Villa Grove-Hartsel, CO: Mariah was our friend today. - Climbing and Cruising in Central Colorado - CycleBlaze

June 21, 2014

Villa Grove-Hartsel, CO: Mariah was our friend today.

I didn't feel like I slept at all last night. Pre trip jitters, two people squashed into a double bed, very noisy fan blowing right on my face - a combination of all of those? I kept waking up all night long. Cathy had asked me to wake her up at 6 AM - I went over at 5:45 and she was already up and dressed. She said she'd gotten up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and had seen a couple of spiders in the bathroom and couldn't sleep after that for worrying there were spiders in the bed.

Someone had told me to fix steel cut oatmeal to try soaking it overnight to puff it up. I did that, along with craisins. It worked very well. We were both ready to go right at 7 AM. It was a touch cold. I had to dig around in my bag to find leggings.

Last year when we rode this stretch with Oren and Bill, a huge storm had blown through the night before. We left at daybreak before the forecasted storm started up again. We did beat the storm, but battled a headwind to the top of the pass. Today was pleasant. I expected the typical 'down the pass in the morning' wind, but we had none. The miles ticked away at a pleasing rate.

One advantage to traveling with another women - we share the same bathroom needs. Riding through the upper San Luis Valley, there are no trees or even big bushes. We had agreed we would probably need to find a good spot soon. No good spots, or even medium good spots. Finally, we saw a big tree way in the distance. Yes! A pee spot. I know, you guys don't get it. It's the plumbing advantage.

We kept moving along, stopping only for a good bush or a quick snack. I had cherries and baby carrots, which were excellent. I have just started eating carrots on tour. They are excellent for the crunch factor. It seems like so many touring food are soft in texture.

Leaving Villa Grove at 7 AM and 52 degrees. It was worryingly cloudy, but ended up being just nice cloud cover.
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Almost to the top of Poncha Pass. Either I'm in better shape, it's the weight I've lost, or we had a little tailwind - but I made it all the way to the top in my middle chain ring. No granny. It's an easy pass.
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We've been here too many times and can't be bothered to cross the road for a picture by the pass sign. I've made a mental note that I take better photos if I'm not chewing while photographing.
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Cathy's photo of me at the top.
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We met three day riders from Salida at the top of the pass. They were on the way to Villa Grove and back for their excursion. That would be a nice outing for a local.

We zippity, zipped down the pass. It was an excellent run. I hardly touched the brakes at all. Road surface was good, shoulder wide enough, and traffic light. We stopped at the convenience store at the edge of Poncha Springs. They had a little cafe inside. I bought a tamale and a V-8. Of course I had to think of Jerry Harp as I drank the V-8. He had toured with us a couple of years ago and we discovered we both had a fondness for the salty drink while on tour.

There was a very little bit of road construction that was very easy to deal with as we made our way through Poncha. We noted the motel where Spoon's group had stayed. We didn't see any cyclists outside. I bet they were long gone. We found our turn and started pedaling uphill. Darn it.

Traffic was some heavier, lots and lots of rafting buses, pulling trailers of rafts. People were out having fun today. The shoulder was huge, and traffic fairly slow moving with the big vehicles. Terrain was still pretty barren, some sage brush and pinion. The best part of cycling this area is looking out and seeing all of the 14ner's (fourteen thousand foot mountains) ringing the valley. We got to cycle a moderately challenging road while looking at giant climbs.

It had been many years since I'd cycled this area. I didn't have fond memories. It seems that the wind always blows terribly and not in my favor. We used to ride a sponsored even called Tour of the Arkansas River Valley, a two day event following Hwy 50 from Salida to Buena Vista, then back to Salida through Hartsel. It was fun because of the people and what a good job the cycling club did putting it on, but it was really hard riding. Cathy had had the same experience on several Ride the Rockies trips she had through here.

