Utah-Colorado

 

Fall 2014

 

Denis Kertz, ©2014


Day 9: Tue, Sep 09, 2014 - Fruita, CO to Grand Junction, CO [38.9, 5:10:03, 7.5 mph, 2,650']

I wasnít in a hurry to get going.It rained over night and the weather didnít look much better in the morning.On top of that I could see the mosquitoes just waiting, daring me to leave my tent.I packed up as much as I could in my tent and then worked to pack my bicycle as quick as possible.It took a little time for the buggers to find me and then they started feasting again.

 

I hustled out of the park as fast as I could and rode to the nearby McDonaldís since I hadnít seen any regular restaurant around for breakfast.Again I had the Big Breakfast with Hotcakes, not a bad breakfast.After killing about as much time as reasonable I started riding towards the Colorado National Monument at 8:30 am.Clouds covered the top of the plateau and it didnít look like they had any intention of leaving soon.However, my senior pass got me in free so all this ride was costing me was energy.

 

It drizzled off and on as I climbed to the Visitor Center with no real views in sight but I remembered the switchback and tunnels from before.I put on my rain jacket to ward off the drizzle.I arrived at the Visitor Center around 10 am and spent a little time there, just long enough for me to get chilled somewhat from the condensation I generated on the ride.

 

I didnít expect much the rest of the way and then noticed a few openings as the clouds thinned out a bit.Before long the clouds had lifted above the plateau and the views turned out to be fine, something I would not have put any money on.The Sun even put in a couple of appearances.So I got to see Monument Valley, Ute Canyon, and Red Rock Canyon in all their glory.An amazing turnabout from the morning.By the end of the route I could see all the way across the Grand Valley and see the Book Cliffs on the other side of the valley.

 

It was also a great descent from the monument back to ďseaĒ level, just as I remembered from before and I could see Grand Mesa to the east.I stopped for a bit to eat at a food mart on the edge of Grand Junction and then set about looking for a motel.I followed some signs to downtown and motels but didnít see anything looking like an inexpensive motel.I did find an outdoor shop and stopped in to find a replacement for the spoon I lost.However, they didnít have a spoon unless I wanted to pay $17 for a titanium spoon which would have been too painfulhad I gotten it and lost it some day.

 

Then I pulled out my Garmin GPS to find where motels were.Unfortunately, the GPS doesnít work like Google Maps where you can see where the motels are on a map.I found one motel that looked like it was on the south end of town along with another one and I figured that would be a good place to look.When I got to the motel, the guy refused to rent a room because I didnít have a car.Thatís the first time Iíve ever been rejected.I have needed to show a driverís license for identification but I never had to actually have a car.So I went to the other nearby motel and found it catered to extended stay and they didnít have anything available.However, I got directions to the north side of town where I was assured there were plenty of motels.

 

So I rode back from the south side to North Ave and found a couple of motels.I paid $50 for a motel where the guy had worked in downtown Chicago cleaning rooms and houses.He was almost a nonstop talker and it took some effort to get out of the office.Unfortunately the advertised WiFi didnít work even after it was reset.At the same time clouds had moved in again and it started raining.

 

While I was trying to connect to the motel WiFi I noticed that the Village Inn restaurant next door had a WiFi network.So I decided to eat there for both the WiFi and because it was raining.That worked fine and I got most of what I needed to get done.

 

The other thing on my agenda was laundry.The motel operator told me where the Laundromat was but he noted that it didnít stay open late.Nevertheless I walked there with my clothes hoping I might be able to get that taken care of or at least find out the hours of operation.The Laundromat was indeed closed but I learned it opened at 8 am and that would work okay before having to check out of the motel.

 

Later I stopped by the Wendyís next door and got a classic vanilla ice cream.This came in a carton and required a spoon.And thatís how I got my replacement spoon.In fact, I picked up an extra one just in case.

 

So the day started out with rain, cleared up for some good viewing in the monument, and then restored itself to the rainy weather.However, the weather forecast for the near future looked good.

Day 10: Wed, Sep 10, 2014 - Grand Junction, CO to Palisade, CO [27.4, 2:54:48, 9.4 mph, 460']

I walked next door to the Village Inn for breakfast and had a pancake combo which was very good.This also gave me the chance to use the WiFi again.Without this WiFi access the motel would have been a real disappointment but as it was it was mostly an annoyance.

 

Just after 8 am I showed up at the Laundromat and took care of my laundry.By 9:30 am I was checked out of the motel.The goal for the day was to camp at the Colorado River State Park - Island Acres.This was the closest I could get to the start point for the Grand Mesa ride.It was about 17 miles from the motel so I had a lot of time to kill.Had I been confident that mosquitoes wouldnít be a problem as they were at the Fruita campground, I might have gotten there early but I didnít want to take that chance.I did call the park later and the ranger said he hadnít heard of any mosquito complaints so that was encouraging.

