From 0 to 11,542 in 7 weeks: Over Hoosier Pass to Breckenridge, CO

Wednesday July 1, 2009, 68 miles (109 km) – Total so far: 2,493 miles (4,012 km)

Today was the high point of the trip; Hoosier Pass is the highest point on the TransAm, and we made it on a longish day!  If we weren’t so tired, we’d still be celebrating.

We left Guffey a bit before 7:00, not quite the first people moving in town, but pretty close.  It’s small enough we heard the other three people drive through before we left.  It was 39 degrees when we started, so we bundled up with most of our cold weather clothes, but the downhill back to the main road got to our fingers.  Well, the best way to warm up is to start climbing, so we did. Up to Currant Creek Pass, 9400 feet and change, and we started taking off layers on the way.  From there we could see back where we’d been, and also see the ring of mountains at the far end of South Park (aka the South Platte River valley).  Those mountains slowly got closer and clearer as the day went on.

Happy to be at our first pass

Looking behind us

Looking ahead to the north

A few bumps in the road, and we had a nice 20 mile cruise into Hartsel.  The road was rather like Kansas with mountains around; the near-field scenery didn’t change much.  There were a number of flowers to look at, all smallish, though, and an antelope who didn’t care for having his picture taken.  I have to admit, I don’t know most of the birds, trees, or flowers I’ve been looking at lately.  I skipped taking pictures of the thistle, though.

Orange flower

Purple flower

Yellow flower

The antelope left right after I shot him

We had a second breakfast in Hartsel, where the waitress refused to fill our water bottles.  They can only purify 10 gallons per day, and although the water is supposedly safe to drink, it tastes bad because of the minerals.  Hmm.  I just wanted to have something wet to drink.  We’d heard some of this before, so we had enough to get us on to Fairplay, but it still grated.

From Hartsel, we were heading up the valley of the middle fork of the Platte.  Again, a wide valley, with a few fishermen wading in the river, and the (gorgeous) mountains getting nearer.

Heading to Fairplay

Middle Fork South Platte River. Looks fishy!

Into Fairplay, where we had sub sandwiches, since it was noon by now.  With 45 miles under our tires, it was decision time; could we make it another 23 miles?  Well, we’ll try, of course!  Both Fairplay and Alma are touristy towns.  Fairplay has a South Park village, named for the park-like ambiance of the broad valley (and the TV show) and Alma was a single row of tourist shops with side streets for the residents.  It was easy to move on.

There’s a supposed bike path paralleling CO 9 between Fairplay and Alma.  It’s also a perfect illustration of why bike paths are not a good idea.  For the first mile, it was fine.  Then, neglect and poor maintenance hit with a vengeance.  There was a series of ruts and holes that nearly dumped me, since I wasn’t expecting it.  You’d think that a facility that threatens personal injury (ouch) and property damage (broken bike) to its users would not get a lot of support, but people like them.  After the second set, I hauled my bike up to the road, and enjoyed the next 3.5 miles on some of the nicest pavement we’ve seen lately.

We’d been riding between 8,000 and 9,000 feet for a while, but at Fairplay the road distinctly turned upward.  Alma was at 10,000 feet.  We’d been averaging about 10-11 mph up to this point, including the first ten miles of climbing out of Guffey.  A mile or two out of town, the road kicked up to a 5% grade, a sign announced 4 miles to the pass, and we could see how we were going to get over the mountains.

Just go up that road and follow it to the left!

I have to say, the scenery was spectacular.  Snow covered mountains, waiting to be examined in plenty of detail as we hauled the load slowly up the grade.  And at altitude, too!  It took us about an hour to reach the top.  Hoosier Pass, elevation 11,539 or 11,542, depending on whether you read the painted sign or the plaque in the rock, and our first crossing of the continental divide.  Behind us, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers drainage; ahead of us, Colorado River drainage.

Time for a celebration!

Snow was on the peaks behind us and in front of us.

Looking ahead to the north

Looking back to the south and west

Then came the flying trip down.  Some steep grades with nasty curves to force us to keep our speed down, but for some reason we were passed by far fewer cars and trucks going down than going up.  Halfway down was a nice view off to the left.

View on the north side of the divide

Down into Breckenridge, with some road work going on.  I had to document the sign.

Always suspected the men weren't working...

We had dinner and a good conversation with an old family friend – one whom I don’t think I’ve seen since before Virginia was born!  So a late night tonight, but we’ll take an easy day tomorrow.  Don’t want to exert ourselves too much and risk altitude sickness, you know, since we’re still around 9,000 feet above sea level, even though we climbed 3,000 feet each of the last two days.

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