Tour Divide Days 14-15 : Colorado, Coffee, and Mountain Lions

by Andy Amick on October 13, 2014

in Bikepacking, Tour Divide 2014

I went to bed at the end of Day 13 knowing that I was only a few miles from the Colorado border and my home state.    But first, I was going to ride through the famed Aspen Alley as the sun was rising over the mountains.  The construction work had removed some of the aspens, but they were still there and quite beautiful in the morning sunlight.  Day 14 was off to a good start.

aspen alley wyoming

Soon after Aspen Alley, there is a section of pavement that includes a fast downhill to the Colorado border.  A left turn cross a river and begins the dirt climb up to Brush Mountain Lodge.  I was really looking forward to meeting Kirsten who runs Brush Mountain and drinking some coffee while hearing her stories.

The dirt climb was only a few miles.  It felt like I was barely moving and I was certainly walking a lot more than I wanted.  Two days without much caffeine was not a bad move on my part.  At least I had great scenery on the climb up and away from the river.  I kept repeating to myself that I simply had to get to the lodge.  I’m sure Kirsten was watching my dot thinking that a hiker would be making faster time than me.

brush mountain lodge

When I finally turned the corner and saw Brush Mountain Lodge, I instantly felt better.  I knew there would be food.  Kirsten welcomed me, like she does to everyone, with a giant hug.  I sat down on the porch with a giant cup of coffee while I slowly started to come back to life.  Kirsten made a breakfast of pancakes, a giant bowl of cherries, sausage, and followed that up with another round.  I probably had 6 cups of coffee to go with all of the food.

Day14_BrushMtnBreakfast

Even though the food was exactly what I needed, talking with Kirsten and the two guys helping her around the ranch was, by far, the best part.  It was nice to sit, relax, and talk to people.  Plus, Kirsten’s perspective on the race and her stories about riders coming through rejuvenated me.

I left Brush Mountain Lodge with two PB&J sandwiches for the road, another giant hug from Kirsten, and feeling like I could conquer anything.  Food and people can really change your mindset.  To make the morning even better, the scenery after Brush Mountain Lodge was much nice than the Aspen Alley view.  At least it was in my opinion.

slater park colorado

The rest of the morning was typical Tour Divide – lonely roads, dirt, climbing, rocks, and descending.  The last descent before the Clark store was really rough.  It had lots and lots of big rocks in the road.  That’s not too bad, but the rocks happened to be the same color as the dirt so you didn’t see the rock you were about to hit until you were practically hitting it.  Maybe I should have gone slower, but where is the fun in that?

Day14_ColoradoSky

The Clark store had sandwiches, snacks, and most importantly, ice cream!  I had ridden from Canada to Colorado without having any ice cream.  Coffee and ice cream are my go to food groups.  It was time to make sure those food groups received a little more attention.

For the day, I wanted to make it past Steamboat so that I could ride into Breckenridge the following day.  In Steamboat, I stopped at Orange Peel Bikes for a little maintenance on the bike.  Through all of the rain, snow, mud, and dust, my bike had only needed new front brake pads.  In Steamboat, I got new tire sealant and rear brake pads.

steamboat sunset

I also picked up a burrito to go and a box of instant coffee.  No longer would I risk waking up and not having my all important coffee.  I left town riding on the bike paths and a few miles later was on the outskirts of town.  As the sun was starting to set, I stopped for a few minutes to eat my burrito and take a short break before the long climb coming up next.

Darkness settled in as I started my climb up Lynx Pass.  I slowly made my way past all of the houses and into the forest.  Around 10PM, a mountain lion ran across the road right in front of me.  It was no more than 20 or 30 feet in front of me.  My first reaction was “Oh cool, a mountain lion”  which was quickly replaced with “Oh S#*t, a mountain lion!”  I used my headlamp to scan the rocks to my left but saw no sign of eyes.

It was late, my legs were getting tired, and my ankles were hurting, but I managed to pedal quite a bit faster.  I wasn’t going to hang around with a mountain lion nearby.  After a mile or two of debating whether to keep riding or camp, my fear lost out to stopping and sleeping for the night.

I stopped at the first flat-ish spot which happened to be beside a fence.  Perfect!  The fence and my cuben fiber tarp would protect me from the mountain lion if it were to return.  I’m sure they would have held up to an attack. :)  Just in case the lion was around, I hung my food away from my campsite.  Luckily, nothing happened and I slept like a baby after the Advil PM kicked in.

