This section of my trip started with lots of climbing, and that was pretty much the theme for the next two weeks or so.
Wednesday June 10th found me in Cedar City, visiting my Cousin Kathy and her two sons. I got going pretty late as I took the opportunity to clean out and reorganize my panniers in an attempt to get a fresh start. I also really enjoyed chatting with my cousins and continuously helping myself to just one more slice of coffee cake.
Eventually I left and started my adventure on the Western Express Route. This route has a rather foreboding description on the Adventure Cycling website:
The Western Express Bicycle Route… challenges the rider with extreme weather and riding conditions, as well as logistical obstacles. One’s efforts are rewarded, however, by experiencing some of the least visited and most magnificent areas of the American West…
East of Cedar City, Utah, the route passes through some of the nation’s most isolated communities and several of its most spectacular scenic wonders. Take some time to explore Cedar Breaks, Escalante, and Natural Bridges National Monuments; Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks; and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. To even the most experienced of travelers, these natural sculptures, spires, buttes, and canyons are no less than humbling. The Utah portion of the route could be a worthy destination in itself.
I’d already taken my tours through Zion and Bryce Canyon, so I wasn’t expecting to encounter anything that could really compare. Oh, I was so unprepared.
Right away I started climbing up 14. It was blistering hot when I left my cousins’ house, and I was dressed in my shorts and tank top and cake icingly slathered with sun block. So I was a little confused when I saw a couple guys on their bikes coming down the hill, dressed in puffy jackets, waterproof pants, heavy gloves, and knit caps. I should have understood at that point that I was unwisely dressed, but I didn’t want to believe it. Eventually I saw the clouds ahead of me, and when the sprinkling started, I originally thought that it felt kind of good. Thinking that the rain wouldn’t last long, I kept going. But I was wrong, the rain just got heavier, and I stubbornly continued. Eventually, I came across a large covered pavilion and was able to change into dry clothes and begrudgingly pull on the waterproof gear.
And so I kept climbing, and climbing, and got grumpy when I got high enough to see snow. I had really been hoping that I would not encounter any snow on this trip. Everyone said it was a bad snow year! It was an absolutely incredible view at Supreme Point, but it was getting late, and I was slightly worried about camping up on top of this mountain where I might freeze to death. I figured I couldn’t be that high from the top, and once the downhill started, it wouldn’t be long until I was back in Panguitch, where I had been a little over a week ago.
This seemed like quite a gamble, but I committed to it and left the deserted campground at Supreme Point behind. But almost immediately I came across another campground just down the road that was filled with forestry students. Forestry! I like forestry. I took that as a sign to settle down and camp, and it was an excellent decision. They immediately noted that I looked cold and tired and damp, so they invited me to join them around their roaring fire. Fortunately, Cousin Kathy had given me a pound of Red Vines, so I had something to share when they also invited me to have dinner with them. They were enormously impressed that I had carried an entire pound of licorice with me up this mountain.
So I was able to hang out with them at their cushy campsite and talk about their research. Basically, their professor told me, “We like old growth forests. We watch them.” They travel all around to different old growth forests and have their meal routines down. I’m sure they are thoroughly practiced in lots of things, but I was most interested in their meals. They had a giant griddle where they were cooking up a vegetable medley, giant pots of simmering water for tea and coffee, another pot full of lentils, and a varied stash of spices and sauces. I was in heaven as we all tucked in to a filling hot dinner.
In the morning they treated me to a breakfast burrito and kind of tried to recruit me into tagging trees with them (but really I suspect they meant hauling around many many pounds of rebar), which I really might have considered doing if I didn’t have a vague sense of urgency in getting to my meeting spot with James on time.
So on Thursday I got to come back down the mountain that I had spent most of Wednesday climbing and started backtracking on some roads I’d been on the week before. It was my third time riding through Red Canyon! Yes, I’m totally gloating – how many people get to ride a bike through Red Canyon, and here I get to do it three times! On familiar ground, I promised myself that this time I would stop at a restaurant I had passed up twice the last time I was in the area. They had a sign up promising excellent pie, and if there’s one thing I’ve discovered about myself on this trip, it’s that I like pie. It was getting close to what I considered lunch time for myself, so I was taking full advantage of the downhill to make it to this pie place as quick as possible. But there was a lady on the side of the road who looked like she really wanted to talk to me. I was torn. Pie? Or talk to the nice lady, who also looked a bit familiar? The guy behind her also looked familiar. But the pull of the pie was powerful. So I tried to give her a friendly and somewhat apologetic look as she called out to me, “Hello from California!” That almost made me stop as I thought what a coincidence that was, but pie told me that I had to remain committed to my mission. Who am I to argue with pie?
