Bicycle Tour Colorado – June 19 – June 26, 2010
Bicycle-Tour-Colorado (http://www.bicycletourcolorado.com) is a fully supported week-long road bicycle tour through the Rocky Mountains. The route varies each year; there are usually six riding days and one rest day during the week. The tour costs about $360 for the week (depending on which options you choose). The tour transports your gear from town-to-town and there are rest stops about every 25 miles or so. The tour is usually a loop route which greatly simplifies logistics. This year we started/ended) in Gunnison. Official mileage was 470; Scotty and I logged just over 500 with probably close to 14,000 ft of vertical climbing. Here are some of the highlights and pictures from our trip.
The drive from Denton to Gunnison was about 14 hrs – scenic once you get into CO. After arriving Friday eve checked into our motel and on Sat went on a very pleasant warm up ride for about 30 miles.
Rancher with a sense of humor – on our warm-up ride in Gunnison.
20 June – Tour Day 1 – Gunnison to Creede – 108 miles, Slumgullion Pass – 11,530 ft.
Up at 5am, packed the truck, dropped the gear off and left the truck in the long-term lot. Scotty and I were on the road at 6:00 am. Very chilly (about 380), but it dropped lower as we rode by the Gunnison River.
Little Scotty bundled up in Gunnison for the start of the ride.
We followed US 50 W for about 20 miles following the river. Gradual downhill, but chilly. We turned left on CO 149 & immediately started climbing 9 mile hill (the first of two big hills -both just over 9,000 ft). After a couple of quick downhills it was gradually uphill all the way up to Lake City.
Just outside Lake City, the climb up Slumgullion began in earnest. Very steep switchbacks, cyclometer showed several long grades > 12% and 6-8% is common (Hilltop and the Wall have very short sections at 10%). I heard the BTC guys call this the second hardest climb in Colorado (and I believe it). Little Scotty had fun dueling a couple of the locals up the pass. As usual, he beat me into camp by over an hour. I was struggling – in fact one of the state troopers doubled back on this motorcycle to see if I was going to live. !). Finally arrived at the top of Slumgullion (11,530 ft). Once on top of the pass, the wind was blowing 35 – 40 mph out of the SW and the downhill between Slumgullion and Spring Creek Pass was slow and wind was buffeting us from side to side. Topping Spring Creek Pass was pretty easy, but the long downhill was very disappointing as the headwind was so strong.
The Summit at Slumgullion
It is a gradual downhill for about 15 miles. Had to pedal pretty hard to go downhill at 15mph. The road finally turned N. and the wind got behind us. Had a nice 30 mph run into Creede, finally arriving about 3:30.
Ride Stats: Mileage: 108.27 miles Ride time: 8:16:20 Avg speed – 13 – thanks to the headwind, Max speed – only 43.5 mph Total climbing – 8159! Avg grade – 4%, Max grade – 21% ?
Day 2 – Creede to Alamosa – 70 miles – no major climbs
COLD! Overnight low in Creede (9000 ft) was 280. We got up a little late (~6:30) and caught the shuttle uptown to breakfast at Café Ole. Walked back up to camp, finished packing up, loaded the gear on the truck and hit the road at 8am.
It I a beautiful, gentle downhill from Creede to South Fork. Big rocks on left and creek on the right – very scenic and easy ride.
Road from Creede downhill to South Fork
Once in South Fork, the road flattens and we enter S. Colorado high desert. Highway 149 has a wide shoulder and a few rolling hills. Extremely windy in Alamosa. I had strong crosswinds most of the way from MonteVista. Alamosa altitude is 7544.
Mileage – 70.30 Ride Time: 3:45:31 Avg Speed: 18.70 Climbing: only 493 ft.
Luggage dumped from the trucks in Chama. Trucks are lettered A,B, C etc., so IF you remember what truck you loaded your stuff on – it is easier to find.
