Week 18, Spruce Campground to Naturita.
This week was a week with extremes. Height, cold, heath, green, dust. What amazes us each day is the difference in landscape, architecture, people and weather within a day’s biking distance.Way Up.
After leaving Spruce Campsite it was first a steady way up.
600m climbing without any descend and rough surface, but due to mild ascend really do-able. From the top an amazing smooth and fast descend into Lake City on asphalt.
Again an old mining town, but with much more atmosphere than some other towns we saw before. Old trees, wide streets and helpful people.
After lunch & laundry we decide to push on for a few more miles so we have to cover less tomorrow, as everybody we speak with is surprised we will bike this pass, with this amount of luggage. We leave Lake City through an amazing canyon, take note of the sign!
After 10km we decide to look for a campground around Neellies Creek as it also started to rain. It seems that going more South does not mean less rain.
The pine trees shelter us from the rain during cooking. But the morning confirms why this area is so green, tent is still wet and we pack it as it is, adding at least one kilo of water to Franks load. First part of the road is nice, flat gravel with a 3% incline.
The ultimate challenge
After the sign that 4WD is recommended from there onwards, the gradient increases and there are more loose rocks.
As we are now above 3.400 m we also feel the effect of less oxygen and once we start pushing there seems no way back. Bike by bike we push, with the two of us, stretch by stretch up the mountain. We are entertained by 2.000 sheep which are guided over the mountain by two men on foot and 3 dogs. One of them comes to say hello.Remarkable how the sheep are kept together and guided the right way.
There is traffic of Jeeps and ATVs and people in one of the oncoming ATVs say that when we are at the flag, we are at the Pass (3.950m). So when one of the locals offers to bring the bikes to the top at 17:00 (as he sees we are struggling with our energy), we kindly decline as we see the flag and think we are almost there.
Not knowing that the flag is only the beginning of the pass and after that it is still at least another mile uphill. Here you get the confirmation again that you may feel the bumps in an ATV but you do not know the amount of energy you need to bike (or push) uphill. Clouds are rolling over the mountain, it has been a long time since have seen such an impressive landscape and were so happy with our rain gear and energy bars.One side of the Pass
And the other Side.Going downhill is at one moment so steep with loose rocks and a breath-taking ravine that I decide to walk even downhill for some stretches. The rider on a BMW RS1200 who passes us, was not prepared for the trip, he probably misjudged this trail (too). With sweat on his face he asked us how far it still was to Silverton.
After the sun disappeared behind the mountain and the road became even rougher we decided to camp.
Even if it is only another 14 km to Ouray, we set-up camp under the stars. It was pitch dark by the time we were having dinner. Hurray for the freeze-dried dinners we took with us! Mileage does not say anything about the efforts, we only did 27 km in 10 hours! Frank did not sleep so well, due to the altitude and lying head down, due to setting up camp in the dark. As we are running low on water we only have an energy bar as breakfast and hope to have late breakfast in Ouray. Let’s say we learned a lot from the descend and breakfast became lunch. We made it, it was amazing to be above the treeline, feel the difference within one day and feel how small we are. We are proud we made it, but we will no longer follow the trans American Trail Race route. The last 3 days and then especially Engineers Pass don’t need to be repeated within the next month. The impressive San Juan Mountains, where our Pass is only a minor, are breath-taking with 14 summits of 14.000+ feet and 200 of 13.000+ feet, where you feel that winter is very near and snow is in the air.
On the way down we see a few ATV’s and Jeeps crawling up the hill and we even create a Jeep Jam when one of them stops and offers us water. As this is an old mining area and we don’t really feel taking water from the creek, since you never know what is still in there, we gladly accept.
The trail stays very technical, until the parking lot at the very bottom, where people start going up with their ATVs and we even see a Porsche Cayenne turning around because they don’t want to risk it. Wise decision, as roll overs occur almost daily on this trail.