Once I got to the restaurant, I turned on my phone and noticed I had a few text messages. And they were from friends of Sue’s with whom I sometimes play board games and get advice on quilt-making! They were in the area on vacation and knew that I was somewhere around, so they were keeping an eye out for me! They texted me to let me know that it was them trying to get my attention. And here I just blew past them in a quest for pie! So I quickly texted back and told them where I was, and soon they joined me and we had pie together, which was amazing.
After pie, it was time to return to Route 12. This time, I would not be turning to visit Bryce Canyon, but continuing along this scenic byway. Almost immediately the views took my breath away. And I have to point out again, that’s after I spent a bunch of time in Bryce Canyon and Zion. I just don’t understand how these things exist so close to home, and yet somehow I hadn’t made it out to see them yet.
I camped at a KOA in Cannonville, and my amazing day suddenly took a turn for the worse when the rain and the wind kicked up just as I was setting up my tent. I spent a lot of time angrily chasing down things that wanted to blow away. Eventually I got the tent up and hunkered in it reading my book.
Friday I had a lazy start because the KOA offered a pancake breakfast, and I was having too much fun talking with interesting people. Finally, I got on the road, and not ten meters from the campground, I got a flat. So it was pretty late when I got going for real, and quickly I bumped into another touring cyclist coming from the other way, cycling from New York to San Francisco. He had started hours earlier and warned me that I had a really tough section coming up. I didn’t believe that it could be worse than the mountain I climbed on Wednesday, though. We both had the same Adventure Cycling Western Express Route maps, so we looked at the elevation profile together, and it did look like the mountain I’d climbed was worse than the upcoming section. Although you never can tell, these profiles are pretty rough estimates. Anyway, he scoffed at the Western Express Route and said it was silly for sending people up so high. “Nope!” he said at the map. He had an alternate route in mind for getting around the mountain. Maybe I should have thought of that. Too late now.
Shortly after bumping into this guy, I met Geneva, a 19 year old girl on her solo cross country bike ride after graduating from high school. She was hoping that I could tell her what crossing Nevada would be like, and sadly I had to inform her that I had circled around Nevada. I don’t think that I talked her into circling around it, though, as scary as it sounds to try to cross it. She told me more horror stories about Kentucky, though, so if she got through Kentucky, I have no doubt she’ll be okay with Nevada. Maybe she caught up with the other guy I met and they crossed together.
The most amazing time I had was the stretch that one guy warned me would be really tough, from Escalante to Boulder. The road takes you through this amazing landscape where you keep expecting a triceratops to emerge. It is absolutely incredible. First you need to go all the way down to the Escalante River, which then of course means that you need to start climbing back out.
So apparently this road to Boulder was only fairly recently built and paved, meaning that Boulder claims itself to be the last community in the continental US to receive its mail by mule train. I’m assuming that means the last community that used to receive its mail by mule train, but currently doesn’t? Because only a few years ago I visited Supai Village in Havasu Canyon, and there are no paved roads there, and all mail comes in and out by mule train. So that’s at least one other community that this blogger knows about off the top of her head that continues the mule train mail delivery.
Anyway, the point is, it was amazingly beautiful, but then the climb back out of this area nearly killed me. It was so steep, I nearly had to walk and push the bike up. Fortunately, I was cheered on by people in their cars as they passed me. One bike tour company van driver was particularly excited to see me and asked if there was anything he could do to help. Just the fact that he looked so thrilled was enough to boost me up the hill. When I finally got out of there and the ground leveled, I looked behind me to see the road sign warning trucks about the steep grade downhill. 14% grade, it said. So that explains why that was so difficult.
It was pretty late when I finally staggered into Boulder. I was desperate for any kind of lodging whatsoever. There were no camping grounds as far as I could tell, so I was fully prepared to part with a chunk of money to get a room. Fortunately, the first lodge I went to, which looked ridiculously fancy, didn’t have any vacancy, so I was forced to keep going to the next motel. This place was not nearly as fancy, and the owner was more than happy to let me pitch my tent in the backyard for free. So that worked out quite well!
Saturday morning I really wanted to get an early start. I was at the nearby gas station before their shop opened, but I managed to badger an employee to open a little early and start the coffee machine. Options were limited, so it was my first time breakfasting on a microwaved Hot Pocket. It was bound to happen at some point. As I ate I talked with a couple locals, and they assured me that the rain was gone for a couple days, at least. I happily tucked my rain gear back into my panniers, rather than strap it on top of everything for easy access.
