Day Twenty Two – Slater to Steamboat – 63 miles – 1,644 miles total
We were up and about before sunrise and although it was pretty chilly, it looked as though it was going to be a good day. We heated oatmeal and drank tea before setting off towards the town of Steamboat. I had been very disappointed about not making it as far as we’d hoped the day before, but set off determined to ride better today; knowing that we were only going to ride about 60 miles certainly helped. I hoped it would feel like a rest day, which sounds a bit crazy, now I think about it!
The trail was a good one again and we were making pretty good time even though it was uphill for most of the morning. Marco went on ahead and I continued the climb on my own. The last mile and a half was very rocky indeed and I had to push most of it.
A steep and rocky downhill followed and I started to think about whether I would be able to finish the route. Marco was clearly much faster and more proficient than I was and I was pretty sure that I would be riding the rest of the route on my own. It wasn’t really fair to expect him to keep waiting for me all the time. I didn’t want to quit now, but I also didn’t really fancy riding the rest of the way on my own.
I was slightly miserable buy the time I pulled up outside the general store at Clark, where I met back up with Marco. We sat and chatted about the morning’s route as I munched my way through a delicious freshly made sandwich and made arrangements to meet up further down the road in Steamboat.
The road section into Steamboat passed very quickly indeed and as soon as I got into town, I made my way to the bike shop to get some urgent repairs on the bike. Whilst the bike was being fixed, I headed to the library and used the internet for the first time in a while and caught up on some of the news from home, even managing an online chat with Dad, who had been avidly following our progress thanks to the SPOT device and Google Earth.
I met back up with Marco at the bike shop and we also met up with Steve Williams, who has cycled just about everywhere in the world. He was very interested in our trip and sounded as though he had a thousand stories and tips to share with us. Have a look at his website to see where he has been – truly amazing.
In the evening we sat outside and had a beer and some lovely pasta (just what we needed), before riding out to the campground, just out of town. The campground was completely packed and at first it looked as though the owners were going to turn us away. Thankfully, they found a spot for us and we fought the mosquitoes off as we got the tents put up.
I spent a while adding some padding tape to my handlebars. I’d bought the tape way back in Jackson, but hadn’t made the time to get it onto the bars before then. My hands were in a pretty bad state from all the vibrations, every little bit of extra padding was going to be hugely helpful.
Day Twenty Three – Steamboat to Kremmling – 80 miles – 1,724 miles total
We rode into town for an early breakfast, then bought supplies from the supermarket before a quick visit to the local outdoor store. We had discussed Marco going on ahead on his own and needed to make sure that we both had the correct equipment if he did this.
The trail headed out of Steamboat alongside the river before it started to climb up towards Lynx Pass, some thirty miles or so ahead. At Stagecoach Reservoir, we joined up with the Elk Run Trail, a singletrack path following the water’s edge for a short while, before getting back onto the gravel roads for more climbing.
I met back up with Marco for some lunch in the shade of a tree and we made arrangements to meet up in Kremmling that evening. He set off again as I finished up my lunch and so I was surprised to catch him up after a few minutes of riding. He was chatting to a couple of motorcyclists who were riding the trail from South to North. They were full of superlatives about parts of the route, but also warned us about New Mexico, where they had had a bit of a tough time.
I crossed over Lynx Pass and began a good descent as the weather started to deteriorate. The next obstacle was a deep creek that had to be crossed. A couple of holidaying families were having a picnic on the banks and I chatted with them for a few minutes before pushing the bike and trailer through the shin-deep water.
I then started out on one of my least favourite sections of the whole ride. The track conditions deteriorated and I began to really slow down thanks to a few miles of steep climbs and descents. I had been making pretty good progress up until then, but this section seemed to take me forever. To make matters worse, our old friends the mosquitoes were out in force too, making it almost impossible to stop and rest.
I finally made it to the high point and had a stunning view over the valley below. I could also see the ‘town’ of Radium down there- my next port of call. The downhill was very steep indeed and the drop in altitude was remarkable. The temperature changed dramatically for one thing, and the vegetation at the bottom bore no resemblance to that at the top – it was quite incredible.
