Clouds were hanging low in the sky as I prepared to leave Crested Butte for Cottonwood Pass and Buena Vista. As you can see, although I was ready to hit the road before 7:00am, several riders had already packed up their tents and taken their bags to the luggage truck, and were on the road. Unless you're a very strong, fast rider, leaving early would turn out to have been a good idea.
We headed south out of Crested Butte to Almont, hung a left and headed along the Taylor River towards the Taylor Park reservoir. The clouds were breaking up, making for very comfortable, cool riding weather. And, on a trip that has offered incredible scenery day after day, this day didn't disappoint. The area around Almont offers numerous opportunities for stays in a rustic cabin, trout fishing, and just being close to the best that nature has to offer.
I reached the first aid station feeling good, thoroughly enjoying the surroundings, and confident that the rest of the day would be an excellent adventure, to add to all the adventures I had enjoyed throughout the week. There were photo opportunities at every turn, and there were times when I had to pass one up simply to keep making progress on my ride.
The ride between Almont and the reservoir was on a road with some, but not too much, traffic, and we passed by several trailheads, fishing spots, and campsites. There were places to pull a small trailer in, and many more reserved for just tents. I thought to myself how fun it would be to camp along here and go out riding during the day. At this point we were climbing, but the grades were not too steep and the views made it totally worth it.
The clouds moved back in as the morning wore on, but a light jacket still felt just right. I felt a few raindrops which made it a little cooler, but made it to the reservoir in good shape. However, by the time I made the last couple of miles around the reservoir to where the second aid station was set up, the rain had gotten heavier, and the temperature had continued to drop. At the aid station is where we were scheduled to make a turn onto an unpaved road for the last 14 miles to Cottonwood Pass. We had been told that the road was hard packed and very rideable, but as the rain came down I began to have doubts about riding on a dirt road on a road bike, in the rain!!!
I asked at the aid station and was told that a SAG would be back shortly on which I could catch a ride to the third aid station at the top of the pass. I wouldn't get to climb a new (for me) highest pass, but would get to enjoy the paved descent into Buena Vista. Or so I thought.
As I loaded my bike on the trailer for the drive up, the rain came down harder. By the time I climbed in the van, I was soaked and chilled. When we reached the top the temperature was considerably lower, the rain harder, and a fog had moved in making visibility poor. Tour organizers were warning riders about the dangers, and strongly suggesting that they would prefer that descending wasn't attempted at that time. I've got to say I wasn't crazy about the prospect of a rapid descent when I couldn't stop shivering. I had other layers with me but they didn't help much after I was already wet. There were so many people in various stages of discomfort that we huddled together under an awning in a group hug for warmth. If someone couldn't stop shivering, or had blue lips, we shuffled them to the center of the group. Finally, we were told there were some trucks to take us to Buena Vista, but we'd have to leave our bikes at the top. They wanted to get all the people off the mountain, then they would get the bikes down.
That is how 60 of us ended up in the back of a Ryder truck. Cold, wet, and tired, but generally in good spirits. Some complained of some nausea and claustrophobia from the conditions, but everyone around them did their best to help them stay calm. People were leaning on total strangers, and everyone was looking out for everyone else, making the best of a bad situation. I called my wife later and told her I had a near death, okay, near extreme discomfort experience, but had come though it in pretty good shape.
In Buena Vista I found my bags and found a piece of ground to get my tent set up. Then I went looking for my bike. Luckily, it was on the first truck, and I was able to tend to it. Trust me. that chain really needed cleaning. I wonder what it would've looked like if I had ridden on the dirt. Overall, though not what I had in mind, it was still an adventure. I was pretty pooped that night. A little bit of a cough and a headache, but for all I had voluntarily put myself through, not too bad. By the way, it doesn't have to be anywhere in the near future, but now I have to go back someday and ride up Cottonwood Pass, finish what I started.