Marshall Pass is part of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and when I saw other cyclist I realized that I hadn’t seen another cyclist since Silt and was all sorts of excited but they had obviously seen a lot of other cyclist and just kept rolling along. I like chatting with fellow cyclist who are out on tour, I like checking out their bikes and their baggage selections, there are as many different choices out here as there are people to choose them. I always forget to ask them the important question that I wanted to ask, but I’m getting used to that now. I look on them as a source of entertainment rather than a source of information.

I saw even more cyclist as I dropped down into Salida but by the time I reached the pavement they had stopped waving back at me. I hit all of my resupply stops in methodical order and then carried all of it down to the park by the river to repack everything. A tall fellow sipping out of a can of beer comes over to check out my setup and I like him immediately. I tell him about my route and he listens fascinated, exclaiming along with me “Cool!, No way!”, but when I showed him my solar panel charging my phone he gets excited and calls his kids over to check it out. The kids give it a knowing nod and declare, ”We could have used one of those.” I don’t tell them how it gets cloudy every time I pull it out but it’s hard to remember what clouds are like when we are standing in the blazing sunlight.

 

Aspen Ridge Road

Camping With The Cows

Hagerman Pass

Climbing up the Ute Trail out of Salida the sun is relentless and it is the hottest day of my entire tour but after the summer we had it’s really not that bad. On the way up to the Aspen Ridge I use my granny gear for the first time, it is just a short section of loose and steep, but I had been wondering whether I was going to need it at all on this trip. After dropping off the ridge I pedal across mile after mile of perfect rolling gravel roads, a little up and down, some trees and some meadows, there was even a clear creek where I stopped for water. I made my way into the southern end of South Park and climbed up to the summit of Trout Creek Pass where I connected with Highway 285. The highway was full of weekend traffic heading back to Denver and within the first mile or so I’m already having a small meltdown. “Whose idea was this?” I shout out loud over the roar of traffic, knowing good and well whose idea this was. I just wanted to take a direct route to Weston Pass and I thought burning a few mile of highway would be the quickest option. Looking out over the expanse of South Park I’m thinking there has to be some dirt roads out there. I don’t care how much further it is and how much longer it takes I am never riding down the side of this highway again. It is not just the trauma of going from desolate dirt roads to hectic pavement, this is the kind of road that I would never ride in the first place, even hardened roadies would shake their heads at it. Turning off onto the Weston Pass road I keep stomping on the pedals until I reach the National Forest and am out of earshot of the highway. After a long break I climbed my way up the pass and made camp just short of the summit.

I have learned a lot about picking a good campsite over the years. I like to set up somewhere that is level, has some early morning sun and when I sit down I like to have everything arranged so that I don’t have to get back up again. While I managed to arrange my stuff nicely the levelness and the morning sun were lacking in my campsite choice. I slept well despite sliding downhill all night but when I woke up I realized that I should have looked harder for a sunny spot. The elevation at my campsite was over 11,000 feet and it was cold, real cold. The frost across the top of my poncho was thick, my water was frozen and my old friend Mr. Sun was not going to be making an appearance from behind the ridge any time soon. The one thing I had going for me was I had filled my cooking pot with water the night before for oatmeal, the water in the pot had a thick coating of ice on it, but there is nothing better than a hot breakfast on a cold morning. I did push-ups while I was cooking to stay warm, more push-ups while I packed up camp and jumping jacks after my hands went numb stuffing my frost covered poncho into its bag. I did what I could to suppress the shivering when I got on my bike but in another smart bit of campsite location I had camped at the bottom of a hill, you want to be going uphill first thing in the morning, not down.

I had to get off and hike a little on the way to the summit. It was steep, it was rough and it was loose, but to put it lightly, I just wasn’t warmed up. By the time I made the summit I was warm and wanted to make coffee but it was windy and my water was still frozen so I plunged off the other down to the Arkansas River valley just south of Leadville. I tried to take a route through the valley that was mostly dirt and avoided the highway, but that route was poorly signed and rather convoluted so there may be a re-route here and a few miles of highway on the way to Turquoise Lake.  I stopped overlooking the lake and made coffee while I dried out my camping gear. Sometimes it pays to stuff everything wet and then dry it out later in the day. If I had tried to dry everything back on Weston Pass it would have taken hours, while in the mid-morning sun it took about 15 minutes.

