Days 61 & 62: Crossing the Continental Divide at the breathtaking Hoosier Pass (see what I did there?)

I spent a little time on the mountain / I spent a little time on the hill / Things went down we don’t understand / But I think in time we will

Grateful Dead, “New Speedway Boogie”

*** *** ***

Peeling out of Bill’s was the most bittersweet departure I’ve had yet on tour. He was such a fascinating, entertaining, unique, and generous man and in one day it became clear there aren’t many on his level. I seriously considered sticking around another day to hang out with him, and he enthusiastically invited me to, but he had to go down to Ordway to see a lady friend. If he were going to be in Guffey I just might have said goodbye to Dave there and learned from Bill a bit more. But it was time to climb on, and that’s just what we did. 

Being on the bike at 6am in the mountains was surreal. Temperatures were in the upper 50s, vegetation was getting more and more limited, the air was crisper and wind more spastic.  and the world was just waking up under my bike. The sun was still easing its way into the sky, making for dramatic views of the mountains ahead of me:

It didn’t take long to realize the ride to Fairplay, our stop for the night 50 miles up the road and 1,300 feet higher, was not going to be as challenging as the day before. The trend was still up but it’s like a line graph – peaks and valleys within that trend. It seemed like we were getting more valleys, and it made for unbelievable riding:

Pictures can’t do justice to the vastness out here, and it’ll continue to be an issue for some time. Everything is so much more enormous, otherworldly, and stunningly beautiful than I could possibly try to show you. 

And the deer were enjoying the scenery too:

Deer out here are fearless of people compared to deer in the east. Writing that sentence makes me realize how many deer I’ve crossed paths with. Dozens at least.
And then some more gorgeous up-but-down riding:

There would be short bursts of intense yet rolling climbing followed by descents that Dave and I just bombed down, which were when I could take pictures. Ascents for me require an extreme focus, but especially at this altitude. I’ve had to regulate my breathing for the first time up here. If I gasp too much, I get worn out. Too little air intake and I couldn’t breathe very well. So pictures of descents, but oh were they spectacular:

And eventually there were vast, empty valleys at the bottom of descents, and seeing them come up after cranking up a hill filled me with joy and anticipation. I couldn’t wait to ride down them:

And then the final descent into Hartsel, halfway to Fairplay, where Dave and I would break for breakfast. The wind was fierce but it’s nothing Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas didn’t train me for:

The breakfast was spot on at Hartsel, but it wasn’t much of a town. I was so, so happy I decided to stop in Guffey the night before. I kept thinking about Bill and his slice of paradise all day.

What was even better than the breakfast was seeing this in the window of where we ate… Which I’m realizing now I never learned the name of:

I meant to take the “healing” one and tape it to my bike but it slipped my mind at the last moment. 

And then, another prison:

At least in a manner of speaking. 

The road just kept getting more beautiful, more surreal, and more overpowering with every turn of the wheel. I was having a strong day on the bike, well ahead of Dave, but we were still very much riding together. It was nice that way; we were both having our own ride, but took breaks together and wanted to hit the summit together the next day before prying ways in Breckenridge.

I love riding by gutted buildings in the middle of nowhere, but I rarely have someone to take a picture. Dave did me well on a snack break:

The road pushed on to Fairplay, and these pictures hide a truth – drivers on this stretch of Highway 9 were horrible. Very few gave Dave and me three feet and Dave said one truck actually clipped his shoulder. But they couldn’t do much to disrupt the serenity of the landscape I was cutting through:

Further down the road there was a very curious billboard: 


And then some people having fun with their ranch entrance:

And then we made it into Fairplay, an old mining town. The only hotels we saw were expensive, but then we found one for just the right price, split between us. 

We cleaned up then headed over to South Park Brewing to celebrate a fantastic day in the mountains. Good stuff on tap, and a nice new sticker for my Nalgene bottle. 

We hit the grocery store for dinner and saw a bit of a pile up in the parking lot:

And then back to the hotel for rest. We had a summit to ride over in the morning. 

*** *** ***

There was no rush to get up this morning. We were at 10,000 feet and the morning air was cold. Without an alarm clock I woke up at 5:30 and stepped outside – the temperature was around 37 degrees. The mountain was enough to conquer. We were willing to wait till it was warmer. 

After breakfast and packing up we were out the door around 8:30, headed right up the mountain.

It was 11 miles to the summit…with a nearly 2000 foot gain in elevation. Right away I wasn’t feeling great. I don’t think I ate enough last night for dinner to prep the body, and I was feeling it. 

All day in front of me I saw Mt. Lincoln, all 14,293 gorgeous feet of it. 

The mountain would be looking down on me the whole day climbing, and it was as imposing as it was magnificent. 

After about five miles we made it to Alma, with about 400 feet in elevation gain. Always a fan of institutional puns, I got a kick out of Al-Mart:

Dave and I stopped at a coffee shop to load up on calories before the big push. It was a quiet second breakfast. We were both in our own heads preparing for the climb. 

And then we started climbing. 

