Bicycle Tour of Colorado 2010Dan Sadowski
We rode west from Gunnison along the scenic beginning of the Blue Mesa Reservoir; then we headed south on highway 149 to Lake City and up Slumgullion Pass. I didn't really like any of the pacelines I came upon to the base of the mountain, so I rode this stretch alone. There were some rolling hills through open country - Lake City was nicely nestled in the trees. Slumgullion was a very long, steady and steep climb - the web site said it was a 9 1/2% grade. I made it up without stopping and feeling pretty good. This was the highest point of the tour at 11,361 feet. The top of the pass didn't really offer any views since it was in a saddle with trees. There was brief descent and then a short climb up Spring Creek Pass. This was the Continental Divide and we passed into the Rio Grande watershed. It was quite windy on the way down - for a while I did a paceline with two other riders, until we had some hills to climb. There were some fabulous views of the Rio Grande headwaters canyon. Luckily, the road turned northerly for the run in to Creede and we had about 20 miles of strong tailwinds and it was a blast to just fly over the road at the end of the riding day. Creede is small town that is nestled right against some large cliffs.
The second day we went from Creede to Alamosa. It was quite chilly in the morning as we followed the scenic river with surrounding cliffs through to the San Luis valley. The section of the valley was flat, but there was a very strong southwest wind so it made some tough going for the first stretch. I did join a few small pacelines for short periods, but once again the last 15 miles or so the wind was from behind so you could just sit up straight and get pushed along and it was just a blast.
On day 3, a fairly strong wind was again blowing from the south. I joined a fast (18 mph) paceline of about a dozen riders right near the start and stayed with them for 17 miles until the first rest area.
Initially, three friends took turns setting the pace; later a few of the rest of us took the lead for a while too. It was tough riding so fast, but fun for part of the day. For the next leg of the trip I joined a longer paceline, about 20 riders. Everyone took turns on the front and we kept a moderate pace thanks to some riders who kept reminding folks to "keep it slow.” We were able to keep the pace for about 20 miles altogether which was great since we were fighting the wind and even had a few small hills to climb. We had two passes to climb before the day ended - La Manga and Cumbres. There is a scenic narrow gauge railroad that goes up Cumbres pass - we followed the track at times but did not see any trains riding along. It was extremely windy heading down the pass and rather scary for the top mile or two since I was getting blown sideways on the turns. Like Creede, Chama is a pretty small town. Its main tourist feature is the terminus of the scenic narrow gauge rail trip.
Day 4 was only 50 miles - a few rolling hills but the net elevation was lower at the end. We rode over a rather small hill (Sargent Pass) which was the Continental Divide - now we were in the San Juan River watershed. At the top of the largest hill of the day, I hooked up behind a tandem and went flying down the hill at over 40 mph for a very long descent. Perfect timing! At Pagosa Springs, I decided to sign up for rafting trip on the rest day. I bicycled around town for a while, dipped my feet in the river, and had a milk shake. In the evening I watched some local softball teams play.
Thursday (rest day) I spent some time at the library, and then cycled up to the north end of town where the rafting trip start place was located. It turns out the rafting outfit was actually part of the Wyndham Resort - everyone else on the trip was staying there. There were a few families and folks were all rather surprised by the big bicycle adventure I was on. We rode on a school bus for about hour - mostly on dirt roads - along the San Juan River until we got to the raft launch point. It really wasn't a whitewater trip at all, the river level went down a lot just the week before and this is a mellow section of the river anyway. But this journey did feature a 20 minute stop at a swimming hole, which offered a deep spot in the river with a very large rock that offered several different heights for jumping off. Wonderful fun jumping and swimming during the hot afternoon. The raft guide and I were the only adults who went swimming (along with all the kids). We had fun skipping rocks too! I ate dinner with Lee from the CSCC, who was also on the ride.
Day 6 was a big trip up Wolf Creek Pass (the Divide again), and back down to the San Luis Valley, and the little town of Center. The road over Wolf Creek is extremely beautiful - both going up and coming down. Both sides of the pass had rivers running along the road - the descent featured a spectacular rocky canyon with cliffs, giant boulders and the rushing river. In the valley on the way to Center, I had about 10 miles of riding where there were absolutely no cyclists around. That was a different experience for the tour. It rained at night - but had stopped by the morning, leaving some humidity and damp roads.
The final day was the trip back to Gunnison. The first section was through the flat valley. I hooked with a paceline, but the front rider was never switching off, and it seemed a bit slow. Another rider and I went to the front and the two of us took alternating 1/2 mile turns at the front. We were able to pick up the pace and bring the entire line along with us up to the rest area. After eating, I saw a tandem starting up so I raced to catch up to them. I figured they would be good to draft behind since a slight head wind was beginning.
After I caught my breath, I went along side to chat. We passed Lee after a while and he was able to join us. We picked up a few more riders as well. Eventually the road started going up and I went off on my own as we rode up North Cochetopa Pass. This was a good climb, not as steep as Slumgullion - just a 6% grade. Once again we had some head winds coming down the pass so I caught the end of a few pacelines - but they were too fast for me. There were some Air Force Academy folks just racing along. After a while the road came into a really beautiful canyon area - the road was extremely curvy, cliffs along the side, a river with beaver dams, and interesting rock formations. The road was a nice smooth downhill and I mostly just coasted along enjoying the scenery. Once we got out of the canyon area, I looked for a paceline and hooked with a group of 15, which soon caught with another group of
15 or so, making a really long train. We motored all the way to the final rest area. Bud, another rider whose been on some club rides had been in the line and we chatted for a while. We rode for a bit and looked for another paceline to ride with since there was some headwind in the open country. Once we had some hills to climb, Bud dropped off but I stayed with a small line until the end. I rode for an additional 5 miles in Gunnison to make my daily mileage total an even 100. After a shower, I drove home, stopping for a short nap at the top of Monarch Pass. I took highway 50 along the Arkansas River - the cliff areas were really beautiful in the late afternoon light.
online route info
online route at MapMyRide
my photo on Slumgullion Pass
my photo on Wolf Creek Pass