Average speed: 9.3 mph
Vertical gain: 2,848 ft.
Maximum elevation: 11,312 ft.
This was quite a day! I wept at the top, then had a grin from ear-to-ear for the entire 20 mile downhill run!
I awoke early this morning. The temperature was in the low 30s. There was a glaze of frost on the picnic table outside my tent. It was easy to stay in my warm sleeping bag for an extra hour. Also, the cafe did not open until 7. I had breakfast at the cafe, a delicious cheese omelette, then packed up. However, I dawdled, because I wanted to give my phone time to charge, and also I wanted my tent to dry out better. In any event, I finally started peddling at 10:20.
The temperature had warmed to about 60, and it was a beautiful day. In anticipation of the upcoming elevation and the attendant cold, I was wearing my tights for the first time on this trip while riding, rather than my white solar leggings. (I have worn the tights often as long underwear under my long pants in the evening.)
I will admit to feeling more than a little apprehension about the day’s ride. Anytime you go over 11,000 feet, it presents a special set of challenges. Not only the weather, but the duration and steepness, and also the lack of oxygen.
Still, I feel I can do almost any climb if it’s the first climb of the day. And that proved true today. The route consisted of a 10 mile climb, followed by 22 miles of all downhill.
It was a beautiful Colorado Rocky Mountain day!
However, as I approached the top, within the last few miles, I could feel the exhaustion and elevation affecting me. I was almost exclusively walking. Even when the slope moderated a bit so I could pedal, I was feeling more than a little bit unsteady on the bike due to dizziness. This was not vertigo dizziness, but low blood pressure and exhaustion dizziness.
Between road signs and Google Maps, I had a very good handle on where I was in the climb, and when the climb would be over. It is much easier for me when I know where I am and how much further I have to go. It also eliminates the letdown of false peaks.
I finally reached the summit! To my surprise, I was overcome with emotion and exhaustion, and started to weep uncontrollably. I leaned my bike against the top monument and sat there for 10 or 15 minutes, before I could move or talk.
There is a gondola to take visitors to the tippy top of the mountain, and a large gift shop. I sat outside the gift shop for another 20 minutes, still trying to recover.
Finally I was able to go inside and look around. In addition to the usual trinkets and tchotchkes, there is actually a very interesting display of stuffed animals. I learned that pronghorn antelopes are the fastest mammal in North America. I thought they were running awfully fast!
All in all, I was at the summit for about an hour. I drank a lot, but ate nothing. I really wanted to get to a lower elevation. So when I felt like I was able to ride, I got on the bike and rode downhill about two miles, where I found a nice spot to stop take a break, have a snack, and fully recover.
The rest of the ride was sheer joy! The bike was stable and steady, when there were no crosswinds. I exceeded 40 mph. However, when the wind got squirrely, I had to slow down to 30 or so. Not so bad.
I had intended to stop in Poncha Springs, but there was nothing there. So I rode on to Salida, where I am now checked into a cheap motel, with a good Mexican restaurant next door. I love it.
I am undecided about tomorrow. At the minimum, I will go 24 miles to a KOA in Johnson Village. It is mostly uphill, but no huge climbs. If I’m feeling able, I may tack on an additional 30 uphill miles to the town of Fairplay.
We will find out tomorrow.