San Juan Skyway: Day 4: Durango to Ridgway (6/5/13)

As many of you know, we have an exciting trip coming up in a few days. In an effort to get you in the habit of checking our blog, we dug up an old, dusty notebook from 2013 and typed out journal entries from our four-day bike trip around the gorgeous San Juan Skyway in Colorado.

We woke up early to eat breakfast before catching the train. There was a super delicious bagel place next to the train station and we got fresh baked bagel sandwiches. Delicious.

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We got on the platform and took our bikes to the cargo hold. One of the conductors was really into biking (biked the Iron Horse, a race from Durango to Silverton where you try to beat the narrow gauge train, several times), so he was super helpful with our bikes. We got on the train and sat in the open car next to a sweet couple from Oakland. They were on an old person traveling tour called Road Scholars (they seemed super out of place). The people on our other side were from Louisville and on vacation with their kids. Both sets of people were very interested in our bike trip. The train went through the Durango suburbs, then some fields, then went up through the gorgeous canyon that’s only accessible by train. There is a hydro-electric plant and a guesthouse/ziplining situation that are only accessible by the train. We also passed a place called Needleton with a few vacation homes that I believe are also only accessible by the train. When we were passing through the fields part of a journey, there was a guy in very fancy biking clothes with several panniers as well as an extra wheel with more panniers who was actually riding faster than the train! No helmet, though. 😦

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The ride up the canyon was absolutely spectacular. Took so many pictures. Just breathtakingly gorgeous. Apparently there was a recent rock slide that trapped the train in Silverton for the night and they had to bus 500 people back.

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We got off the train in Silverton, which is an absolutely gorgeous old west-y town surrounded by mountains with old west architecture and people. Someone recommended we go to Avalanche Café and Brewery, but they were closed. They recommended that we go to Mattie and Maude’s Café. We had frito pie, smothered cheeseburger on fry bread, and a bowl of potato, bacon, and cheese soup. The lady who worked there (Lori) was super friendly and very worried about our climb up the pass, which in turn made me nervous about our ride.

 

We left around 2:10 to climb up our last pass. Teddy’s knee started hurting almost immediately, but he pushed through and made it to the top. The ride was gorgeous on the way up. When we got about one mile from the top, there was a CDOT guy waiting for us ringing a cowbell to encourage us. So cute!

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The million-dollar highway was scary at times, due to a nonexistent shoulder and the road actually chipping off and falling off the massive cliff that we climbed past. I had to debate whether I was more likely to fall of the shoulder by staying close, or more likely to get hit by a car if I rode in the middle of the lane. I rode in the middle of the lane.

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At the top, a friendly man took our picture and told us about a community science project studying pikas. Apparently there’s a massive colony on the pass.

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We started our huge, gorgeous descent, but there was nowhere to stop to take pictures until we were past the prettiest part, but it was incredible.

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We got to a sign that “Ouray is Switzerland of America” and I got off the road to take a photo, but almost got hit by a pickup truck, so I turned too quickly and fell. He didn’t even stop to ask if I was okay. At least I didn’t get hit, but that’s a super dangerous place to stop—totally blind corner!

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Ouray is an adorable little mountain town that looks like a Swiss village. So cute. We decided to power through the last 10 miles to Ridgeway. It was a tough 10 miles because we were booking it and it wasn’t downhill like we thought and the wind was crazy, but we made it in 25 minutes. We checked into our hotel room, showered, and went out for surprisingly delicious Thai food! We then went straight to the hotel and basically passed out.

Days five and six were not on bikes; we did some backtracking to explore some hot springs and Telluride. On day five, we woke up around 8:30 and went to breakfast at Kate’s Diner. It was delicious. Then we went to Orvis hot springs. So. Good. Gorgeous natural springs, not too crowded. It was an oasis! We ended up spending the whole day there, with a brief interlude to go to Ouray Brewery for lunch and beer then Mouse’s Chocolates for ice cream and chocolate.

They had free tea at the hot springs from Montana Tea and Spice Trading – so delicious! My favorites were the Night on Glacier Bay, Huckleberry something, and something about early light. The springs were more crowded when we returned, but still amazing. We sat in the cold pool (89 degrees) for a bit to escape the 102 degree pool. There was also a nice waterfall area with a freezing cold waterfall that we monopolized for a bit before heading to the 110-degree lobster pool. It was so hot that I couldn’t even fully get in, but Teddy did. After trying another pool, we headed for Telluride, settled into our hotel, then had wings and Detroit Square Pizza at Brown Dog Pizza. We went for a quick hike in Telluride, got lunch, then drove home to Denver. This was such a lovely trip! This part of Colorado is so lush and relatively undeveloped – very different from the front range.

San Juan Skyway: Day 3: Mesa Verde to Durango (6/4/13)

As many of you know, we have an exciting trip coming up in a few days. In an effort to get you in the habit of checking our blog, we dug up an old, dusty notebook from 2013 and typed out journal entries from our four-day bike trip around the gorgeous San Juan Skyway in Colorado.

