Salida, CO to Antonito, Co (didn’t pedal fast enough SNOW,WIND and MUD!!!)

October 22, 2007

After waiting out a snowstorm in the mountains, being interviewed by the local newspaper (we’re famous now, or maybe just freaks!), and enjoying the hospitality (and hot tub) of our new-found friend, Clark, we got the earliest start of our trip, biking out at 7AM in the COLD, early morning light.  At Poncha Springs, we caught a shuttle ride to the top of Monarch Pass to do the classic and incredible Monarch Crest Trail (a single track that rolls along the crest of the divide above 11,000′ for more than 10 miles).  The shuttle driver thought he was done for the season, but along we came, the nutcases that can’t say NO to the high country just yet!  

At the pass there was about 2″ of fresh powder on the trail and we thought maybe, for the first time, we were in the wrong season, with the wrong gear!  But we were comforted by seeing yesterday’s tracks from another crazy biker, (isn’t it strange how seeing evidence of someone else’s insanity is comforting?).   We ventured off, rolling along through snow covered single track for about 10 miles.  The snow was 6″ deep in some places while other sections were good ole Colorado dirt/mud.  Pat managed to make it through without any major crashes.  Ralph’s bike did manage to get away from him and start barrel rolling off the side of the trail, with Ralph running after it and Pat watching in amazement!  Ralph also used an aspen tree to make a sudden stop at one point (a Continental Town and Country front tire is not the right choice for snow-packed trails!).   The views, of course, were incredible with snow covered peaks everywhere ( a winter wonderland!).  We were mostly looking to the valley below tho, where it was dry and hopefully warmer!  The next 15 miles were all downhill to the valley below and did prove to be dry and warm.

We arrived at the tiny town of Sargents, (the sign at the edge of town says, “elevation high, population few”) where we had hot tea at the convenience store.  We then hit Hwy 50 and headed west to Doyleville, then onto a gravel road south.  Pat called her friend Linda, who lives in Gunnison, and asked her to bring dinner out to us.  The only campsite we could find in this treeless sage covered area was next to the road in a little ravine.  At least it was out of the wind!  Linda showed up with Jim, his son Evan, delicious mex food and tequila!  We had a chilly tailgate party catching up on each others lives and telling them about our trip. 

The next morning we woke up to a snowy day, packed up and headed down the road.  Snow started coming down sideways and hard almost immediately, turning the road to clayey glue, stopping up our tires completely.  We had to turn around and head back to Hwy 50 after a bunch of tire-cleaning stops we finally got on pavement!  The bikes were a mess and would barely shift.  Luckily the sun came out as we bolted for Gunnison.  We had to wait out another snowstorm (the sideways kind again) in a huge hay barn partway to town.  Once in Gunnison, we stayed with Linda (thank you Linda for the warmth!) , regrouped, washed off all the mud and dried out our gear.

Ralph headed south the next day and Pat stayed behind to take care of some business and wait for warmer weather!  He took Hwy 114, an absolutely georgeous high mountain road.  The highway started out in low ranchlands, then wound through tight mini-red rock canyons (some of the shaded spots were icy), then out into high, broad grass and sage covered valleys and eventually over forested 10,150′ North Cochetopa Pass then effortlessley down more broad valleys to Saquache.  There was a 30 MPH tailwind the whole way, so the ride was truly a breeze.  It was really fun to coast along a 20mph for miles and miles.  I ended up going into the San Luis Valley past the tiny town of LaGarita into Penitente Canyon and set up camp after riding a century that day!  Penitente Canyon is a clot canyon comprised of huge red/brown granite boulders, making it an absolute georgeous spot to camp.  I made a yummy Indonesian peanut chicken dinner, followed by a moonlight strool thru the canyon filled with all sorts of interesting shadows and subdued colors, then off to bed early (evenings are long when its pitch dark at 6:45!) 

After an early morning hike thru the canyon and a trip to the mission on the hill above LaGarita, I pedalled south on gravel roads to the little town of DelNorte, where I picked up a new bike rack (Old Man Mountain rack, which had broken on the CT near Princeton).  Then back out into windy Swan Luis Valley where I met Pat in Alamosa.

The next day, we had some delays returning the rental car, but allowed us to meet a great guy named Steve, who helped us plan our next part of the route thru northern New Mexico.  We headed south into a brutal headwind to Antonito on the NM border.  It was definitely Mother Nature’s payback for the great tailwind 2 days ago.  At one point Pat got blown to a complete stop, at another, my front tire actually lifted off the road and landed 1 foot to the left!  Luckily the air temp was warm, but that changed late in the day, as a cold front came over us.  We got a motel room in Antonito to wait out the storm, which lasted through Sunday.  Now it is Monday morning, with beautiful blue skies, and NO WIND YET – so we will head west from here on Hwy 17 – and the week looks like lots of sun and New Mexico temp to be in the 70’s!!!!  Bye to Colorado snowstorms for this year (we hit one every weekend while in Colorado)!

See you in New Mexico!  Bikin’ On!!!  Ralph & Pat


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