As I crossed the river and began to climb out of Radium, the weather started to take a turn for the worse and I did consider turning around and putting my tent up, but decided to push on and try to make it to Kremmling.
Part way up the first part of the steep section, I got a Tour de France style push from a fella who had obviously been watching the TV coverage of the race. He ran along shouting “Allez, Allez!” as he ran alongside me. It made me smile, but didn’t help me up the hill too much!
The climb just seemed to drag on and on but then suddenly I was at the top and screaming downhill on the other side It was a good job that I was riding into the wind, as I managed to get up to about 42 miles an hour, without even trying.
Sadly, the downhill was very short lived and I was climbing up towards Inspiration Point, from where I was able to get a superb view over the valley below. A freight train was on its way from Radium through the valley and that added to the effect.
I stopped to wolf down a few snacks that kept me going over the top of the hill and then it was downhill all the way into Kremmling. I had made it – the last 20 miles from Radium had been tough, but I had proved to myself that I could make it to the border on my own if I needed to.
I bought some drinks from a gas station and rode back through town, trying to locate the library, where I was supposed to catch up with Marco. I couldn’t find it, so headed to the campground thinking that he may just have gone straight there. I didn’t find him there though and with no mobile reception, decided to get myself sorted before searching further for him.
I got the tent up and had a wonderful shower and sort of cleaned some of my riding clothes – they would soon be dry given the strength of the wind. Once I was cleaned and organised, I rode back in to town to try and find Marco and to get some food.
On my second sweep through the main street, I found him in one of the pubs and joined him for yet another burger and a (well-deserved) cold beer.
Day Twenty Four – Kremmling to Silverthorne – 56 miles – 1,780 miles total
I slept very well and woke feeling very positive, looking forward to another shorter day. The positivity soon disappeared though as I noticed that my back tyre was flat – I must have picked up a puncture riding back from dinner the evening before.
It took us a while to get it fixed and so the cafe was already pretty busy by the time we arrived for breakfast. After ordering, I dashed across the road to phone home and wish Mum a happy birthday.
Full of pancakes and cinnamon rolls, we set off towards Silverthorne. After a couple of miles, Marco decided that he wanted to have a fast day and so we decided to split up again, agreeing to meet at a lunch spot around 30 miles into the route, at the bottom of the main climb of the day.
The ride was all uphill, but I was making good progress on the excellent surface and it wasn’t too long before I met back up with Marco at the side of the road for lunch.
Refreshed after lunch, Marco set off up towards the final steep section of the climb up to Ute Pass. As I reached the last few miles, I was slightly surprised to see Marco coming back the other way. Had we gone the wrong way? Was the road closed? The answer was much simpler; Marco wanted a race up to the top. I’m afraid I wasn’t much competition for him although I kept him within my sight for a bit longer than I usually would have done!
At the top of the climb, we were met with Jim, who was out for a ride on his road bike, whilst on vacation in the area. We chatted and rode together as the paved road started to take us downhill. He was (like pretty much everyone else we met along the way) fascinated by our adventure and even more amazed at the speed that we were able to go at down the hill. The weight of the trailer gives us an extra boost, compensating for the extra drag of the fatter tyres. Jim and Marco got into their aerodynamic ‘tuck’ positions and raced down the hill. I took advantage of the downhill and sat up and relaxed. The racers got up to about 47mph, I only managed about 42 – still pretty quick though!!
I have to say that little section of maybe three or four miles was one of my favourite parts of the route. Not just because it was downhill and fast, but because we got some amazing mountain views on the way down too. If we were to ride have been riding from South to North though, this would have probably been one of the hardest climbs!
After chatting away with Jim at the bottom of the hill, we then just had to deal with the thirteen miles of gradual uphill along the busy highway into Silverthorne. Once in Silverthorne, we stopped at the supermarket and filled up on energy drink, milk and chocolate.
That night, we were lucky enough to be staying with Heike, thanks to couchsurfing once again. In her back yard, we hung out the tents to dry, got the sleeping bags well aired and did some work on the bikes - giving them a general tune up and changing the chains.
That evening, we headed out of town to a local micro brewery for a couple of beers and a big plate of pasta as the sun went down. An excellent end to a great day.