 

I decided to ride back to the downtown area since that was only a couple of miles.I did a little shopping and then I stopped at the Main Street Bagels place which was hopping.I got a cinnamon roll, read the paper to catch up on news, and used the WiFi.

 

Around noon I started making my way to the state park for camping.The streets were laid out in a nice north-south, east-west fashion so getting around was easy.It was actually a little farther than I thought but I was in no hurry.Palisade is a big fruit and vineyard area and there were designated byways specifically for those who wanted to check out the area.I stopped at a food mart for a cold drink and got directions to a nearby grocery store.I stocked up on a few things.I expected at least one night I wouldnít have access to food and would need to use my food stock.

 

Then I continued on and had to get on I70 for a few miles.At the exit for the park there was a food mart and restaurant.I stopped at the restaurant at about 3 pm and had their spaghetti special for $10 and it was almost more than I could eat.I hoped this was how carbo loading worked, because I was loaded when I left.

 

The park was just across the road.At one time the park area was a true island but then a dike was built in the 1950s that eliminated the island.There was a small tent-only section with only one other group in it and I got a site for $16.However, unlike Fruita, there was no ranger on duty and I had to pay cash rather than being able to use my credit card.My site had a row of shade trees and it was very pleasant with nary a mosquito in sight.Maybe they hadnít gotten notice that I would be here.

 

By comparison to other days, I didnít really need a shower but I took one anyway for 4 quarters.Ideally, the shower should be part of the camping fee but the argument is that this gets people thinking about conserving water.The problem in this case is the $1 gets 4 minutes but I was done early and there was no way to shut off the water early.So much for conservation.

 

Anyway, a restful day despite the nearly 30 miles.Some exercise experts might call this active rest and claim this can actually be better than complete rest.I hope so.The big climb up Grand Mesa tomorrow looms.In fact, there is a huge pile of rock next to the interstate that reminds of this big climb every time I glance that way.

Day 11: Thu, Sep 11, 2014 - Palisade, CO to Grand Mesa, CO [40.1, 7:14:37, 5.5 mph, 5,938']

I packed up and rode the mile back to the restaurant at the interstate exit and had a good breakfast of ham, eggs, potatoes, and a pancake.I left at about 8:15 and immediately got on I70.I saw a sign for ramp repairs at exit 49 with a detour and I guessed that was my exit and it was.I had visions of the detour going to the next exit and coming back on a different road which would have been a killer.Instead the detour was just to ride up the entrance ramp so the detour was no big deal.

 

The initial 5 miles or so were really scenic as the road followed the Plateau Creek through a steep canyon with vertical rock walls.This was the best scenery of the day.

 

After 14 miles at the intersection with 330, the real climbing of the day began, 5,700 feet over 19 miles to the Grand Mesa.In 2 miles I stopped in the small town of Mesa for my second breakfast.I didnít need a second breakfast yet but this was going to be the last services until the Grand Mesa.

 

Then began a long, almost impossible grind up a constant grade at 3.5 mph.I did my best to stay hydrated and keep feeding myself but the grind took its toll.There were some good views looking back down the Plateau Valley and across the Colorado River to the mountains on the other side but it was hard to pay much attention with the constant grind.

 

Although I took frequent short breaks, around 1:30 I took about a 25 minute break and that helped some.Originally I estimated I could make the Grand Mesa by 2-3 pm but it was 4 pm until I reached the Mesa.There was a campground at that point but I passed.I knew there were a bunch of other campgrounds later on and I also wanted to stop at the Visitor Center.However, I found out later that the Visitor Center was almost 10 miles further and it seemed unlikely I would get there by their presumed 5 pm closing time.So I pushed on doing some more climbing to get to the other campgrounds.I passed by a store and I was tempted to stop but it was good that I didnít.

 

Eventually I reached the top and finally started a descent.When I came upon two lakes with campgrounds I found the Visitor Center.I got there just as they were closing and immediately asked if they had drinking water.They did but in water jugs.The woman attendant kindly got me enough water to fill 3 of my water bottles which was good because the campground didnít have drinking water.So I was very fortunate to get to the Visitor Center just before it closed.

 

I got a camp site next door at Cobbet Lake.They didnít have any drinking water or a real bathroom yet they wanted $16 for a site, the same as the state park with all of its services.Fortunately, I have a Senior Pass and got it for half price - $8 - which is what I would have expected the regular price to be for this type of campground.

 

This is bear country so after eating I packed my food in my sleeping bag pouch and stuck it in the restroom since the cedar trees here didnít have any good branches for hanging food.Then I settled in for what I expected would be a cold night at 10,300 feet.

