Last night on the road: Silverthorne to Twin Lakes
Tuesday August 27, 2013, 61 miles (98 km) – Total so far: 4,398 miles (7,079 km)
All good things come to an end. Or so the saying goes.
I can’t believe this is ending. I can clearly remember that rainy first day on the road like it was yesterday. But today will be a day of ‘lasts’. My last pass. My last night camping. My last night on the road.
Back in Douglas, Wyoming, touring cyclist Antoine told me that he thought a bike tour was a lot like summer vacation as a kid. You have a bunch of fun for a little while, but as the summer or tour wears on, you start to get a little bored with it and start looking forward to going back to normality. He couldn’t believe I’d been on the road for 2.5 months and wasn’t getting even a little bit bored.
Well, it’s now 4.5 months on the road, and I don’t have a shred of that ‘back to school’ feeling. Maybe you only want to go back to normality if you’ve got something great to go back to. I don’t have anything I’m really going ‘back to’, so maybe the urgency to finish a tour is less if your mindset is one of ‘moving forward’, instead.
These are the thoughts that fill my mind as I climb up the switchbacks of the bike path to the top of Dillon Dam and then onward through the town of Frisco and up the Ten Mile canyon. It is a very cold morning today, and I have to stop to put on my gloves for the first time in a long while. Summer is fading to a close. I guess it’s a hint that it’s time to wrap things up on this tour.
I’ve psyched myself up to go out hard today. I’m going to give this last pass every bit of energy and effort I can muster. I stand at the very base of the climb at Copper Mountain, staring up the valley to the tips of tall peaks just now receiving sun. I tell myself, “Let’s go Em. Let’s do this. Ride hard. Get in a groove and push the pedals hard. This is it. Make it one fine performance.”
And then off we pedal up the gentle gradient to the real base of the climb which is up around the corner a few miles ahead. Verne commands like he’s never commanded before – he’s kind. Instead of barking orders about riding the white line and going faster, he is encouraging to me. His little arms flutter in excitement (maybe that’s just the wind) as he says, “That’s it, Em. You’re riding strong. Keep going”!
I start into the steepest grades of the climb. It is 7 to 7.5 percent for three or four miles. This is where I zoomed past the semi at 40 mph the other day. I push it hard. I’m speeding along at over 5.4 miles per hour. Normally, I’d be doing this at 4.5-4.7 mph. My legs are pumping, my lungs are wheezing, but I am not stopping. A car with bike racks going downhill honks wildly and flashes its headlights. Thanks!
And then I’ve made it to the top of the steep bits. I take a very short break to take a photo. I then cruise a short downhill where I stop to take another photo. Then it’s off up the rest of the climb without any more breaks.
Back in my BMX days, when I’d go street riding with my mountain bike boys, I carried a lot of angst, as you do when you are still young and idealistic. Riding was a great way to get rid of all that angst. It gave me the power to try new tricks and jumps; it pushed me to ride fast and hard and with no fear of consequence.
I’ve mellowed a lot since those days, but today I’m using all that end-of-trip angst to power me up the hill. I feel just like I did when I was 20… only slower. A great primal scream rises within me and just tears right through me and out through the pedals. As I stand at the summit, I feel proud of my riding today. I feel bad-ass. Well, I feel as bad-ass as a not-quite-middle-aged asthmatic chick ever feels. I’ve ridden hard and strong.
Three mine guys are standing around up top. They go silent for a second, look me up and down, and then go back to their conversation. I go have a look at all of the interpretive signage. It’s well done, but it’s out-of-date now that the mine has reopened. Midway through looking at all of this I think, “ooh, I should get the miners to stand by my bike and the mine sign for a photo when I head back”! It’s a missed opportunity. They’re all gone by the time I get back to the bike.
Then I fly down off the pass. I pedal into the steep grade and pick up heaps of speed. I pull out into the lane to get the right angle into the switchback, so I won’t need to brake. Once I’m through the switchback, I pedal hard to get up speed on the more gentle downhill. Most of the time I don’t even bother pedalling on the descent, nor do I bother with tucking down. But not today. I pedal as hard as I can, and then when I reach the somewhat steeper bits down toward the bottom, I tuck. I get my head right down on the handlebar bag so that I’m breathing on Verne and Kermit. I get down in the drops and pull my elbows right in. I’m only able to get it up to 38 mph, but I maintain that for nearly two miles. Several people give me happy honks as they go by.
All too soon, just like the whole trip, it’s over. My speed slows with the loss of gradient, and I’ve got to pedal the rest of the way down the valley. I contemplate stopping in for tea at a house that has a huge sign out the front that says: Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again. I decide against it, though.
I climb the hill into Leadville, stop for a sub sandwich and then head on down the hill and through the upper Arkansas Valley. At Granite, I turn toward Independence Pass. I’m going to camp at Twin Lakes. It’s one of my favourite places in Colorado and the perfect place to spend my final night on the road. My climb to Independence Pass on my 2010 tour is one of my life highlights. It was one of those perfect days where everything came together and you’d never go back to change a single thing.
I spend part of the afternoon down by the lake which is quite low since it’s late in the season. I have lots of fun trying to find driftwood pieces for Verne and Kermit to use as rafts. In a different life, I would have been a puppeteer. Or a paleobotanist. Nevermind, I really have no complaints with how my life has played out!
The world seems far away. I think about how much saner the world would be if all adults could get outside to engage in some creative play like this. I think of all the frenetic craziness of my old job where I’d get urgent emails from the project boss needing milestone reports written and returned that day. I think about all the stuff that society deems a priority, and how none of that is really all that important. Of course, if you brought a whole bunch of managers down here to play on the beach, they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. They’d fret about the work they were missing, the time that was wasted. And god help them if they didn’t have access to their phones. Oh, how I do not miss any of that!
In the evening, I climb up to a ridge that has views of the lake and the surrounding ring of high mountain peaks. It is cool and calm, the afternoon storms have all moved on. I breathe in all of the peacefulness. I inhale all of the calm. I reflect on what a lucky chick I am to have been born into the right set of circumstances that have all led up to me being able to be right here, right now. I think about how so, so fortunate I am to have done this tour and to have had more fun than anyone will ever be able to imagine.
All is calm. All is good. I watch the sun set behind the mountains. I watch the sun set on this tour.