“I made a good cut, and the animal was dead within a minute…”
I woke up at 5 AM the next morning, feeling completely refreshed. The older British gentleman had a full English breakfast ready for me downstairs. This included the following.
Skillet-seared mushrooms and tomatoes
and a bowl of fruit.
One of my best meals of the trip so far! I had roughly 80 miles to go before I hit Salida. Riding out of Como on a paved highway was a nice change. I stuck to this highway for a few miles before turning onto a dirt road that cut through the steppe. I was in a valley between ranges, headed ultimately for a pass that would lead me down into Salida. It was a beautiful day, not too hot even with the sun out. After an uneventful 40 miles of back-country dirt roads, I made it to Hartsel.
Hartsel was a “town” comprised of abandoned buildings, a gas station, restaurant, and one general store. I parked my bike outside the restaurant and noticed a few touring bikes leaning against one of the abandoned shacks. Upon entering the restaurant, I sat down at a booth across from four individuals who, I deduced, owned the bikes outside. Lycra, reflective tape and vests, funny hats, small backpacks, yep these guys were cyclists.
We spoke for a bit. They were making a cross country touring trip as well, but on the road. I told them I much preferred bears to cars. They paid out their tab and saddled up again. Before they left, they congratulated me on making it as far as I had.
Everyone thinks this is so hard. You know, most people get paid to sit on their butt for hours every single day. What lucky guys.
As I waited on my french fries and burger, sipping on my lemonade, tea, and water, I realized just how tired I was.
I did it so often, hopping off my bike and walking it up a hill that I couldn’t push through. I remember so keenly not having any strength left. So many times had I needed to get off my bike and push. My pride never hurt. I didn’t have the energy to think about pride. I certainly didn’t have the energy to think about quitting, either.
Each day was different. Some days I had plenty of power, up to a point. But I never thought about quitting. No matter how much I hurt, how tired I was, how afraid or alone I was, I knew that the absolute worst 8th circle of hell was inside a Greyhound bus headed back to Texas.
So after fueling up and grabbing a little water for the next 50 miles, I set off to Salida. Again, a fairly tame ride. I pedaled through wide, rolling hills on a dirt rode surrounded by a smattering of steppe wilds and ranch-land until I began to climb, little by little.
However, I saw something interesting on the side of the road. It was a BOB, or a bike trailer. But there was no bike.
And at that moment I realized that this was exactly like The Oregon Trail, a game I played in the 3nd grade on old Macintosh computers. Here I was, way out in the middle of nowhere, and I’ve stumbled across an abandoned “wagon”.
After looking around for any buffalo and checking myself for Dysentery, I decided to move along.
Further on up the road I found two young men, both on bikes, one with a BOB and one without. They were trying to air up a tire, but not having much luck.
Apparently they were attempting the Colorado section of the Tour Divide route, but at a much more reasonable pace. They left the BOB for some reason, but were going to go back to get it. I didn’t get much in the way of conversation out of them, but I offered my mechanic skills to their problem. They were both seventeen years old out for adventure.
I bid them farewell, but after riding for a little while, I decided to take a break. I found a tree next to a split in the road. My route took me towards Salida, and the other way towards a lake way up in the mountains. It was a popular recreational spot, apparently. I sat down, ate some carrots and drank a bit of water. I wasn’t terribly hungry, just very tired. So I lay down, using my Camelback as a pillow and had a quick half-hour siesta.
I’m not out to win the thing, so why not? Besides, as I’ve stated before, I’m a huge wimp.
That gave me the energy required to tackle the next part of the route. I had about 12 miles until I reached Salida. Sadly, 8 of those miles were all uphill. Steppe gave way to tree-lined mountains and rock as I pedaled and pushed my way up towards the pass.
At the the crest of the climb, I found myself pedaling through something out of a painting. The dirt road went right through an old abandoned farm/ranch house, high in the mountains, surrounded by green grass and tall aspens. The old wooden fences were aged by years of winters, and the sunlight coming down through the trees made the place look enchanted.
I passed through this scene and met a few other riders checking out the route. They weren’t racing, but simply a few locals enjoying the remoteness of this tiny dirt road in the mountains.
I was finally making my way downhill. But then I stopped and snapped a picture.
The road was now a narrow , winding mountain road. No guardrails, hundreds of feet to the bottom of the valley, rocky, and did I mention it was narrow?
But the view made it all worthwhile. Before me, I could see numerous famous “14ers”, mountains with peaks that went above 14,000 feet. It was breathtaking, to say the least.
But enough of that touchy-feeling stuff, I had a massive downhill ahead of me. In around 2 miles I would lose nearly 2,000 ft of elevation! All that awesome non-pedaling action was calling my name.
Those views, however, kept distracting me. As soon as I would be in the groove, wrestling my 44 pound bike down the nasty, loose, dangerously steep road, I would become entranced by how beautiful the light curved around those peaks in the distance.
Then I’d catch myself doing 25 mph and having to skid to a stop before a curve that, if I hadn’t stopped, would have sent me down a sheer cliff face 200 feet to my doom.
Nature had a bounty on my head, it seemed.
After narrowly escaping certain demise a few times, I found myself rolling into Salida. This is the kind of town I can see myself living in. Awesome skiing, mountainbiking, not that big, super friendly, the works! After finding a room for the night I decided to check out the town. It had a neat older downtown with numerous shops and restaurants. I had time to go check out the bike shop that was featured in the Ride the Divide documentary.
I didn’t buy anything. Much too expensive.
After a meal and a good night’s rest, I was ready to tackle the Marshal Pass.
