On Thursday, we decided to skip riding to Crested Butte and instead opt for the much-less trafficked Ohio pass road. What a great ride! 5 miles of bike path, 15 miles of quiet pavement, then another 10 of dirt that led us up towards the 10000 foot pass, all through another amazing valley! We found a nice campsite on a ridge about 500 feet below the pass and turned in early.
On Wednesday morning we had two decent 1000 foot climbs and then got a nice long descent back into the high desert and the gunnison river. We followed the cottonwood-lined river up to the city of Gunnison – the largest town we’d seen since Taos! We decided to get another hotel and live it up in the city, though the brewery was inexplicably closed so we made due with an outdoor pub attached to a pizza place. We also realized that we were way ahead of schedule and only had to average 25 miles per day to catch our train!
On Tuesday morning (brr!) we made breakfast on the pass, and then took off on the bikes for an 800 foot descent before beginning the 5 mile climb up to Slumgullion Pass – 11,530 feet. The climb wasn’t too bad, especially since the scenery was so gorgeous – aspen-covered mountains as far as the eye could see. Morgan joined us on the ascent while Joey drove the welcome wagon. We finally made it to the top, and Morgan and Joey switched off as we took off down one of the most amazing descents I’ve done -3000 feet over 10 miles, with smooth pavement and wide turns and beautiful views the whole way down. Eventually we made it into Lake City, but not before spying a moose across the canyon!
We lunched in Lake City before saying goodbye to Morgan and Joey, who needed to return to Albuquerque for Joey’s sister’s wedding. Andrew and I piddled around for a bit – visiting the bakery twice! – before heading down the road on a gentle descent before we came to a nice BLM campground on the river.
We woke up in Creede, had a great breakfast across the street from our motel, did some shopping, and headed out on the road. A great day of riding along the wide valley of the Rio Grande. Got some ice cream at a resort, then began a long climb up to the Continental Divide. It also looked like we were about to encounter the first real weather of the trip – at one point it seemed like we were surrounded by dark rain clouds, but somehow managed to keep relatively clear skies above us and only had a few sprinkles.
A mile from the top and we spotted a familiar minivan – Morgan and Joey hath returned! They had done a road trip to Silverton and the million dollar highway, to raving reviews. Unfortunately, Joey was still on the DL, so he stayed in the van while Morgan rode with us to Spring Creek pass (10,898 feet) on the divide, where we made camp for the night. Certainly a chilly night up that high, but it was worth it for the views! From now on, our pee flows to the Pacific!
Andrew and I woke up on Sunday, had breakfast, and immediately got to work on our next obstacle: Elwood Pass, at over 11,600 feet. We had 1600 feet to climb over 8 miles of dirt road through more stunning mountain wilderness. We kept a solid pace and soon found ourselves making a victory lunch (only some of which was accidentally spilled) overlooking an alpine meadow. We then had over 3000 feet of glorious, bumpy decent over 19 miles to get us back to paved highway. Thankfully the road down was in great condition, with very little washboard, so we were able to keep our speed up as we raced down the mountainside.
Once we made it back to smooth pavement, we had an easy ride into the town of south fork where a pizza joint/taproom awaited us. After gorging ourselves, we decided it was still early, and we should just go for the extra 22 miles to the next town of Creede. A few hours of more great riding though canyons carved by the Rio Grande, and we were checking in to the first motel of the trip. We showered, did laundry, hosed off the bikes, ordered takeout, and watched Beetlejuice before falling into a very comfortable sleep.
On Saturday, we had another chilly morning – when I was shaking of the condensation from my tend, it looked like it was snowing. We decided that Morgan’s van wasn’t going to make it over the dirt road passes on our route, so Morgan and Joey drove off on a road trip to eventually meet us on the other side, while Andrew and I set off on the 50 miles of unpaved road that would take us deep into the San Juan mountains. It was slow going, especially when the road turned into washboard and our bikes would rumble and shake like a cartoon character who drank too much coffee. We got many a strange look from hunters passing by in their pickups and ATVs as we slowly – our average was less than 6 mph – climbed the 20 miles to the outfitter town of Platoro, at just under 10,000 feet. Yes, it was hard, yes, it was slow… but it was amazing. Everywhere we turned there was a beautiful mountain view, dotted with yellows and golds as the aspen had just begun to turn, as we followed the Conejos up to its source.
Once we made it to Platoro, we downed a pizza and some cobbler at the restaurant in town (alongside some Amish hunters), and then began slogging our way up the first of two passes on this leg, Stunner Pass at 10,500 feet. We made it to the top, and then began a bumpy ride down into a gorgeous valley to where we made camp at just under 10000 feet. We made dinner, chatted with some of our campsite neighbors, and then bundled up in our tents for another chilly night.
