Three Big Days in the Colorado Sky

Our New Mexico – Colorado tour got back on the road Sunday with the first of three long days that took us across two of Colorado’s highest passes and another big ride to come tomorrow that crosses I-70 up to Kremmling.

Mail stop in Gunnison

Sunday the route from Gunnison started well, with a gentle tailwind pushing us to Monarch Pass. But once on the ascent the traffic was very steady and noisy, with lots of trucks pulling campers, and in a couple cases we were harrassed. In another case I think a senior driver never saw us in front of her and I had to steer into the gravel as she blithely drove past. 

One of the threatening moves came from a driver of a cheapo Jeep who buzzed us and whose passenger flipped us off even though they had a clear passing lane to their left. We see more bad behavior from Jeep owners than other makes; I think they market to aggressive drivers.

All this made it hard to enjoy the stunning views though we pulled over a couple of times for photos and to clear our heads. Colorado should really consider a bike lane on these long ascents if they continue to tout the state as a cycling destination.

A Gunnison-based rider at the summit who we met chalked it up to drivers going home after the July 4 holiday and to construction to pave Cottonwood Pass east of Crested Butte. 

A rare quiet moment on Monarch

The descent to Salida for lunch was fast and uneventful though traffic was still strong and drivers seemed to be intent at all costs on passing any vehicle ahead.

It was hot in Salida and we cooled our heels for awhile at Dawn Cafe, a funky coffee shop, and then went to pizza at brewpub Moonlight, which was fun. We got some praise for the tandem and our route from a couple of bikey folks and the food was quite good. 

Cafe Dawn. An oasis on a hot afternoon.

Also a relaxing stop at Moonlight 

US285 north to Buena Vista was one never ending stream of traffic, but the shoulder was wide except where an uphill passing lane was provided, which left us a teeny 3-foot shoulder. Colorado, more work needed here too.

Buena Vista was a good stop for us. Our old pals at Boneshaker Cycles were closed but staff was still there and nicely sold me a tube of chamois creme. 

Deer paraded down Main Street as we had dinner at an outdoor eatery, real small town life.

A Sunday evening stroll

Today (Monday) US285 was much more quiet as we set out for Carbondale via Independence Pass and Aspen. After a solid coffee start at Buena Vista Roastery Cafe, we got bananas at City Market, where I realized that I left my phone on a ledge outside the coffee shop. It was still sitting there when we returned, whew!

The climb up Independence was steep at the bottom but had enough moderate sections to allow some recovery. There was little car traffic and we got some nice thumbs up here and there. 

Still on the lower slope

Still, topping 12,000 feet elevation is always a slow affair on a tandem and we were at it for more than two hours for the 12 miles that make up the main climb from the eastern side. 

Nearing the top, and the rain

Dark clouds gathered and it was drizzling at the summit. We got our photo taken and put on rain gear for the fairly technical descent to Aspen, with narrow switchbacks along the way. Another Jeep driver nearly caused a pileup trying to pass us around a blind turn when we were cruising at more than 40 m.p.h, but backed off when an oncoming car appeared and started blowing their horn. 

Aspen was busy but we made the best of it with lunch stuff from City Market that we ate in a nearby plaza. We also got me an espresso at Victoria’s (though not the $7 cake slice I really wanted) and we talked with a rider who had passed us on Independence and was there all cleaned up and in street clothes! He remembered us and I emailed him a photo of him easing past us on a steep part.

Lunchtime in Aspen

The Rio Grande Trail, deserted on a Monday afternoon, got us to Carbondale 30 miles later around 6 p.m. We blew off dinner out and got pizza delivery to our abode tonight, the Comfort Inn. 
Tomorrow we ride a century to humble Kremmling.  

We have a few options to get us to State Bridge Landing and then up Trough Road, a gravel route into town for the night. We’ll check the fire reports but I think the one small fire near Eagle won’t affect us. 