The following morning, I packed up my camp and continued climbing up Lynx Pass.  About 30 minutes into riding, I was finally warming up so I decided to stop for breakfast.  What do you do when you have candy bars, one PB&J sandwich, and an instant coffee packet?  Well, I made a PB&J&C sandwich – sprinkle the coffee granules on the inside of the sandwich and you get instant breakfast and coffee.  It wasn’t my finest coffee moment.  It did, however, get the job done and fuel me for more riding.

I was ready to make the 115 mile push to Breckenridge where I was going to meet my family.  We had been discussing this for a couple of days.  I decided to see them even though it was against the rules.  More details on my thoughts and reasoning are at the end of the post.  For now, I had to get me and my bike over several more mountains.

The downhill after Lynx pass brought me to a creek crossing.  Not a tiny creek crossing, but a fairly deep and wide crossing.  Enough so that I didn’t want to just ride right through it.  I probably wasted 5 minutes trying to find a way around.  In the end, I rode/walked through the very cold creek and continued riding with wet feet.

When there’s a creek crossing, there’s always a climb that follows.  The next climb was not too bad, but the downhill was excruciatingly painful.  Not because of it being rough or technical.  It simply wouldn’t go downhill.  There would be the tease of a 1/2 mile downhill section that was followed by a 1/4 mile super-steep section that I had to walk.  The steep climbs and walking were not helping my ankles.  This down and up pattern happened over and over.  Finally, the views opened up and the routed went down to the Colorado River.

Day15_TheRoadIsDownThere

Climbing up from the river was steep and hot.  The dirt turned to pavement and it was still steep and hot.  I caught up to Ontario Brian on this climb and we chatted for a bit before the steepness of the climb split us up.  As soon as the downhill started, I was flying down towards Kremmling.  Tucked into the aero bars and reaching speeds of 40+ always puts a smile on my face.

I decided to not detour into Kremmling since I had plenty of food and water to get me to Breckenridge.  Plus, I was on a mission to see my family.  I stopped on the side of the road for a lunch break and to rest my ankles for the final push to Silverthorne and Breckenridge.  Ute Pass was the last big climb of the day.  The dirt section of the climb was enjoyable as it climbed alongside a river and a few campgrounds.

Up ahead, I saw a paved road going steeply up the mountain.  “Thank goodness I’m on dirt” I thought.  Nope.  My dirt road became that steep paved road, and it hurt…a lot.  I was left walking up a paved road again.  By this time in the ride, I didn’t care about walking on the pavement and having cars pass me by.  I was simply in the mindset of forward progress.  My ankles were reaching their breaking point.  It seemed like each day had a set number of miles before my shin and achilles would “give out” and not want to ride anymore.  Ute Pass was that limit on this day, but I still had about 20-30 miles before I got to Breckenridge.

Day15_ColoradoSkiCountry

Riding down from Ute Pass to Hwy 9 was another rip-roaring descent on pavement.  A chilly, light rain started to fall, but I remained tucked into the aero bars trying to go as fast as possible.  Ontario Brian and I met back up on the highway into Silverthorne, which was an unpleasant few miles.  There was a wide shoulder and the ride was fairly flat.  However, my shin and achilles had been through enough for the day and no longer wanted to cooperate.

When I rolled into Silverthorne and stopped at a gas station, I didn’t know if I wanted to ride to Breckenridge.  Had my family not been in Breck, I may have lingered longer in Silverthorne and found excuses to sit at the table and rest.  Instead, I picked up my gear and headed out of town on the bike path ready to meet my family.

The path climbs up a set of switchbacks on the way up to a dam.  I ran into another cyclist on the path as he was riding up to his apartment.  He recognized me as a Divide racer and we chatted about the trip on our way up the climb.  It’s these kinds of random moments and people that make this ride something special.  Ten minutes earlier, I was down in the dumps mentally.  After meeting one other cyclist and chatting for short time, I was feeling much better and excited to be riding.

It was around 7PM when I made it to Breckenridge and met up with my family.  I knew going into Breckenridge with my family there that I was violating one of the rules of the Tour Divide.  I made the decision to see them knowing that I would have to relegate myself from the official placings.  To me, family is more important than any race result.

Looking back now that I have finished, would I make the same choice?  Absolutely!  It’s one I would make again without hesitation.

About Andy Amick
A little bit nutty in general, a lotta bit nutty about bikes. Each of his boys received a bike helmet for their first birthday and the three of them have been biking together ever since.

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