Day 69, to Gould: A steady but beautiful climb, a spectacular lunch spot, the continental divide, a moose sighting and a sweet descent - Chris Cross America - CycleBlaze

June 30, 2022

Day 69, to Gould: A steady but beautiful climb, a spectacular lunch spot, the continental divide, a moose sighting and a sweet descent

Thursday stats

Start: Kelly Flats Campground

End: Aspen Campground, Gould, Colo.

The Daily Progress: 46.3 miles

Cumulative climbing: ~4,300 feet

Elevation at the endpoint: 9,011 feet

Ice cream flavors: N/A

Food expenses: $5

Lodging expenses: $10

Thursday thoughts

The mileage doesn't show it, but I think this counts as an epic day. We set off early, at about 6:30, and climbed a winding but ultimately westward route through the Poudre Canyon, with a desert-like grassland to our right (on the south-facing side of the mountains to our right) and thick pine trees to our left (on the north-facing side of the mountains to our left). The road, SR-14, stayed close to the Poudre River, which provided a pleasing rushing soundtrack to our ride, not to mention the views of the occasional rapids beside the road ahead.

Our first stop teased us with signs about bighorn sheep, but we did not spot any.

Our second stop was at Chambers Lake, which offered gorgeous views of the deep blue lake, surrounded by pine trees and tall, jagged, snow-capped mountains overhead.

We climbed consistently for most of today's 46 miles, and we were quite relieved when we finally reached the continental divide, and the peak for the day, between miles 34 and 35. Shortly before the divide, we were approaching 10,000 feet elevation at a surprising pace. I was feeling unusually exhausted and assumed it was entirely because of the altitude affecting my aerobic system (is that the right term?), because I thought we were on a gentle incline. The climb had been gradual all day, or so we thought, until we got above 9,500 feet and I started calling out the elevation every hundred feet — and realized I had to do that surprisingly often. Then I realized I could set my GPS device to display the grade, which I did, and I discovered that were climbing a 7% grade. Oh! That is not a gentle incline at all. Sure, the altitude makes it harder, but now it makes total sense that we would be plodding along at 3.5 miles per hour.

The good part about climbing a steep grade? When the grade becomes less steep, you start to think you're going downhill. Eventually, you catch on, but it's a nice feeling at first.

We finally reached the summit on SR-14, at 10,276 feet. Phew!

And then we got to experience what it really feels like to go downhill! Woohoo! Luckily, the descent was not quite that steep — around 4 to 5 percent, which made it feel fun but not treacherous.

As the descent settled down to a flatter plane, I spotted someone near a vehicle that was pulled over. He was carrying a camera with a long lens, which caught my attention. Wondering what he was looking to photograph, I looked the direction he was looking, ahead and to my left, and there was a moose in the grass, next to a stream. Whoa!

I was rolling pretty fast and did not want to make my brakes squeal, so I slowed down gradually and came to a stop just a bit further down the road. Meanwhile, Dani, just a bit behind me, squealed, "Moose! Moose!"

I carefully pulled out my phone and snapped a few photos. Then I remembered learning from Dani's uncle that moose can be very aggressive, and I realized he probably sees me, and sure enough, he raised his head and seemed to look directly at me.

Luckily, he did not appear too interested, but I did not want to push my luck. I eyed the can of bear spray that I've been carrying, strapped up next to the tent on top of my bike rack. Dani was behind me, watching the moose. I slowly motioned that I thought we should go, and I slowly started moving forward. The moose did not seem to care at all.

And on we went. Finding a campground was slightly more complicated than I would've expected, but emphasis is on the "slightly."

We made it to Aspen Campground and cooked our camper meal for the night and set up camp and hung our food in a tree (Dani's bike lock is by far the best heavy object I've ever used to throw one end of a rope over a tree branch!). And now we are snug in our tent just in time before a light rain shower. It's 7:30 p.m., and I think we're both tired enough to consider that late enough to call it bedtime. 

Dani's notes

Today was a hard day of riding. I don't know if my bike was made of lead or if my legs were powered by tiny chicken muscles or if it was the headwind or if it was the consequence of climbing steadily at high elevation, but every mile was a hard-won victory that I celebrated by dismounting from my saddle and taking a few glugs from my water bottle.

I don't have a speedometer on my bike, so I was spared the indignity of staring at a quantitative measure of my torpor all day. At lunch, Chris asked me to guess our speed. I said "below 5 mph." It was 3.5! That is about the slowest speed a bike can go.

Grueling as it was, it was also beautiful. Our lunch spot perfectly encapsulated the alpine beauty we enjoyed throughout the day: a sparkling blue lake, fringed with pines, guarded by a snow-streaked mountaintop.

The ride was also informative. According to one interpretive sign we encountered, bighorn sheep spend 50 percent of their day sleeping, 15 percent of their day resting, and 35 percent of their day feeding. Sounds like a pretty sweet life to me.

Spotted this sign: "Wild Trout Waters. No Bait Fishing.")

I don't know if I can say I reached the summit "suddenly" when I spent the whole damn day inching toward it, but we did reach the pass earlier than I expected. We took the requisite photos and THEN...

I enjoyed the best 15 minutes of bike riding in my life! The road on the opposite side of the saddle was graded perfectly to send me whizzing down the mountain at an exhilarating (but not terrifying speed). Dramatic mountains flank the road, and the mile markers flash by at an unbelievable pace. The descent was ALMOST worth the climb.

And then we saw a moose! We got a good look at him feeding.

It was slightly harder than we expected to find a campsite and the one we ended up at was just meh. It was kindy weedy and neglected. And the sign asking you to not throw your trash in the pit toilet was improperly punctuated (I've been noting this ever since Chris gushed about seeing a properly punctuated sign in the pit toilet at Kelly Flats). But it WAS bursting with columbine. I discovered columbine buds look like little squids! Delightful.

I was feeling pretty miserable at the end of the day -- dehydration, I suspect. I chugged a bunch of water and then had to get up twice in the middle of the night to pee. And it rained steadily for hours, which was kinda cozy but also made managing stuff wet and complicated. Not my best night of camping.

Today's ride: 46 miles (74 km)
Total: 2,462 miles (3,962 km)

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