Day 3 – Alamosa to Chama
Up at 5:30 had breakfast with the Hub Grub guy (one of the vendors who travels with the tour). On the road at 6:15 hoping to get some miles in before the wind gets bad. Got with an excellent pace line running about 18 mph up a gradual grade and into a light headwind.
After Aid 2 the climbing started and we saw several pitches of 9% and up. The wind was gusting really hard, sometimes almost blowing us to a stop as we climbed. Despite the wind, had a pretty good climb and hit the summit of LaManga (10,320 ft) at 11:00 am. The headwind ruined the downhill and we had a short and fairly easy climb to Cumbres Pass (10,022). Hit that summit at 11:45. Took a short break at Aid 3 and started the descent into Chama, NM. Found out that there is a tourist train that runs from Antonito (before the climb started) all the way to Chama (see picture). Good thing I did not know about that in advance. One of the riders did know about it, put his bike on the train and rode the train all the way to Chama. The train actually ran alongside the road we were on, but it was down slope and was not visible very often.
Train that runs from Antonito to Chama
The downhill was OK, would have been a lot faster without the headwind. Arrived in Chama at 12:45 and found where Scotty had already set up camp (once again he beat me in by over an hour). Showered in the shower truck and Scotty and I rode into Chama to check it out. Found an interesting saloon where we sat outside and watched the local scenery. Bicycled down to High Country Restaurant & Saloon (about 3-4 miles in S. Chama) and beat the rush for dinner.
The view going up LaManga Pass
Scotty and I chillin’ at the Chama Saloon
Day 4 – Chama to Pagosa Springs
51 miles from Chama to Pagosa Springs with no big passes, should be a rest day. Actually not. Riding South out of Chama on 64, turned N on 84 toward Chromo and Pagosa Springs. Got underway at 7:45, cool but not cold and no headwind! Pretty pleasant ride up to Aid 1 just S. of the New Mexico/Colorado border. While there were no big passes there were several pretty stiff climbs that required gearing back down to granny gear.
Heading toward Pagosa Springs after Aid Station 2
Great scenery and good road. Nice long downhill as we approach Pagosa Springs. Arrived in town at 10:45 and found where Scotty had set up camp. Spent the afternoon getting lunch, roaming around town and playing in the river. Water is really cold – about 62 degrees. BTC and Pagosa Springs hosted a block party in the park by the river with music, beer and all kinds of food.
Mileage: 50 miles Max Speed 44 Ride time 3.0 hrs
Tent city in Pagosa Springs. The large tent is the massage vendor. Most overnights are in HS football fields. PortaPotties are plentiful and clean (swapped out daily)
Day 5 – Rest Day in Pagosa Springs:
Rode to the river and spent much of the day playing around in the water. Water is cold except where one of the hot springs blends in. Hot springs can be pretty hot (110o – too hot to sit in), but where they blend with the cold river water, it is pretty nice. Borrowed a tube and Scotty tried to run the little rapids and the waterfall. He hit a hydraulic at just the right place and got flipped. Early to bed, tomorrow is going to be a tough day up Wolf Creek Pass.
Little Scotty in blue tube about to go over rapids
Day 6 – Pagosa Springs to Center
Very pleasant 16 mile ride NE to Treasure Falls at the base of Wolf Creek. We left tent city at Pagosa HS at 06:45 and I reached Aid 1 at Treasure Falls at 7:50. Gambled on dry weather and left the rain gear in the bin so I wouldn’t have to carry it up the pass. Shed the vest and arm warmers, but kept them in the daypack for the downhill later. The climb up Wolf Creek starts at 8,000 ft. Got a good consistent rhythm going at about 6 mph and climbed about 1500 vertical feet before taking short break. Hit the summit at 10:45. Pretty cold at the top of the pass (10,890 ft), took a short break, put vest and arm warmers on and started on the descent. Hooray! – first big descent all week without a headwind! Blasted through the snow shed and the tunnel at 45+mph, passed two cars and was lining up on a semi when he pulled left and floored it. Top speed was 51 mph. Absolutely beautiful descent into South Fork (where we were on Day 2), a river runs next to the road, big rocks, very pretty. Took a short stop at Aid 3, took off the vest and arm warmers again and prepared for the final flat miles to Center, CO.