Friday morning opened up with a delicious breakfast from the Chili Line Depot, followed by some logisticizing about where to safely leave Morgan’s car (the waiter had a friend who was willing to keep it in her driveway). Once that was worked out, the bums were off, four strong! …for about 6 miles. It turns out some gremlins had made a home in Joey’s knee, and rather than risk it, Morgan and Joey headed back to the van to meet us further up the road.
Andrew and I had a great, flat ride flying across the desert, making quick work of the 30 miles to the train-themed town of Antonito (crossing into colorful Colorado along the way), where we met back up with our companions. After lunch and shopping, the 3 non-injured cyclists took off east along the Conejos river, while Joey took on the role of sag-wagon driver. The route along the river was amazing, as the landscape slowly transitioned from desert scrub to mountain forest, and we soon found ourselves surrounded by towering peaks speckled with golden aspen.
Eventually, we turned off the highway and onto the dirt road that would take us 55 miles across the wilderness. A few miles up, and we found an amazing camping spot on the river. Set up camp, dip in the river, cook dinner, some stargazing, and it was the end of another great day of biking!
Ok, so much to catch up on… On Thursday morning, we made ‘bike touring delight’ for breakfast (eggs, veggies, cheese, and salsa), and then headed out from Questa towards the Rio Grande gorge. After a few miles of rollers on the highway, we turned off on a dirt road that took us on a gorgeous descent along a creek that started as a green valley and then became a steep-walled canyon before joining the Rio Grande at the John Dunn bridge. There we parked our bikes and hiked to the amazing black rock hot springs, which are right on the river so you can go back and forth between the cold river water and hot pools. Absolutely beautiful.
After we finished soaking, we rode up a steep series of switchbacks to get to the top of the other side of the gorge. From there, it was several miles of fantastic dirt road across the empty desert – no traffic, no people, just us and a strip of dirt leading across the sagebrush to the horizon. Simply stunning. We did run into one guy parked in the middle of nowhere in his ‘green new deal’ bus – had a nice conversation with him and told him about the hot springs: “you don’t know it yet, but this is why you ended up here!”.
Eventually the dirt met back up with the highway, and it was about 20 more miles of lonely, empty desert riding until we finally got to the town of Tres Piedras. We had expected there to just be a gas station where we might get some water, but instead we were greeted with the Chili Line Depot, a restaurant/motel with amazing food and even better company. A true crossroads, the back patio collected a menagerie of folks – an old biker who was building his own house in the desert, a lady who knew a ton of facts about the town (but talked non-stop), a man travelling from Silverton to pick outlet covers (“this is the most people I’ve seen in months”), a young couple from Minnesota who were looking to buy their own desert plot, and troubedor escaping the smoke from Tahoe who played us a few tunes. All this, plus good milkshakes! We debated heading on into the night, but the owner told us we could set up our tents in the back if we came back for breakfast – Deal! We set up camp and waited for Morgan to show up in her minivan before turning in for the night.
Wednesday started with another chilly morning – frost on the tent! We started with another short climb and nice descent into the beautiful Moreno valley. We hung out in Eagle Nest, hoping for second breakfast, but nothing was open so we made due with gas station fare. Luckily, we killed enough time there that the brewery outside of town opened up just when we got there! After a tasty Comanche Creek pint, we were back riding through the valley and then up to bobcat pass – 9820′. Every pedal was worth it for the insane downhill run we had into Red River, where the second brewery of the day awaited! After loading up on beer and cheese curds, we had an easy ride through Red River canyon before ending the day in Questa, where we even got showers and clean laundry!
On Tuesday, we woke up to a chilly morning, made breakfast, and rolled out. We had a short climb, and then a fun, long descent into Taos. We got a delicious second breakfast there – green chili huevos rancheros and blue corn pancakes – and then began a quest to find Andrew a new tent, as one of his poles broke the night before. We weren’t able to find a new tent, but managed to get the friendly folks at Ace hardware to trim of the broken bit of the tent pole so it is still usable. Remember, bikebums fans, Ace is the Place!
After a grocery run, we headed out of Taos on the Enchanted Circle scenic byway, a loop of highways around mount Wheeler, New Mexico’s highest peak. We rode through some gorgeous scenery as we climbed, got our first sprinkles of rain, and finally found a nice little forest road to camp off of at 9000 feet. Had a tasty meal of curry and birthday cake, and then bundled up for a chilly night’s sleep.