Scott and I had shared a room at the Super 8 in Kremmling. After getting in pretty late, we slept a little late and had the continental breakfast by 8:15AM. After checking out, we went back across the street to the gas station for supplies, then hit the road.
I was pretty excited about the day. After 12 days of temperature ups and downs in the mountains, today would be the day that we left the Rockies and made our way to the plains. With 160 miles to Cañon City, we shouldn’t have an issue getting there.
Out of town and down the highway, we came across road construction. It wasn’t the first stretch of dirt/gravel along the route, but I remember it being pretty chunky. Soon we were through it and came across the turn to go around Green Mountain Reservoir. I love that stretch of quite road. It is a nice respite from the busy main highway.
Back on the main road and headed toward Silverthorne, I found my stride and was rolling. Very soon Scott was nowhere to be seen behind me. I recognized that I was pushing a bit and wanted to make sure I had plenty to climb Hoosier Pass, so I backed it down a notch or two. Before long, I found the city limits and a gas station to stop at. I figured Scott would be right along soon, which he was. We then headed out in search of the post office.
With the impending summit of Hoosier Pass just down the road past Breckenridge, we would be getting out of the mountains and thus getting away from the cold temps. The prior year, I had watched Facebook and seen how most of the riders sent all their cold weather gear home in Pueblo. All along, I had planned that if I got to Silverthorne early in the day, I would send my cold gear back there, loosing several pounds of weight nearly 200 miles before others intended to send their stuff home. I had the idea that this would be a pretty good advantage.
To the post office we went and I sent it all. Coat, gloves, sock hat, balaclava, leg warmers, shoe covers- everything went, plus a few miscellaneous things like maps that I was done with and so on. If I remember right, the package weighed nearly 3 pounds. I was ecstatic! This would make me fly! The only clothing I kept was my base layer shirt and my rain jacket. I did hold on to my sleeping quilt. Good thing.
On through Silverthorne and down the trails around Dillon Reservoir we went. Then the trails to Breckenridge. By the time we got to Breck, I was famished. I also needed to find a bike shop and get a new tire- my back one was shot. Scott had a pedal problem and needed the shop as well. We found a shop and took care of our business. It seemed to take quite awhile, but we got it done. Being mid June, Breck was bustling with tourists. We needed to eat, but I really wanted to just go. I wanted to make sure I put some space between me and upper elevations before it got too late (read: cold). We found a burger joint on the main drag, Downstairs at Eric’s, that a friend of mine had raved about before.
The restaurant was fine. I ate well, but found myself frustrated with the service. I am sure it was just me and my desire to get moving. Soon enough we were done and leaving, but the day was slipping away from me. It was now 4:00PM.
As we left town, we found a gas station for supplies. That is code for candy bars, soda, gatorade, beef jerky, peanut butter crackers. Namely anything you can shove in your pockets or bags. We got ready to leave and it hit me- I needed to hit the john. Scott took off and I went inside to heed the call. After doctoring up my bum, I left and started climbing, looking for Scott. I found him quick, just a mile or so up the road. He had stopped again to adjust his gear. We settled in riding together, headed over Hoosier.
The climb up from Breck is only about 10 miles. It is a steady, easy grade for the first 6-7 miles, then it turns up for the last 3 or so, gaining roughly 2000′ in total. Compounding that is the fact that Breck is at about 9600′ to begin with, so the climb to the top takes your breathe. At 11542′, Hoosier is up there.
I soon found myself in a groove and started to pull away from Scott. I had started the climb in a similar gearing to his so that I could try to keep pace with him. I was amped up though and just kept making ground. I wanted to make this last climb of the Rockies count so I kept on the throttle. My legs and lungs burned, but I was determined. Head phones in and jamming to some hoppin tunes, I used what Scott had taught me about finding a rhythm and sticking to it to cruise on up the climb. I never slowed down or put a foot down. When I made the last turn and saw the summit, I roared out loud like a beast!!!!! I felt so accomplished in that moment. It was certainly a highlight of the trip.
Shortly Scott came around the corner and I cheered him on and videoed him as he rode up the final pitch. We shared high fives and smiles, then got some great photos.
We didn’t stay long at the top and began our descent. I was all conflicted. On one hand, we had just summited the highest pass on the Trans Am. What a cool thing! On the other, I had no cold gear and we were 90 miles from Cañon City. If the winds were favorable and we stayed on it, we could cover that distance in about 5-6 hours. If things didn’t go as planned, it could be longer. Either way, it was after 5:00PM and we needed to stop for some food at some point. It would be a late night. Hopefully the temps would hold up after dark.
We screamed down to Alma and stopped at a shop in town. We grabbed some food, filled bottles and asked the keeper about the bar & grill in Hartsel, about 30 miles down the road. We thought that would be a good spot to grab some food, not a midpoint, but about as close as we could find on the map. She called them and verified that they would leave the grill on so we could eat when we got there. Nice!
We started busting it down the road, headed for Hartsel. We flew through Fairplay and at the turn just outside of town toward Hartsel, the wind picked up. Unfortunately, NOT a tailwind. Another demoralizing headwind blew and blew. The inclination of the road was trending downhill, but we were pedaling for all we had, just as if we were climbing. The source of the wind, a storm that was pushing over the ridge from the west, looked to make things difficult for us in more ways than just the wind. All we could do was hustle and hope to stay dry.