We headed over to the café to grab breakfast after breaking down camp. When we got to the outdoor seating area, we saw someone who looked like Kirsty Gallagher from Peace Corps. Turns out it was her! We ate unlimited pancakes and caught up with Kirsty. Then we equivocated a bit about whether or not we wanted to hitch hike to the cliff dwellings (unfortunately, Kirsty had gone to them all yesterday). We decided not to, partially because there was no place to keep our stuff (of course the NPS/Aramark employees were not willing to let us keep our things in a storage closet) and partially because we like being in control and hate asking people for things.

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We took the long, hot, busy, incline road to Durango and got a hotel there for the night, if for no other reason, because my sleeping pad is busted and I’m sick of sleeping on the ground. The ride was boring, boring, boring for the first 30 miles, then we took a beautiful descent into the valley were Durango is situated.

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We reached 39.8mph, the fastest I’ve ever gone on a bike. The vegetation changed back to that lush, green landscape we experienced on day 1. When we got to Durango, there was a beautiful path along the Animas River that led to town. We watched a little Harry Potter in the hotel room, showered, and headed out for delicious pizza and beer. We also decided to take the train from Durango to Silverton tomorrow because Teddy’s knee was hurting really badly and the train is supposed to be spectacular. No one-way fares, which is annoying, but better than climbing two mountain passes on a bum knee.

After pizza we went to a local brewery and ordered some interesting beers. A dandelion saison and I can’t remember what Ted ordered. We then picked up some food from the grocery store and rested in the room.

San Juan Skyway: Day 2: Cayton Campground to Mesa Verde NP (6/3/13)

As many of you know, we have an exciting trip coming up in a few days. In an effort to get you in the habit of checking our blog, we dug up an old, dusty notebook from 2013 and typed out journal entries from our four-day bike trip around the gorgeous San Juan Skyway in Colorado.

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We started off this morning at 8:15a (after Teddy woke up and started working while I slept on his functional sleeping pad because mine decided to stop working last night). We said goodbye to Jonny and Kathy and began our journey. Today includes a 40-mile descent!

Our bums hurt from the very beginning of the day and never stopped hurting. I thought today was harder than yesterday. Just because it’s mostly downhill, doesn’t mean it’s easy! About 10 miles in we reached Rico, a tiny, adorable town where everything was closed except for a tiny, adorable organic espresso shop, where we stopped for a drink. Sitting in a vintage matte grey pickup truck was Felix, a former paraplegic skicross racer who used to compete in the X-games, but they cut the event due to too many injuries and apparently a death. He is now a “migrant festival worker.” He informed us that there’s a festival in Telluride every weekend in the summer except one, which is crazy in general, but particularly because it’s so far from any major city. His two favorite festivals are the Mountain Film Fest and the Jazz Fest. Maybe we’ll travel back for those someday.

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I ordered a chai with a shot of espresso and we sat on the porch chatting with Felix and some locals. They told us crazy stories about people who accomplished impressive feats, such as a group of construction workers who would hike over a huge mountain (20 miles!) to Putnam every day, or cross country ski there in the winter. Another guy told us about a group of cyclists who recently rode the whole San Juan Scenic Byway in one day (17 hours)! I’m not sure if these folks were trying to make us feel like wimps, but I sure did. Felix also told us about some hot springs a mile north of Rico that are across from a metal shack. We didn’t want to go back uphill, but will likely check them out the next time we’re down here.

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Continuing down the mountain we ran into Jean-Pierre, who is riding from San Francisco to Montreal. He had a very long day ahead of him. He also had very cool maps from the Adventure Cycling Association that we should get next time. They even show you an elevation profile to prepare for the climbs! We had a gorgeous descent until we reached Dolores. All of a sudden, the climate, vegetation, scenery, and people changed for the worse. Of note, the fire danger signs until we reached Dolores were all “low.” When we reached Dolores and ever since, the fire danger has been “high” and we even saw an active forest fire on our way up to Morehead campground.

We got to the letdown of a town called Cortez, where everyone was mean to us. First, as we rode in, a guy in the passenger seat of a passing car pretended to smack my bum. Gross. People after Dolores stopped giving us a wide berth, in general. We got to the Kokopelle bike shop and they were okay. The lady working there sort of hovered over us the whole time, which was annoying, and everyone seemed more into BMX biking than anything like what we’re doing, so they weren’t the friendliest or the least bit interested in our trip.

Megan, the hovering bike shop employee, recommended a local organic restaurant called The Farm. We ordered tons of food because we were starving, but unfortunately, it wasn’t all that great. Ted’s French Onion soup was cold and instead of melting Provolone on top, they had some mysterious shredded cheese tossed in that didn’t even melt because the soup was cold. My burger was overcooked and the “feta” in our Mediterranean salad tasted like goat cheese (and not goat feta), which would have been fine if I wasn’t expecting feta, but was disappointing because I was. The waitress spilled the fancy tomato jam that came with the burger, then brought me regular ketchup as a replacement. Just a bunch of little things that made our experience less enjoyable than it might have been.

