We wearily dragged ourselves out of our beds the morning of July 5th with the realization that not only would we get a late start because of our mail drop, but that we also had the highest pass to climb over so far in the trip. At approximately 11,500 feet it looked rather daunting to say the least! With time to kill until the Post Office opened, we tucked into a large breakfast at a diner with our bikes that were still carrying a county’s worth of dust from Wyoming propped up so we could keep an eye on them. Refueling over, we pedaled over to the post office to grab our stuff. I finally realized that the end of our trip was soon coming as I re-taped the box for the last time. With our bike bags bulging with goodies we rolled out of town.
As we pedaled out of Silverthorne toward Breckenridge we followed a well-used bike path. After a few minutes of riding we soon realized we were in a cycling mecca. Everyone from children to octogenarians was riding bikes. At times there were so many people collisions seemed possible if not imminent. I soon felt as if I was trapped in a teeming mass of humanity; after less than 24 hours in “civilization”, I was getting restless. Up to this point this was the longest we had stayed in a decent sized town and I was ready to get away from all these people.
This was not the first time I had thought about the apparent contradictions on our trip. While I am on the trail often all I can think about is hot food and where I can find a shower to clean up. Hours after indulging my fantasies I am yet again craving fresh air and the crunch of knobby tires on gravel roads. Often, while climbing yet another rocky ridge in the Gila National Forest or fighting raging headwinds in southern Montana, I can’t believe I am subjecting myself to such suffering and calling it a vacation. Minutes later, as I down a half bottle of lukewarm water while bombing a fire road descent, I forget all about the pain and realize it is all worth it.
Almost nothing in life that is worth getting comes easily. It is often through pain and hardship that we achieve the things in life that can later define our existence or change our lives for the better. (We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: Romans 5:3-4) In modern America people do everything they can to avoid hardship. Yes it makes their lives easier, but does it make them better? I know it sounds melodramatic to compare two guys pedaling over hills on bicycles to the many difficulties each person faces, but I believe we can often find metaphors for life in many of the things we do. Really what are the things we do each day but a small part of our larger life on earth? Just as seconds make up minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years; everything we do is part of our larger goal. We just have to ask ourselves, what is that goal?
We finally reach Breckenridge and turn off the main road. Leaving pavement behind we slowly climb away from the frenetic activity of an overfilled resort town. I was hoping for solitude but instead am rewarded by clouds of choking dust as giant SUVs struggle toward the top of the pass. We pass a water tank and realize that we are actually pedaling on the rail bed of a long-defunct narrow gauge railroad that connected Como and Leadville. As we climb, we can tell the air is thinning. Luckily the past week or so in Wyoming has acclimated our lungs to higher altitudes and we don’t struggle too much. I really can’t tell if it’s the altitude or the fact I’m hauling fifty pounds of bike and gear over a pass in the Rockies that’s causing me to be out of breath. After an hour or so of climbing we finally crest the pass. At the top there is a small building left from when the railroad was still there where tourists can look around. Joseph uses the bathroom and we head back down. Eight or so miles of descending later we ride through the tiny community of Como. With Hartsel, our overnight destination about 30 miles away, we put our heads into the rising wind and pushed hard.
|Wide angle view of the pass (click on to enlarge picture)|
The terrain had changed quite a bit from the aspen-covered mountains of Silverthorne and Breckenridge. We were entering now entering the wide open terrain of South Park. Although the weather where we were at looked good, we could see that miles ahead there seemed to be a storm brewing. The wind grew stronger and stronger and soon it was all we could do to keep moving against it. As a few drops of rain started to fall I struggled to get into my rain jacket before the downpour hit us. Like a hammer a wall of wind hit us so hard I could barely stand upright. With no shelter anywhere in sight we knew that the only thing we could do was the move forward. The wind gusts were hitting us from the side and as a result I was often pushed across the road almost into the opposite ditch. Luckily, within minutes the gale force winds with bullet-like rain subsided. The storm hadn’t yet completely let up, but at least it was now possible to ride. As we were riding along, each of us suffering inside our respective silences, we heard something. It was not one those sounds that you’re not quite sure what it is, I knew what it was immediately! Some maniac in a pickup truck with huge tires decided it would be great fun to buzz two miserable cyclists riding in the rain. As I headed for the ditch the one thought that went through my mind was, “So this is how I’m going to die, run down by some crazed Coloradan!” Luckily he missed us by several feet, but it was at least ten minutes until the anger and adrenaline had cleared from my system.
With hunger gnawing at my stomach once again we turned right onto a paved highway and rode as hard as we could to get into town for supper. We leaned our bikes against the one small restaurant in the town, and headed inside. After a hearty meal of burgers and burritos we rode the two hundred yards or so to a small picnic shelter. One side of it had three walls so we unpacked our bikes and set up our sleeping bags on the concrete floor. With the last few gasps of daylight my eyelids put an end to yet another eventful day on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.