Saturday, July 18: As I told Drew this morning, and it’s no slight to him, but I was just so tired and sore and drained that I didn’t even look forward to today’s ride. Man, this getting up at 5 AM to push my sorry ass over yet another pass and another pass, it’s tough. And I can just hear some of you….”Pete, you A-hole, you’re living the dream, you’re on this full summer vacation, what the hell are you talking about?” You’re right, I’m being an A-hole, but I’m a tired A-hole. It’s just reality. I’ve been on the road nearly 3 months, riding just about every day, through rain, sun, cold, wind, and through, on or along just about every crappy road, RR, trail and bushwhack that you can imagine. I guess you have to walk in my shoes to realize that it’s a drain sometimes….and today was that sometime. It took all I had to get myself psyched for today, and another 2 mt passes looming in my future. Drew told me I just looked tired, with sunken eyes and a wishy-washy demeanor.

Got up at 5:36 AM, pretty late actually, and then the 4 of us ambled down to a cafe for breakfast at 6:10 AM in downtown Silverton. The temp was in the low 40’s, and it was definitely cold. Had to wear a goretex jacket. Against my better judgement I had this breakfast burrito with sausage, egg and cheese, along with a pretty large, stiff cup of coffee. There was this 13-mile race up a mt today, and the cafe we dined in was hosting the event, so as we were eating the runners were filtering in. The event, goes up this mt to 13K, and then back down. That kind of gave me a dose of reality, or should I say humility! Hell, I just had to climb to 11,700, and 10,500 today, NOT 13K! So I felt a bit better knowing that my suffering was much less than that of the runners today. 

Headed back to the motel, readied the gear and Drew and I were about to embark on his first taste of American Dirt. Poor Judy would have a good 160-180 mile drive today for support, BUT the good news was that this would be the last of the long support rendezvous of the trip for her. Once past today, things settle down considerably out of the big mts and down on the high plateau and canyon land terrain. We got going at exactly 8 AM from the motel and rode on a gravel side street to gravel 15th street, and then straight up, north out of town to junction with 6th St. This first stretch was just a killer. We were both totally cold, and not a bit warmed up, and then BAM, straight up this 15th St in the little cookie to the point of spitting out lung tissue at the top. We were both just gassed and gasping for air. Then we had to hike-a-bike about a quarter mile to 6th St. 

Drew was wondering what the hell the day had in store for him, what with this as the WU. And I was just thinking…”WTH, I’m in big trouble today.” So we went west on 6th St and I was hoping we’d junction with this Chute Trail that parallels Rt 550 north, but somehow I must have turned on the wrong single track and we ended up on the wrong side of the Animas River with no crossing. So with that idea was gone. I got us back to 550, and we ended up just doing the climb on that, with me doing some great berm. We took that to FR 679/Ophir Pass Rd. Went L, west on 679, and BAM, steep climbing right from the get-go. Only good thing was that we were warmed up from the 1000 vertical feet of climbing on 550. Drew was doing pretty good for his first foray on a mt bike, a rental carbon fiber 29er duel suspension, that he had gotten in Denver. 

We stayed together for a good bit of the first couple of miles of that Ophir Pass climb, and then he kind of fell off just a bit. I continued on my own, up some pretty stiff climbing, where there were these punchy sections that were so steep that I had to hike-a-bike. But really, most of this was rideable, BUT in the easiest gear I had. This pass as compared to Cinnamon, was pretty short and pretty mellow. Heck the top of Ophir was at about 10 miles in, whereas Cinnamon was 23 miles in and 1K higher. Just continued on through some stellar scenery. And wouldn’t you know it, just like yesterday, I’m climbing along, feeling like the day is actually going way better than I’d figured, and I look up at the pass and this massive dark grey/black could bank is floating in from the west. 

I just about shouted out the F word heard round the world. Damn, I’d just checked the weather forecast when I’d gotten up this morning and it called for great, clear blue skies for Silverton through 4 PM today. And here we go, another potential sock-in lightening storm on the horizon - with us plodding along up the mt at 5 mph. What to do… but just keep going? Now the only good thing here was the fact that this cloud mass was moving to the northeast more than to the east, so there was a chance we might make it over the pass with no storm. 

This pass, as I later told Andrew ranked #3 on my CO mt pass tour. First was Hermit, which is just off the charts crazy, and second was yesterday’s ascent of Cinnamon Pass. Ophir was steep and high, but not crazy steep and/or crazy long. So I did several bike-a-hikes on my way to the top, and then was determined to totally ride the last 2 miles, come hell or high water. And I did, making it to the pass in 2 hrs of ride time…for 10 miles of riding! Funny isn’t it? I stopped at the pass, put on a mt jacket, and then waited about 10 min for Drew. The wind up there was pretty stiff, and I was getting cold pretty quickly. No sign of him on the flanks of the mt coming up, so I asked a guy up there in his 4WD pick-up to tell Drew that I was descending due to the cold, and that I’d meet him in the town of Ophir at the bottom of the descent. 

And I got going, fearing that I’d become hypothermic if I stayed much longer. The descent was nearly as bad as Cinnamon. It’s steep, really rocky and unconsolidated and completely narrow. You screw up on this one and you’re taking a header down about 1K feet. I began the descent feeling pretty confident, having done this for a good couple of weeks now, but within a half mile this thing just did a super steep pitch down this chute of dbl track on nothing but unconsolidated cobbles and gravel. I bike-a-hiked this just to keep my butt out of the ER. Then it was rideable, at least for me, but still really steep, where I had to hang the butt down over the rear wheel. I even caught this jeep 4WD and then had to wait about 5 minutes for them to go ahead so I could ride uninterrupted. 

