This morning the family in the site next to us offered us coffee and coffee cake! Then we learned that there was a McDonald's on the edge of town, so my stomach started growling! Josh took today off as he is spending time with a friend who is in the area. He will meet up with us in Pueblo on Tuesday.
George, Seth, and I set out to McDonald's for breakfast, and Seth and I made a quick grocery store stop for some snacks. We had 30 miles to Sargents, the town at the base of the mountains, before we truly started the climb up Monarch Pass. We had a great tailwind and the miles were smooth, although the traffic was still heavy from the holiday. We stopped at the convenience store in Sargents for lunch, and met two young men who are mountain biking the Great Divide Trail, from Mexico to Canada. It sounded like quite an adventure!
From the store it was 10 miles up the pass, with a gain of about 3000 feet. I was nervous but excited to conquer our highest climb of the trip! I started strong and felt great, although the traffic was horrible! There was no shoulder and in many sections no guardrail, with 3-4 feet of gravel between the white line and a sheer cliff. RVs and trucks were flying by, and I was watching each one in my mirror to make sure they weren't going to hit me! I could see rain in the valley behind me and I knew it wouldn't be long before it came. About halfway up it started to sprinkle, so I put on my rain jacket. It rained lightly, but I was sweating so much that I stopped again and took the jacket off. It was still raining but I was warm enough from my exertion. The road was cut right into the mountains, and I rode up into the alpine. It was beautiful. I felt like a machine, grinding out the miles with the wind at my back, and I was so excited when I saw the summit that I got a bit emotional. The traffic had thinned some and the rain had stopped, and I had done the climb in just 2 hours!
I waited about 10 minutes for Seth to arrive, and we got a picture at the summit sign just as it was starting to rain again. I was chilled from being damp, and we got two hot chocolates from the gift shop at the summit and stood in the doorway to wait for George.
A thick fog moved in after the rain and we worried about George on the busy road. He finally arrived, exhausted and chilled, and we sat inside and bought some hot snacks.
It was 5:30 when we left the top, and was just starting to sprinkle again. I was bundled up in my puffy jacket and rain jacket, and as we started down it began to truly rain. The roads were wet so I used my brakes frequently, but I was still going 25 mph, and the rain was stinging my face and legs. My skin was numb, and the cold rain water was dripping down my legs into my shoes. I was shaking in the cold, and worried about being able to control my bicycle on the narrow edge of the road! The descent was surely beautiful but I was so focused on staying on the road and avoiding traffic that I wasn't able to look around. It was a miserable 20 minutes before we lost enough elevation that the temperature had risen and the rain stopped. We still had our tailwind and cruised the remaining 15 miles to Salida.
We ate dinner at McDonald's and discussed plans for the night. George wanted a hotel but everything in town was very expensive, so we rode a few miles out of town to a BLM camping area. We are still about 90 miles from Pueblo, where we plan to go tomorrow. The forecast is calling for a headwind, so we will see how far we make it!