Tour Divide Days 16-18 : Finishing Colorado

by Andy Amick on October 24, 2014

in Bikepacking, Tour Divide 2014

colorado sky, colorado sunshine

When I arrived in Breckenridge, I was having a hard time riding and walking because my left ankle (achilles and lower shin) was so sore.  It hurt to move.  That night, I iced it several times hoping it would feel better in the morning.

The next day, it felt a little better, but not by much.  I went to see a doctor in town which really became a waste of time.  He didn’t offer any suggestions other than rest which I wasn’t willing to do.  So, I would just have to deal with the pain and the fact that my ankle only had a certain number of miles in it each day.

The one bright spot regarding my ankle was purchasing some KT tape from a running store in town.  They showed me the proper way to tape the achilles and offered some ideas on how to tape the shin.  With tape in place, it was time to have one last meal with my family before they went back home.

It turns out that seeing your family in the middle of a 3 week race may not be the smartest path.  While I loved seeing them, eating meals with them, and talking with them, it was excruciatingly difficult to say goodbye to them again.  Leaving them at the Denver airport when I flew up to Banff for the start was worse, but this was a close second.

Around 3PM and feeling sad about leaving my family behind, I rolled out of town towards Boreas Pass.  I decided on Hartsel, a mere 50 miles away, as my destination for the night.  I didn’t want to push the shin and achilles too much since they were feeling a little better with the rest and KT tape.

Just before the turn to go up Boreas Pass, I ran into Kent and Pat – the vegetarian superpowers.  Part way up the pass, we ran into Kiwi Ken.  I had seen Ken in Lima, MT a week prior as he was coming in for breakfast and I was headed out.  Having riding companions up the gentle climb was a blessing in several ways.  Not only did I have some riding companions which hadn’t happened a lot recently, but talking with other riders meant I didn’t focus on leaving my family behind.

tour divide, boreas pass, breckenridge

Coming down Boreas Pass, I got ahead of Kent and Pat as I turned onto the Gold Dust Trail.  It’s a fun trail that would be even more fun on an unloaded bike.  I enjoyed the short trail ride and was back on the gravel road headed for Como.  At the bottom of the climb, I stopped to take some pictures of the now wide open expanse.  A woman stopped and said she would take my picture and then we proceeded to chat for about 10 minutes.  It’s another of those moments on the ride where a simple conversation/interaction with people lifts yours spirits.

The road from Como to Hartsel is flat-ish and fast, especially with the favorable winds we got to enjoy.  Kent came flying by me in is aero bars and Pat passed by me a few minutes later.  I managed to keep close to them thanks to a few uphill, non-aero sections  The three of us rode into Hartsel for a meal at the cafe.  Of course it was another excellent burger, but this time I added pie and ice cream.  It was a great meal.

Boy, I was wiped out after my whopper of a 50 mile day.  Not exactly, but I didn’t want to continue.  I asked the waitress about camping somewhere in town.  She said that may not be a great idea.  It was a Saturday night so trying to camp at the church in town may not be a good idea either.  In the end, I think the waitress saw the desperation in my eyes.  She walked over to the bar and talked to a few people.  When she came back, she had a spot for me to camp.  It was close to the cafe which meant I would be getting a proper breakfast the following morning.  Perfect!

I setup camp and laid down with the sounds of a Saturday night at the bar in the background.  As I was settling in to sleep, Kiwi Ken came over and setup camp next to me.  I guess he asked about camping to the same waitress.

In the morning, we walked over to the cafe for our breakfast, and what a delicious breakfast it was.  Of course, when I saw biscuits and gravy on the menu, I was sold.  I talked up my favorite breakfast so much, Ken decided to go with a half order for himself.  He had never hear or tasted of them, but they must have been good since he finished the entire plate.

With our bellies full of food and coffee, we headed off towards Salida in the chilly morning air.  It was a beautiful clear morning with bright blue skies all around us.

Day17_OpenSkies

The roads were good as we rode together and discussed riding, life, families, and differences between New Zealand and the US.  Ken’s attitude towards everything was relaxed, easy going, and gentle/peaceful.  I’m sure there’s a better word to describe it.  To me, riding with Ken was kind of like riding outside of Pinedale – just peaceful and the time went by easily.

That is until we hit the one big climb before Salida.  Since our climbing speeds were different, the long climb took me back into solo riding mode.  Towards the top, the road got much steeper and I found myself walking again.  I knew that this point to take it easy whenever possible so that my ankle would hold up better.  The KT tape from Breckenridge was definitely helping.

The downhill into Salida came with built-in brakes.  The wind was blowing so hard, that if you stopped pedaling, you would slow down enough to navigate the tightest of turns.  I’d rather be bombing down the hill and using brakes.

In Salida, I stopped at Orange Peel bikes for a quick drivetrain cleaning and new tire sealant.  While the excellent crew there worked on the bike, I went next door for a quick meal – this time skipping the burger for a nice pulled pork sandwich.  Kent got into town as I was sitting down for lunch and we ended up riding out of town together.  We rode straight into a blast furnace of the worst kind.  It was hot, we were riding on the asphalt, and headed right into the wind.  The 5 or so miles from Salida to the Marshall Pass turnoff were agonizing.  To make things worse, we had to ride up Highway 285 which was quite busy at that time of day.  It’s strange to believe, but the turn onto dirt and the remaining 15+ miles of climbing up Marshall Pass was a welcomed sight.