These descents are just workers, taxing all you have to keep yourself out of the hospital. I mean I’m mentally drained at the bottom of these things because the concentration is so high. So I made it down about 3 miles of the steep stuff, and then had another couple of miles of more dirt and gravel rather than a dbl track rock garden that I had above. Xed a couple streams and then ended up in the small resort village of Ophir. My hands were sore, my shoulders were beat, and my legs were toast…and I still had a second pass to ride! Waited in Ophir for about 45 min for Drew, as I stood by this little kiosk that had skis affixed to the two sides. Drew came down and I fist bumped him for an amazing effort on his first mt bike ride. Think about it…never ridden a mt bike and the dude does this 11,700 foot pass, and then does a really dangerous descent. 

Well, after the fist bumps Drew tells me he biffed it on the descent and ended up sliding about 15 feet off the road, down mt. He had some scuffs and blood, but looked and sounded ok. Right about this time the rain started. We descended another 2 miles to the junction of Rt 145, and by then the rain became steady. I, for some reason right now, am getting cold really easily. Now maybe that’s because I’ve lost about 10+ lbs of muscle and fat. But I told Drew that I had to wait this one out or else I may be in trouble, despite all my rain gear. So we rode back up to this abandoned mill about a half mile up the road, and parked ourselves there for about 30 min until the storm passed over. But still, the whole seeable mt ranges, both north, south, east and west were shrouded in dark grey clouds. So we weren’t out of the woods. Went back down to the junction with 145 and went L, southwest to begin the climb to Lizard Head Pass. Again, little cookie material. I rode this great gravel berm while Drew rode on the asphalt berm. This pup went up for about 7 miles, at a moderate gradient. We passed this poor dude with a yak and full rear panniers walking the rig. Ouch, made me feel a bit more lucky than to be walking up an asphalt mt pass. 

Drew and I finished this pass together, and while he had stopped to put on a jacket for the descent, I opted to just continue down in my nylons thin Underarmor top. And again, more rain. Just so confounded me with the high mt weather. I mean you can do your best to prepare and check, and be ready, but you get up there into it when it’s raining with thunder, lightening and wind, and suddenly you’re pooping bullets. So Drew flies past me on the descent as he’s on asphalt and I’m descending a mt on the 1-foot gravel berm, and we see Judy. Prayers answered. She turned around and found this wonderful turn-around for our support stop. It had taken her 4+ hrs to make the drive to us, so she was late, and we were an hour late in the time I’d told her we’d be there, so it worked out just perfect.

Got in the van and she had 4 sandwiches made for us, in addition to the ice water and Powerade ready to rock. About half way into our lunch the rain just got worse, with the whole mt side to the north totally whited out. Not a good track record for the Denver meteorologists so far! Must have sat in the van for 30 min trying to wait the storm out. Heck, I’d gotten so cold from the rain, wind and altitude that I’d put on a heavy polypro top and my mt jacket. Damn near fell asleep there, and I said to both Drew and Judy that I could easily pull the plug right there, right now - with a measly 25 miles of riding in for the day. That’s when Judy informed me that our intended end point for the day was over 30 miles away, and that our motel in Dolores, Co was a whopping 45 miles away!

Man, I was crushed. To haul my ass out of that van in the rain and wind and cold for another 30 miles….shoot me please! But she knew the right buttons to push with me by declaring that, and it worked. So slowly, as the rain died down, I began to think about getting that 30 miles out of the way to stay on track today. What I decided to do, rather than go back into the mts for this 30+ mile chunk of unsupported backcountry riding, I considered doing this great berm on Rt 145 southwest along the same trend, that way we could ride down mt and down river along the Dolores River, and enjoy this great tailwind at the same time. That could potentially save us 3 hrs of ride time, but still keep me honest with the gravel and set us up to be on schedule for tomorrow’s ride in the foothills and tablelands of southwestern CO. 

When the rain was down to a sprinkle I put my helmet on, and signaled Drew that we were going. I told them about my idea for a change in the itinerary, but nothing more, especially how I wanted to get in that 30+ miles. We decided to ride to Rico, 8-10 miles and see how things were. Well, with the descending road and the tailwind we were able to get through Rico in no time. Initially we rode in the rain for about 5 miles, but the further to the southwest we rode, the more the rain dwindled off to nothing, until we were actually riding in the sun. With each mile we rode we left the high mts of CO further and further in the rearview mirror. In Rico I signaled Judy for 5 more miles. And then another five, and then another five. I kind of got in that zone, where I could turn some fast tempo on the gravel berm forever. Drew was a bit behind me, and as I signaled Judy every five miles for another five, Drew was just shaking his head. 

By the time I was within 10 miles of our intended end point of the day, I was rock solid determined to finish this thing. That last five left me short of the goal by 2 miles, and I shouted as I went by Judy, “not stopping until the junction of 535!” The last 10 miles of berm on 145 was just a crapfest, with high weeds, rocks, mud, corrugated washout sections, and cobbles and boulders from adjacent rock cuts. But I was just intent and getting this thing done. Period! Made the junction of 535 and that was it. Managed to get in 58 miles for the day with 4044 feet of elevation gain. Drew was smiling to himself as he pulled in, and jokingly said to me, “come on, let’s do the final 13 miles to Dolores?” 

Drove the 13 miles southwest to Dolores to a great little motel, then went to the town’s pub for dinner outdoors next to the Dolores River. Awesome way to finish the day. Right now it’s 10 PM and everyone is sleeping. I’m going to sign off now and get some shut-eye myself. But I’ll feel good knowing that the high mt passes are over. I’m just within spitting distance of UT. Love ya Colorado, but I’m moving on! Goodnight……..pete