Lake George to Buena Vista: A couple more Passes to get warmed up
Monday June 14, 2010, 56 miles (90 km) – Total so far: 1,632 miles (2,627 km)
We’re up early and Mom drives me back out the dirt road to start the day on Hwy 24. We’re going to meet at the top of my next pass – Wilkerson. I’ve only been this way once, in a car in 1995, and I remember the view over South Park from the top of the pass as being spectacular, so I’m looking forward to it. It’s a gentle, continuous climb through meadows and forest for about 8.5 miles from Lake George. Then there’s 1.5 miles of a 5 to 6 percent grade to the top. It’s been cloudy and threatening as I’ve been riding, but Verne and I only get rained on during the steeper climbing close to the top. I’ve got all sorts of snot and phlegm coming out of my nose and lungs, which is not a pretty sight, and my lungs sound pretty bad, but I’m able to make it without using my inhaler. It really isn’t that difficult at all and before I know it, I’m at the top of my second pass. This early in the day the traffic hasn’t been too bad.
Mom is sitting in the CRV watching for me and says I got there quite a bit before she expected me. At the moment, it’s hard for me to predict how long it will take for me to do these mountain miles. Verne and I sit in the car to warm up and dry off (it’s still in the low 40s up here) as the sun comes out.
Mom and I agree to meet in Hartsel. I take off; she goes for a short hike at the pass. It’s a fun downhill into South Park and somehow I split between the storms down in the Park itself. There’s lightning, dark clouds and open fields off to the right, rain and buffalo grazing off to the left. At one point I think I might catch the storm off to the right, so pull my rain jacket out of my panniers and put it in my handlebar bag in case I need to whip it on.
I get to Hartsel just before Mom and we decide to get lunch there and see if the storm will blow over. The café food is good, my hot chocolate rich and topped with whip cream. I’m crossing paths with the ACA TransAmerica trail here, and sure enough, I see a UK couple on a tandem. They’re heading east and have had rainy and stormy weather for their whole trip. They’re being sagged by a lady in a van. These two people equal the total number of touring cyclists I’ve seen on the trip so far.
Mom agrees to meet me at Trout Creek Pass – another bump of a pass about 14 miles from here. I get rained on a bit, but it’s still a gorgeous ride.
The 10-15 mph headwind that’s cropped up during lunch is not so fun, and there’s more traffic than I’ve been used to on the backroads of NE and IA, but I eventually get up to the junction with Hwy 385.
It is now just a short climb with a substantial shoulder to the top of this pass. The wind is blocked by the pass itself for the first bit until rounding a corner. Mom is dozing in the car at the top when I get there under partly sunny skies. Some snacks and drinks, a photo with my 24-year-old travelling teddy bear by the sign, and then we agree to meet in Buena Vista – our stop for the night.
The ride down to Johnson’s Corner goes through a canyon and is a really fun ride. The traffic is fairly moderate, and there are some trucks, but it’s newly paved and there is a shoulder on the downhill side. It has lots of nice twists and turns. There’s some volcanic-looking hills off to the left and further down-canyon you start to get glimpses of the Collegiate Peaks range. Very, very fun. After passing through Johnson’s Corner, it’s a right turn on Hwy 24/285, but there’s a good shoulder all the way to Buena Vista.
I don’t arrive all that long after my Mom and we go down to the local brewery in the new part of town (these new buildings are a creepy kind of perfect and seem sorta segregated in mindset from the rest of the ‘old’ town). The beer, pizza and salad are all a real treat – even if a bit expensive.
Ave speed: 12.1mph Max speed: 30.2mph
Elevation start: 7980ft. Elevation end: 7965ft.
Wilkerson Pass 9507 ft. Max grade: 5.9% Ave grade: 3.6%
Trout Creek Pass 9346 ft. Max grade: 4.4% Ave grade: 3.8%