I'm only on day 3 of my trip, and already it's become the time of my life...again.
When I left CB it was cloudy, 10:50, and hinting at snow. I tried to stare at the mountain as long as I could to imprint it in my mind, before realizing that was stupid and went downhill. My speedometer clocked me at 32 mph, which is fun on a bike, bordering on scary. Bye bye Mt Whetstone. Bye bye CB south. Near Almont I was struck by how beautiful the wintergreen trees were when covered with fresh snow.
In less than 2 hrs I was in Gunnison, getting day-old bagels at the coffee shop, and explaining my bike setup to a curious college kid. Nearing Gunni, I started to notice a crosswind blowing from the west. When I turned west, this turned into a headwind, but I wasn't cursing....yet. The clouds were dark, and I was just hoping to pedal thru it quickly and set up my tent to escape the oncoming rain. Within 5 or 6 miles, I was biking really closely to the Gunnison River, and going thru the first tight canyon carved by said river. This is where the wind turned absolutely insane, and the cursing began. Every single time I have driven this route, there has been terrible wind, usually accompanied by snow. No precip this time, but wind, more wind than I could ever notice inside the safety of a car. I rounded a bend, and was happy to find that the wind was relatively calm here. I laid the bike down against the guardrail, hopped the rail, and began taking pictures of the river and cliffs towering above it. The place was strinkingly beautiful under grey skies, and I tried as hard as I could to get it in my camera. I may have succeeded, but won't be able to tell until I see it on a screen larger than 2.5". A biker screamed by flying downhill as I hopped on the bike, into the wind again.
After I got thru that canyon, the terrain opened up, and the wind calmed since it wasn't being funneled thru such a tiny gap of earth any longer. The clouds were starting to break, and I got my first view of Blue Mesa Lake (er...reservoir). There were bits of blue sky between the towering cumulous clouds, and I had trouble putting the camera down and pedaling again. When I did get on the bike, there was a climb to be had. I was around mile 45 for the day when I noticed a downpour on the horizon. Luckily within a mile I noticed a turn to get to the Curecanti Rec Area visitor center, so turned in with a quickness. There was shelter from the wind, thanks God, and shelter from what I assumed would be hard rain within an hour. Once I laid the bike down, I realized I didn't want to pedal the 3 miles further I had planned on doing, so decided to call it a day at 4:00. NOw I realized that this would be a leisurely trip till the end, if I'm able to pedal nearly 50 miles on my first day, and not even take half of the amt of daylight. Good news indeed. I pushed the bike up the handicap ramp to the second floor of the visitor center, where there was windbreak from 4 sides, and I was conceiled from view of visitors.
I sat around for hours...napping, making tea, reading, snapping photographs of the light flooding through openings in the clouds. Soon the darkness came, the clouds parted, and I could see the stars. Things were turning around.
When I awoke, the sky was clear, the surrounding mesas were golden, and I couldn't pack up quickly enough to get out into it all. The rain had come, but only for 20 minutes, and the roads were nearly completely dry. The wind had finally died, but I was absolutely freezing in the 45 deg weather on the downhills. On went the breadbags on feet and hands to my relief. The traffic had picked up since sunday, but the 3 ft shoulder had me not really taking notice. After about 10 miles I reached the turnoff for Hwy 92, going south toward Hotchkiss. I crossed the Blue Mesa Dam and started to climb. And climb. and climb. And climb more and more until I climbed out of the Black Canyon. The road was incredibly fun...winding all over the place while it climbing, never boring me. I saw about 5 cars per hour, perfection. the road clung to the mountain on the right, then a sheer cliff fell down to my left, giving me phenomenal views of the Black Canyon below and Cimmaron valley beyond.
When I reached the top at Hermit's Rest, there was 4" of snow that I had to trudge through to get to to the picnic benches and overlook. At the overlook I had a great view of the San Juan mtns, which were covered with the amount of snow that I'm used to seeing on some phenomenal Alaskan peaks. A few road cyclists caught me as I was about to keep going north, at the top of their climb, and about to descend back to their car. From here it was all downhill, CHILLY CHILLY downhill. I was able to get up to 33 mph, nearly reaching the speed limit posted for motorized vehicles in this section. Before I knew it, I was down in a valley where my watch was reading 61degrees, and there were cows eating GREEN GRASS. This little valley reminded me of the southern AT, lets say somewhere in Virginia. To the west were really mellow hills, farms...but to the East were 12,000 ft peaks still shrouded in snow...the West Elks which surround Crested Butte. ALMOST like the south I guess.
The wind had traumatized me to the point that I thought a slight wind, that I was creating, was cold in 60 degrees. I was uncomfortable and was ready to stop. Lots of pictures to take, and finally I made it to Crawford State Park, my stopping point, 52 miles into the day, and at 3:00. I pulled into the park to find that I had it all to myself. Everything I needed was there, silence, squawking geese, chirping birds, running water, and green grass to take a much needed nap on. The running water was key since I had been carrying all the water I needed to be self-sufficient since Gunnison since I didn't know if I would find any. Now I could make all of the tea I wanted. Get well hydrated, etc.
An abnoxious boat motor, one that I can only assume was a piece of garbage, woke me up, sounding like a weedeater. Surely this motor was just scraing away all of the fish he was seeking, and scared me away from the lake. Time for a short run. Lots of sitting around, reading Edward Abbey, then watching the sunset over the lake. This park was beautiful, far more beautiful than I had imagined in my head. There was nothing overwhelming spectacular about it: no insane cliffs dropping into it, no snow covered peaks just behind...just a really serene spot.
A really red sunset woke me up this morning. I laid around a bit more, still cold while in my 2 inch layer of down. when the sun had finally come down into the valley, I laced up and went for a jog. Packed the gear, and had a really lazy ride to the town of Crawford, some 2 miles north. As I passed the Country Store, I was afraid that I wouldn't get the omellete and COFFEE I had been dreaming of until the next town. NO worries, I found a few locals parked in front of a diner and walked in. Immediatly I had a mug of coffee in my hand. The omellete was good, covered in swiss cheese and stuffed with shrooms. More coffee until I was feeling jittery, which was greatly enjoyed while overhearing some local coversation about long-haul trucking, hunting sportsmanship ("I refuse to guide those damn tourists down to the river so they can get an elk, and spook all them deer." "I got a guy come down here who hunts with a crossbow secured to his wheelchair!"), and talk of Suburbia not making it to Crawford, and hopefully never will. Maybe I am back in the south after all...
I found a side road to Needle Rock, an incredible monolith I had seen from afar that really seemed out of place in the valley. Back on the main Hwy, I had mostly downhill to glide down to get to the town of Hotchkiss, 11 miles away. More ranches, views of the West Elks, etc etc. In town I stopped into City Market for a resupply, and now on this computer, typing this.
I forgot to grab my USB cable, and don't really wanna unpack everything to get to it. I stil have some lessons to be learned about packing things. I'm going to ride the 19 miles to Delta this afternoon, camping around the state park just south of town. Maybe I"ll upload some pictures at the library there, since I'll have all sorts of free time. Then I've got a lazy 1.5 days to get to Grand Junction, passing by the weird yellow hills that always remind me of photos I've seen of the Badlands in South Dakota.