We rolled into Hartsel about 7:45PM, just as it started to sprinkle. There isn’t much there, but the first thing we saw was a gas station. We stopped in and grabbed supplies for what was obviously going to be a very long night ahead. Then we went down the road a bit to the bar & grill to grab some food.
The Hartsel bar seemed like the kind of place that could be a bit seedy. Locals sat around a couple tables, sipping their beers. Not much goes on in the little town, so we were fodder for people watching. The young man behind the bar was also the cook and knew what we wanted right away. He got us cokes and took our orders, then went to the back to get things cooking.
Food showed up and we ate. Soon another cyclist came in. He was a northbound Tour Divide guy. The divide crosses the Trans Am here and he was doing the same as us- loading up on food and waiting out the storm. We chatted a bit and got his story. I hate to say it, but I don’t remember much of what he said. I was too wound up thinking of the 60 miles ahead added to the impending rain and dropping temps outside.
Soon enough, Adam showed up too. He had stayed in the saddle and closed the gap on us, only to be in the same predicament. He ordered food and drink. We all sat together and chatted, discussing the radar and what to do. In the end, we decided that since we didn’t have cold gear, or at least some of us didn’t, we would hole up for a few hours and wait out the storm. The radar showed that if we left right then, we would get hammered just south of town a ways. The Divide racer went his way, Scott, myself and Adam headed to the post office to pull a Mike Hall.
Mike Hall is a very accomplished endurance racer who, among many other races, won the inaugural TABR in 2014. One of his tricks was to carry light gear and sleep inside when possible, however, not always in a hotel. Mike is known to have slept in vault toilets in bear country (because they are secure. You can lock yourself in) and quite a few times he has been found in US post offices. They are always open and seem to be fairly secure.
The three of us found the modern facility all lit up, open and deserted. We brought our bikes in, leaned them against the walls and proceed to crash out in our sleeping gear on the floor. It wasn’t exactly comfortable and certainly brighter than I preferred under the ample fluorescents, but we weren’t wet or cold. We laid down about 9:30 and set our alarms for 2 hours.
I didn’t sleep well at all. My sleeping system was flawed from the get go on this trip and I was just not able to find a way to sleep much on the concrete floor with my 1/4″ foam pad. I got a little bit of rest and woke before my alarm went off. One of the other alarms went off and the three of us got up, packed up and headed out into the cold night. I put on all I had- my base layer and my ultralight rain jacket. Fingers crossed.
It didn’t take long to realize what we had in store. Now near midnight and still at a fairly high elevation (8864′), it was cold. My guess is upper 30’s. I had hoped that I would warm up as I rode, but the route was heading downhill. Every once in awhile there would be a little incline, but not enough to warm up with. I was freezing. I stopped at one point to put a spare pair of socks on my hands. I then took a rag I had, cut it in half and shoved a half down in each of the socks to act as some insulation. Back on the road, I quickly found that it wasn’t going to work. Scott had stopped with me and Adam had ridden on. Each of us just wanted to get down.
Fifteen miles out of Hartsel, Scott and I stopped along the side of the road and got out our sleeping stuff- he his bag and me my quilt. I needed to try to get warm. It didn’t work. My 45 degree quilt just wasn’t enough to make a difference in temps that were headed toward the freezing mark. I would not get any colder with it around me per se, but I couldn’t warm up. Frustrated, we took off again, hoping to tough it out. After about 6 miles, I was shivering and couldn’t feel my hands. We stopped again and I tried to warm up with the quilt, once more to no avail. My mind started having thoughts of what was going to happen. How cold was I? Was hypothermia a potential risk? I didn’t want to over-dramatize the situation, but I wanted to be real. This wasn’t good.
A check of the map showed that we were still 40 miles from Cañon City. Another look and I noticed the little burg of Guffey, just 7 miles away. Although a mile off route, we decided to head there, realizing that there was a high probability that we wouldn’t find anything available at 2:30 in the morning. I felt like I needed to take the chance and see if I could find shelter.
Back on the bikes again and downhill toward who knew what. It only took a second for the cold to go through me. Shivering and aching from it, I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to hold onto the bars and crash. As the minutes and miles ticked away, I was barely surviving. Finally we saw the sign- Guffey 1 mile. We turned up the road that direction. It was a long mile! Eventually, we saw a few lights ahead. Rolling into the little one-horse town at 2:30AM, it seemed like no one lived there. No signs of any shelter at all.
Then, there it was- US Post Office. Hallelujah! I was never so excited to see a bunch of metal boxes in my life. We quickly got inside and found that is was nice and warm. Like manna from heaven. Just like we had at Hartsel, we strung out our sleeping gear on the floor and tried to sleep. This time, sleep found me. Not great sleep, but sleep, none the less. 130 miles was all we made on the day. Highs and lows were had, both in reality and figuratively. It was nice to be past Hoosier, but the reality was I was now another 70 miles behind. What to do, what to do.