Day 33 (cont.): Bamboo Riders
I walked into the hostel and the first person I saw was a guy I had rode with during one of the days I was in Kansas.
Marc is part of a team of four cyclists riding bamboo bikes across the country. They are supporting a new initiative to create bamboo as a cash crop in Alabama, and spent a week building their own bikes out of bamboo and carbon fiber.
Marc invited me to join the team for dinner in downtown Salida, and for the ride the next day. We ate and watched the fireworks that were launched from a nearby hilltop overlooking the dusty city.
We were surprised that they were still having fireworks displays, considering the general fireworks ban in the state due to wildfires. And we were equally surprised that nobody seemed concerned when the falling embers from the fireworks caused mini-fires to pop up on the hillside.
With three fire trucks parked next to the launch area, I guess they had it under control.
Day 34: Salida to Gunnison:
The next morning we set out for the trip’s highest climb. We would scale the Monarch Pass, an 11,500 foot pass over a portion of the Rocky Mountains that marked our crossing of the Continental Divide.
I would finally find out if the Rockies were easier to bike than the Appalachians, like almost everybody said.
We left Salida, and the roads were just barely noticably uphill for about 10 miles. I could see the snow capped peaks ahead of me as we entered the mountain valley.
We passed pine and aspen trees and the despite the morning progressing, the air temperature stayed in the mid sixties.
The grade increased to about six percent, and stayed at that level for the next twelve miles. As I climbed, I realized that this mountain was no big deal. I found the right gear and chugged away, finally reaching the top by noon.
The whole group joined up and we ate lunch on a picnic table at the top, with that gleeful excitement only felt when one knows that a 10 mile downhill awaits them.
After having our fill of PB&J’s we rolled our bikes to the point of the Continental Divide, and started down.
I averaged 35 mph down the mountain, at some points having to slow down for cars.
The mountains opened up to wide valleys, flanked by hills and small mesas.
During the late afternoon, I experienced my first Colorado afternoon storm. I had been warned by my cousins that I should really get off the road around 2:00pm and hang out while the storms passed. But as 2:00 came, the next town was still 15 miles away. As we rode along, the clouds grew over the mountains to our South.
We made it to a store selling cowboy boots, still 12 miles away from Gunnison, our destination for the day.
I thought we had made it past the bad weather, so Marc and I headed for Gunnison. But it turned out I was wrong. A patch of black clouds hovered in the distance, seemingly directly overtop Gunnison. Then I watched as clear bolts of lightning zapped the ground beneath the clouds and that was enough to get me off the road.
As I pedaled, I looked frantically for some sort of shelter, and found it in a huge enclosure for storing hay. I waited there for the storm to pass, hoping that I wouldn’t meet the owner of the farm.
When the lightning calmed down, I continued towards Gunnison. We decided to continue on to a campground 10 miles further down the route, in the Curecanti National Recreation Area.
Following the Gunnison river as it wound through a small canyon, I felt amazed that one state could have such varied landscape within a relatively small area. Around every turn, there was a new incredible landscape to see, always different than the last. We camped by the Gunnison river, surrounded by mesas dotted by scrub.
Day 35: Gunnison to Hotchkiss:
After a slightly later than usual start, we headed down the road, following the river through the Curecanti National Recreational Area.
I figured I would probably have to head out on my own at some point today, since the group was not following the same route as me through Utah. They were planning to visit a non-profit in Green River, Utah and would head north through Grand Junction, Co.
We reached an intersection of two major westbound roads, and while chatting with a local at a convenience store, the group was told that they could reach Grand Junction by following Route 93, a winding scenic road through the Black Canyon.
If I was to continue my route, I would have to peel off and head southward. I was having a lot of fun with the Bamboo bikers, and I knew either way, I would eventually get to where I needed to be in western Utah.
I decided to deviate from my planned route and join them on their trip to Green River. We set off into the canyon. The rocky cliffs plunged almost vertically down hundreds of feet to the river below. It was hard to make good time, since the views were so incredible.
The road climbed to the top of the canyon and winded around, following its rim. To the south, there were the snow topped San Juan mountains, which created an incredible sight.
The road finally turned north and went out of the canyon. We stopped in Crawford, Co. for food and continued to our destination.
On the way to Hotchkiss, we again experienced the afternoon storm. It poured and we took shelter in a library. But the library closed eventually and we were kicked out, back into the storm.
During a lull in the rain, we set back out, but heading downhill to Hotchkiss, we saw another storm in the valley ahead.
Jason, another one of the bikers, convinced us that the lightning would only strike the mountains and hills around us, and that we were too low to be in danger. That was good enough for me, and we made it to Hotchkiss, camping in an RV park.