Walsenburg - top of Cucharas Pass and back to LaVeta, CO: The best overall climbing experience ever. - Climbing and Cruising in Central Colorado - CycleBlaze

June 25, 2014

Walsenburg - top of Cucharas Pass and back to LaVeta, CO: The best overall climbing experience ever.

We noticed yesterday that the trains running through town were very long and very close to the motel. They also blow their whistles for an unreasonable amount of time at all hours of the night. We stayed at the Sands Motel - perfectly adequate and $60. The guys were at the Anchor motel. I'm not sure what they paid, but not one of them heard the train, although the motel was quite close.

After a couple of middle of the night wake ups, I was up and out the door at the usual time. 7 AM. Elevation was lower here. We had a perfect cycling morning, no leggings,etc. necessary. Cathy and I took the left out of the parking lot and off we went.

We noted again how poor the town was. They did have a large park and pool with great toys and slides for the children. At least the little kids have plenty to do in Walsenburg. There was also a huge, huge nursing home outside of town. Very fancy. Not at all in keeping with the area. The Black Diamond water plant was also out of place for it's new and well kept look. Perhaps there is some revitalization money coming into the area.

We were going from an elevation of 6,200 to 7,000 at LaVeta, 8,500 at Cuchara, and 9,995 at the top of the pass. A climbing day. Skies were Colorado Blue and only a slight headwind. Now we were on busy Hwy 160. Busy even at 7 AM, but it has a huge shoulder, giving us acceptable if not desirable riding. The views were stupendous. The Spanish Peaks dominated the first 11 miles to the turn on Hwy 12, and the final 5 miles into LaVeta.

Thankfully, LaVeta was a busy, charming little town with a good vibe. All of the store fronts were full and the main street very appealing with trees and planters. We stopped at Charlie's - a little grocery store/ice cream counter. 25 cents for a cup of ice and 10 cents for a brown spotted banana. The grocery was well stocked with an excellent selection of produce. What a pleasant surprise. I don't think there was a microwave burrito in sight. They had a real meat counter with a butcher to help with selection. LaVeta is a very vibrant town. It is amazing the difference in the two communities and they are only 16 miles apart. Besides the social/economic difference, the terrain is different. Walsenburg is out on the plains with dry grass and not much else. LaVeta is tucked up at the base of the mountain with lots of green grass and trees.

While Cathy and I were having a quick snack, Tom Newman and Oren rolled up. Last night at dinner the four of us were the only ones who planned to ride the entire day to the top of the pass and back. Jacinto wanted to go, but has the bum leg. Everyone else was ready for an easy day. Oren and Cathy made a few noises about riding only part way up the pass. I told Oren he had to ride the whole way. He and I both need the training for the two week trip that follows this one. He wasn't so excited, said his legs had no life in them today. Oren bought a regular size Snickers bar for $1.07 - certainly not the deal the banana was. Too bad there weren't any Snickers with brown spots on them. He put the Snickers under the rack pack cord on his bike. I pointed out that Snickers are made of chocolate and probably he should rethink the placement. Oh, he says . . . .

We all took off. Oren was going to be a gentleman and ride with me, but I told him climbing is a personal thing and I didn't want to throw either of our rhythms off by trying to ride together. I was just fine putzing along and ticking off the miles. I might be slow, but I always get there. My goal is to finish the day in good enough shape to ride the next day and enjoy it. Whatever that speed might be. :)

Cathy and Oren took off together. Tom rode behind me listening to my music with me. Or so he says. Finally he gave up and passed me, but stayed within sight distance.

The town of Cuchara is ten miles down the road with mile markers conveniently counting up. The road was definitely climbing, but didn't seem unreasonable and the view kept me very entertained. The Devil's Steps (rock formations) were to the left with the ski area on the distance to the right. The road surface was acceptably new with very little shoulder. We also had very little traffic. This section of the ride was a top five cycling experience. Ginny soon came along with ICE. Yes! I was on my second Spiz bottle and she topped it off with ice. She took a couple of photos of Tom and me. Then we were off again. The gradient wasn't so tough I wasn't making reasonable time and the elevation on the GPS was going up at an acceptable clip.

Soon enough we were to Cuchara. Cute, cute little town. Perhaps 10 buildings in all squashed in the canyon. All were very busy. Ginny said Oren and Cathy were gone. Tom didn't walk his bike to the van because he didn't want to retrace his steps uphill. We had to smile at him, but he was correct. There is no reason to do any extra uphill on a day like today.

