Thursday, June 25, 2009
Day 19 - Gunnison, CO to Salida, CO
"I lift my eyes up to the mountains, where does my help come from? It comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth..."- (Psalm 121:1-2) Today, I climbed a mountain. And, I reached the highest point of our Cross Country Challenge: 11,312 ft. above sea level. Today might have also been the highest point of my journey, experientially speaking.
Our departure this morning was through Gunnison's downtown where we stopped briefly at a coffee shop on Main St. for a second breakfast to supplement our hotel continental breakfast. It was a good day to have my first white mocha in quite a long time. I would need the caffeine to get me up and over Monarch Pass. That was our mid-ride destination. Monarch Pass is the highest point of Highway 50 between Gunnison and Salida, CO. The Continental Divide runs across Monarch Pass. And at 11,312 ft. elevation, I was concerned how the altitude would affect me.
The elevation profile for the ride showed about 30 miles of very slight incline until the real climbing began. From mile 33, we would climb nine straight miles and gain about 3,300 ft. That would be comparable to one climb on the hardest ride I've ever done, RAMROD: Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day. So, I had in mind that today would be a significant challenge and I was mentally prepared (read: "worried").
The initial 30 miles were not like the Colorado I've been imagining. It was beautiful, but not the Colorado prototype. We experienced green rolling hills, wide pastures and ranches. Sparkling creeks bubbled alongside stands of Aspen and conifers. Atop one hill was a flock of bighorn sheep and one solitary ram looking over all his ladies. He glared back at me when I took his photo as if to say, "You want a piece of me?" I did not, so I rode on.
At the first SAG stop, we pulled into Monarch Valley Ranch. I was at the back of the pack today due to lingering over coffee back in Gunnison. No worries. I was taking my time today and conserving all my energy for the long push up Monarch Pass. Just a few miles after the SAG stop was a country store in Sargents. I stopped to use some proper facilities (rather than the sagebrushes). While I was returning to my bike, two self-supported cyclists rolled up. This man and woman each had a mountain bike loaded with front and rear panniers, sleeping bag, and tent. I asked them where they had come from, "Oh, just the campsite up the road," the woman said with what sounded like a Kiwi accent. "No, I mean before that." I said. She explained they were on their last week of a four-month journey that started in South America, then Central America, and now in the States. Wow. That trumps 52 days. I wished them safe travels and continued up.
The iPhone once again provided the musical motivation to keep climbing. The sign announcing seven miles to Monarch Pass Summit also indicated that superb scenery was about to commence. And it did. Words don't do it justice, but I'll try. Blue skies with big, white cumulus clouds served as a canopy over tall conifers, stands of Aspen, golden rocky cliffs and outcroppings, and vast forested valleys below. As I watched my elevation steadily increase from 8000 ft. to 9000 ft. and then 10,000 ft., I noticed that the altitude wasn't affecting me nearly at all, or at least not like I expected. I was rhythmically breathing with a steady pace of 6.5 to 7 mph. The only negative affect was when I would take a pull from my water bottle and then have to catch my breath to get back in rhythm.
Soon, the summit was in sight. I could see the ABB van and trailer and then the brown and yellow sign indicating the summit and Continental Divide. I rolled into the parking lot and over to the sign. Others ahead of me clapped and shouted. I felt good. That was a significant effort, but I really felt good. And that surprised me because I had expected headaches, dizziness, and a pounding chest. But, none of that. God is good.
Each of us has considerable challenges ahead of us. Or maybe we're in one now. The summit seems so far away. And we're hunched over, straining forward, trying to make it through the pain, strain, sweat, and tears. But if you climb with your head down and only focus on getting to the top, I guarantee you will miss some of the sweetest, most beautiful moments around you. God is in the climb. He knows where you are and how hard you're cranking. But it's okay to pull to the side of the road, catch your breath and look around. Soak in the moment. Be present amidst the climb. Those who race to the top to get past the pain miss some of the most outstanding scenery. To quote one of my favorite movie lines, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."
Now, back to the story. At the top, I took the requisite photo with bike overhead in front of the summit sign. I was amazed I had any arm strength left. Some think I'll finish this ride with the physique of a Tyrannosaurus Rex: huge, powerful legs. Itty bitty teensy arms. Chuck and I took the tram ride to the summit and enjoyed the views of all the mountain peaks around us. The slight breeze at the summit felt good after climbing in the heat. I looked around the visitor center and had to buy the t-shirt: "I made it to the top - Monarch Pass, CO" with a bike graphic. I'll wear it proudly. Now for the descent.
The ride down was 18 miles of sheer fun. No effort. All wind in my face, gravity doing the work, and scenery rushing by. Salida, CO was in front of me. I caught a few cyclists from our group, exchanged stories, then went to check out historic downtown Salida. Hmmm. I could live here. I found a bike shop and a cafe next door so I enjoyed lunch on the outdoor patio overlooking the rushing Arkansas River. We'll be following this river for several days as it leads us to Pueblo, then across eastern Colorado and through Kansas.
After lunch, I biked to the hotel just in front of a thunderstorm. At the hotel, three girls were selling lemonade outside the front door. Now I was a marked man. Sixty-seven miles over Monarch Pass? I'm gonna buy a lemonade. I think they made a killing selling their sweetened lemon juice to all 30+ of us as we checked in. It tasted good. And so did this day. I like Colorado. And I like climbing mountains. And I really like descending them!
Tomorrow, we make a long 95-mile push to Pueblo. Then the rest day. The best part is my wife, Susie, is coming to visit for the rest day! I'll ride 95 miles to see her any day!
For more amazing photos from today's epic ride, visit http://gallery.me.com/eternaldesign2#100207
For more about the Ride for Impact, visit http://www.rideforimpact.org
Avg: 9.0 uphill; 21.8 downhill
Cumulative Miles: 1395
Cumulative Flats: 5 (none today!)
Elev Gain: 4080 ft
Max Elev: 11,312 ft.
Avg Climb: 2%
Max Climb: 8%