The last few days have been hard. Mostly due to the wind - forecasted 30mph gusts blowing east just as I was heading west. The fully loaded bike is in essence one big sail. The ride from Salida all the way through Sargents was like this, slowing my pace to a crawl. But this test had its rewards as I turned back eastwards and climbed into the Gunnison and San Isabel National Forests.
Today was particularly beautiful. Difficult, too, as I had miles to make up because of the wind. In 60 miles of riding and 5,000ft of climbing, the scenery completely changed. In the morning, undulating, expansive, barren hills complemented with distant mesas and a road to cut right through it all made for a rewarding ride.
In San Isabel, the climb up and over Cochetopa Pass put me back into the forest, but with soft, craggy cliffs poking up in the distance. It was approaching sunset as I neared the top of the climb, full steam ahead to try and salvage any last semblance of daylight at the campsite a few miles ahead. The last morsels of the setting sun floated right ahead of me as the entire air took on a pinkish hue. Amplified by my slightly yellow photochromic lenses the top-out was surreal.
That night I was cold and tired, devouring a mushroom, beef, and noodle stew freeze dried meal and some hot chocolate for good measure. The wind came strong off the nearby mountain until the early morning, leaves dancing outside my tent. With all the miles, however, I slept relatively well considering that I had to wake up a few times to blow more air into my sleeping pad.
This morning, Friday, was an absolute non-starter as far as the temperature was concerned. Fortunately, the air was still at first light, about 6:30, but the sun would not make an appearance for hours to come. I packed as quickly as I could, guzzling coffee and instant oatmeal, for I knew that on the other side of a 14 mile, 2,800ft descent was a breakfast spot in the “town” of La Garita.
Typically, I’m fond of long descents, but not when it’s that cold. I conducted frequent audits of heat zones in my body, wearing nearly every layer I had with me, torso - warm, arms - warm, legs - warm, fingers - barely passable, feet - cinder blocks. That was my reality until I made it into the desert valley where the sun hit in full. At the La Garita Trading Post, a hot cup of coffee, grasped Wings of Desire style, felt all the better after a chilly ride.