South Fork to Pagosa Springs - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

June 22, 2014

South Fork to Pagosa Springs

Days of bygone steam at South Fork. There are old, silver passenger carriages across the road
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TWO FACES stared through the blue-curtained window as we propped our bikes outside the café with the slowest service in the world. In fact, no service at all because our breafasts never did arrive.

The faces looked for longer than was polite but with that regard that shows a particular interest. And sure enough, within moments of sitting down, we were discussing Rohloff hubs, French mountains and bygone tours.

The woman - we never did get their names - had the build that suggested she could race a ferret up a drainpipe. "I love climbing," she gloated or, rather, shouted. The ferret would have been deafened. "But I'm hopeless at descending."

All that meant that her estimation of Wolf Creek pass had to be judged. There was nothing to her that gave gravity a grip. By contrast, we had panniers and tents. But she was a cyclist and when she said the climb wasn't that hard, we took her more seriously than the belt-straining locals who insisted we would probably die in the attempt.

"But we've ridden climbs like that before," we'd explain, in that tone that falls just short of boasting yet just beyond the point at which a normal person would gather we knew what we were talking about and that the time had come to shut up. Except that people who predict doom enjoy it so much that shutting up is an unknown notion.

"Weeeell," they'd say, looking thoughtful as though taking our experience into account, "but Wolf Creek pass...", and they'd blow through their lips in a "You really know what you're getting yourself into?" tone.

Of course, we reached the top without losing our sanity or our will to live. It started easily and now and then even went down through a netherworld of RV parks and unmissable tourist attractions. Then it became suddenly steep where a roadside panel announced the start of the real climb, then eased up, then summoned its strength and punched out wildly for the last six kilometres, which included two brief tunnels.

Mountain scenery
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Sure, we had a hard time in that last hour, first because it was as steep and second because the wind pushed us lower down now thrust strong icy fingers into our chest in the crawl for the summit. But it was worth it. The traffic is busy but sane, which gave a chance to admire pine forests standing respectfully back from the road like a mourning army in emerald.

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The summit comes after a couple of false alarms. It's easy to see where it is once you've rounded the last bend because half the traffic stops to see the panel that explains the continental divide. You can sit for as long as you like and never run out of fathers demonstrating with raised arms that all the water flows in one direction to the left and in the other to the right. But, at that altitude, maybe not quite enough water: there was snow still waiting to melt and fill the infant streams but across the road someone had painted "Pray for rain" on a wooden square and hung it in the trees.

The top of Wolf Creek pass, named not after the animal but an early settler. There are two tunnels on the way up from our side: you can ride round the first on the old road, even though it's marked as closed, and the second is only short
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I suppose there's only a limited time a parent can engage his child in a rainfall divide and no sooner had I braked to a lung-heaving halt than first a buky woman in black and then an earnest father with no sense of discretion came at me from each side, like a continental divide in reverse.

The woman restricted herself to "Just ridden up here on a bicycle? Gee. That must be tough."

I agreed and she went away to find a bag of potato crisps. The man was more persistent. I still felt ragged from the effort and breathless from the altitude and in that recognisable but undefinable state of wanting to be left alone.

"Which way did you ride?"

I pointed back the way I'd come.

"How long did it take?"

I shrugged and said I had no idea.

"You don't know how long?"


"Don't you know the time you set off?"

I pointed at my naked wrists. I haven't worn a watch for 25 years.

He looked appalled and about to say something else when I interrupted. "Look, give me a couple of minutes to myself and I'll answer all the questions you like."

But either he thought I was difficult or two minutes was too long and I never saw him again. Two minutes is about as long as everyone gives the continental divide. Fathers explain as best they can to children who don't see why they should be interested, the novelty of seeing cyclists on a mountain wanes, and everyone drives back down the hill and wonders what else to do with the day.

Thank goodness.

Striking views of the valley on the way down from the col
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Verdant fields behind wooden fences run the length of the valley
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Today's ride: 83 km (52 miles)
Total: 4,054 km (2,518 miles)

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