Saturday July 4, 2009, 61 miles (98 km) – Total so far: 2,630 miles (4,233 km)
We were slow getting started this morning. The sun rose over the Rocky Mountains National Park at 6:00, but we didn’t start until 6:45. Our faults, not the hosts! Shortly after the sun rose, fog descended and dogged us almost into Granby, where we turned north on CO 125. We left the Colorado River and started climbing.
The first three miles were pretty stiff; I was beginning to wonder if we’d make Walden today. Then, shortly after Virginia took off her jacket, we rounded a curve and had a glorious downhill mile. After that, we picked up Willow Creek (as Dad would say, it just looks fishy!) and climbed at a gentle pace for the most of the next 15 miles.
There was a mountain chickadee sitting on a wall as I rode up. He didn’t mind me stopping three feet away, but when I pointed a camera at him he got nervous and flew two feet further away into the tree.
Willow Creek is one of those neat creeks to follow up, as you sometimes can see the top, and at other times you wonder where you can go after you get up the next quarter mile. Note the “willows” on each side of the creek, the dead pines across it, and that peak between the near hills is one of the sources.
On the way we passed what I guess you could call either an alpine meadow, or a flat in the creek. The scenery was awesome; this is why we wanted to come see the Colorado Rockies!
The creek got narrower, and the mountains behind it got closer, until I looked up and could not see any way out but up. And up there was what looked like a road going up. Steeply. Uh-oh.
According to my odometer and the map, we were about a mile from the top. Then we passed a sign announcing the summit was TWO miles away, and the nice, easy grade kicked it up. Not too bad, I made most of it in second gear, but hey, this is the last two of 15 miles of straight climbing!
The top was rather disappointing. There’s a sign announcing the altitude, and on either side you could see the road disappear into the trees. And there were mosquitoes waiting to enjoy anyone having a snack, like us. The fruit disappeared quickly, we put on jackets, and headed downhill pronto.
Right away I noticed this new national forest was managing their dead pines instead of leaving them to fall or burn. But that was about all I had time to notice, as our speed increased. That’s part of the reason for warm clothes — 30 mph downhill, with no pedaling, is a whole lot cooler than 4-6 mph pedaling hard going up, and getting damp with sweat in the process. I did notice a hummingbird sipping from one of these flowers, and took a shot of the RMNP peaks to the east while I was stopped.
Down at the bottom, there was a nice view of the range we just came down from the north side. Did I mention that is the Continental Divide?
About this time it started to rain. It wasn’t too hard, so we continued down to Rand. The general store there had hot drinks, and then let us eat our lunch inside. The owner explained the ranches were using flood irrigation to grow grass for hay, and the mosquitoes loved it.
After we had finished, the sun had come out and it was finally over 60 degrees, so we hurried to take off jackets, tights, and knee warmers, and put on sunscreen before we got too many bites. Naturally, putting on sunscreen called down rain. We could see it building in the west, but there was nowhere to stop and take shelter. Not a house, tree, or even culvert for miles. So we pushed hard for Walden, hoping to get into town before the storm hit. Didn’t work.
First the wind kicked up, blowing at 20 mph. (I know, because I noticed on the way down the pass that my sleeves started flapping at that speed.) We drafted each other for three or four miles, and then the rain started. Cold, hard rain, the kind that stings your face and your arms through the thin wind or rain shells we were wearing. Well, this part of Colorado is more thinly populated than Kansas, which it looks like otherwise, so we kept pushing. Finally, after five or six mile of this, we came out the other side of the storm, wet and cold. Four miles to pedal in the sunshine, and we made it into Walden, no longer wet but still cold. A hot shower is a wonderful end to that kind of ride!