trees opened up and the wind really whipped down the pass. At that point, we were really cold and thinking about hypothermia and how we were going to get down the other side. We took a few quick photos. The last time we climbed this pass, we celebrated. 11,539 ' is almost 2 miles above sea level. For comparison for those back home in Michigan, Gaylord is probably about 1000' above sea level. This is 11 times higher. This time we were in a dilemma about how to get down safely. The dogs were shaking from cold. We could pick them up and make it the 12 miles to the next town quite fast, but they would be even colder riding in the wind. If they ran, they would be warmer, but we could only go about 7 mph. We were freezing too and anxious to get down. Enter three very nice ladies who stopped to take pictures at the top as well. They saw our poor freezing puppies, offered to drive them to the bottom, scooped them up, and they were gone. That allowed us to hustle to the bottom. When we got there, the ladies had the dogs all warmed up and had even found a motel for us that welcomed dogs. What a blessing. BTW, Hoosier Pass was surrounded by several peaks that were much higher-over 14,000'. When were started up, there was little snow on them. At the end of the day, the snow on top was thick and down to a much lower elevation.
We went out to dinner at the old, historic Fairplay Hotel. While there, we met Blaise, who was road bike touring. He is a traffic engineer from Geneva, Switzerland. He is riding from Jasper, Alberta, Canada to Albuquerque, NM. He has toured in the Rockies before, and indeed, knows more about the passes than we do. Enjoyed sharing stories about touring in America and Europe.
Sept 15 40 miles to Nathop, CO (private campground)
Had lots of traffic on narrow roads with no shoulder all day. Plus a headwind slowed us down and almost blew us off the road at time. Had some beautiful scenery of the Collegiate Peaks, as they are called- Mt. Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia, all named for Ivy League schools. All were now snow covered due to the storm a couple days ago. Met up with Blaise again for a roadside lunch. He travels much lighter than us, with a road bike and no camping gear-he stays in motels exclusively.
Sept 16 33.5 miles to Dispersed site just past Poncha Pass
Several stories about today. First, we had decided some time ago that the dogs needed some kind of warm coat with all this wet, cold weather. We contacted our friend Marti at home, who is a dog lover, and asked her to research jackets, which she did. Thank you, Marti. With her information, we ordered them a couple days ago, then needed a place to ship them to. Enter Mike and Bill. We met Mike a couple days ago in Silverthorn, before Frisco. Talked to awhile, and he gave us the number of his business partner, Bill, in Salida and told us to contact him is we needed anything while there. Both are big bike enthusiasts. So we called Bill, introduced ourselves, and asked if we could have a package shipped to his house, where we could pick it up. So we had the jackets shipped to the house of a person we had never met before. What would we do without the kindness of strangers? When we got to Salida, we made contact and got the jackets just fine. We will try to get photos of them on the web. They are a little "cute", but warm, quilted material, and do the job fine. We put them on the dogs to sleep when it's sub freezing.
Something to laugh about-on the way to Salida, I was drying my shorts on my handle bars. We wash our bike shorts every night and if they don't dry overnight, often hang them on the bike to dry the next day. They had been there for 18 miles with no problem. All of a sudden, for some reason, my shorts got sucked into my brakes on my front wheel, stopped the bike dead, and I went over the handlebars. I was not hurt-only a scraped knee and a few bruises, but my shorts were shredded in places you don't want them shredded. Luckily, Salida had a good bike store, and I was able to buy a new pair.
It was lunch time, so we hit a local cafe. While there, with the dogs parked outside, a couple came in and asked if we were the people in the Summit Daily News article. This was two days later and 100 miles south. We felt like celebrities.
With the delays, we were late heading over Poncha Pass-elevation 9015'. Almost to the top, a lady stopped to talk to us. She had seen us almost a month ago in the Tetons, then a few days ago in Buena Vista. She said, the third time, she just had to stop and talk to us. She herself has done quite a bit of riding, including parts of the Tour de France route. We crested the pass at 6:30, then just went down a couple miles to camp on public land. It was almost dark. We ate, set up the tent and headed to bed as quickly as possible. At almost 9000', it was cold that night. The water bottles froze almost solid.
Sept 17 33 miles to Saguache (Sa-watch), CO (motel)
Mostly downhill on pavement. Riding through a basin which reminded me of Wyoming, with sagebrush and antelope. The surrounding mountains are scattered with patchwork quilts of gold aspens and various shades of green pines. We met Alan, from Jasper, Alberta. He is road touring the length of the Rockies. He had heard about the "people with the dogs" and he also had met Blaise, from Switzerland, when he started in Jasper. Small world. He met Alan again for a mid morning breakfast in Villa Grove. We also met a woman in Villa Grove who had seen us several days ago. After telling her daughter about us, she was sorry she didn't talk to us. Was glad to find us again and called her daughter right away.
Saguache was pretty much a dead town, at least on Sunday afternoon. Rode through the business district and saw no movement. Saguache is famous for being the town where Alfred Packer, the only person convicted of cannibalism in US history, came after spending the winter in the mountains around town. He and 5 buddies went into the mountains in the fall in the 1800s and he is the only one that survived, well fed and fit. A bit of sordid history of the American West. These are the mountains we are riding through.
Sept 18 31 miles to Storm King USFS campground.
We got back on the Great Divide trail today. Carnero Pass (10,166') was a beautiful ride. Tall aspen and pines lining the road, interspersed with wide, grassy meadows. Saw an old "line shack" where ranch hands would spend the winter with any cattle that had missed the fall roundup. Going down, the canyon was lined with unique rock formations in various shapes. We were the only ones in the campground. Some hunters stopped and gave us dire warnings about the bears in the area, but we had no problems. It was very cold in the morning-it was shady in the campground, so the sun didn't warm us up.
Sept 19 33 miles to Del Norte (staying at Cristi Larsen's apartment in downtown)
Started the day with a flat tire for Jon. Couldn't find a hole, so pumped it up and it seemed to hold all day. Nice downhill to LaGarita, where we stopped in the LaGarita restaruant/grocery/gas station/campground/the only business enterprise in LaGarita for lunch. It was very busy and only had four big tables. The thing to do is to share. We sat with an older couple-I think farmers, and two women on their lunch break. Great burgers. The rest of the road to Del Norte was the most roundabout way you could ever take, across open plains and 4WD trails, through river bottoms and through rock gaps. The maps said "very primitive road". That's an understatement. We wonder how they ever found these routes.
Once in town, we were headed for the city park, where supposedly, we could camp. Cristi stopped us and asked if we were looking for a place to stay---sure, we never turn down inside lodging. She owns a large space above some downtown stores, and has converted some of it to apartments. It is a wonderful and cute place to stay. We do so enjoy the generosity of strangers. On top of that, she owns an internet cafe underneath the apartment, the other thing we needed.
So far, we have come approximately 1631 miles and have less than 1000 miles to go. Thanks for following us and for all your supportive comments.