1st turn out just at the start of the climb up Wolf Creek Pass (8500 ft). You can see the road coming up from Pagosa Springs just beyond the lake in the background.
Arrived in Center a little after 2:00. Down in the plains again, so the the wind has started up again – this time a pretty stiff crosswind is blowing and thunderstorms are building up. Beat the rain into Center which is a very small town. One (small) grocery, a bakery, a couple of liquor stores and maybe one restaurant. A little rain on and off, but not enough to affect the band and beer garden. Hung out there for awhile, then back to camp to prepare for a long hard day.
Miles: 76.81 Time: 5:10:17 Avg speed: 14.50 Max speed: 51
Total climbing: 4163 Avg climb – 4% Max climb: 9%
Hub Grub –guy – breakfast tacos and coffee most mornings. Fellow is from San Marcos TX
Day 7, Center to Gunnison
Light rain started about 9:30 Friday night and finally ended about 03:00 Sat am. We’ve had strong S & SE winds all week, today we are heading NW so perhaps we can have a tailwind? Up at 05:15, got the gear packed, stopped for the daily breakfast burrito and coffee at the Hub Grub guy. The ride from Center to Aid Station 1 in Saguache was a fast pace line – very pleasant. Soon after the left turn after Saguache, guess what – strong headwind from the NW. Not fair – we’ve been fighting this wind all week and now it has turned 180 degrees to blow in our face once again. Slow going toward the pass, as we start climbing the wind dies down as it is broken up by the mountain. At Aid 2 the climb begins in earnest toward the top of N. Cochetopa pass. Very good scenery and a pretty good climb. Nonetheless, hearing the bell lady near the top of the climb was a very welcome sight & sound. Thanked her for her efforts and took a short break at Aid 3. Too cold to stay up there in the wind for long, so back on with the vest and arm warmers and start the downhill into the wind. The downhill is not that steep, still without the wind, it should have been about 35mph. We were struggling to hit 15. About ½ way down, the road dropped into a big canyon where we are finally sheltered from the wind. A big pace line roared by and I jumped on. Had a great 15 mile or so descent at 30+ mph in a disciplined pace line. Pace lines at that speed in a descent are pretty exciting (and scary). The pace line stopped at Aid 4 and the party was over. Back out in the open, the wind was back, although perhaps not as strong. Slow progress as we approached US 50 where we turned west toward Gunnison. After getting on US 50, the wind died down (perhaps blocked by the mountain to the N.) and the last 7-8 miles into Gunnison was not that bad.
The shower trucks make these tours SO much more enjoyable. They hook up to a fire hydrant for water (also have on-board tanks), have huge water heaters and always have hot water, and are always clean. Sinks pull out from under the truck with hot and cold water and mirrors. Showers usually open until about 8:30 pm. No more waiting in long lines in nasty locker rooms for an ice cold shower!
Mileage: 99.21 miles (2nd century of the week) Ride time: 6:29 Avg speed: 15.30, Max speed: a dismal 40.50 Avg grade 3% Max grade 9%
Good tour, but also good to be done. BTC will announce next years route this fall. Anyone interested?
If you go….. I highly recommend the lightest bike you can manage, equipped with a triple and a seat you can live with for a week of big miles. My Trek came equipped with a triple and I had my stock gears replaced with an alpine gear set (28-11), which gave me a great granny gear (and I spent a lot of time in it). Even if you are a good climber (I’m not), at those altitudes you just can’t push the larger gears. Like Scooter on his long ride, I also used a Brooks saddle this year and unlike years past, had no issues with saddle sores.
It would be great fun to have a Corinth group ride the tour next year – give it some thought.
Bob Seiple & Little Scotty