McClure Pass kicks my butt… AGAIN: Glenwood Springs to McClure campground
Friday August 2, 2013, 43 miles (69 km) – Total so far: 3,424 miles (5,511 km)
It is only 8755 feet high. How hard can a pass be that is so low in elevation? I don’t know. All I know is that this pass defines “ass-kicking” for me. Well, it did until I rode Powder River Pass earlier on this trip. That took things to a whole new level. However, both Powder River and McClure are the ones I point to when I say, “You can’t tell the difficulty of a pass by its elevation”. Independence Pass from the east, and Cottonwood Pass from the west, are both over 12,000 feet high and are both easier than this one.
Or at least that’s what I thought in 2010. When I rode this UNLOADED. You can bet I feel a bit of trepidation today, knowing that now I’m going to ride it loaded AND I’ll be carrying about eight more pounds in water than I normally do and three days of food.
The bike path between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale on the old rail bed is excellent. The paving is smooth and wide. The views are spectacular up the valley towards Mt Sopris which is still hiding in the clouds this morning.
In Carbondale, I purchase a whole heap of food, two litres of gatorade, one litre of water and one rootbeer to be my “go juice” bottle in the water-bottle holder. Carbondale has a no plastic bags policy, which I support, though I normally take the bags and use them when I’m on the road. It is a hilarious sight to see me try to gather up all my purchases and get to my bike without dropping anything. The man in line behind me ends up helping me. Thanks!
I also visit the USFS office to ask about dispersed camping on roads leading off of the highway. In total contrast to the fantastic chick up at Laramie, this college-age woman is pretty dang mean. She frowns at me the whole time. She makes absolutely sure that I know that there is NO dispersed camping along the Crystal River and that the two campgrounds are likely to be full tonight.
When I ask if the camphosts at Bogan Flat (near the base of the pass) would let a touring cyclist squeeze in somewhere if the rains close in before I can get over the pass, she says, “Here is the number for the reservations. You could call and reserve a site.” I tell her no thanks, because I don’t want to tie myself into that if I can get over the pass. I ask her if there is dispersed camping at the top of the pass (I think I remember some dirt tracks leading off there). She says, “Probably not. There’s a campground up there, but it’s small, so it’s likely to be full, but I wouldn’t know, it’s in the next district”. Hmmm… couldn’t call them up or anything, could you? She’s so nasty I say, “I guess I’ll play it by ear and just camp wherever I end up”. Then I leave, as she looks at me with those very mean eyes now narrowed into daggers.
The bike path south of Carbondale is now complete. It runs beside the highway all the way to the BRB (now KOA) campground. Then it’s onto the road with the moderate levels of traffic.
The highway follows the Crystal River upstream. High cliffs edge the road and pine trees grow tall along the river bottom. In places where the valley widens, grassy slopes climb upward among red cliffs and thick patches of evergreens. Much of the area around Redstone is prone to mudslides, and there is considerable evidence of past slides as you progress up river.
I stop to eat a whole bunch of food at a picnic bench in the tiny old mining community of Redstone. I’ve purposely drunk one whole litre of gatorade on the way up so that I’m well-hydrated now and can refill the bottle with water here. I’m dry-camping tonight near the pass, I think, so I need to carry all my water for today, tonight and about 20 miles tomorrow morning before the next supply point.
And then we’re off. The sun is high in the sky. The cumulus clouds are building but are still puffy white for the most part. They aren’t gathering together quite yet. The traffic dies off a bit after Redstone. Soon, we have climbed to a high point where you get the first good look at the grade heading up the side of the slope above. As I stop to take the photo, I think, “Well, here we go. We can do this”. Then we head down the hill, around the corner through the aspens and to the base of the pass.
Again I stop for a quick break. I also take my inhaler. There’s no way I won’t get wheezy on this one. Verne and Kermit give me a pep talk. Verne promises not to yell, “Faster! Why are we going so slow?” on the way up.
And then we commence the 3.25 miles of ass-kicking.
I keep my head still, focused on the road about 10 feet ahead. I keep telling myself over and over, “Let’s go. Let’s go. Strength through pain”. It keeps my thoughts from wandering.
I make it through the switchback and keep pumping. Up. Up. Let’s go. Let’s go. I’m into granny gear and just trying to chug along with some sort of rhythm.
Yes, this is torturous. Yes, this is tough. In the first mile, I take two breaks. In the second mile, I stop every 1/4 mile. In the third mile, I stop every 5 reflector posts. McClure Pass is kicking my ass. Again. I think what does me in is that the climbing is unrelenting. There is never a shallower gradient to get my breath back. My legs are fine. My heartrate returns to normal quite quickly. But my breathing is absolute crap. There’s never a chance to let the wheeziness subside.
Eventually, we get there. I take a photo of the bike. I take a photo of me. When I’m looking at the selfie to see if I’ve captured the sign behind my head, I note that there is a bug in my teeth in the photo. What? I look in my rear-view mirror and confirm that, indeed, there is a bug in my teeth. Okay, I was definitely gulping air and had my mouth open, but how does a bug get stuck in there at a max speed of 4.7 mph? Sheesh. Maybe he just lightly landed, and that tooth scum that covers your teeth when you are breathing hard but not drinking alot, just mired him to the surface.
The sad thing is, I’m so exhausted, I don’t even fish the bug out of my teeth. I just drink some water, swish it around, and get on with the downhill.
McClure campground is a free campground a mile or two down the hill. At one point, they were going to decommission it because it got so little use. However, that is definitely not the case on a Friday night in mid-summer in 2013. There are about 10 sites. When I arrive, four of them are taken. I pick the only remaining site that is going to have shade for the rest of the day. It is a huge site big enough for a massive RV. My tent takes up almost no room. I don’t feel guilty – I’m all about the shade!
Too bad none of the dozens of people who drive through after all the other sites are taken ask me if I’ll share the site, because I most definitely would have done so. The mozzies are so bad I’m in the tent by dusk anyway; they’d hardly have even known I was there. First Colorado pass of the trip completed! Good night.