Shakin’ and vibratin’: Mile 12 Kebler Pass to Gunnison
Sunday August 4, 2013, 52 miles (84 km) – Total so far: 3,506 miles (5,642 km)
Silence can be intoxicating. Unlike alcohol, it seeps into your pores instead of out. It can fill you with similar feelings of giddiness and dizziness, though. It’s almost as if we balance ourselves we noise. Without it, our head feels lost in too much space and we don’t know where we are in time or place. Sometimes, when it’s so quiet you can hear your heart beating in your ears, it almost feels like the world is inside out.
I emerge from the tent into total silence at the end of the total darkness. I can see my breath when I exhale. I can see a million individual droplets of water on leaves, blades of grass and bush branches. The dew is heavy. My feet get totally soaked carrying all of my gear down to the gravel road and retrieving the bear bag from the tree. Nothing like starting a morning of 42 F with wet feet!
I ride through the shadows of dawn, climbing steeply out of mile 12 before the gradient backs off. The road heads upward, slowly leaving the Gambel oak behind and depositing us into incredibly tall aspens. There is little understorey, just long and straight white trunks towering above.
After around five miles of climbing, the road flattens out. And the surface goes to shit. The crew and I have been vibrating along all morning, but now we alternate between vibrating, shaking, bumping and thumping.
In places, there are little potholes the size of a dinner plate covering the entire road from side to side. It takes careful consideration and a whole lot of weaving to get through this stuff. Other sections are muddy washboard. I don’t know that I’ve ever ridden that combo before. Yet other sections have little run-off ditches stretching the width of the road. Wow – you don’t want to hit one of those at speed.
I’m all over the road trying to find a good line. I am so glad I didn’t ride this yesterday. It would have been miserable bumping through all the holes, ditches and muddy bits over on the edge of the road. Even now, it’s not all that pleasant. My rear fender constantly bangs against the rack as we ride over the crappy surface. The zippers on the handlebar bag ping and rattle as we go. It sounds like every bit of the bike is crying out in protest. Poor Verne and Kermit’s heads are constantly bouncing and shaking.
But, the scenery is gorgeous. We are riding along the edge of the mountains, curving in and out as the road stays flat to downhill for about five miles. The aspen trunks glow white in the rising sun; they stretch as far up and downslope as I can see. Conifers crowd into the aspen stands at the edge of some of the meadows. In the open spaces, and along several creeks, an enormous variety of wildflowers give colour to the grass and shrubland at our feet. In the distance, glacially-sculpted mountains jut upward, their rocky peaks almost completely free of snow.
I think we start to climb again at about mile 22. The surface improves a bit. We climb up and away from a creek. The road cuts into a steep-angled slope. The wildflowers all lean into the sun right at head-height. Beautiful.
After a short descent into a long curve, the final climb begins. The climbing gods are smiling on us – they’ve paved this last stretch of road up the switchback and to the high point. They’ve also placed even more spectacular mountains right in our line of sight, so we can absorb even more aesthetic beauty while crawling up the final miles of the pass.
I’ve seen two cars going the other way this morning and a bunch of people camped at different places along the road. Now, as I’m climbing the final bits, two cars pass me from behind. The first one gives me a friendly honk after they’ve passed. The second one, five minutes later, slows down, the window rolls down, and the passenger leans out and says, “Way to go! You’re almost there!” as he extends a thumbs-up. I wave to both.
We reach the high point. I don’t see any signs for Kebler Pass. So I just take a photo of the guys and me here. I love the photo – Verne and Kermit really do look like they’ve taken a shaking. I assume the pass must actually be down below in a large meadow. Three valleys seem to merge down there – so maybe that’s where the sign would be. We’ll never know, though. I’m going to be roaring downhill at that point, and there’s no way I’m stopping.
So down we go. The pavement feels so smooth and fast after the 22 miles of rough dirt. I’m starting to see more cars now, most everyone going the other way. I have neglected to put on warmie gear, so I’m just a wee bit chilly as we race down the valley.
Unfortunately, once we get down further into the valley, and away from the more ecologically sensitive meadows and wetlands, the road returns to dirt. Too good to last! I hit the dirt at 36 mph, and spend a good quarter mile slowing myself to a more reasonable speed. The road is okay here, but not terrific. Some young guys camping along the road are sitting in the sun, warming up and drinking some hot coffee. They see me roaring down the hill and stand up. They lean forward and clap, hoot and holler as I go by. I smile and say, “heeellllooo” (doppler effect in that), as I speed by. I can’t wave, I need both hands on the bars.
I get into town. I think the crew, me and the bike need a sign that says, “Contents may have settled during shipping”. I stop and check the bike over, making sure all the nuts are tight and none have vibrated out.
Crested Butte is bustling. It’s still pretty early, but there are people everywhere. There is a big farmer’s market being set up in the park. The whole main street is blocked off for an arts and music festival. No bikes allowed up there, however, so I don’t get to see it. I do spend about 15 minutes sitting against the concrete wall of the supermarket, in the sun, thawing out. My shivering is out of control, so some radiant heat is called for. I really do like the feel of the town. I’d like to come back to visit some time when it isn’t so packed out with a festival.
My original plan was to head over Cottonwood Pass again. I’ve got the food onboard I can camp somewhere on the way tonight. However, the main road is closed. I stop and eye off the detour, but the road looks narrow, dusty and steep. With the festival going on, there are a whole heap of cars coming and going on that road. It doesn’t seem like an attractive or very safe option today. I check at the resort in Almont about the construction, but the woman says, “No, you won’t even make it through on the bike. There’s no road at all. It’s all gone. They are putting in huge culverts”. Okay, Cottonwood, not this time.
I head on into Gunnison and call my mom. “Hi, Mom. Um, I’m in Gunnison. I’m not doing Cottonwood. The road’s closed and the detour looked crap. I think half of Denver and Colorado Springs are up here for a festival, so there’s tons of traffic. I’ll let you know what I’m going to do. I might hang here in Gunnison, or I might ride over Monarch to you tomorrow. I’ll let you know what I’m doing.”
I steal wifi from a nearby motel by sitting in the western part of the city park. I confirm there are storms all around, so head off to the KOA to get my tent set up before it rains. The noise, kiddos, pets and over-abundance of RVs tells me I’m not going to “hang in Gunnison” tomorrow and do a day-ride. I can’t stand more than a night of this. Looks like I’m riding Monarch tomorrow.