Day Twenty Five – Silverthorne to Hartsel – 73 miles – 1,853 miles total
Heike cooked us a yummy breakfast and once we’d packed our stuff we were back on the road again. We had a few problems finding the correct trail out of town and then we had to get up a steep, but thankfully short climb up to the Dillon Reservoir. There we joined a cycle path that was very well used indeed. I was amazed to see so many people out riding, and all of them waved or said hello as we went past.
We followed the edge of the reservoir to the small town of Frisco where we found the bike shop and a lovely bakery for a cinnamon roll. Back on the bike path, we made our way up towards Breckenridge. It was along this path that I discovered that I wasn’t actually that slow, as I passed many a cyclist on the way, and none of them was towing a trailer!
In Breckenridge, we got some supplies from the supermarket and then visited the local library to get some internet access. While we were in there, the weather turned; the skies turned very grey and the rain began pouring down – not great news for us, although a couple of locals told me that it wouldn’t last. I hoped they were right.
We ate some lunch and then decided to head out into the rain. We hadn’t made it very far before Marco had a problem with his chain. We tried to get it fixed in the supermarket car park, but had no joy, so Marco took it into one of the bike shops in town to get it fixed. I carried on ahead, and got a head start on Boreas Pass.
On the map this looked like a horrible climb, being about 10 miles long and climbing about 2,000 feet in altitude. In reality it was a great climb. The track was in great condition and gave wonderful views back down the valley. The weather got better as I climbed up and by the time I got near the top it was pretty warm. I started to have a few problems with my breathing at this point and so eased back a bit. I looked back to see if I could spot Marco racing up behind me, but couldn’t see him and so really took it easy.
I could see the sign marking the top of the climb when I heard him racing past me, breathing hard. I couldn’t believe it! I had been beaten to the top once again, even with a big head start!
We stopped for a breather at the top, which was harder than you might think; we were at 11,482 feet (3,500 metres) and the oxygen was noticeably less than down at the bottom. I was as high as Namche Bazaar in Nepal, the first stop on the Everest Trek.
Going down the other side was awesome; a steady fast gravel road took us toward the small village of Como. As we approached, the heavens opened and the headwind started to get stronger. I rode straight through the place and had to turn back around to find the local restaurant where Marco was waiting.
The front door was pretty stiff and so I pushed hard and ended up basically falling into the place. And what a place it was. I was in heaven when they told me that one of the owners was an Englishman and that they served PG Tips tea – I ordered a pot straight away!
After a lovely bowl of soup, I munched my way through a great sandwich and then had desert as well. I was pretty keen to stay there (they had rooms too) but I knew we should probably get moving again.
Luckily, the rain had stopped by the time we left. The wind however, was stronger than ever, and of course we had to ride into it. I had real trouble even pushing the pedals round as my belly was so full! II found that I had to sit up straight and ride with my knees pointing out – I must have looked ridiculous!
The road through South Park is a very strange one. All the way along there are roads going off the main one, but they lead nowhere. There were obviously plans to develop the land and build ranches along there, but the plans had clearly not worked out. There was even a kids play park and baseball diamond all ready for the new inhabitants to use, but I doubt if they had ever been tried out, and given the current climate, it will be a while before anyone starts buying up the land.
After twenty something miles into the wind, we arrived in Hartsel but found that the pub was no longer serving food and there was no campsite there either. That was a little bit strange as the guidebook recommends this as a place to end the day.
We stocked up with food and drink at the gas station and set off into the wind again to find ourselves a place to sleep by the side of the road. We got a great spot in the middle of nowhere and got our camp set up for the night.
Day Twenty Six – Hartsel to Doyle ville – 97 miles – 1,950 miles total
The map seemed to suggest a fairly flat start to the day, but on the ground it didn’t seem that way. I found the going pretty slow and it wasn’t long before Marco was away in the distance.
By now I was very used to being alone in the big wide open spaces of South Park and wasn’t disheartened by being able to see the trial winding its way across the land for miles and miles ahead of me. This morning though, I needed a little bit of help and so plugged in the Ipod and that seemed to give me something else to think about as I made my way towards the first climb of the day.