Never do that.
As I left Boulder, I had another steep climb to do, about 2,000 feet. And I was in my shorts and tank top again, slathered in sunblock, but as I approached my climb, a nasty, angry looking cloud lurked on the top of the hill. It started to sprinkle, and I decided this time I would take the warning. I pulled over and dug through my panniers to find the rain gear that I had so recently tucked away, believing it unnecessary. When I carried on, the rain got heavier and heavier. People driving their cars down the hill hollered at me that it was hailing near the top of the hill. Hailing bad, they said. I smiled at them and thanked them for the warning, but what was I going to do? Turn around? Sit around in Boulder? Sit in my tent on the side of the road? There was also blue sky showing off in the distance, so I figured this couldn’t possibly last long. As everyone in Utah was telling me, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes, it’ll change!” So I pressed on.
The people in the cars were right, though. The hail started, and then it only got worse. I continued to get warnings from people coming down the hill, that the hail was really heavy towards the top. But at this point there was no turning back for me. Coming downhill in hail sounded even worse to me than going uphill. The roads were absolutely white with hail. I tried to stay in the tracks left by the cars, and that was better than riding on the ice itself, but I had to keep looking behind me on this narrow twisty road to see if there was a line of cars behind me.
Soon I was soaked. Waterproof gear is a cruel joke. There’s nothing waterproof about it. My hands and feet were completely soaked and frozen. My hands got to the point where they were numb, except for when I shifted my weight on the handlebars or tried to use my brakes. At those times pain shot through them. To make matters even worse, the sunblock I had recently plastered all over myself was running straight into my eye, and the constant burn was a cruel reminder of what I thought my day would be like. When it became unbearable to ride, I would stop and shove my hands into my armpits to try to warm them. About my third time doing this, I couldn’t help it anymore. I think the posture of being hunched over with your hands in your armpits sends a message of defeat to your brain. I felt completely defeated and sobbed heavily in the hail. The good thing about that, though, was that it washed the sunscreen out of my eye. So I was able to get back on the bike and ride, and at the summit I finally broke through the storm.
This picture you see of my bike at the summit almost didn’t exist. I was so fed up at this point that all I wanted to do was get down off this mountain and pretend it never happened. But since it was only barely sprinkling, I thought it better to change into dry clothes before going downhill. And since I was doing that, it wasn’t too much more work to bring my phone out of its waterproof hiding spot and snap this picture. And that explains why you never get to see pictures of my absolute misery, as much as I would like to take them for you. You only get pictures when my phone is not being protected from the elements. You don’t like it, send me a GoPro!
So I started going downhill and slowly recovered from my trauma. But I needed a hot drink to really feel better. So when I came upon a viewpoint overlook, I pulled over and dug out my JetBoil and got to making myself a cup of coffee. This overlook was pretty popular with lots of people in cars and RVs stopping by. Lucky me, because one of these families in an RV asked me if I’d like to join them for lunch. And so I got to have ham sandwiches and fresh fruit in a cozy RV with Jim and Lynn and their two children! It was absolutely fantastic. When I told them that I was riding for Be the Match, Lynn shared with me that she is about to start chemo. No one could have ever guessed. I continue to be floored by people’s strength and courage.
Once all warmed up and well fed and happy, I continued on my way through Capitol Reef. I don’t know how to describe it. Here I thought that I had done my part of enjoying Utah by visiting Bryce Canyon and Zion. But now I’m busy trying to get somewhere, and my route takes me through Capitol Reef, and I just don’t have the time on my schedule to spend a week exploring it. It seemed horribly sinful to zip through, only snapping a few pictures here and there. I’ll have to return, for sure.
I did allow myself to stop and walk a short trail to see some petroglyphs, and again met incredibly nice people who offered to share their campsite with me. I was horribly tempted to stay and see more of Capitol Reef, but I promised myself I would get to Hanksville that night, so I pushed on.
I didn’t arrive in Hanksville until well after dark and tried to get a campsite, but was turned away. Apparently there was a huge crowd that had already taken everything. I was too tired to try to make friends and worm my way into sharing someone’s site, so instead I pitched my tent behind the elementary school. No one seemed to care.
Now I was in the territory that frightened me way back when I first looked at my maps and started planning my route. My Adventure Cycling map warned that I would now have 50 miles without any water. Through the desert. 50 miles wasn’t so bad, assuming no hang ups or bike malfunctions happened along the way. That could be a big assumption. So I made sure to have an enormous breakfast in the morning, filled up all my water bottles to the brim, and got as early of a start as I could.