Hagerman Pass

Crooked Creek Pass

Crooked Creek Pass

 Turquoise Lake is the start of Hagerman Pass which is a historic railroad grade that crosses the Continental Divide. About halfway up the Leadville side of the pass the railroad grade goes through a tunnel that is now used for water diversion and the above ground version of the pass turns into a rugged jeep road which qualifies as the roughest section of the entire Colorado Route, it is also the highest point of the Colorado Route at 11,925 feet above sea level making for an excellent challenge. While the Leadville side is rough the Frying Pan Basin side is longer, rougher and looser; and that is just the jeep trail above the railroad grade. Once I got to the railroad grade the pass continued descending downward and would have descended further if I hadn’t turn on to the Crooked Creek Pass road.

The sign at the start of Crooked Creek Pass makes it clear: Impassable When Wet. This whole section of the Colorado Route from here to Gypsum Creek should be considered impassable when wet. As a connoisseur of all things dirty I can tell you that the mud on Crooked Creek Pass is the kind that turns slicker than whale snot after a good downpour and if you should ignore the well placed sign and my advice and try pushing your bike up the road you will probably slip and land on your face at some point. The mud over on Gypsum Creek is very different and will simply bring you to a full stop by coating your tires with mud until you can no longer turn your wheel. The Powerline road which connects these two impassable sections is rideable in the wet, although it will be a sloppy mess.

When I got to the Powerline Road I had already ridden over three large mountain passes and was starting to show some wear but I wanted to push on a little further. The road proceeded to climb straight up toward the sky and then plunge straight back down in a way that at first made no sense to me at all. I was starting to have a little meltdown as I crested yet another wall of a climb asking out loud “Who the hell designed this road?” when I looked over at the powerlines stretching off into the distance and then it hit me, of course the Powerline Road. The road is just going from one pylon to the next and as I looked off into the distance I could see that my next hour of riding was going to involve some suffering, which I’m okay with. When I got to my next turn to drop down into Gypsum Creek I went the wrong way at first because I just assumed that I would continue climbing forever and the idea that I was allowed to go downhill hadn’t even occurred to me. I made camp at the bottom of that first hill and treated myself to double dessert after dinner.

Hagerman Pass

Crooked Creek Pass

Colorado River Road

It rained most of the night but it never came down too hard, if it had decided to really pour I would have been walking through the grass for the first few miles because this section is clearly impassable when wet in a way that will not only fill your wheels with mud but will also ruin your drivetrain, bearings and cables. There were a couple of people camping down at the point where the gravel road fill stopped and that would have been the smart place to camp on a rainy night. It rained off and on as I dropped down into Gypsum for a quick resupply and then dried up as I crossed I-70 and made my way up the Trail Gulch Road which has an awesome high desert feel to it and may be impassable when wet or it may just be a muddy mess if it rains a lot. From the high point of the road I could see dark clouds up ahead and when I got to the Colorado River Road I sat down for a long break to keep from catching up to those dark clouds. It turned out to be a stroke of genius because for the next 40 miles the road was soaked with rain water while I received just a few drops. I was speckled with mud but managed to avoid the deluge.

The Colorado River Road ends at Highway 131 and the Colorado Route takes a somewhat treacherous two and a half miles of highway down to the Copper Spur Road. While it would have been quicker and easier to follow the highway down to State Bridge and the Trough Road I feel like a busy highway with no shoulder and a high speed limit should be avoided at all costs. The Copper Spur Road doesn’t add much in the way of miles but it does add about a thousand vertical feet of climbing to the Route. On the plus side you ride right past the excellent Yarmony Spring which is gushing away on the side of the road. The thing that you don’t want to do is take the wrong turn at the top of the hill like I did. I can navigate with a dead reckoning skill that rivals anyone I know. Whether stomping through dense forest, skiing through whiteout conditions or biking around the state I am the person that you want to do the navigating, so when I was faced with three different choices at the top of the hill I looked at the mountains around me, correctly identified where Radium was and started off in that direction. I was on the wrong side of the mountain that I was supposed to ride around but I was going in the right direction. I remained in deep denial about my mistake until I had almost reached the Colorado River and by then it was too late to turn around with the mud on that bit of jeep trail being barely rideable and the rain starting to come down. I ended up walking along the railroad tracks for a few miles until I reached the Trough Road feeling deeply embarrassed about my mistake the whole time. Radium is only a day’s ride from my home and I intend to go back in the spring and recontour this section of the Colorado Route so I can provide pictures, diagrams and better GPS information for future tourists.

Follow The Dirty Roads

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