Day17_MarshallPass

The weather was cooler, the skies were still an amazing blue, and the climb towards the top was actually enjoyable.  It was not steep enough to bother my ankle and the views were simply amazing.  The campground at O’Haver Lake looked especially nice and it’s somewhere I will have to bring my kids for a weekend.  

At the top, the CDT, Colorado Trail, and Tour Divide route all connect.  It was fun to think about riding the Colorado Trail someday and being back in the same spot.  But I had to finish this ride first, so I stopped for a few pictures and then pointed the bike towards Sargents at the bottom of the downhill.

tour divide marshall pass

The sun was starting to set as I made my way down the mountain.  It made for some more great pictures of the sun’s highlights hitting the grass meadows and the hillsides on the way down.  The town of Sargents is at the bottom of the climb.  The ACA maps indicate all services in Sargents so I was expecting a town.  What I got instead was one store that contained all services – gas station, restaurant, hotel, camping, grocery store.  It’s funny how you read the map and expect one thing in your mind.  The reality is often much different.  I wasn’t complaining because they had hot food and a place to stay.

Turns out, they had tipis or campsites for roughly the same price.  Sold!  I was sleeping in a tipi.  I knew Ken was behind me so it would end up being a night in a tipi shared with a Kiwi.  (work with me on my lack of rhyming ability)  And he had has biscuits & gravy to boot.  At the end of the day, I told Ken he was becoming a full fledged American.  All he needed was a cowboy hat.  His response?  “No, I need a Dodge Ram pickup truck”.  I still get a laugh out of that line from him.

tipi sargents, teepee colorado

Day 18 started with a very cold road ride leaving Sargents.  It was over 100 miles to Del Norte, the start of the longer stretches between towns.  As the ride heads south, the towns/re-supply options become farther and farther apart.

Two passes – Cochetopa and Carnero – stood between Sargents and Del Norte.  On the way up Cotchetopa, I spotted another rider ahead in the distance.  He didn’t look like any of the riders that I had met along the way.  Was I catching up to someone that had been ahead of me?  Nope.  It was actually a cyclist that was out for his own multi-day trip that was finishing on the TD route to Del Norte  It turns out that I knew him from an online endurance riding group.  Jerry and I rode together up the first few miles of the climb.

At the bottom of the first downhill, I stopped for a lunch break when Jerry rode by again.  He stopped and we chatted while eating and trying to stay out of the blazing sun.  It’s crazy how you can run into someone on a 100 mile stretch of no towns.  Had I started the day 30 minutes earlier or later, I may not have run into Jerry at all.

We talked family, bikepacking, and just enjoying our time out on the trail.  After lunch, our social break, and refilling for water, it was time for the last climb before Del Norte.  It was a bad idea on my part to think there was only one more climb.  By this point in the ride, I should know better than look at the map profile and expect it to be exact.  Carnero Pass was another Colorado climb – gentle grade, open views in the meadows, and aspen trees all around.  Not a bad climb at all.  The downhill was fast and fun, but that’s when I started to see the storm clouds building again.  It’s also the first time I started to notice the rock formations becoming more prevalent and the red dirt under my tires.  I was getting closer to the desert-like areas.

Day18_ComingIntoDelNorte

The storm clouds spit bits of rain, but I never got fully soaked.  I was lucky again in dodging storms.  However, I knew that wouldn’t last forever.  I was due for a good soaking from a storm.

The final 20 or so miles into Del Norte were tortuous.  No, the terrain and route were not all that difficult.  I was just at a point where I wanted to get into town and have a meal.  The town was in sight.  In true Tour Divide fashion, the route took a turn away from town and led up into the hills again.  The road turned into a section of doubletrack that was actually fun to ride.

That is until it took me down into the sand pit.  On one stretch of downhill, the sand was so deep, you had to hope for the best when riding through.  I spun out to the side a few times, but was lucky not to go down.  Tire tracks were all over the place in the sand.  Other riders were having as much trouble as I was.  A few even had nice wipeouts that were still visible in the sand.

After the sand pit, town came into view again.  Almost there.  Of course, the road took a right turn instead of heading into town.  It felt like Del Norte was more mirage than actual town.  Finally, I did pedal into town and straight to the first gas station I found.

bikepackers in del norte

In town, I ran into Ontario Brian, whom I had seen off and on since way back in Lincoln, MT.  He had been through a couple of especially tough days riding solo with very little sleep.  He was quite happy to see another rider.  Jerry Hicks made it into town and a few minutes later, Kiwi Ken rolled in.  The four of us hung out chatting at the gas station before Jerry headed down the road to meet friends for food and beer.  I think we were all jealous of him at that moment.

Dinner that night was at Boogie’s restaurant.  Oh man, it was a delicious meal – chicken fried chicken, mashed potatoes, white gravy, vegetable soup, and a giant piece of pie!  I think the key here is that I like anything with white gravy.  With a full belly, I stopped off at the local grocery store with Brian for more food.  This was one of the few times on the ride where my mind was thinking about food, and food only.

Brian, Ken, and I shared a dirty hotel room.  We talked about an early morning ride up Indiana Pass and making our way into New Mexico the following day.  But first, we had to figure figure out how to pack the massive amounts of food we had each purchased at the grocery store.  No one had enough room on their bikes.

So a second dessert of powdered donuts, candy bars, and Gatorade became the extra fuel for reaching New Mexico, the final state to conquer.

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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  • Jerry Hicks

    It was a good stretch and I sure am missing the Colorado mountains right about now.

    • Andy Amick

      Yes, I bet you are. Hopefully you’re enjoying your road rides and maybe getting out for some mountain biking.

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