Monday, August 13, 2012

on the road to pagosa springs

On Friday, August 3, I was up earlier than necessary, excited to get started on my adventure. I was heading to Colorado to ride in my fifth of the six annual CRMBTs. The loop began and ended in Pagosa Springs, in the southwest part of Colorado. It appeared to be a 13-14 hour drive, so I planned to get most of it out of the way on Friday, and still have plenty of time for a ride on Saturday before I needed to get to Pagosa Springs to check-in for the tour. There's no direct way to drive from eastern Kansas to Pagosa Springs, but I thought US 50 was my best bet for the first part of the trip. It got me to Kinsley, KS, about midway through the state, as well as between New York and San Francisco.
My first night in Colorado was spent camping at Lathrop State Park outside of Walsenburg. Lathrop, named for the state's first park commissioner, was the first of Colorado's 42 state parks. It's in the shadow of the Spanish Peaks in southeast Colorado. Some of the peaks didn't look like much from the campground, but after less than an hour on the road Saturday morning they started to peek out of the clouds.
It was a beautiful drive over North La Veta Pass at 9413 feet. It looked like it would be fun to ride, but I had my sights set a little higher. I drove near the southern end of the Great Sand Dunes National Park, south at Alamosa to Antonito, where I got on CO 17 and over LaManga Pass and Cumbres Pass. I found a place to park near the New Mexico border, got organized and started my climb back over both passes.
 I made the first without incident. The only real switchbacks on either of these passes is on the north side of LaManga, which I didn't do. I enjoyed a nice climb and good descent to the low spot between the two passes. It was an open range cattle area, and while driving I noticed cattle right next to the road. Luckily there were not any in the road on the descent.
I had read about the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad prior to my trip. It's a narrow gauge steam engine train that carries passengers between Anonito, CO and Chama, NM. I thought it would be fun to see it but had no idea of the schedule, so I didn't expect to see it on this trip.

On my way up LaManga I felt my back tire getting soft. I only had one spare tube with me, but two CO2 cartridges, so I used one of them to fill the tire, hoping I could finish the 2nd climb before changing the tire. It didn't last that long. So, I stopped on the side of the road, and removed the rear wheel (why always the rear?), replaced the tube and filled it up, being careful to not get a pinch flat. I enjoyed a nice ride up LaManga, took some pictures and headed down again.
My descent was shortened when I felt the tire getting soft again. Now, I was out of tubes and cartridges, and about 7 miles from my car. I started walking, and the 2nd vehicle that passed by stopped to ask if I needed help. Al and Susan and their two dogs were out for a drive on a beautiful Saturday morning. They live in Albequerque, and have a vacation place in Chama. They were driving a big red Hummer, and I threw my bike in the bed, and climbed in the back seat with the golden retriever, who was instantly my new best friend. Susan told me I needed to see the train, but Al thought I might have already missed it. When they spotted it up on the mountain, he pulled off on the wrong side of the road so I could get out and catch a glimpse of the train and the passengers waving as they passed. Nice people!

They dropped me at my car, and after thanking them I was on my way to Chama, and northwest to Pagosa Springs. Scott, the mechanic was setting up shop and fixed my flat for me while I checked in with the SherpaPacker and greeted many riders, volunteers, and organizers who I now consider friends. I left everything in my car that I didn't absolutely need, and tried to prepare for the morning. Rain was forecast for the afternoon, so as usual, it was a good idea to be up and off the mountain early. It felt really good to crawl into a sleeping bag in the cool mountain air. Let's get this thing going!

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