My next stop was a campsite on Lake Powell. I’d been to Lake Powell before! Many many years ago I went on a kayak camping trip to Lake Powell, and I remembered our established campground (as opposed to our backcountry campgrounds) as being fairly popular with lots of people running all about. I envisioned kids with ice cream cones splashing in the water, people manning their BBQs, and cold drinks in the shade everywhere. I figured that once I got to Lake Powell I could find a shady spot, get a cold drink, and then figure out what on earth was going on with my front wheel – it just wasn’t spinning freely anymore, meaning that I was pedaling my way down easy grades, so logically I was also pedaling much more than I should have had to on the uphills. It was getting tiresome.
So imagine my surprise when I approached the campground shown on my map and found a completely deserted, dusty looking place. There was no lake in sight. The water was too low, leaving this area high and dry. I never even made it to where the campground supposedly was. I only made it to the ranger station. The ranger station was deserted and clearly had been deserted for years. There was only a yellowing sign pinned on the door with a phone number to call in case of emergency. But there were two cyclists there, two guys in their 60s named Nick and Brother Dave. Nick was on his way to California. Brother Dave was going my direction. And there was a tiny store that was open. It didn’t have much, just a bunch of mostly empty refrigerators. There were a couple cases of Budweiser, some water, some juice, and a sign saying they didn’t have any ice cream. I bought a jug of cold water and a couple bottles of juice and joined Nick and Brother Dave to sit in the shade provided by the eaves of the ranger station and gripe about the heat.
The next section on my map warned to be even worse than this one. 75 miles until Blanding, all without any services. No water, no nothing. I had been planning on continuing on during the cool of the evening and pitching my tent along the side of the road to take a bite out of this portion, but it was way too tempting to hang out with these gentlemen and listen to their stories. Nick told me more horror stories about Kentucky. Brother Dave was just entertaining on so many levels. They tried to fix my front wheel for me, which we determined needed a loosening of the hub. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the right tools to do the job – not many people carry cone wrenches with them.
They were both planning on leaving at 4am, so they went to bed really early. They made themselves as comfortable as they could on the pavement around the ranger station. I tried to follow their example and hung up my hammock and tried to sleep, but I just couldn’t. So instead I swayed in the hot desert breeze while reading my book. I was vaguely aware of them leaving in the morning, but at that point I couldn’t follow suit. I was pretty grumpy with myself when I finally hit the road around 7:30 with the heat already producing that suffocation feeling.
Getting to Blanding was pretty much exactly as you would expect. Hot sun, long stretches of sand and scrubby little brush, not a speck of shade to be found, and your water supply slowly dwindling. It was pretty difficult to keep myself from just crawling under the occasional tiny tree I could find and just giving up until it was cooler. It was awfully tedious, especially knowing that my front hub was too tight. Then, a huge surprise happened. I was toiling along up a gradual hill when suddenly someone called my name. I was so startled I almost fell over. But of course it was Brother Dave. He had already stopped for the day and made camp at the side of the road. I stopped and he told me he had a present for me. He walked over to me and gave me, of all things, a half bottle of ice water.
Out here in the desert, on his bike, somehow he had a half bottle of ice water.
And he was giving it to me.
I decided to accept it and ask questions later. Turns out he had stood on the side of the road with a Need Water sign, and someone in a car had given him a couple frozen bottles from their cooler. Knowing that I would be coming by, he saved this half bottle for me. It’s the most thoughtful gift anyone has ever given me.
Not long after that I received even more trail magic. A car pulled up next to me and the people inside asked me if I would like water. Of course I said yes! And as they rummaged through their cooler, they also offered me a San Pellegrino limonata. Who on earth would say no? I received my precious chilly delights as graciously as I could, and just like that my angels were gone.
When I got to Blanding, I thought for sure that I would treat myself to a motel room. I needed a shower. I needed to sleep. But the first thing you see when you arrive in town is an RV park. So I went there instead. They had showers, and that’s really all that mattered. It was so hot and the weather report promised 0% chance of rain, so I set up my tent minimalist style without the rainfly. And therefore had to get up a few hours later to put on the rainfly when it started raining.
So now it was Tuesday, and I was back in civilization! No more long stretches without water sources! I could relax! But it was far too difficult for me to let go of my precious water. I continued to carry all the water I could. It would take me a while before I could let go of a few liters.
