Pagosa Springs - Del Norte, CO: Summiting Wolf Creek Pass! - There Ain't No Air In This Air! - CycleBlaze

July 17, 2013

Pagosa Springs - Del Norte, CO: Summiting Wolf Creek Pass!

The spin I put on this day to the guys is that we have a gradual uphill of 14 miles through some of the most beautiful country on earth. Then a slog up the pass of 9 miles. After that - it's all down hill! I went on to say that we always have a strong tailwind off of the pass and in to Del Norte. That statement . . . well, not this trip. In my defense I think we missed the afternoon wind from the west because we were riding so darn early in the morning that we were always in town by lunch time. Forget 'afternoon' tailwind.

The valley outside of Pagosa Springs was very lush.
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The horses from our area would certainly enjoy pasture like this!
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Once again everyone but Jacinto was out the door at daylight, ready for our last big challenge of the trip.

I had been riding strong this trip and was looking forward to comparing my performance on Wolf Creek to years past. My first ascent of the pass was a disaster. I was on a big organized ride and we had already done several passes. I thought, "Eh, another pass. Big deal." Plus there was the subtle pressure to keep moving and not stop as the flow of cycle traffic was never ending. The result was I bonked, big time, about half way up the climb. It was not pretty. Somehow I managed to struggle to the top. The Character Building Experience of the day made me very leery of Wolf Creek Pass for years to come.

In reality it is a 10 mile long, 6-7-8% climb. It doesn't get worse, but it never gets better. For certain it's no Dallas Divide.

Beetle kill pine trees on the climb up Wolf Creek Pass. There had been a huge fire raging in the area recently with the dead trees as tinder.
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Looking back on the climb - whew, it makes me tired just to look at the photo!
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More of the climb.
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This was my easiest summitting yet of tough Wolf Creek Pass. I give the credit to Bill, who acted as my pacer. He was always just the right distance in front of me. Note the interesting sweat lines on my shirt. I did say easiest climb up Wolf Creek, but it was no means easy.
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We met the SAG at the bottom of the climb at Treasure Falls. I was horrified to find out the vault toilet had been removed. I have all of the bathrooms memorized and look forward to using each one. Men, I know you don't understand, it's your plumbing system advantage. Trust me on this one. I'm not too shy to use a bush when needed, but I would rather use a bathroom and not worry about flashing anyone.

I told the SAG I'd like a resupply of ice and water in four miles, which would take me at least an hour to climb at my typical 3-4 mph climbing pace. As I set off from the stop, I immediately put into action my pass climbing plan. On the tough passes, I stop for a quick break every mile on the mile. I have perfected this method of attack over the years. It works perfectly for me.

After I rode through the initial switchbacks, I could see Bill's lime green shirt in the distance. He was moving almost exactly at my pace. Perfect. I kept his shirt in my sight and kept pedaling. And pedaling. And pedaling. I stopped every mile as planned. At mile four of the climb, there was Cal and Spoon. Cal was most surprised I had almost drained my two bottles. "What? You've only gone four miles!" True- but it's taken me an hour of hard effort and lots of sweat - just look at the sweat marks on my shirt! I let them know it would take me another hour if not more to reach the top and took off.

Bill was still in the distance, but then he stopped for a longer break at mile 5. I don't mind stopping. :) Bill shared his M & M's. They were delicious! I told him how he was helping me up the mountain - watching him ride was a great distraction from the torture of the climb.

Finally we reached the top. Did the photo thing. Had some snacks. I reminded Bill about the two snow sheds on the way down and to put his blinky light on. I also said I was stopping at the really nice new toilet on the downhill. Provided it was open. Now I had my doubts, since the other toilet had been totally removed.

Bill told me to go first as he was a slow downhiller. We had a good shoulder and the pavement was in good condition. I was looking forward to a rocking downhill. I turned my music way up, as it's hard to hear at speed. Off I went. There was the first snow shed two miles over the top. The music really echoed inside. Cool. Just as I cleared the tunnel (and in the middle of a good Neil Diamond song) the music stopped. What the heck? It was the speaker. It hadn't fully charged last night and finally the juice had run out. Darn, darn, double darn. I love good music on the downhill. I moved my phone to the bag behind my back. That wasn't satisfactory as I couldn't hear it. Shoot. Yes, that little speaker was worth the $$$.

One of two snow sheds on the downhill. These were built in avalanche chutes to improve safety.
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Bill caught up with me and we both stopped at the nice bathroom - which had a prominently placed "Sorry, closed" sign. Bill just couldn't believe it and tried the door. Yep, it was locked. Budget cuts, I suppose?