It’s going to be hot but we’re used to that after nine riding days and will plan accordingly. We will try to avoid Glenwood Springs if we can; that bike trail along I-70 is a bit narrow for a tandem, we found on our 2013 Colorado tour. Plus, Glenwood is a busy place. 

Thanks for reading!

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Hello From Our Rockies Tour

We’re on the rest day of the latest edition of our annual summer tandem tour, in Gunnison, Colo. This year we are riding from Albuquerque to Boulder in a serpentine route through the Rockies.

Ready to go in Taos

So far 600 miles have rolled by in various states of heat, cold, bright sun and rain as we made our way to overnight stops in Santa Fe, Taos and Chama in New Mexico, and Colorado towns of Pagosa Springs, Durango, Montrose and yesterday into Gunnison.

Mary has been posting daily at her blog Chasing Mailboxes about our adventures, which have been amazing in various ways — the visual beauty of the Southwest has been matched by the friendly people, especially in New Mexico, and the food. If you like green chili, this region is heaven. There are also some great coffee and bike shops; Pagosa Mountain Sports was a sweet place, as was Cimarron Coffee Roasters in Montrose.

Eric at Cimarron Roasters got us on the road to Gunnison in good spirits

We also had happy meetup with friends in Santa Fe (Patrick) and Durango (Jenny, Shawn, Jason and Matthew). So nice!

We’ve been asked about our touring setup. We ride our trusty Co-Motion Java 700c tandem and stay in hotels, which allows us to cover long distances, mostly paved with occasional gravel miles where practical. The route will give us about 1,000 miles in 12 riding days, ending in Boulder on Thursday.

Our first ride over 10,000 ft. elevation on US64 to Chama

We flew with the bike, which was made with S&S couplers, to Albuquerque via Southwest Airlines and assembled it there. We shipped the cases from our hotel to friends in Boulder via Bikeflights.com.

Team Photo

We carry spare shorts, socks, rain and cool weather gear, and dinner outfits in a large Carradice Camper saddlebag.  Other stuff — tools, electronics, snacks and so forth — go in the Carradice and in/on a front Acorn box bag.

We also use an Oveja Negra top tube bag for me, a Randi Jo Fabrications bar bag for Mary, and a surprisingly useful little frame bag from Nashbar for cables and other spares.

A spare tire goes in an Acorn seat bag lashed into a bottle cage. Tires are Clement USH 700x35mm.

Camelbak (me) and Osprey (Mary) hydration packs and three bottles ward off the heat. We run generator front and rear lights continuously (Schmidt) and Garmin GPS computers, which helpfully tell us how slowly we climb up these Rockies passes.

We are the dot. The dot has a long way to go.

The hotel experience can be kind of weird. We stand out among the families and retirees and get odd comments from old guys who think tandems are funny, but we also like showers and beds and the free breakfasts come in handy.

The only mechanicals on the bike have been a stuck chain link on the road to Gunnison and a couple of goat head flats on the day we left Albuquerque. I think we got them on the paved trail we used to leave town.

The cool espresso and bike shop here in Gunnison, Double Shot Cyclery, has been our home base today. Along with essential caffeinated drinks, I got a new 10-speed chain from them (complicated, but four removable links in one chain was going to be a bit much) and they let me use the bike wash station out back with a hose, real Dawn soap and brushes and an old workstand and everything.

The Co-Mo is all clean, lubed and ready for the climb up Monarch Pass tomorrow to Buena Vista via Salida.

Thanks Double Shot for the landing spot and the gear

A big thank-you also goes to James at Gravel & Grind shop in Frederick, Md. (also espresso and neat bikes, hmm…) for talking me into adding Paul Components Klamper disk brakes and 203mm Shimano Ice Tech rotors to our tandem. They are doing wonderful work controlling speed on the steep descents — definitely an upgrade over the Avid BB7 brakes and rotors we had before. Slowing from 50+ m.p.h. for that next hairpin without brake fade is kinda critical.

That’s it so far. More to come. Thanks for reading!