Every mile that we didn't have a headwind or rain (those clouds still looked dangerous), I was thankful. That was one more happy mile in the bank. We had 24 miles between Poncha and Johnson Village. I remembered a giant climb up to the pipes crossing the road. Guess what? With no gale force head wind, it was a moderate climb. Thank you, thank you.

I had mentally divided the trip today into thirds. First third was over the pass to Poncha. Check that off. Second third was the 24 uphill miles to Johnson Village. Check that off. Now for the last third, riding Trout Creek Pass and into town.

We stopped at the convenience store. Cathy was interested in eating at the restaurant, but I didn't want a meal sitting in my stomach undigested as I climbed the pass. She settled for part of a Dominos Pizza and I ate the last of my tamale.

We could tell traffic was really, really heavy on Hwy 24. It is the major thorough fare from Denver to the mountains and it was Saturday. I was hoping most of the traffic would be going opposite us. At least the pavement was almost new and we had a ~18-24 inch shoulder in most places.

From Johnson Village it was a very long gradual 12 miles to the top of Trout Creek Pass. 1,500 feet of climbing. I did most of it in the middle chain ring, amazingly. I stopped a few times along the way when Ginny/SAG caught up with me. She was very easy to spot in the brightly painted VW van.

Feeling good. Feeling good. No wind. I said that mentally to myself. No need to tempt the wind gods. Cathy took off, wanting to get off the road. I checked in with Jacinto a few times. He was slowly gaining on me. The clouds cleared off for the most part and it was excellent riding. I kept a fast enough pace to keep from sweating and heating up. I'd estimate the temps were in the low 70's. Good climbing weather.

I kept munching on cherries and carrots. I was on my third bottle of Spiz (meal replacement drink). I'm a fan of liquid calories during the cycling day. I try to eat just enough to keep the Spiz from sloshing. Having a SAG to carry the big plastic jugs of Spiz is a huge plus for me in having a SAG. That and always having ice.

I made it to the top. Ginny took my photo, but the traffic was too heavy to cross to the sign. Since it had been fifteen years since I'd ridden this pass, I would have had a closer photo -but the traffic really was that bad.

I hadn't gone much further down the road than I saw Jacinto's bright orange Alert Shirt coming up behind me. He was having a good ride, except his knee was bugging him. We chatted for a minute and he went on ahead. I noted with pleasure that his Dinotte blink light was VERY visible in the sun. The battery on mine had died somewhere on Hwy 24. That wasn't a surprise as it hadn't been fully charged when I left.

I have dorky looking hi viz triangles on three sides of my bike - the better to see me with, my dear.

Just at the base of Trout Creek, Hwy 24 veered right. Every so thankfully away from all of that Denver traffic on Hwy 285. Thank you, thank you. We lost the shoulder and 90% of the traffic. Road surface was still very good. That is a gift in Colorado. Winters are tough here. There are frequently frost heaves in the roadway. The highway department is fond of chip and seal, but we haven't run into any yet.

Life is good - just 13 more miles to town.

I had discussed directions to the ranch with Ginny. Two miles from town on Road 59. I had the impression that it was two miles down the main highway to 59. I also stopped and checked 24 was my road. Yes, there it is on the map. Good. I hadn't gotten far before I had a garbled phone call from Cathy. She thought she was lost. I couldn't hear here, but soon had a text. She was lost and going to sit by the roadside until someone came along. She thought she was four miles from town, but I was three miles from town and hadn't seen her. Definitely lost.

At the same time I had a message from Jacinto. Also lost. I had just enough time to call Jeff, who was starting a horse back ride, to let him know they were lost. I didn't even have Ginny's phone number, so no calling her. Then, very, very inopportunely, my phone died.

I was standing in front of the cafe, hungry. Should I eat or continue on to the ranch and make sure a vehicle retrieves the lost riders? Duty called, I rode on. Luckily I had asked Jeff for confirmation on the ranch location. Turn right on Hwy 9 to Canon City, then make an immediate left onto Road 59. The ranch was two miles down the road. Ahhhh - confusion.