There was something of a gradual lead-out from Alma, which was enough to fire up the quads. And then the sign:

The sign was an unintentional indication that the road was getting steeper. At least it definitely was to me.

It was four miles of suffering. Just out and out suffering. I was in the lowest gear, 26×34, just trying to keep the bike straight as I grinder it out. Wind was whipping while the sun beat on me in the cool mountain air. I stopped after probably a mile for water:

Mt. Lincoln was still there to my left:

And then I kept going…and it was very, very hard to do so. It took everything in me to keep going. My concentration on the task at hand was profound yet so many thoughts went through my head, from all the times I skied out here as a kid to the road that brought me this high up to countless other things. It was all hitting me at once and all I could do was keep the legs moving.

I took another water break a mile from the summit (I’m guessing):

That final mile was up there with the most incredible experiences on the bike. Dave was way up ahead of me; I would see him around a few corners here and there, but I was on my own for this part. It’s how I wanted it anyway. It was yet another in the series of times on the bike when I was operating in a different level. Everything was shut out of my mind’s eye, yet it all was there in front of me. All the highs and the lows of the road so far were all leading up to making it to the top of Hoosier Pass on the Continental Divide, the highest point of the tour, and the point after which everything would be downhill to the Pacific Ocean. I thought about how I started at zero in New York and made it all the way here, to the top of the Rockies (close enough).

And then I made it. 

Dave was there cheering me on as I trudged up to the top, utterly spent in body and mind. But then the tilt of my bike shifted from up to down. I had made it. I took the mountain, and whatever exhaustion I had was instantly gone and replaced with a sense of satisfaction and outright joy that can’t be described with words. 

Dave and I hugged it out and celebrated. Luckily there was no shortage of people around to take our picture at the sign:

We hung around up there for about a half hour, trying to catch as much air as we could between chats with other Hoosier Pass goers.

 Eventually I saw a cyclist coming up from the west, very slow and clearly struggling. I immediately started cheering him on, and soon others joined me. He started pedaling harder, and soon enough he made it. I greeted him with a handshake and hug, and we both got choked up consumed with the moment. But not for too long – we had to cheer on his wife coming up behind him. She got the same welcome from me her husband did. 

We chatted for a while about the experience of climbing Hoosier Pass and the roads that brought us together. They were a retired German couple taking on the TransAm. They were a little sad because they thought that the Pass was the end of their beautiful scenery. I tried to tell them that it was all perspective, and they appreciated that. But in the back of my head I kept thinking about how I’m just getting into the good stuff, and that even though starting in the east is harder, I’m so glad that the rest of my ride will be done in the more beautiful side of the country. 

Dave and I said our goodbyes and then started rolling down the west side of the Pass. 

There was nothing like it. I’ve said I was flying down roads before, but no no no. We did 10 miles in 20 minutes. It was unreal. 

We weaved in and out of hairpin turns, letting gravity do its thing. I maybe pedaled a quarter mile of those ten at most. And the views… Oh my, the views:

The satisfying thrill of the descent was something I’ve never felt before. Roller coasters now seem boring to me. I will have descents again, but they will never be like the first. 

I’m an emotional guy, and it’s certainly been an emotional ride. But flying down that descent put other moments of bliss on tour to shame. I cried my eyes out as I made my way down, beyond thankful and grateful for the experience I was having. Plenty of people have ridden down that road before, but it’s an experience the vast majority of people will never have. And at that time, this afternoon, that road was mine. I earned that descent, and I’ll never let it go. I was overwhelmed. Absolutely overwhelmed. 

In the blink of an eye we made it to Breckenridge a town I hadn’t been to in 20 years:

It’s crazy seeing ski slopes in the summer with no snow. 

Dave and I wheeled right into Breckenridge Brewery to celebrate and say goodbye. I had an elk burger (YUM) and some of the brewery’s excellent brews lunch with Dave was quiet. We were both reflecting on the ride we just did. A milestone day if there ever was one for the both of us. 

And then it was time to say goodbye. Dave was riding on for Silverthorne, and I was staying here in Breckenridge. To be honest I wanted to keep going. I wanted to very, very badly. The descent is just going to keep going for a day or so and I want my wheels underneath that road ahead of me. We hugged it out, traded contact info, and off he went. 

I headed to the Fireside Inn, a bed and breakfast with bunk rooms for travelers – the Colorado Trail comes through Breckenridge, so there’s plenty of adventurers about:

I’m decompressing and reflecting tonight. Tomorrow I’m going to head into town and see if anyone needs some temporary help. I need money. I had a good feeling coming into town. Now? Not so much. But hopefully I can find something because getting to the Pacific with what I have left will be an enormous challenge. 

But right now, I’m going in here:


2 thoughts on “Days 61 & 62: Crossing the Continental Divide at the breathtaking Hoosier Pass (see what I did there?)

  1. You are correct. I will never do what you are doing but you sure make it sound exciting! Congrats for continueing your adventures.


    1. Thanks Pat! Unfortunately whatever I relay here is only a fraction of what it’s like to be out there. I can’t wait to keep continuing my adventures! The hardest parts are behind me. Just gotta see about some money first…

      Liked by 1 person

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