It was getting close to the day to meet up with James. We had originally planned on meeting in Dolores, but now with my wheel being crummy, we agreed that we should probably meet in Cortez. Just in case, James was going to bring me a whole new wheel. His plan was to drive his car from Albuquerque to Cortez, drop his car in Cortez at the airport, then ride to meet me in Dolores. From Denver he would fly back to Cortez and get his car. But if he was carrying a wheel for me, I couldn’t make him ride to Dolores. So to Cortez I would go. Which was 81 miles away. It was possible to do that in one day, but I would have to push myself. I desperately wanted to get it done, though, so that I could have an entire day in Cortez before James arrived. I could use that day to rest, eat, take my bike to a shop, eat, blog, and eat. I wasn’t positive that I could do it, but I had to try.
I got a late start on Tuesday because of all the logisticizing, but I pushed and pushed. I crossed into Colorado! I kept going. It started to turn dark! I kept going. It was totally dark! I kept going. Finally I arrived in Cortez. It was almost 11pm and I tried going to an RV park. No one was there to take my money, but I’d gotten used to pitching my tent and making things square in the morning. Unfortunately, this place had a large sign saying No Tents. I left in a huff and got desperate enough to just check in to the Travelodge. It was right across the street from a Denny’s, and the thought of getting some hot food, even if it was Denny’s food, was just too much to turn down. So I got a room and ate some awful chicken, and it was delightful.
That means I had Wednesday all to myself in Cortez! The first thing I had to do was move myself out of the Travelodge and over to the KOA. I pitched my tent, took off everything I didn’t need for the day from my bike, and pedaled myself over to the bike shop, Kokopelli. Pretty soon I had a loosened hub, as well as a new cassette and new chain. Then I plunked myself in a coffee shop with WiFi and refused to move. I drank several cups of tea while I updated my blog. When I finished that I was hungry, so I went to a brewpub and had beer and food. It was a magical day.
Thursday was when James was coming! I got to sleep in a bit, then went to the Safeway to stock up on groceries. He met me there and after some bumbling about, we were finally on the road. A dog decided to accompany us for almost three miles, and we had a hard time convincing him that he should go home. He didn’t seem fazed by us yelling at him or shaking sticks at him. Finally we lost him when we got to a downhill and were able to leave him behind. That first night we camped at Priest Gulch, where the Dolores River was an excellent place to chill the beer that James had brought with him from New Mexico.
Friday we got to do some real climbing. It was clear that we had now arrived in the Rockies. Our first pass to get over was Lizardhead Pass at 10,222 feet. James got there before me and put the remaining beers he had brought into a stream, so we enjoyed those when I got there.
We passed by Telluride, where there was a bluegrass festival going on. We considered stopping by to join in on the commotion, but at that point had more interest in finding our camping spot. Which actually proved to be a little difficult. There weren’t any campgrounds for a while, and when I suggested to James that we go to Placerville to see if we could camp in the town park, he peered at my map and read, “Placerville: Population 66.” He didn’t think there would be a town park. But amazingly, Placerville did have a fancy lodge called the Angler Inn, so we decided to try asking there about what our options were. I hoped that our options would include camping in their backyard. The lady at the desk was concerned about us camping in a park or on the side of the road because the police would be more vigilant due to the festival. So she took pity on us and let us camp in their backyard, and for a small fee we were able to eat at the breakfast buffet!
Saturday brought another summit of 8,970 feet at Dallas Divide. Towards the end of the day we were bouncing along a gravel road, and out of nowhere a large black dog was suddenly beside me. He snarled viciously at me, and I didn’t know what was going on. At first I thought it was someone revving a motorcycle right next to me. Needless to say, I swerved and panicked, which only meant that I went crashing into the ground. Fortunately, I think that scared him, so he went running off and didn’t come back. Besides some road rash on my knee, arm, and hip, a broken clip on a pannier, and a banged up front basket, everything was okay. We carried on and stopped for dinner at a bar in Hotchkiss for some much needed beer, then spent the night in an RV park.
Sunday there was even more climbing to do. We had to get over McClure Pass at 8,755 feet. That one was not easy. It was steep, it was hot, we weren’t out of water but certainly could have used more, and it was overall just fairly miserable. We wandered into the campgrounds we passed by on a quest for water, but they were dry. Both of us couldn’t help but stop and rest for about twenty minutes when we knew that the summit was just around the corner. Well, at least it gave me the chance to observe a deer for a good long while.
Finally, after getting some more sugar into ourselves, we were on our way back down, and it was absolutely beautiful. It was exactly like in my imagination of riding down the Rockies, coasting on gorgeous mountain roads with the peaks in the distance, a river with amazing wave trains, and steep cliffs all around. I was fully enjoying myself as I rounded a corner, and there was a bear running across the road and up the hillside into the trees! I couldn’t believe it! I just saw a wild bear! I stopped and tried to catch another glimpse of this beauty, but it was gone.