Day 12: Fri, Sep 12, 2014 - Grand Mesa, CO to Paonia, CO [55.4, 5:05:55, 10.9 mph, 2,008']

This was the first night I had to zip up my sleeping bag.I think it was close to freezing in the morning and that made it harder to get up.The campground was located where it was going to take a while for the Sun to reach the campground.Nevertheless I got up and was on the road by 7:30.It was downhill all the way to Cedaredge but it was chilly where the sun wasnít on the road yet.Even where the sun was on the road it was still pretty cool.So I kept my speed under control to minimize the cold.

 

After about 5 miles the road reached a clearing where you could see the valley below and the San Juan Mountains in the distance.It was a dramatic viewing, much like the one yesterday except yesterday the view was only available when you stopped and turned around to look.Today the view was always present on the descent.

 

Just as I neared Cedaredge I saw two bucks that I thought at first were these statues that people put up to decorate their yard but these statues moved.It is rare to see a buck, much less two at the same time.The closest one started leaving but the other approached a bit and posed for a photo before they both moved away.

 

I found a restaurant in town for breakfast and had an omelet since their pancake offerings didnít look appealing.Then I descended a few more miles until I reached North Road in Eckert.The idea was to avoid Hwy 92 to Hotchkiss since I was advised 92 was dangerous to ride with no shoulder.North Road took me east for a good ways, down through a valley and climbing out of it and climbing some more.During the climbing I could feel the effects of yesterdayís mammoth climb.When North Road ended I took 3200 Road, L Road, 3100 Road, and J Road into Hotchkiss, making use of my GPS to make sure I was on track.

 

In town I had a couple slices of pizza and a 44oz lemon-lime Gatorade.Then my goal was to reach Paonia, 9 miles away.The main road through town split into 92 east and 133 north to Grand Mesa.I wanted to take a county road to Paonia but that would have meant riding a couple miles on 92 and I decided against that.133 had only a narrow shoulder but it was better than no shoulder.

 

I reached Paonia about 2:30.Ideally, I would have kept going another 17 miles to Paonia State Park but that would have been pushing it after yesterdayís hard day.I also had another big climb tomorrow although nothing like yesterday so I wanted to make today as easy as possible for recovery purposes.

 

I checked with information in town and learned there really wasnít any camping unless I could get permission to camp in the town park, which I checked later at the town hall and that wasnít allowed.There was a motel just a couple blocks from downtown and a motel about a half mile down 133 that I saw on my way.No one was around until 4 pm for the near town motel so I started to ride to the other one when I passed the library.So I stopped at the library to use their WiFi and take care of some things.By the time I was done at the library it was just after 4 pm so I got a room at the motel for $68.

 

After cleaning up I walked downtown.Paonia had a nice downtown but most of their restaurants were cafes and bistros trying to show they could invent all kinds of different foods.I ended up at a decent Mexican restaurant, seemingly the only traditional restaurant in town.

Day 13: Sat, Sep 13, 2014 - Paonia, CO to Carbondale, CO [62.0, 7:31:45, 8.2 mph, 3,845']

It was an auspicious start to what promised to be another hard day.Just as I rolled my bike out of my motel room I discovered I had a flat rear tire.I thought I must have just gotten it rolling the bike through the parking lot but I had to put the tube in my roomís sink (fortunately I hadnít locked the door) to find the slow leak.So it must have happened yesterday and slowly gone flat.The cause was easy to determine.I found two little things stuck in the tire before I even removed the tire.They were 2 little pins of some sort next to each other.One was too short but the other punctured the tube and I could feel it from the inside.I had to use my knife to remove them.This cost me about 30 minutes and I finally left at 7:45.

 

Then I noticed the brisk headwind.I figured that was all I needed on what already promised to be a hard day.

 

I rode back to Hwy 133 where there was a food mart and had my cereal breakfast with a banana.I finally got on the road at 8:15 on a cool morning made worse by the headwind.I had 18 miles to Paonia State Park and I figured that would take a couple of hours but it took 3 hours and I climbed about 900 feet over 18 miles.Taking that into account and the fact that I hadnít hit the hard climbing yet made me start to wonder if I could even make the pass today.I started debating whether I should just stop at the park and call it a day or try to hitch a ride over the pass, much as I was loath to do that.

 

At least the views were great, much better than the climb the other day to Grand Mesa.The road followed the North Fork of the Gunnison River as the road wound its way through the big hills.The road started off with just a little shoulder but then it became a wide shoulder after 5 miles or so and that made viewing much more pleasant, not having to worry about traffic or rolling off the shoulder.At some point, maybe after a couple of hours, I realized that the brisk headwind had stopped and it was a pleasant, sunny day for riding, if I only didnít have to climb a pass.

 

I rode through Somerset an old coal mining town.As I passed through there was a train being loaded with coal.The train rolled very slowly along as a coal loader filled each car.