Riding out of Salida, I spent a good fifteen miles on pavement on the shoulder of a very busy highway before I hit a thirty mile stretch of tiny park roads and a nasty long climb to Marshal Pass. But right before my tires touched dirt, I had to kill a deer.
I came across an older couple, probably in their 60’s, speaking with another slightly younger (40s?) Hispanic woman. Then I saw, off to the side of the road, an animal laying in the ditch.
It was still moving.
I immediately threw my bike down and ran up to the group and asked “Who hit the deer?”
They looked at me like I was an idiot.
Apparently, the Hispanic lady was somewhat lost, and the elderly couple stopped to help her out. And 10 yards away from them was a female mule deer writhing in agony. The poor thing had been hit by a car probably earlier that morning. It had a broken back, and two compound leg fractures (front and back, right side). It was still very conscious and didn’t want me near it. But, it couldn’t get up to run away either.
After I pointed this out to the individuals at the road, the Hispanic women exclaimed “Dios Mio!” and I asked if the older gentleman was squeamish at all.
He said “No…” but his face and tone said “Aw crap…” I grabbed my knife from my bike and told him to hold the front legs and keep the doe from moving while I slit its throat.
I made it quick and clean. I held it until it stopped struggling. Afterwards, hands, knife, and jersey bloodied, I put my knife away and thanked the man.
We didn’t shake hands, for obvious reasons.
I saw the Hispanic woman digging around in her car, saying something. She pulls out a small vial of water. Apparently she was looking for her small stash of holy water. She began crossing herself as she splashed it on the dead deer.
I nearly asked if she had anymore to wash my knife with, but thought better of it. I had places to be.
Marshal Pass was an interesting experience. This area was a very popular recreation spot for locals and tourists alike. It had beautiful high-country lakes and miles and miles of dirt roads and trails to explore. I was climbing for most of the morning on the main park road that made its way up and over the pass. However, on the way up, there were a few young people on 4-wheelers (ATVs, for those of you outside of East Texas) riding up and down this pass very quickly.
Now it’s been dry for the past few days, and those kids had goggles on. I’m sure they couldn’t understand just how annoying all that dust flying into my eyes was.
About two miles from the top, after resting for a bit, I heard someone call from behind me, “Doing the divide, eh?”
A older man on a full rigid single speed bike was trucking up the pass. We rode for a while and talked of the trails on top of the ridge. He wanted me to take a day off the race and ride the “totally gnarly single track” on top of the pass.
I respectfully declined. I was way too worn down to jump into southern CO single track.
However, it was about this time that the ATV kids flew past us going up the pass. Dust got into my eyes and curses flew, but they fell on deaf ears. Away they went into the horizon. I had had enough of them, and after nearly a mile of riding I saw them coming towards us down the park road.
I stopped my bike, put it in front of me, and held out my hand. The two ATVs were barreling down the mountain dirt road at dangerous speeds. I held my ground, palm extended outwards and waited. When the ATV slowed to a stop in front of me, I gave them the “kill-it” motion. That worked, to my surprise. The driver, a teenage girl, cut the engine and I walked up to her.
The exchange went like so.
Those are some nice goggles you have there.
“Yeah… Is something wrong?”
Yes, actually. You may not notice it, seeing as you’re wearing those nice goggles, but all dust you’re kicking up? It’s coating me and my friend here.
The teenager then looks extremely embarrassed. “Shit man, I’m sorry, I didn’t even realize…”
It’s really ok, just as long as you understand to slow way down for people on bikes. We’d do the same for you.
I surprised the single speed rider in the manner I handled it. I think, however, my calm words made less of an impression than my grizzled exterior and blood-spattered jersey. The teenager yelled the new orders to her cohorts and we parted ways. Soon after, the single speed rider overtook me and headed for the top of the pass.
The rest of the ride was rather uneventful. I made it to the top, rode down to the bottom, hit the highway, rode for another few miles, and stopped at an amazing little restaurant and ate the biggest burger of my life.
While I gulped down my third glass of tea, I stared at my map. I wouldn’t make Del Norte tonight. Far from it, really. I would have to settle for the side of the road somewhere along the route. I figured I had another 50 miles in my legs that day, so after finishing my glass of lemonade I hit the road once more. This time I had a 20 mile stretch of highway ahead of me before my tires touched dirt again.
These highway stretches were nice. It was easier on the body, usually fairly flat, and on this instance I had a tailwind. The next section of dirt was desolate, however. The roads were hardly used, and what buildings dotted the rolling-landscape of grass an dirt-mounds were for the most part completely deserted. If the world had ended right then, this place wouldn’t know of it for a few weeks. The only denizens of this place seemed to be mosquitoes. I just couldn’t shake them, it seemed.
Up and down the rolling hills my rolling wheels rolled. The sun disappeared behind one of those hills, but I kept rolling. It was around 10 PM that I found a decent spot to stop. The road was bordered by barbed-wire fencing. I was in the middle of two cattle pastures. Thankfully, though, I was upwind of them for the most part.
Dinner was an avocado, pita-pocket bread, and water. I had no service on my phone, so no phone calls that night. I turned off my SPOT gps for the night, said my prayers, and crawled into my sleeping bag. It was getting cold, but thankfully my sleeping bag was overkill for this trip. I would rather be a little slower and warm than a little faster and cold.
I had to move the rocks away from where I wanted to sleep. My bed was dirt and dead grass. It wasn’t too bad, really. After a long day the best part was going to bed, no matter where that may be. In fact that was part of the fun; I never knew where my wheels would stop spinning.