We came upon a campground, and we were so tired we peered at the entrance to try to tell if the campsites were uphill or not. If we had to go uphill to get to a campsite, we’d rather continue downhill to find the next campground. Turned out that the path to the nearby campsites was pretty flat, plus there was a water hydrant next to an unoccupied site, so we stayed. And that was the night James surprised me with the whiskey he’d brought with him! We were both extremely happy that we’d stopped for the night as we had a wee dram and star gazed.
Monday morning I was anxious to get to Glenwood Springs. I had been in contact with a coach at Defiance Strength and Conditioning, home of Glenwood Springs CrossFit, and I wanted to be there in the afternoon to do a WOD and spread the word about Be the Match. So we got up early and made it to Carbondale for breakfast, then arrived in Glenwood Springs with plenty of time to kick it at a coffee shop for a good long while. Our barista, Skyler, was nearly quivering his skin right off of himself as he asked us a million questions about cycle touring. He’s working hard on getting himself outfitted for his own tour, and he was so excited about everything, I desperately wanted to ask James if we could keep him.
Then it was time to visit the CrossFit gym, and even though we had just ridden our bikes hundreds of miles and gone over high passes, I wanted to do a workout. It’d been so long since I’d done a CrossFit workout! I even talked James into joining me, though he was very concerned that we were going to hurt him. Our coach, Brittney, said of course she wouldn’t hurt him, but made him sign the waiver anyway. We had a great workout, and then we hung out, met the people coming in for the next workout, and talked with anyone who had a spare moment. I continue to be amazed by how many people have been touched by cancer and seem to need to tell their stories, whether they are of survival or of loss. Sadly, one of our new friends, Fran – yes, Fran! Like that of 21-15-9 fame – told us about how he recently lost a young niece to blood cancer. He thanked us for what we are doing, but riding a bicycle across the country is nothing compared to what patients and their families have to endure.
As we were getting ready to make our way to the bike routes that parallel 70, Fran told us that they were flooded. We called a local bike touring company and were told the same thing. Fran offered to drive us on 70 past the flooded parts, but that really didn’t seem to match with the whole “ride a bike across the country” idea. Not that I haven’t gotten a lift or two, but I always consider my options, and missing out on a large section of the Rockies would take too much away from the trip. So James and I studied the map and decided we would backtrack to Carbondale, make our way to Aspen, cross the Continental Divide at Independence Pass, continue on to Buena Vista, and then rely mostly on 285 to get to Denver. Fran didn’t like that idea much, especially since we had to be in Denver in time to get James on his flight home. He also thought that Independence Pass was going to be enormously difficult. James and I figured we would give it a shot, and if we ended up needing to hitchhike at the end, so be it. And so we bid farewell to our new CrossFit crowd and got back on our bikes to return to Carbondale.
James complained bitterly at me about his arms every chance he got.
“Well why’d you do so many push ups?” I asked.
“Because the workout said to!” he fussed.
James had the brewpub picked out – Carbondale Beer Works – and we headed straight there. For some reason the place was inundated with cyclists. They were with Bicycle Tour of Colorado and they pounced on the opportunity to ask questions and slightly heckle us, in a good natured way. The several beers they had might have helped with that. I go through phases where I’m very open to talk to people – such as when I’ve been all by myself on the road for a day – but sometimes I’m tired of having the same conversation over and over again. Which is ridiculous, I started this whole adventure on the premise that people want to talk to people who are traveling on their bicycles. That was what gave me the idea to utilize the opportunity to have a captive audience and spread the word about Be the Match! But at times like these, when I’m tired and just want to find food and drink and a place to sleep, I just don’t have the energy to tell people about where I started from, where I’ve been, where I’m going, where I spend my nights, how I pick my routes, how I got the free time to do this, etc. I especially get tired of men who tell me they would never let their daughters do what I’m doing. So I let James field the questions from all the guys clustered around while I busied myself with locking our bikes and tried to smile politely when I dragged him away to the bar. And then immediately felt guilty about it. I’m working on being more social even at times when I don’t want to socialize.
While we ate the bartenders warned us that Independence Pass would be worse than anything we’d done yet. We told them that we almost keeled over and died on McClure Pass, and they assured us that Independence Pass was longer and steeper. This was sounding particularly dreadful. That night we tried to crash the campsite of the Bicycle Tour of Colorado crowd. James had learned from the guys he’d talked to that they were camped at the nearby high school. We tried going there but saw no one. We circled around trying to figure out where they could have gone, then bumped into some of the guys we’d seen earlier, hanging out at a different bar. They seemed like they would have trouble telling us what year it was, but they assured us that they could take us to the campsite. So we followed them, even though their route included going down stairs in an apartment complex, and miraculously we came upon a field at a different high school with about 600 tents set up. We set up our tents beside theirs and got lulled to sleep by snores from all directions.