 

About 11:30 I passed the Paonia Reservoir and saw the state park at the north end of the reservoir.It didnít look like much from the road and I didnít hesitate to continue on.It wasnít too much later that I finally realized my progress was much better than my earlier estimates.I finally saw a sign that said 6 miles to McClure Pass and I realized that, unless the climb was impossibly steep, I should be able to cover those 6 miles in a couple of hours.After that it would be downhill.So my out look improved noticeably as I realized I could make the ride and not have to hitch a ride.From the 6 mile mark I was soon chugging along at 3.5 mph but that was an acceptable pace as the last 6 miles covered 1600 feet.The views continued great and it was a great view looking back as I could see the road and why it was a difficult climb - yes, at one time I had been way down there below on the road.

 

After 35 miles I reached McClure Pass at 8,755 feet and began the descent.It was a steep descent for several miles.I stayed in the middle of the road and kept several cars behind me at bay as I zipped down the hill, eventually hitting 45 mph.Had I been familiar with the road I think I might have been able to hit 50 mph but I didnít push my luck.

 

The view of the mountains was fabulous and then the road followed the Crystal River the rest of the way down.The river was a narrow, shallow river rushing over the rocks.People were out fishing and enjoying the beach areas along the river.After the initial steep descent pedaling was required at times but that was childís play compared to the climb to the pass.

 

My goal for the day was to stop at the BRB Campground a few miles before Carbondale.I had found this place using Google Maps yesterday and it looked perfect, a campground right along the river.As I got close to Carbondale I was surprised to see a KOA which Google Maps didnít show.Iím not a particular fan of KOAs so I pushed on, figuring the BRB Campground would be even closer to Carbondale.Big mistake.I never did find the BRB Campground.When I checked later, Google Maps today showed it as a KOA.I think Iím going to sue Google Maps.It certainly shouldnít be legal to mislead a bicyclist by showing it as 2 different campgrounds on successive days.

 

I wasnít about to ride the 5 miles back uphill to the KOA when I reached Carbondale.So I got stuck with a $99 room at a Dayís Inn.Initially I was quoted $119 but when I nearly fainted the receptionist found a $99 rate.That was at least $50 cheaper than the next door Comfort Inn which was the only other motel option in town.At least the Dayís Inn included a breakfast and its WiFi worked.

 

After settling in I grabbed a large tuna sandwich next door at the food mart - I had to do something to save some money.

 

Despite the campground fiasco, the day turned out pretty well.It was still a hard day but almost easy by comparison with the climb to Grand Mesa two days ago.

Day 14: Sun, Sep 14, 2014 - Carbondale, CO to Aspen, CO [21.6, 2:42:02, 8.0 mph, 1,136']

I took advantage of the motelís free continental breakfast which was pretty decent.To pick up the Rio Grande Trail all I had to do was take the road in front of the motel for about 0.8 miles and it intersected with the trail.

 

The trail is basically a paved former railway route with about a 3% grade so it was pretty easy, especially compared to my previous climbs.I had done this same trail last year to get from Aspen to Glenwood Springs so I had a pretty good idea of the trail.

 

I reached Nick/Sabrinaís place in Aspen Village just after 11 am with no one home but they left the door unlocked for me to get in.I settled in and Nick and Johnny showed up about 1:30 after a morning of hunting.Sabrina and Genevieve showed up several hours later.

 

We had a great dinner of elk and salmon with homemade ice cream for desert.

 

Nick is a major Cardinal baseball fan so he had taped a game with the Rockies and we watched that.Later I watched the first half of the Bears-49ers football game that looked hopeless at halftime, when I stopped watching, but the Bears pulled out a minor miracle and won 28-20 due to 4th quarter heroics.

Day 15: Mon, Sep 15, 2014 - Aspen, CO [Visit Day]

I slept great last night on my makeshift bed.Sabrina works part-time as a nurse and had the day off.So we went into Aspen for coffee in the morning and to hang out outside on a nice day.Later we drove to Snowmass Village where Nick works and I had never been to.Snowmass is known for its ski resort but also recently famous for Snowmastodon Project that in 2010-2011 unearthed 4,826 bones from 26 different Ice Age vertebrates.We had a good lunch again outside and finally got home at 2:30, not long before Sabrina had to meet the school bus.

 

Later, I remembered I had forgotten my bicycle maintenance.So I dragged the bike outside and cleaned the chain and oiled the pulleys and brakes.

 

Since it was Monday night football, Nick figured wings would be the appropriate meal so he cooked some wings in his smoker.He also bought a German chocolate cake for my birthday.So we had wings, Caesarís salad, and cake and ice cream, a fine meal.

 


 

Copyright Denis Kertz, 2014. All rights reserved.