We stopped for some groceries, then started our climb to Mesa Verde. It was hot, but we made it. We got to the entrance where we learned that a car pays $15 to enter the park, while bikes and motorcycles pay $8 each. This is infuriating to me. A gas-guzzling conversion van carrying eight people pays less than two people on bikes. And bicycles pay the same admission as motorcycles?? Oh well.

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Four. Mile. Climb. 1,100 ft of elevation gain at the end of a 70+ mile day. We got to the campground and found that our campsite was another $30 (!) and the employee at the campground neglected to tell us about the shortcut to the site that would have saved us another mile of climbing. We met a couple from Illinois who were very friendly until Ted asked if we could hitch a ride to the dwellings tomorrow (biking there would add another 40 gruesome miles onto our day tomorrow, so we were hoping to find a friendly stranger that wouldn’t mind bringing us with them). They got very awkward and told us that their minivan was too full with coolers and luggage to fit any people inside. It was just the two of them! People travel with way too much stuff.

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Like I said, people are not being very kind on this leg of the trip. We probably won’t go to the dwellings unless we can hitch a ride (which makes the $46 we spent to stay in this campground completely useless), but we’re on a tight schedule and can’t afford to add 40 miles onto our day tomorrow if we want to make it back in time. We’ll see what happens, but I’m not optimistic.

We cooked tortellini with salami and zucchini for dinner and ate cookies from the last time we met kind people. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.

San Juan Skyway: Day 1: Ridgway to Cayton Campground (6/2/13)

As many of you know, we have an exciting trip coming up in a few days. In an effort to get you in the habit of checking our blog, we dug up an old, dusty notebook from 2013 and typed out journal entries from our four-day bike trip around the gorgeous San Juan Skyway in Colorado.

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Teddy says this was the hardest cycling day of his life. I agree. It was hard. We started at 7:30a with an immediate climb. The first 10 miles took us over our very first Colorado mountain pass, Dallas Divide Summit (elevation: 8,970ft). I suppose it was sort of a wimpy pass, but it was definitely a challenging start to our day. It was almost exactly a 2,000ft. climb. Then came a massive descent into Placerville, an adorable tiny community. We stopped at a park. Actually two parks. One had water and a broken toilet, the next had working everything and gorgeous views. I think it was called Down Valley Park, but I’m not sure.

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We saw several road cyclists who seem lucky enough to actually live out here. Everyone’s been super friendly to us thus far. More about that later.

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From Placerville we had an unexpectedly difficult climb into Telluride. It was only 800-1000ft of elevation gain, but it was scorching hot, we were famished. I get shaky and dangerous when my blood sugar gets too low, so I had to stop on a dangerous shoulderless curve to get quick sugar. We climbed a bit more, then stopped at Keystone Lookout to eat a full lunch and we were both pooped. We toyed with the notion of just going to Telluride and spending the night, but pushed on!

After rounding the curve to continue on 14S, we had another super steep climb. Toward the beginning, we both smelled spent grain and it was hard not to turn around and find that brewery! At the top of this 1,100ft 3-4 mile climb. (Never-ending climbing!) We hit the most spectacular view I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Loads of rugged mountains in the distance, large green pastures in the foreground, and lush evergreens scattered throughout. The sky was spectacular, so big and blue with the brightest white clouds. We stopped in a driveway to take pictures and a real-life cowboy drove up and offered to take pictures of us. His name was Randy and he runs horse rides for tourists on his ranch.

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From there, the next 6 miles were pretty tame – a much more reasonable elevation gain. We filled up water at Sunshine campground (beautiful), ate tons more food, and climbed on. We reached another gorgeous lookout (Ophir), took some pictures (any excuse to stop), then hit an unexpected 1000ft drop! We flew down (top speed: 36.4mph) and immediately started our climb to Lizard’s Head Pass (aka, the most miserable 1.5 hours of climbing of our lives). When we were near the top, a lady with a road bike on her Subaru stopped and gave Teddy two full-sized Snickers bars! I immediately decided that I would do the same for any bike tourist I happened to pass in the future because it truly made our day.

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When we finally got to the top (10,222ft), Teddy whined and complained like a baby. He also lay on the ground motionless for 10 minutes. We took some photos, then started a 6-mile descent to our campground against a strong headwind. All of that work and the stupid wind forced us to pedal downhill.

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Our campsite hosts, Jonny and Kathy, were super friendly and impressed by our journey today. We got to our campsite and shortly after, Jonny came up with a bag of fresh-baked peanut butter cookies and free firewood! I swear I’ve encountered more friendliness and generosity on this trip than in my previous two years in Colorado. People have also been getting far over for us when passing, for the most part. Overall, people don’t seem nearly as annoyed by bike tourists as they were in Oregon. Also, so far, there’s been far less traffic and far fewer RVs and logging trucks. Wonderful!

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Dinner tonight was great. We had Thai lemongrass rice noodles with chicken and zucchini.