In the morning we got to be part of all the hustle and bustle of hundreds of cyclists getting ready to hit the road. They all had their SAG wagons, and it was kind of hilarious for me to watch all these people in cycling gear load up their stuff into rolling suitcases and drag them across the field to load into vans. Other people were fancier and had hired people to set up and tear down their tents for them, that was fascinating to watch as well. My favorite part, though, was the food tent, where we were able to buy pancakes and eggs. We said goodbye to our hungover new friends, whom I’m quite sure couldn’t quite remember who we were or how we got there, and got set to take off for Aspen.
And of course the whole time we couldn’t help but think of Dumb and Dumber.
We even tried to recreate the look.
And then it was time for the dreaded Independence Pass. We climbed and we climbed. It mysteriously wasn’t that bad, but when we came to the last campground before the summit, Lost Man, I voted that we stop for the night. I was certain that it was going to get worse, and we weren’t sure where the next campground would be, and we might end up descending in the dark. It was a fairly early night for us, but I got cozy in my hammock and we had a bit more whiskey and fussed about our CrossFit soreness, so it was all good.
It was a pretty good decision, because the next day, Wednesday, easily ranks as my favorite riding day of this section. We tackled the rest of the climb to the summit, constantly thinking that it was going to get worse, but it never did. It was just gorgeous. It was an awful lot like riding through a giant Coors ad.
And then we were at the summit!
The summit was a popular place to be. There are trails to walk with gorgeous views, and we all had to take our turns posing by the sign.
And then there was the downhill, which also wasn’t bad! Sometimes downhill is very harrowing for me, but this was just fun! Although James told me later that he had a life-threatening encounter with a motorcyclist coming the other way – but other than that it was great!
We rolled into Buena Vista, where we poked around a little at the kayak play park, which someday I hope to try. We ate, had beer, and then I insisted that we visit the Deerhammer distillery. We did a tasting, had some cocktails, and chatted with the bartender, and as we were leaving he gave me four oranges! Maybe you don’t think that’s a big deal, but I have these vicious cravings for fresh fruit these days, so that was a very sweet score on my part. Then James led me down a dirt road in the dark
for miles and miles, claiming that he knew of free camping somewhere away from town… I trusted him and happily cradled the cocktail in my stomach, and eventually we came upon the campground. The light of the morning revealed that we actually hadn’t traveled miles and miles, it just seemed like it at night.
Thursday we were going to trust Google Map’s instructions, which seemed to want to put us on some smaller roads in order to avoid elevation gain. That seemed smart, until we got to Hartsel. We stopped for a quick snack (that morning was also the first time James had breakfast Amy-style, there was no need for a real lunch) and we saw a whole bunch of people on mountain bikes coming into town. We learned quick that the roads Google was suggesting were all dirt roads and probably best avoided if we didn’t have mountain bikes. So we had to stick with the highway again, and we wiggled our way up to 285. The grade wasn’t bad, but the wind was. I was convinced that there was just
something wrong with me, as I was trailing way behind James. But when I got into Fairplay, thinking that I would have to plead with him to let us stop for the night, I found him eating a burrito and looking miserable. “Why was that so painful?” he asked, and then suggested that we find a place to camp. That immediately cheered me up, and we found a place to pitch our tent at a nearby RV park. The winds were so fierce that James sat in his tent to keep it from blowing away, which was a very necessary maneuver. Fortunately, things calmed down so that we could sleep, and the winds weren’t so bad the next day.
We couldn’t find any camping spots before Denver at a reasonable distance, so rather than make one big push to Denver in one day, I figured this is exactly what Warmshowers is for. I put out a request to a host in Conifer, and we were warmly welcomed, as long as we brought wine. After getting a little emotional at Kenosha Pass, where we were at 10,000 feet for the last time, we stopped at Pine Junction to pick up a couple bottles, which I volunteered James to carry. Then we made our way to our hosts’ house.
Our hosts were amazing people with incredible stories about their travels all around the world. We could not possibly have asked for more fun and kind hosts. They treated us to an amazing dinner and then we did Tim Tam Slams – something I’d often heard about but never tried. I was having so much fun, James picked up on the fact that I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t even realize it myself, but apparently having a real roof over my head made me extremely happy. Our hosts took off after breakfast to go for a bike ride themselves, but they welcomed us to stay for as long as we would like. We didn’t have too far to go, and it was mostly downhill, so I stayed on the deck drinking coffee for as long as I could. James was patient.
