Well, we’ve climbed the Appalachians and the Ozarks, but today we topped them all by crossing the Continental Divide and reaching the highest point on the entire TransAmerican Trail – the Hoosier Pass through the Rocky Mountains. Our campsite at Hartsell was already at around 9,000 feet but the Pass took us much higher still – topping out at 11,539 feet.
The day had not started that well, temperatures had dropped overnight and we all awoke at the campground with our extremities chilled. But an excellent breakfast in the local restaurant where we’d eaten the night before soon had us back on the trail (it still feels extraordinary dining next to people wearing cowboy hats) and in this landscape you can’t help but be lifted by the spectacular scenery.
We rode through a wide valley in the direction of Fairplay, past ranches and rivers, prime fly-fishing country. Birds of prey cast their shadows above us, small mammals dashed across the road and at one point we saw a wolf, just 50 yards or so from the road. Startled by the sight of my orange fluorescent jacket it dashed off in the direction of the mountains. The beauty of the Rockies had already entranced us, but this morning they put on an incredible show – the white of the snow-capped mountains in vivid contrast to swathes of red mountain flowers blushing on the lower slopes. We seen some incredible things on this ride, but this was a red letter day in every respect.
We are now moving into prime tourism country with a stream of vehicles carrying bikes, quads and canoes and the towns have become much neater, much more organised, catering for higher expectations than the more remote and flatter areas of the state. At FairPlay we met Bill and Kathleen who are doing the TransAm by tandem, but were waiting in a motel for the delivery of a new rear wheel after the rim on their original one gave way.
Lunch saw us in the pretty mountain town of Alma, where the claim to fame is to have the highest shop of any description in the US. So we passed the highest boutique in the US, the highest hairdressers, the highest bar – and eventually the highest saloon restaurant where we ate a Mexican meal while watching the World Cup match between Brazil and Mexico.
It was all delaying tactics really as we still had the main climb to make up to the pass, so we chose to miss the second half and began climbing. A short while later we saw the sign to the top, four miles to go to the summit of the pass. The climb was hard, but nowhere near as tough as expected with an average gradient of around 7 percent, so it was just a case of dropping into granny gear and grinding up the hill. Fortunately there was a small shoulder to cycle on and towards the top the traffic eased.
So that was it – the highest point of the TransAm and we even got to walk in some snow at the top – cycling above the snow line is a pretty cool thing to do. After photos and some celebratory beer, donated by a passer-by, we put on cycling jackets and began the fast, but chilly descent down the other side. We hardly needed to peddle for more than seven miles as we passed log cabins and holiday homes before finally arriving in the smart skiing town of Breckenridge. It was immaculately turned out with alpine-style villas, boutiques and restaurants, but best of all a superb cycle path along the Blue River which took us all the way to Frisco.
After a long days cycling ‘bestbybike’ would recommend a pasta meal and an early night. However after checking into a local motel right in the middle of town and securing a room for four of us – we are still travelling with Chuck and Mike – we headed to a local Indian restaurant followed by beers and cider in a local bar. As expected one led to another, so after an evening of story-telling we crashed rather the worst for wear.
Miles today: 50
Miles since First Landing: 2444