Cottonwood Pass

SALIDA, COLORADO

This was the day I dreaded. My legs failed me on Monday over the Grand Mesa and didn’t do so hot on Tuesday. Today was a planned 102 mile day to Salida over the 12000′ Cottonwood Pass.  On dirt. I watched the pros race this and I wasn’t looking forward to it.

I stayed at Mount Crested Butte which sits at 9,375 feet (2,858 m). It was cold, 41 degrees, when I rolled out of the condo down to Crested Butte. Once on the road after Crested Butte I was passing 10 times more people than passed me. And when one guy did pass me, I jumped on his wheel and said “let’s work.”  A third joined us and we were flying. The first 21 miles I covered in 55 minutes (22 mph).

The beautiful Taylor River
The beautiful Taylor River

At Almont everything broke up at the rest stop. I didn’t stop but kept going. As usual, the lines at the porta-johns were huge as they always are for the first stop of the day. Too huge. I only went a couple of miles before I found my own rest stop in the national forest. Not trees but a park service outhouse. Others soon followed me in my discovery.

I rode my own pace up to the Taylor Park Reservoir. I felt a knot in my left calf. I was worried this may become a full blown cramp. I’ve never sagged but the thought that I might have to weighed on my mind.

I stopped and talked to three fishermen and then to a fourth who had a 10-month old Labrador named Milton. Right after the reservoir and a dreaded descent (because we gave back a lot of our elevation gain) I stopped at the Taylor Park Trading Post aid station. I met a man working on his Smoothie. I asked if it would help and he said he swears by them. I bought a Smoothie.

Taylor River and the climb to the Reservior
Taylor River and the climb to the Reservoir

After the Smoothie headache subsided I began the dreaded climb. There were two miles of pavement then a turn onto Cottonwood Pass. The road was dirt but packed hard in many places. Mostly I could find a line. Four guys passed me and I decided to try and keep count. How bad would this be? I would count how many times I got passed and how few times I passed others.

Climbing Cottonwood Pass
Climbing Cottonwood Pass

I was all over that road, finding a hard pack line where I could, often in the left lane. But traffic was scarce and if one could see a car coming our way they were quick to warn us. I passed a young couple who were moving from Austin to Portland and biking there. Their bikes were loaded down but they had smiles on their faces.

Atop Cottonwood
Atop Cottonwood

I soon realized I was going faster than most riders. The count kept getting higher and when I came to the aid station which was seven miles up this 14 mile climb I kept going without stopping. My legs actually felt great.

Rest stop at Cottonwood Pass
Rest stop at Cottonwood Pass

I was probably 10th wheel coming up on a photo op and I didn’t want to appear to be off the back when I had just made contact with these folks. I powered by them and may have been too fast for the camera. The photographer complimented me on my pace.

Bike rack on Cottonwood
Bike rack on Cottonwood

In all, I passed 228 cyclists while getting passed by 10. I felt great! 228:10. Wow!

The knot in my calf worked itself out for once on the climb I never noticed it again. One must consider that while I rode my own pace getting to Taylor Park that the strongest riders had already passed me by before starting the climb. Whatever. I come to the Rockies not to be measured against others but against myself and I simply felt great and ready to bomb the descent.

My plan since I had seen the route and knew my lodging location was in Buena Vitsa and not Salida was to simply make it over the mountain to Buena Vista. That would make it an 80 mile day. I would add the 26 missing miles from Buena Vista to Salida to tomorrow’s route and turn that 66-mile day into a 92 mile day.

The sweeping curves at the top of Cottonwood Pass
The sweeping curves at the top of Cottonwood Pass

As I approached Buena Vista I did not turn with the RTR route but instead went to the Super 8 and checked in. I offloaded my vest, leg and arm warmers, and gloves and thought “I feel great.” Not that I needed encouragement but my backpack which contained my shoes and glasses was missing at the Super 8 so if I called it a day I had no shoes or reading glasses. I decided to ride to Salida.

I was by myself. The official route cut a little diagonal on the route and had turned off earlier although would later connect. Didn’t matter. I felt great. I caught a couple of riders up the road then rode with them. Their helmets were covered in yellow with a red feather. They looked like chickens “so their support team could find the easier.” This was Maria from San Diego and Melinda from Denver. They told me the next day they would be Angry Birds. I never saw them again.

We finished. 106 miles. I felt good enough in the moment to ride another 106 miles. Of course I didn’t. But winds kicked up hard just then so I boarded a bus to take me back to Buena Vista, leaving my bike in the bike corral. What a day to feel great. It was the best I felt over distance in a year. And it left me wondering that maybe there’s something to sleeping at 9000′.


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