Cruising into town via the highway is getting back to earth.Hurray for Ouray
Ouray looks and is a quaint little town and we decide to stay for two nights. With food, hot tub and chocolate we reflect on the fact that each time you push your limits you can achieve more.
The past few days made us go deep, physically and mentally. There has been a thought that has been spinning in my head for some time and which we have been talking about. Today we made the decision to spend Christmas at home. We booked tickets and shared the news with my parents via Whatsapp first, so they (and I) could get used to the idea before calling. Aim is to be in San Diego by mid December enabling us to spend time in the different National parks and finish our US travels. Now the flow will change as before there was no time schedule! Stay focus on the now, enjoy being here and not focus too much on what is still 3 months ahead.
Cowboys and sportscars
Riding via the gravel road to Ridgway is losening up our legs, smooth, slightly downhill gravel. What do you want more. Ridgway is one of the towns where the “Colorado Grand” has a stop. 85 pre 1960 sports cars participate in a ride over 1.000+ miles in 5 days, to collect money for charity.
Biking up the 9.000 feet Dallas Divide Pass is just putting your mind in the nothing box and pedal. Here again you see you need to be prepared for all weather conditions in the mountains. We see the clouds coming in and after 10 minutes it starts to rain and rain and rain. At one moment lightning forces us to shelter. After 70 km we call it a day, are able to set-up camp in-between showers and for the first time have to have dinner inside the tent. Luckily there are no grizzlies here. Next morning the mountaintops are covered in snow (lucky us we did not do the second pass!)
Today, September 15, we are exactly 4 months on the road, covered 5.000 km and spent 2/3 of the days camping. Never had predicted that we would be able to do this in such a relaxed way.
Does the wind know that we are sometimes missing Holland and Belgium a bit? On this day we get a real treat of strong headwind. Don’t think we only have headwind in the Netherlands. Even biking downhill we have to push hard to move forward.
At one of the scenic look-outs we meet Ken and Blair from Durango and Farmington on a Honda Goldwing and Yamaha Roadstar. Doing a 3 day loop from home.
In Naturita we decide to spend the night at a real campground as we will be able to do our laundry after 4 nights of wild camping, have a real shower and most important: a good supermarket across the streets gives us the possibility to cook a really lovely meal of steak, pasta and mushroom cream sauce. Think how to plan/cook this on a one-pit stove 😊 and have everything warm when serving. It does take some more time. In the evening we try to pre-arrange something in Moab, we have seen that in bigger tourist areas it is best to pre-arrange as otherwise you may have to make some expensive decisions if you arrive late and tired.
As it looks to be a very busy period we decide to spend another day in Naturita, to pre-plan Moab, how to travel to Arches and Canyon Land. As Arches has no open campground and closes at 19:00 in the evening (road constructions and everybody needs to be out of the park) we decide to camp in Moab and rent a car to drive through the park. It also gives us the possibility to hike some of the trails.
Being an extra day in Naturita gives you also some extra insight in a village which has boomed due to the Uranium mine but is now just a small sleeping village with no job opportunities. They try hard to develop tourism and we got great help at the tourist office, but there is not much more than ATV trails around the city and some hiking trails. They make an effort for the community with a well facilitated library, on Saturday there are quite some kids who take the opportunity to use the computers (to play games mostly). We can also use them, so one of us can use our laptop and the other can use one of the library. As there is only WIFI coverage and no GSM we have to wait for reply if we will be able to camp in our preferred camping in Moab.
Hearing announcements in the distance we go on discovery and stumble on a State BMX competition. Seeing 4-year-old riding the circuit is sweet, seeing older kids tumble over each other and crying out is painful.
We meet grandma Julie, who is car camping at our camping and who has 4 and 6 year old grandsons participating. For the youngest it will be a victory, for the eldest who just moved up a category, it was a learning school that he can’t always beat all the others as he is now the youngest of the field.
Next blog will be different as we will spend 5 (FIVE) nights at the same spot and cover miles and miles on foot in the most beautiful parks of the USA. Stay tuned!