Canon City-Westcliffe, CO: Dig deep and spin those pedals! - Climbing and Cruising in Central Colorado - CycleBlaze

June 23, 2014

Canon City-Westcliffe, CO: Dig deep and spin those pedals!

Cathy and I agreed to leave at 7 AM because we had a big climbing day ahead of us. She was outside waiting as I cycled past. We made a left across 5 lanes of busy Hwy 50 traffic onto 9th St. aka Hwy 115. We had driven this last night, checking to see if Hwy 115 was confusing. It was easy to follow and also a nice downhill. We were in Florence in 45 minutes. If only the rest of our day would be so easy! It was nice to get our legs stretched out and a few miles out of the way before the climbing started.

Florence is a very charming little town, no longer a farm town, it is now antique store alley. It is also the closest town to the Super Max Federal Prison. This is the prison that replaced Alcatraz to house the worst of the worst offenders. We stopped at the first convenience store we saw. I was set for a V-8 juice, but they did not have restrooms. Nope. I'm spending my money at the place with the flush toilet. We moved on to the next convenience store. Flush toilets and V-8 both. Plus the cheapest V-8 of the trip at $1.79.

We knew as soon as we made the right at Carl Jr's on Hwy 67 that we would start climbing. I knew we would have a 900 foot climb over the eleven miles to Wetmore. Then the real climbing would start.

These cactus were ALL over today. They grew very tall. Who would think in central Colorado there would be so many cactus.
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This might be the only time I see Oren on the road this trip. He is way too speedy.
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CR is looking good on the bottom half of the climb. It must have been fine, I never saw him again.
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We are getting into the real climbing, almost to Wetmore.
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We were about half way to Wetmore when Spoon's crew caught up with us. They had gone to breakfast in town and started later. They didn't chat long. I did get a couple of photos, but they were anxious to get down the road and get the climb under their belt.

I had told Cathy to go ahead and climb at her own pace. Climbing is very personal. You have to do what you can do at your own pace or the result won't be good. She was long gone and we never saw her again the rest of the day. Jeff did catch her a couple of times to fill her water - but she didn't see a single cyclist once she took off.

Spoon and I rode mostly together to Wetmore. It was a perfect riding day. Coolish, with blue skies, and no wind. What more could we ask for? The climbing at this point was mild, 2-3%. I kept watching my Garmin's altitude function much more than the mile function. It really, really helps me pace myself to know what elevation I'm at and still need to climb.

Once we hit Wetmore, the road took a definite tilt upward, but still not too bad. It was very convenient that the mile markers were counting down toward Westcliffe. I knew I had 30,28, 26, etc miles left to town. Traffic was fairly light, although there was the occasional semi size belly dump truck. They were going both directions. I never did see a gravel yard or any other obvious location they were going to.

Finally the climb got serious about MM 22 and I dropped into the granny. Spoon had climbed on ahead of me. I got slower and slower. I decided it was difficult enough to resort to my serious hill climbing method of stopping every mile on the mile for a break. Mile 21 and 20 slowly crawled by. This was some serious climbing with occasional grades up to 10-12%. Not quite to MM 19 the SAG was stopped along with several riders. Nial asked me if I knew what MM we were at and I knew exactly. I also knew we had 500 feet of climbing to go to McKenzie Junction and then 900 more feet to climb after that.

Is it cheating to keep track of the elevation like that? I had one man tell me I was taking all of the adventure out of my ride by researching the climbs so thoroughly. Doing so helps me pace myself to get to town in good enough shape to have a fun ride the next day. That is my goal - enjoy each day.

Everyone but Spoon took off. Spoon started walking his bike and I rode behind him. And rode behind him and rode behind him. I do believe there is quite a bit of irony that he was walking just as fast as I was riding. Finally I caught up to him when to gradient dropped down to 4% and I was sped up to the blazing speed of 6 mph. I stopped and mentioned to Spoon the irony of his walking/my riding and then told him to try riding.

