Here we are in the ski town of Breckenridge, with the first two days of riding behind us.
Carl and Brian collected us in Boulder in an enormous van with a box trailer that swallowed all our stuff with no bother at all. The drive to the mountains was only a couple of hours, through a cool gorge full of locals doing stuff in the river, rafting, fishing, kayaking and just floating around. Then a spell on the interstate, the great artery of american life, over a pass and into the valley we would be exploring for the next few days.
We connected up with Nick, another guide who is also one of the gang in Rotorua, and went out for the ‘getting started’ dinner. That was the first occasion we were exposed to the largesse of the american kitchen - didn’t matter what was ordered, there was a huge pile of it on the plate. Going straight to bed after inhaling a Special Burrito felt a bit like being a boa constrictor with a freshly swallowed rabbit on board - probably not ideal for the first go at pedalling uphill in rarefied air.
In a sparkling and pleasantly cool morning we pedalled up a road for a good few kilometres, which after a while turned to dirt and followed the old railroad grade to the Continental Divide at Boreas Pass. At 11,000 odd feet the pass was once a busy little town, now a few memorials with huge views in both directions. A train has not been up this way since the early 1900s, but a few bits and pieces of gear and construction still poke up out of the sub-alpine scrub. Waterways behind us flow to the Atlantic, those in front flow to the Pacific. Not that we could see any, but that is the general idea.
All of us had impressions of the effect of riding at altitude, generally they were a feeling like things were normal at a cruising pace, but putting the hammer down even a little bit created an audible heartbeat and puffing like one of the steam engines that once laboured up here. We all agreed that having a go at high altitude climbing was best done for the first time on a gentle, steady grade like this one.
Of course the trains didn’t get to drop back down the road and hook into a heaping helping of very entertaining downhill singletrack, with a couple of stops at old piles of machinery left over from the gold digging days.
Today we got a taste of climbing technical trail on a lean mixture with less oxygen than we usually get. A burst of effort to clean a short section of rooty, rocky, slippery trail was followed by a forced period of going very easy - there just wasn’t any way to keep going hard. But very quickly the feeling of breathlessness and hammering heart disappeared - by then the next tricky bit was generally raring up before us. The trail we rode was perfect for getting the hang of this, as it never did anything for long. Constant change was the order - tough little climbs and gentle rolling trail, sweeping fast downhills with very rough sections, rock gardens and wooden structures to get across marshy sections - the trail had it all. And, as a sort of bonus, it was wet. The day was perfect, but every afternoon so far has been punctuated by hard-out thunderstorms with rain.
Today we had lunch where the trail terminated in Frisco, then pedalled 16kms back up the valley on a cycleway, which got us back just in time to lube the chains, knock off some of the dried mud, and get everything indoors before the afternoon lightning storm kicked off.
A postscript to the lunch in Frisco: a few of us ordered sandwiches, which were so huge we all got half our sangers wrapped for later. Then Mike and I had cookies for afternoon tea: they turned out to be two cookies glued together with what could only be described as creamed sugar mixed with cookie dough. One could be split between four people but we ate one each.