Carbondale to Paonia: The toughest climb of the trip
Friday June 18, 2010, 54 miles (87 km) – Total so far: 1,751 miles (2,818 km)
Once again I’m up early. The ride up the Crystal River is one of those imperceptible grades where you, at times, think you are going downhill and think you must have a tire going flat because you’re going so slowly, only to realise that you are actually climbing. There’s not too much traffic and it’s yet another beautiful ride up a canyon.
I pass through Redstone, a cute little town where Mom will stop to eat lunch later after doing some hiking nearby. Once I pop out into a more open part of the valley, I climb a hill and the road up to McClure Pass is visible. It’s carved into the side of the mountain and looks impressive. I stop to rest and take off my tights and jacket, since it’s obvious I’m going to be doing some real climbing soon.
Then I head off down this hill which goes back down to the river and the turn-off to Marble. The road then heads uphill gently, then does a bit of a switchback to climb the grade I saw from below. Wow – this is pretty steep. (Max grade is 8.7% – 6.8% ave ). I can’t imagine doing this later in the day when it’s hot. I spin my way up very slowly and have to stop a few times to rest. This is the hardest climb for me on the trip, even though it’s at a low elevation. The straight part up the side of the hill is the worst of the climbing, and this lasts just over three miles. There’s then a sharp left-hander and some gentler climbing the last little bit to the top through aspens. There’s some good camping spots near the summit.
Then it’s 35 miles of down. The initial twists and turns going down the other side of the pass are not too tight and there’s no need to brake. There’s not too much gravel, sand or dust in any corners so you can just let the bike go and enjoy the ride.
This side of the pass spits you out into much drier, sagebush country, but it has a beauty in its own right and there is little traffic. It’s a very fun ride down to Paonia Reservoir. You pick up some trucks at the junction with a dirt road coming in from the right, but this is still a great ride.
Soon after you pass the end of the reservoir, you come to several active mining towns. The shoulder becomes dirty and strewn with truck debris through these towns. And beware the narrow road through Somerset. Come off the road here and you’re likely to land on someone’s front porch! You leave the mountains and come out into sagebrush foothills dotted with wineries and orchards. I don’t stop for samples but it seems an attractive diversion if you’ve got the time. There’s quite a few little rollers in this section which wake up the legs after the downhill run.
I head into Paonia. I’ve got a couple hours to kill before Mom arrives, so I find some shade in the nice little city park to kill some time. It reminds me of my cheapo Greyhound trip in ’96 when I travelled all over the west on the bus for a month and slept in the bus stations at night or in city parks just like this one through the day. I think about how long ago that trip was and how young I was – not even old enough to drink when I spent a couple days in Vegas!
Mom and I find each other downtown later – she’s had a great day hiking and exploring and agrees the drive was beautiful. We get checked into the motel and then walk downtown and try to sample some beers at the local brewery – but it’s closed. So we have ice cream instead. We drive over to Hotchkiss to get dinner, thinking it might be a little cheaper than the pricey places in Paonia, but it’s really not that much cheaper. Mom crosses off both these towns as places to retire – too expensive and too hot and dry over here for her….
Ave speed: 13mph Max speed: 35.1 mph
Elevation start: 6181 ft. Elevation end: 5674 ft.
McClure Pass: 8755 ft. Ave grade: 6.8% Max grade: 8.7%