The steep section to the top of the climb had me pushing again, something that I had been doing less and less over the past few days. Maybe I was getting fitter after all?!
More stunning views were waiting at the top and just got better and better as I began to descend towards Salida. In the space of about fifteen miles, the trail dropped almost 3,000ft (nearly 1,000 metres) and the temperature down in Salida was incredible – so much hotter than we’d experienced over the previous few days.
We had a huge lunch and then stocked up on food for the coming few days before I set off and Marco headed to the library again. This time he was photocopying maps as we had been unable to buy a second set in any of the towns we’d visited in the past week or so.
The headwind out of Salida was incredible as I zigzagged my way along small county roads towards Poncha Springs and then on towards Marshall Pass, some 25 miles and almost 4,000 feet of climbing away.
The first section was along the highway and the heat coming up off the road was incredible. We were riding in the hottest part of the day too, which clearly didn’t help. Off of the highway, the trail just kept on going up and up and up.
There was an alternative route marked on the map, but unlike all the others along the way, this one was shorter, steeper and rougher than the main one; naturally, Marco was interested. He caught me up just before the turning and we agreed to meet at the bottom of the hill on the other side in Sargents.
I passed him a few minutes later – his chain had broken again and he was struggling to get it fixed. He told me to carry on, and so I did just that, knowing that I couldn’t really offer much help anyway.
The trail used to be rail line up over the pass, and so the gradient was not too steep but it just kept on going. Marco passed me again with about seven miles to go to the top and I struggled on. The day just seemed to be getting hotter, but luckily there were some shady sections as I pedalled slowly along. My computer was ticking over very slowly, my legs ached and I felt exhausted as I finally got a sight of the top, but it was still some distance away. On I pushed and finally made it over the top.
A bumpy and rocky downhill followed, and within another hour I saw Sargents ahead of me, where I hoped to be able to get some food and rest. The wind though did its best to stop me getting there, blowing strongly into my face, making the final few miles pretty tough.
I arrived in Sargents to find the pub just about open and some food had already been ordered for me. We scoffed down a couple of burgers each and bought more supplies from the store next door before hitting the road again. I wanted to just stay the night in Sargents, but looked at the map and saw that the next section was about thirteen miles of downhill along the highway. The light was fading as the sun began to set, but I knew it wouldn’t take us too long to find a place to camp once we turned off onto the gravel road again.
We rode as the sunset lit up the valley and pitched our tents in the dark. I was extremely tired after the long climb, but knew that more of the same lay ahead of us.
Day Twenty Seven – Doyle ville to Del Norte – 96 miles – 2,046 miles total
Waking up in the middle of nowhere was rapidly becoming one of my favourite aspects of the trip and today, waking up was an absolute pleasure. The sunrise was great, but I knew that I couldn’t hang around today, as we had two passes to get over before reaching the next town of Del Norte, almost 100 miles away.
I set off a little while before Marco but he caught me up after after about fifteen miles as I had stopped to chat with a motorcyclist who was also riding the route. He told us that he had cycled some of the route many years ago, and again issued another warning about New Mexico. All these horror stories weren’t helping very much!
The trail up to Cochetopa Pass was pretty good and I was making good time and got to the top without having to push – a good sign. I met Marco at the top as he was just finishing his first lunch. He set off and I followed shortly afterwards, hoping not to fall too far behind him.
An easy downhill section followed and then we had a short section on the highway. The heat coming off the road was once again amazing ad I was happy to get off the pavement and onto the next section of gravel road.
I found a little creek and some shade and set about filtering some water and eating some lunch. The water filtering didn’t start too well as I stood at the edge of the water on what looked like solid ground. It wasn’t very solid and I got myself a wet and muddy foot for my troubles. By the time I’d got the water filtered, the mosquitoes had arrived and so I didn’t hang around.
I rode on through the heat of the day and finally made it up to Carnero Pass where I finally stopped for a big feed before starting a good long descent towards Del Norte. After about twenty miles, I rode off route for a mile or so and paid a visit to the store at La Garita.
Annoyingly, I had arrived too late for hot food, but the very kind shopkeeper said that she could make me a sandwich if I wanted one? I had the best roast beef and horseradish sandwich ever and was soon back on my way.
