Buena Vista to Carbondale

Runaway train never going back
Wrong way on a one way track
Seems like I should be getting somewhere
Somehow I’m neither here nor there…
Soul Asylum

Ever since we started pedaling from New Mexico, “Runaway Train” has lodged itself into my head and essentially become my 2017 bike tour theme song. 

This is a song I haven’t thought about in years, I don’t really like it, and it isn’t even about bicycling – but oddly it fits the riding we’re doing. 

Today we went over Independence Pass the “easy” way from Buena Vista. It is relatively gentler and shorter to climb Independence in this direction, but you’ll never convince me that 20-mile ascents that reach beyond 12,000 feet are easy. Especially not today because my rear end went on strike from all the extended seated climbing we’ve been doing.

We would pedal for about a 1/2 mile and then my body would be urging me to stand up – or better, stop. I didn’t want to heed any pleas to stop, though, because every minute we were not pedaling meant one more minute we would have to recuperate.

“Seems like I should be getting somewhere, somehow I’m neither here nor there…”

Oh the miles passed slowly on our tandem. Despite my discomfort and occasional frustration with how the tenths of miles were adding up, Felkerino and I plodded away diligently. The climb itself was fantastic. Independence is so big, green, and gorgeous. You can hear the flow of creeks and waterfalls as you make your way up. The yellow and orange of wildflowers and Indian paintbrush (I think that’s what it was) pepper the hillsides when the evergreens allow. It is a spectacular climb and I felt like the mountain welcomed our two-wheeled presence. 

Unlike yesterday, we received much positive energy along our route. Several motorcyclists gave us thumbs up and fist pumps, and near the top a couple of people rolled down their windows to cheer. “Keep it up, you’re doing great!” I still recommend ditching the motor vehicle for most occasions, but the encouragement truly inspired us forward.

As we approached the summit, the occasional thunder rumble sounded and then raindrops fell. We hastily jacketed up and asked a tourist to take our photo by the summit. Proof, you know.

And at mile 45, the runaway train part of our day kicked off. The tandem steadily picked up speed and we descended steadily to Aspen for almost 20 miles. Showers fell on us for a few miles and then abated as we moved closer to Aspen. 

Weather at higher elevation is an odd beast. I keep thinking the mountains can hold back the clouds and inclement weather. Or that we can crawl around a switchback and escape the rain. It will never find us here! don’t think it’s working quite like that, based on my damp moments sp far on this tour. But I do love the possibility that either of these could thwart a thunderstorm.

Trail to Carbondale

We relaxed in Aspen for a couple of hours, and at the coffee shop we encountered the one other cyclist who had been climbing in our direction – showered and changed from his ride. We had fun sharing our tour notes with him, and then we clipped back in for the steamy 30-mile downhill trek to Carbondale via the multi-use path that connects these two towns. 

I told Felkerino this section reminded me of the W&OD Trail in Virginia – also a converted rail to trail. Crowded on weekends, lots of cross streets you have to watch for along the way, and it even intersects a golf cpurse, too. Totally cured my homesickness! Time passed quickly on these miles – not runaway train quickly – but we held a lively downhill grade pace until popping out in Carbondale. 

On the trail close to Carbondale

95 miles in the bike tour bank today. I feel so lucky that Felkerino and I climbed Independence Pass. At times its beauty overwhelmed me and I got a bit teary-eyed. Yes, it was a physical challenge, especially with our tour-tired legs and my rear end being on strike. But it was as though we little bike riders just climbed right into the pass, rather than merely over its surface. This made for an enthralling climbing experience. Independence’s towering presence couldn’t protect us from all the raindrips, but it at least held off the showers for us until we reached the top. 

One comment

  1. There is something ‘special’ about endless climbs/miles on the back of the tandem! My coping techniques include looking at the altitude instead of the mileage on my computer. Watching the sky change as the weather moves in helps as a distraction too. Glad you got through it and found some joy. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us. Ev


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