Colorado 2010 – Day 45

Paonia to Gunnison: If only more roads were like Hwy 92

Saturday June 19, 2010, 81 miles (130 km) – Total so far: 1,832 miles (2,948 km)

I have about 80 miles to do today to Gunnison. I’ve never been over here before so don’t know what to expect. I’m up and on the road before the sun makes it over the mountains. I take the back way over to Crawford. It’s a county road with quite a few ups and downs, but it has good pavement and is a nice alternative to Hwy 92. There are deer bounding down the main street of Crawford this morning.

Heading out of Paonia as the sun starts to rise over the West Elk mountains.

There’s a little bit of boat traffic on Hwy 92 heading to Crawford Reservoir. The park has camping but little shade. After this, the traffic is minimal. For whatever reason, I feel like a slug today. I just can’t get it going. I’m slow and have little energy. I crawl along and stop a couple times to eat an Oatmeal Cream Pie before my mom catches up with me just beyond Gould Reservoir. She gives me cold water and some chocolates – a perfect SAG driver. She wants to know where she should meet me up ahead, but I tell her I’m fine and she should go hike at the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We’ve hiked the south rim before but never the north rim. I don’t want her to just be sitting around all the time waiting on me – and this far into the mountains, I’m pretty confident in my riding abilities. So she heads off to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

I head on and after a long straight bit heading toward a forested range the road climbs right then descends to a creek. The road then curves left and uphill and the distant walls of the little tributaries heading into the Black Canyon appear. This is gorgeous stuff. This also commences about a 10-mile climb. But it’s fun because there’s little traffic, you can’t really see where the road is heading except for glimpses here and there, and you keep curving and curving up.

A beautiful climb up to Hermits Rest on Hwy 92 south of Maher, CO starts here.
I love the different textures and shades of green along this section of the climb to Hermits Rest on Hwy 92.

I don’t know if it’s the scenery or the wind switching from a headwind to a crosswind or something else, but the fatigue of this morning disappears and I start to enjoy the day. I pass several deer and the trailhead to the Crystal Reservoir lookout.

Looking toward a trail that takes off to an overlook of Crystal Reservoir
You can see the road cut into the hillside ahead. This road was so much fun!

Up and up I climb and just when I think I’m tired of climbing and ready for a break, it levels out and I come up to Hermit’s Rest.

Verne and Kermit at Hermits Rest on Hwy 92

Then it’s just so much fun – curves, little climbs and descents, more curves, and always a great view of the upper parts of the Black Canyon and the mountains in the distance. There’s so little traffic, it’s an absolute blast! I totally understand why motorcyclists love this road. I speak with a couple of them at Hermit’s Rest where I stop to eat some pretzels. They think the ease of climbing is an advantage of a motorcycle but my ability to move around and stand up and stretch while I ride would be an advantage of a bicycle. I’ve developed a dirty little secret since being in Colorado: I actually like the climbing as much or more than the descents!

Oh, this is so much fun! You can see the road cut into the side of the hill ahead. I’ll get there after a few more twists and curves.

This is soooo much fun – if I didn’t have so many miles to do today, I’d love to do it all in the other direction. Eventually I start getting some good downhills among all the twists and turns and I lose all that elevation I climbed this morning. Good, good stuff. I cruise by a group of day cyclists climbing up a long, straight bit and give them a wave. My mom later meets this group up at Hermit’s Rest and inquires about me – ‘have you seen a girl on a bike with red panniers?’. They tell her, ‘yeah, she was flying, she’s probably already in Gunnison by now’. Don’t ever tell a mom that you saw her daughter ‘flying’ on a bicycle – it worried her just a teeny bit.

Eventually I get down to the dam wall and almost dump it taking the corner a bit too fast. Never mind, a shot of adrenalin is always welcome :). There’s then a short little climb up to join Hwy 50. The shoulder here is very wide, except over the bridges, and there’s also a lot of traffic. But I’ve picked up the notorious east-bound tailwind along Blue Mesa reservoir and I just cruise along at close to 20mph for quite a few miles. The amount of traffic is such a contrast to the earlier parts of the day. I see plenty of cars and SUVs pass by with bikes attached, too. The Tour de Colorado starts from Gunnison on Sunday. I’m not an organised tour sort of gal, but it’s cool to see so many cars with bikes attached passing by.

Dillon Pinnacles above Blue Mesa Reservoir, the biggest water storage in Colorado. I did not set out to do it – but I’ve now ridden by the biggest reservoirs in Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado.

I get to Gunnison around three. I’m surprised I haven’t been passed by Mom. The motel reservation is under my Mom’s surname but the owner lets me check in anyway. (I was just hoping she’d let me keep my bike in the lobby while I went next door for a drink.) I must have looked hot and tired – which I was, but not terribly so. Mom doesn’t arrive too much later and we go into town for a late lunch/early dinner and a microbrew. She’s had a great day, too. This is one of my favourite days of the whole trip – oh man, was that ever fun!

Ave speed: 11.9 mph Max speed: 35 mph

Elevation start: 5674 ft. Elevation end: 7703 ft.

Hermits Rest: 9000 ft.

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