I was making great progress and had less than 20 miles to go to Del Norte, but I soon slowed down as the tracks became more and more primitive. I was riding through an amazing canyon-esque landscape though and so I wasn’t too worried about slowing down until the trail turned into tricky singletrack.
As I was tired, I found this section really tricky and I got slower and slower the further I went. Up ahead, I saw a biker riding towards me and for a moment I thought it was Marco. It turned out to be Alan from California who was also riding part of the trail. He was taking a rest day in Del Norte and was just riding back over a bit of the route to go and visit a natural arch, a few miles away. We chatted for a while and agreed to meet up later and possibly ride together for a while.
We went our separate ways and the trail continued to deteriorate before I finally made it up to the high point, from which I could see Del Norte ahead of me. This area was clearly used by the local youth as beer bottle and cans littered the route, as did all kinds of other rubbish. Most of it had been shot at as well – not such a nice place to ride through.
The trail turned to sand and once again I found myself pushing for a while before riding the last section into town and along to the house of Gary and Patti, a couple of local bikers who open their doors to Great Divide riders for the night. It’s a real haven on the route and they are so very welcoming to bikers.
I took a shower and then Marco, Alan and I headed to the local restaurant for a bite to eat, before crawling into bed. Tomorrow, we would face Indiana Pass, the highest point on the route. It was going to be a tough day.
Day Twenty Eight – Del Norte to Horca – 67 miles – 2,113 miles total
I didn’t have the best night’s sleep, thanks to being pretty apprehensive about the climb up and over Indiana Pass that lay ahead of us. The wind was blowing strongly throughout the night too, and it was still blowing when we woke up – not a good sign.
After coffee and chatting, we got the bikes packed, thanked Gary and Patti for their great hospitality, and headed out for breakfast.
We met Alan at the cafe and after filling up on bacon and eggs, we set off towrds the hill that had been occupying my thoughts for most of the night before, Indiana Pass.
The first ten miles were fairly gentle and we climbed just under 1,000 feet in that time. And then the paved road became a gravel road, and things changed. The trail immediately became steeper and I knew that this was the start of the biggest test so far.
I took a little rest at the bottom, composed myself and then set off, knowing that it was going to be uphill like this for the next thirteen miles. We would have to climb another 3,000 feet before reaching the top.
I was determined to keep riding and desperately wanted to make it without pushing. There were a few sections where I thought I would have to push, but I just stopped, took a rest and then set off again. At one point, I did get off the bike, and assumed the Superman position, (head down, arms stretched) and got ready to push but managed to stop myself.
Of course, Marco was long gone, but I kept pretty close to Alan and when I saw him go over the top, I knew I had nearly done it.
Crossing the pass was a huge relief but I was devastated to see that there wasn’t even a sign to mark the achievement. We were at the high point of the route, (11,910ft / 3,600m) and I couldn’t get a photo to prove it.
I carried on over the top, expecting to see the others waiting for me at the side of the trail, but I didn’t see them anywhere. I finally caught up with Alan at the aptly named Summitville, home to some very read mountains and polluted water (thanks to all the mining).
We stopped and had a bite to eat and then spotted Marco riding towards us. He had been sitting waiting for us a little way off the track at the pass. I hadn’t heard him calling me as I had my headphones in to help me over the top!
After lunch, the trail continued up and over the much shorter climb of Stunner Pass and then down the other side to Platoro, where we filled up on food once again. I was ready to stop for the night, even though it was still pretty early, but the others wanted to carry on, and as it was downhill it made sense.
We rode for about five or six miles and then as I was pushing hard to get up a bit of a hill, I overstretched my calf and wasn’t able to pedal properly. I was in a bit of pain, but carried on anyway, hopeful that we would make to the next settlement of Horca.
I didn’t quite make it, and Alan and I decided to call it a day at a campground about eight miles before Horca. Marco was feeling strong (no surprise there) and we agreed to try to meet him in El Rito the following night. That would make it a very long day of some 110 miles, but we thought we ‘d be able to do it. After all, we’d made it to the high point so it would all be downhill from now on, right?!