So finally, on Saturday, we rolled into Denver. As we approached the city on the bike path, we encountered a whole lot of people out doing their weekend recreating, and so many of them wanted to talk! Which was excellent, we weren’t in any rush, and I was excited to talk about Be the Match because I had a drive to go to on Monday at the children’s hospital.
But first things first, we had to get James situated to fly out, which meant that we had to figure out how to ship his bike to Albuquerque. It’s hilarious that we could ride our bikes from Cortez to Denver, but it was that last mile, trying to get to the FedEx office in Denver, that was the major obstacle. First, James went to REI to pick up a bike box. Which, as you can imagine, is enormous. Then we had to get the bike box and the bike and all of James’ stuff to the FedEx office. I locked up my bike and offered to walk James’ bike while he carried the enormous box. The bike paths were flooded, though, and there was a big festival going on in the surrounding area. I couldn’t help but laugh as I saw James try to push his way through the crowds with his giant box. No matter how he held it, it blocked his vision, and people all around him were ducking him and giving him looks. He escaped to the flooded bike path, thinking that he could wade through the water while holding the bike box over his head. I didn’t want to try that and thought it would be easier to push my way through the crowds with his bike. Looking back on it, we should have come up with a different solution. But as it turned out, I ended up having to get back on the main roads, which meant carrying his bike and all his gear up a flight of stairs. Good thing his bike is lighter than mine, I don’t think I could have done that with Lutz. And thank goodness for CrossFit.
In the end, we got the job done. And we got to use Denver’s bikeshare program! I borrowed a bike to get back to REI (via a reasonable route) to recover my own, rode back to James, and then he borrowed one so that we could ride to get sandwiches at Snarf’s. And there were stops for beer before and after because we’re in Denver. There are more breweries here than ABC stores in Hawaii. We stayed out pretty late waiting for his friend Jordan to get off work, then crashed at his apartment.
Sunday we went to a place that Jordan described as his favorite place for breakfast. I think James and I were both anticipating a low-key locals’ secret place, but instead we found ourselves in a pretty trendy restaurant. The food was delicious! Then Jordan took James off to the airport and I found my way to my friend Matt’s house. I’ve known Matt since I was ten years old and he was in college hanging around my sister. He’s the guy who would stick a toothbrush in his pocket and disappear for a week or six. But when I arrived at his house he was doing yard work, and then he gave me a drink and stuck a coaster under it. He’s married and a father now, and I feel like I’ve entered some alternate universe.
He and his wife Charmaine totally spoiled me and I spent a lot of time napping. It’s been a while since my body has completely rebelled against me and demanded that we do nothing but just lie down.
Monday June 29th was when I was meeting up with the Colorado recruiters for Be the Match through Bonfils Blood Center. They were holding a drive at Colorado Children’s Hospital, and afterwards a couple people were going to come to chat with me and get some pictures while a doctor took me on a tour of their transplant center. It was a great honor to have this kind of opportunity. Dr. Amy Keating showed us all around the clinic, and even though I always knew that this is ultimately where I am hoping to make a difference, it was very different to see it for myself. Seeing the rooms where children would have to spend weeks or even months broke my heart. Dr. Keating took me in to meet one young patient, Isaiah, pictured at the top of this post, who is recovering from the transplant he received from his donor in Germany. Out of everyone on the registry, only one matched him perfectly. Dr. Keating described the tension she feels in these situations, when all hope rests on just one person, and how frequently the requested donor is not able to follow through with the donation. For myself, I couldn’t help but wonder how the donor heard about the registry, and how easily he could have shrugged it off, thinking that chances were low that he would ever be called, or that he didn’t have 15 minutes to spare that day to fill out the paperwork, or that the whole thing just didn’t sound like something he wanted to get involved in. How many people have I passed on the road and not talked to? How many of them would have signed up to be donors if they’d only known that the registry existed, or if they’d just received a reminder to get around to it? How many of them might be the one needed to save a child like Isaiah? Right now the burden seems heavy to carry, but there’s only one thing I can do to make it lighter, and that’s to just keep going. Dr. Keating thanked me repeatedly for what I’m doing, and I do nothing compared to what she does, standing by these children’s sides even when there is nothing that can be done for them. As she said, though, without the donors, she wouldn’t be able to do her life-saving work. So I’ll keep riding.