We don't see ponderosa pine much in Colorado. I wonder how many days we will see them this trip. Usually they are more south, by New Mexico.
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There was a nice size buffalo herd almost to Hartsel. I'm wondering if the buffalo in the next photo is related. Buffalo burgers were available in town.
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As silly as it is, I didn't know Jacinto's phone number to call him. He had just gotten a new one. Smart phones make us dumb. I didn't know his number, I just call Jacinto on the phone. I found the guy's cabin by the van. Didn't really get to say hello properly as I was too busy trying to figure out if anyone had Cathy or Jacinto's phone numbers. I did an elaborate phone tag thing where I called son Luis, who did not have Jacinto's number, but asked him to text daughter Marcela to text Nial's phone back.

In the meanwhile Cathy showed up. She had taken Hwy 24 to Colorado Springs, but retraced her steps in the headwind for an 80 mile day. Jacinto shortly showed up. He wasn't even looking for road 59, but road 160. I don't know where that came from.He had gone on down Hwy 9 and also came back in the wind.

Meanwhile Ginny, Tom, and the van with our clothes were all missing. End of story is Tom had missed the turn all together while enjoying the downhill and had done his bonus miles on busy, busy Hwy 285. Poor guy.

Those of us who started in Villa Grove were all starving and on the edge of grouchy. The Poncha crew had already eaten at the only cafe in town and pronounced it OK. Darn. We all went in together. Laura was our waitress and did an excellent job with our table of 12. No problem with separate tickets. She had the system down, obviously having done this before.

Jacinto and I shared a giant brewery beer with one of the fancy caps. It wasn't long before my large combo arrived, which I fully intended to eat, but didn't finish. It was mediocre. I must not have been as hungry as I thought.

The crew asked lots of questions about the day tomorrow, but all of my notes were yet unpacked in the van. Luckily it was a simple day. Left on Hwy 9 - enjoy the downhill until the slight climb to Currant Creek Pass. Down some more until the tough little climb up to Hwy 50. Then down even more to Canon City where our lodging is opportunely located for departure.

We rode home in the van. All of us stinky from our 70+ mile day. Our rooms were fabulous - the complete opposite of Villa Grove. Also twice the price. You get what you pay for. The ranch had a fancy lodge house with all of the accruements.

We showered and visited with a couple of TransAmer's (cyclists going from coast to coast on the TransAm route - we were crossing paths with them for one day). These two ladies preferred to motel it, but did carry camping gear in case they were forced to camp.

We showered and I washed out my clothes. I had some doubt if they would dry by morning, as it was not 7 PM. I also got started on charging all of the electronics. Bike computer, phone, speaker, and the blink light all needed charged. Heck -I never used to charge a thing when cycling. Those were the days.

Jacinto and Oren tell tall tales at the Hartsel Springs Lodge. The bench they are sitting on was brought over by Mr. Hartsel in 1900 from the London Stock Exchange.
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I was pleasantly fatigued and happy. I had done well on a long day with two passes. All of those training rides where Jacinto strong armed me out the door to ride Taughenbaugh and Morrisana Mesas paid off. He wasn't doing so well. Jacinto had been having trouble with his right hip/knee since winter. Usually if he quits running, the pain goes away. Not this time. He finally went to the doctor and got prescription NASAIDs and a muscle relaxer along with instructions to stretch and ice the knee. He'd been doing fairly well with that at home. Darn. We'll see how the rest of the trip goes.

We did some chatting in the evening and I worked on this post. I even scored a leg massage from Jacinto! That was a very unexpected and appreciated surprise.

We were in bed with lights out by 10:30. We had breakfast to eat here at the lodge, but the group was going back to the cafe for a hot breakfast. Our server, Laura, didn't work mornings and she let us know that the server who would be on duty was very, very pregnant and please be nice to her.

Today's ride: 72 miles (116 km)
Total: 72 miles (116 km)

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