Location: Currant Creek Backpackers Hostel (Guffey, CO)
Our water bottles froze overnight and a glistening frost covered everything this morning. The tents, bikes and picnic table were covered in ice. The sun quickly turned the ice crystals into puddles, but shaded grass and other areas stayed frosty until I left the campsite about 9:00. Brian had already left to go to Wal-Mart to get a box of cereal and half gallon of milk for breakfast. I rode the cold ride back to Frisco alone, weaving along the splendid bike path that circled the lake. I met Brian at Main St. as we had arranged, and he looked full and sick, having shoveled an entire box of Honey Bunches of Oats into his small body. We headed out, though he said he might be sick.
Brian did not get sick on our ride from Frisco to Breckenridge. The entire rise was on a paved bike path, some of which was secluded in the pine tree forest. The remainder was along the roadside, paralleling the highway into Breckenridge. We blew right through Breckenridge, excited to climb our last big pass for the Rockies, Hoosier Pass.
The climb up the pass was gradual until about four miles before the summit. Then the incline steepened, and switchbacks started to really fold as we went up the mountain. The air was thin at that elevation and it posed the greatest challenge. There were times that I wanted to push myself harder, standing on the pedals to climb certain sections on my way to the top, but I had to restrain these urges because my body simply could not get enough oxygen to work like that. I certainly could have made the sprints, after all we weren’t that high but the last thing I wanted to do was take a rest. I find it is much easier to climb mountains if you take your time but never stop moving. When I stop to rest my lungs or legs my mind starts to focus on the height, distance, and time remaining on a climb. It’s better to keep moving even if only slowly, to zone out into daydreams and melodies that pass the time and drive me uphill. Before I know it, I’m standing with Brian at the summit.
We reached Hoosier Pass summit around noon, and there were a few group there to take pictures. The summit, at 11,500 ft, is the highest point on the Transamerica route, and it is a highlight of the trip for most cyclists. At the sign, an older couple offered to take our picture together. We were grateful, and I started talking to the woman. She said that her son attempted the TransAm a couple years ago with a group with Adventure Cycling. She had a picture of him and the group at the summit. I thought that her having the pictures was odd, and then she told me that he was killed in February, and she and her husband had come to the summit to spread some of his ashes. I didn’t ask how he was killed. I only commented that the Transamerica bike trip must have certainly been a highlight of his life. They agreed, and explained the young man’s passion for cycling, travel, and helping others. The couple seemed in good spirits despite the sad motive of their trip. We left them at the windy summit as they retrieved a small red box from their car. I suppose it was the box of ashes.
The instance reminded me of how fortunate we are to be on such a trip, to see the country as few ever do, and attempting something grand. I already look at this trip as having a tremendous impact on my life, and when I look back on my life many years from now, this trip will be one of those highlights that clearly stands out in a muddled sea of memories.
We enjoyed the downhill side of Hoosier Pass, and the wind blew hard at our backs. We finished twenty miles to Fairplay, CO in a hurry, stopping there to each lunch at a picnic table beside the library. After gorging on the snacks and candy that had been sent from home, we headed out on the road again. We were still at 10,000 feet, so the afternoon was cool, and the wind still blew hard at our backs. The road was newly repaired so it was as smooth as I have ever ridden. My windbreaker caught the wind like a sail and I was off. I’d pedal for a few seconds in my lowest gear and then coast for a minute or two. The road was just barely downhill. Without wind, I would have had to pedal continuously to keep from rolling to a stop. But, with the strong tailwind, I went a stretch of about three miles without pedaling once. It was quite a thrill to see highway mile markers coming and going at such speed with such little work, and especially without the terrifying speed and lack of control of a steep downhill.
Brian and I decided that 75 miles was enough for the day and we opted to stay high in the mountains for one last night at the Currant Pass Backpackers Hostel. We pedaled up the steep gravel driveway to a fenced in area with several picnic tables nestled in the knee high grass. There is a comfortable looking log cabin home with smoke coming out the stone chimney, several decrepit pickup trucks that were daily drivers, and five cords of wood chopped and piled high around the lot. The grasses and wild flora had taken over the yard, and there were several cats and dogs roaming and playing with each other.
We followed the stones of a worn path to the door on the back of the house. We knocked and several dogs inside barked an alarm. An older man hollered that he’d be right there, and he soon opened the door with a spunky hello. The man’s name was Warren, and he had a long scraggly white beard hiding an old wrinkled face and yellow teeth. He wore a CU hat and glasses with lenses that changed tint depending on the light. When he stepped outside to continue the conversation, I noticed his glasses lenses grew darker and his eyes became hidden. He charged us five dollars each to put up our tents in his overgrown yard. We had access to well water, a privy, and a solar heated shower. Don’t let the “solar heated shower” name fool you. This contraption was nothing sophisticated. It was a five gallon bucket with a showerhead mounted on the side, placed on a shelf overhead in a three sided stall at the edge of the woods. The water in the bucket was heated throughout the day when the sun was burning. The problem though, is that we’re at 10,000 ft, it’s September in Colorado, and there wasn’t any water in the bucket. So, I filled up the bucket with cold well water from deep underground and placed it on the shelf in to open air stall. The wooden plank walls let the strong wind through without hindrance. I took the coldest shower of my life on that mountain top, even colder than my bath in the snowmelt runoff of Cooper River Falls in northern Maine one summer. The shower was quick, painful, and it stole my breath, but afterwards I was refreshed to have the salt off me. I needed the shower badly.
Brian and I cooked dinner on the picnic table as usual and enjoyed Warren’s company. It’s obvious that he doesn’t get out too much because he had plenty to say. He told us his life story, about his hitchhiking adventures over six continents, his childhood as the son of a college president in the Midwest, about his children, grand children, cousins, and his sick wife who suffers from MS. The two of them are isolated in this high mountain country on thirty acres of land. Their neighbors all have equal or larger plots, so the people are very spaced out. Warren said he would have his life no other way. His religion is Mother Earth, and he feels no closer to that religion than when up in the mountain peaks. He’s been living here since 1975, and he’s been taking in backpackers since 1976. Warren is a unique character, but he’s the kind of person I’ve always enjoyed meeting on these trips I’ve taken. He comes from a life and mentality that I’d never encounter without venturing beyond my comfort zone.
We’ve made camp here in Warren’s yard and we are in store for another night of frigid cold. I can easily bear it though, because I know that warmer nights are just down the hill, on the other side of Pueblo, CO.