In this area we saw the SAG heading back up the hill. We waved an continued on. The downhill was very nice, but we had a headwind. That was disappointing - but we were still rolling at a good clip. Life was good. We agreed to stop in South Fork at the Blimpie sub store. That's our usual stop on the Slumgullion tour before making the turn for Creede.

There was one last granny gear climb right next to a big RV park called Fun Valley. They were featured in the Chevy Chase movie National Lampoon's Family Vacation. It's a huge park with many amenities. While I was on this climb my phone rang. It was Jacinto calling from the top of the pass! He had cell service! I said we would wait for him at the Blimpie store.

There has been a recent forest fire in the area of over 100,000 acres. It was fed by the beetle kill pine trees and raged uncontrolled for weeks. The entire town of South Fork was evacuated for two full weeks. At one point the fire came so close to town that the chance of saving the town was 'low'. Fortunately wind kept the fire away long enough for the firefighters to plow (?dig?) a big fire break around the town.

Bill and I sat and chatted about 45 minutes while we waited for Jacinto. After he showed up, he and I ate ice cream and we all talked some more. There was no hurry to get to town, it was still early.

Finally we stirred ourselves. Bill took off first, he turned in at the rest area outside of town. That left Jacinto and me to fight the wind to Del Norte. Jacinto rode like it was a tailwind instead of a headwind. Amazingly, I had enough left in my legs to keep right behind him at 15-17 mph the entire distance to town. After we arrived, I asked him what was with that pace. He laughed and said his butt hurt, he wanted to get off of the bike. He asked if a bee had stung my butt since I was riding so fast.

We pulled up at the Windsor Hotel. This was our lodging indulgence for the trip. The Windsor is very elegant and totally not what you would expect in little Del Norte. The recently restored hotel just reopened in 2011. This was our first chance to stay there. Jill had given our group the cyclist rate, a nice discount.

We had some confusion about the entrance as there was a paper sign on the door that said "Closed, call for reservations". That appeared to be for the dining room, where was the hotel entrance? We walked around the building. Nope. Finally Jacinto tried the door with the closed sign. It opened. Oh, okay.

While we were checking in, I asked about Boogie's Diner. I was surprised to see they were closed when we cycled past. Just today or long term? I've been going there since 1998 - it's a plain old diner, nothing fancy, but it is definitely a tradition to eat there. The man checking us in assured us we didn't want to eat at Boogie's we should eat at their restaurant that his son and daughter in law run. They are chefs, well trained, not cooks like they have at Boogie's. Jill had given me the same heavy sell when I made reservations. It felt uncomfortable. Very.

The Windsor has a bicycle parking room. It was quite full with all of our bikes. We ended up putting our bikes in the utility room because my bike is so long. We had to bring our bottles, etc up to the room, which took a little organizing.

The hotel was wonderfully redone and furnished. What a treasure. Jacinto was too busy being disappointed that there wasn't a fridge in the room to appreciate the nice light fixtures. He opened his chocolate milk and it had clabbered. He drank it anyway - said it was just chocolate flavored cottage cheese. That man will eat anything. The hotel did redeem itself some in Jacinto's eyes since they offer Kuerig coffee. He had several cups during our stay.

We showered and walked to the end of the block to try the new brewery/pizza place. Since they were the only open restaurant in town at the moment, there were no seats at all. Some nice local guys gave us their spot at the bar. The pizza was baked in a wood heated kiln (I want to say it was a kiln - it was that shape) - which was interesting. We had a wait for our food, but several more people from our group came in. Tom let us know he would be riding the entire distance to Salida tomorrow so he could get a jump on the drive to Minnisota. Darn. But I had wondered if he'd do that, being a strong rider. It would be an 80 mile day for him instead of 55 miles tomorrow.

We finished our beer and pizza and went back to the room. The Missouri guys chose to eat at the hotel dining room and said the food was excellent. They planned to eat there again in the morning. Boogie's wasn't part of their tradition.

We had our evening map meeting downstairs. I was totally blindsided when the Missouri guys said they were going to ride tomorrow, but then retrieve their van from Salida and miss the last day's ride. Heck. I had made the last day a short day special so everyone could get on the road, not so they would be tempted to skip the ride. I halfheartedly lobbied for them to stay - easy pass - only 14 miles to the top, hardly any climbing, etc. Nope - they had things to do at home and it was a long drive.

I hardly knew what to say and didn't react well. Ken also surprised me in announcing he'd be skipping the last day also. That left Oren and Bill besides Jacinto and me.

Well. I said I was sleeping in tomorrow - no getting up at dawn for me. It was a flat, flat 55 miles. I didn't need the SAG at all as there were a couple of supply points. I did agree to get my luggage to the van at 6 AM so I didn't hold up everyone else leaving early. So much for that sleeping in idea.

Today's ride: 58 miles (93 km)
Total: 508 miles (818 km)

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