I had a text from Jacinto that he had cycled to LaVeta and felt good enough to keep going - he would meet me in Cuchara for lunch. I warned Ginny that the hard section was supposed to be coming up and I expected to climb it at 3 mph - please give me an hour and then come with water. Don't you wish you had this sort of service on your tour?

Off we went. Tom slightly ahead of me again. He disappeared when I stopped for a bush break. I kept looking at the mile markers and the GPS elevation. They were corresponding delightfully. So far the climb wasn't too hard. So far the climb wasn't too hard. Would I actually get to the top without any of the character building work that we had on the Hardscrabble Pass? It appeared so. The road had turned into numerous switch backs. I used to fear switch backs because they mean the mountain is big. Now I know switchbacks are my friend because they take the bite out of the climb. I don't think I've cycled a road with this many before. Turn to the right, turn to the left, back to the right. On and on I pedaled. Not getting too tired. I even had one extra gear left. Just in case.

This is one of the absolute most beautiful areas I've ever cycled. Ever. Ever. I keep using superlatives, but it's the truth. Jim Fitch, you would approve.

Cathy zipped by on her way down. She and Oren had made it to the top. We were still talking when Ginny stopped. I told Ginny I had done such a good job climbing, I didn't need a resupply. I had gone hardly any further when Oren stopped and said I was almost there. I thought the top was at 9,900 feet. The Garmin reached that and kept going. Wait a minute! The Garmin is almost always spot on, just off by a few feet. Finally I arrived at the meadow at the top. The sign said 9,995 feet. Ah.

I didn't linger long. Ginny took a few photos and we headed down, ready for lunch. We saw a couple climbing up. Oren stopped to talk, but I kept going. I was to town in far less time that it took me to get up the mountain. Funny how that works.

I rode into Cuchara looking for bicycles. I finally saw them at the very end. When I got inside Spoon's crew was there, having driven up in the van after checking out the road construction on tomorrow's route. I asked about the construction. Nial and CR told me in detail how horrible the construction was and we'd have to rent a UHaul to get our bikes through it. No way could we ride, couldn't ask for a pilot vehicle. Just horrible - wouldn't be able to ride but a few miles tomorrow. I totally and completely believed them. So much so I think I took some of the fun out of it. Turns out they were joshing me. I'm not totally certain the story I ended up with is the true story. What they said in the end is the construction is all from the top of the pass down the other side, so we would have the climb all done and then beautiful pavement all the way to the bottom. But now I'm not sure I believe it. Maybe I'll check the story at dinner tonight.

I finally had a good meal. A great meal. To go with my great day. I ordered a salmon salad - which was an excellent salad with walnuts, feta cheese, craisins, and tomatoes on lettuce, with a nice piece of salmon on top. It hit the spot. Yum. It was hard to get up, but we still had to coast the last eleven miles to LaVeta. Life is so hard.

Tom had a flat just two miles from Cuchara. He checked it out more after we ate and discovered he had a slit in his rear tire.That is not a good finish to such a nice day.

Back at our B & B, the 1899 Inn, we all agreed that it was quite a surprise how down the down was because it didn't feel comparably up on the climb. Which is a nice situation to be in. The climb never was too difficult. Taughenbaugh and Morissana Mesa had trained me well.

Jacinto and I are in the cottage behind the B&B - with crummy wifi. I will see when I can get photos posted here. Stay tuned for the rest of the story on the road construction.

This was an excellent, excellent riding day. I hope you all had a ride a fraction as nice as mine.

The Spanish Peaks accompanied us for the first half of the ride.
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The Devil's Steps were visible all the way from Walsenburg.
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Tom Newman and I met up on the road for the first time. Notice the sweaty shirt - uphill all the way, baby!
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There were a number of interesting murals on the way to Cuchara.
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Spoon didn't tell us he had property here!
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The view opened up to a lush meadow at the top of Cuchara Pass at 9,995 feet. I had a good run to the top, but was very happy to be here!
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I think a good wind would blow this barn down.
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It looks like a good wind would blow some of these balancing rocks down. Edit: I now know from reading Marilyn Swett's journal and Emily Sharp's journal that this is a dike. It is very special and geologists come from all over to see the dikes in this area. Marilyn and Emily both pointed out the face profile and the train in their photos. Mine is at a slightly different angle and while you can see the face, the train to the far right isn't as obvious. I really enjoy reading journals that cover the same area I've been to or am planning to visit. Look at what I've learned here!
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Happy campers after the bodacious downhill from Cuchara back to town.
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Today's ride: 49 miles (79 km)
Total: 289 miles (465 km)

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