There was 3-4 miles of really steep riding along the canyon. We got to McKenzie Junction - I firmly announced we were done with the serious climbing. Nial told me he was sure we were done with climbing all together. Nope. I disagree. We ended up betting a margarita on the results. (I won).

It was SO nice to be able to blaze along in my center chain ring - 6-7-8 mph felt like warp speed compared to the tough part.

Mentally it was a relief to be done with the hard part. We had last ridden Hardscrabble about 20 years ago when we lived it Lamar. It was very early in our cycling career and I was interested to ride it again. I wanted to see if it was as difficult as I remember or if it was hard back then just because of inexperience. The fact - it's a tough climb!

Jeff with the second SAG started waiting for us just every couple of miles, making sure we got to the top of the pass. I was very, very sure there was a pass sign. We came around a sweeping turn and it appeared we were at the top. But where was the sign? The Garmin said we should be there. Darn it! This was hard work - I want a pass sign. How much does a sign cost? Hurrumph. Hardscrabble Pass is lower than Trout Creek and Current Creek both at 9,100 feet. However, we started climbing at 5,200 feet - so a 4,000 foot climb in one shot. Canon City was our low point of the trip.

Something I didn't dare mention or hardly think about all day was the wind. Wind is typically very strong in this area of the state. We had a very nice tailwind all the way up the pass. Which follows right along with 'down in the morning, up in the afternoon'. When we got to the top of the pass, there was a headwind - 'up in the afternoon' on that side. I was still in denial about the lack of sign when the road started up again. Ah, ha! A false summit, perhaps the pass sign was here. No. Now it was going down for real. Jacinto caught up with me and Spoon. They stopped for a snack before the pass, but I was focused on eating my Wendy's chili at the top of the pass. Ginny handed my chili over to Jeff and went back to check on Tom. I finally admitted there was no sign and ate a few spoonfuls of chili. The wind was blowing, but it was downhill - so I was happy. Jacinto went on ahead. His leg had been bugging him and he wanted to be done. Spoon was long gone.

Look! Here's Jacinto. I seldom see him on the road.
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There were many fancy ranch gates today. This was an exceptionally nice one.
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Traveling at bicycle speed, we see many interesting sights.
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I stopped several times just to take in the view. I saw several emergency vehicles go past with lights flashing. I hoped Tom was okay. Jacinto soon checked on me to see how I was doing, he had also seen the emergency vehicles. I tried to take photos of the sweeping view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, but just couldn't get the full effect. It's one of the most beautiful sights I've seen. I almost didn't want to get to town. But I did. :) I rode slowly through town looking left and right, not even thinking about our motel until I was all the way through town. Wait? Where's the motel? I called Jacinto and had to retrace my steps back to the liquor store at the turn to Hwy 69. How confusing, Hwy 67 to Hwy 69. Why not Hwy 23 to Hwy 69 - or something like that?

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains ring the town of Westcliffe. What a view!
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How long would it take to get tired of this view?
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Norma had told us last night about the Amish who had moved into the area. One group to the north, another to the south. Buggy lanes had been installed in town, they looked like giant bicycle lanes and we all used the one going through town.

I felt very good arriving. Tired, but not too tired, and accomplished to have completed the big climb. Our food was here, but not the clothes yet. Jeff had food, Ginny had luggage. I was very happy to eat the last of the chili.

Internet was spotty and quite annoying. The office lady said the internet for the whole town had been out all weekend, requiring a repair on a huge cable. She sent us to eat at Chappy's. It was only medium - I haven't had any really good food this trip. Just medium. That's a disappointment.

We did have fun over dinner telling stories. Cal and Oren got into a big discussion on religion that we couldn't derail. It did stay civil. Nial sent over a margarita for dessert to make good on our bet.

After dinner the crew went looking for ice cream but didn't find any. We were back to the motel by 8:30. Although the weather for tomorrow looks good, I don't trust the wind. Cathy and I are starting at 7 in the morning. It will be a longer mile day, but overall more downhill than uphill. We have never been on this road at all, even by car. It will be interesting.

Today's ride: 49 miles (79 km)
Total: 181 miles (291 km)

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