A little uphill and a lot of down: Leadville to Silverthorne
Thursday August 22, 2013, 38 miles (62 km) – Total so far: 4,324 miles (6,958 km)
Highway 91 out of Leadville does a sneaky little descent to the river before it very gently begins climbing up the river valley. The road surface is excellent; the shoulder is excellent, too. They repaved the entire road to Copper Mountain just a couple years ago when the huge mine at the pass summit reopened. If all roads in Colorado were like this one, it would be a very pleasant place to ride.
The clouds have lifted a teeny bit. Morning in Leadville presented us with low, grey and misty stratus and a temperature around 40 F. There is not much promise in the weather forecast today. Well, there is a promise, but it is one of rain. I pack my rain gear in the top of the panniers for easy access today.
As the road curves north, the gradient increases just slightly. The valley narrows just slightly, too. The trees grow downslope in bunches and lines of dark green. Grass fills in between the bunches of trees. It does not feel like you are so high in elevation here.
A sign indicates that the pass is four miles distant. The gradient soon increases, and though there are very short sections approaching 6 percent, most of it is considerably easier. High on the ridge, on the other side of the river, is the old rail line blasted into the side of the slope. You can take a tourist train from Leadville to here. Way down below is the river – they’ve done a lot of remediation work on it in the past decade or so.
As the road climbs up the valley, the open cuts of the molybdenum mine come into view. The mine buildings, and the mass of electricity poles and wires, let us know where the pass is located. Soon, we reach a switchback and the final mile is a solid push up a 7 percent grade. This is one of the easier passes I’ve done. I feel like there should have been more effort to get higher than 11,000 feet!
It begins to mist at the pass. The mist turns to intermittent showers as we head down the pass. One book calls this road the ‘tour de tailings’ because the road follows the mine tailings ponds for many, many miles. They’ve moved the highway five times to increase the size of the ponds which now occupy an entire valley on the other side of the road. It does feel a little strange to ride through such an industrial landscape over such a distance.
There is actually a little more climbing to do in a wiggly section of the road, but then we get a long, mostly straight downhill. I get the bike over 35 mph very quickly. And then I get to scratch an item off my bike ride bucket list. I come upon a semi heading down the hill at 20 mph in low gear. I’m doing 40 mph at this point. The opposite passing lane is clear, so I’m able to get out and overtake the semi without even braking. Wow – that feels pretty cool to blow by a semi! Overtaking is overtaking, right – even if the truck is in low gear?
The final few miles to Copper Mountain don’t have much of a shoulder, but I don’t have any troubles. I pass three roadies heading the opposite direction. They all smile and wave.
Then I get on the bike path down to Frisco. There are heaps of people on this, even though it is lightly raining and we are following heavier rain down the canyon. I blow by several groups, yelling “on your left” as I zip by. The trail is pretty much all downhill in this direction and I’m consistently sitting right on the speed limit of 25 mph. It’s great to see this path getting so much use.
Once in Frisco, I race the rain down to Wendys where I get a heap of protein and carbs (chili and baked potato) for less than four bucks.
I let the rain pass. It comes down heavily for nearly 30 minutes. I chat with a motorcyclist who has taken shelter, too. He says he saw me riding up Fremont Pass this morning and wondered how fast I was able to do downhills. He thinks 41 mph seems really fast for a bicycle, but I assure him people go a lot faster than me.
I use the excellent bike path system to get me over to Silverthorne. It’s got the cheapest motel rooms. The front desk guy at the motel sees my Australian driver’s license and asks where my address is located. He hasn’t been there, but he just spent six months near Noosa, so we talk about the good and bad bits of Oz for a bit.
The front desk guy can’t believe I traded a life in Colorado to live down in Oz for the past 12 years. I tell him there are things about Oz I don’t care for, but they are balanced by the things I do like. It’s like anywhere really.
I do, however, miss the outdoor mountain lifestyle of Colorado immensely. That is one reason I’m here for a few days. The other reason I’m here is to shop for outdoor gear since it’s the same or better quality than in Oz, and a heck of a lot cheaper. Being an ex-pat entails a lot of heartache, guilt and turmoil related to being away from friends and family. So I feel you earn all these little perks of being a dual citizen 🙂 My backpack is always heavy on the return to Oz!