Crossing Hoosier Pass and the Continental Divide by David Moretz
Silverthorne - Fairplay (Colorado)
Twenty-five miles south of Silverthorne and 2,500 feet up is Hoosier Pass. It marks the final time I'll cross the Continental Divide and is the highest elevation of the Trail, 11,542 feet. When I started riding, the temperature was pretty comfortable, in the mid-80s, but there was a pretty nasty headwind. Upon reaching Breckenridge, 15 miles into the ride, the wind picked up even more and a system of dark clouds started to form over the surrounding mountains. I stopped for a cup of coffee and some people watching. Breckenridge offers great people watching. The weather started getting kind of ugly, but I really wanted to get over Hoosier pass, so after a half an hour break, I got back on my bike and started pedaling up hill.
Four miles later, the first drops of rain started to fall. There was thunder in the mountains and lightning off in the distance, but it appeared as if I could still get over the pass without too many problems, so I put on my rain gear and continued on. Moments later, the skies opened up and it began to pour. The wind was blowing at a steady 25 mph and the clouds got darker and darker with each passing moment.
When I was 3 miles from the summit, the thunder claps roared almost continuously and the lightning bolts were beginning to land dangerously close. I found a small turnoff, so I got off my bike and walked into the woods to sit on a log that offered a slight protection from the rain. I really didn't want to turn around and have to spend an expensive night in Breckenridge, but I also didn't think it was the best idea to be riding a metal bike in the middle of a lightning storm, so I hid in the woods and hoped the storm would pass.
While I sat in the woods, watching my bike, giving up hope that I could stay even remotely dry, the temperature began to drop. Within 20 minutes, the temperature dropped 20 degrees. The rain picked up and at times dropped dime-sized pellets of hail. As I watched the cars drive by, I noticed the cars coming down from the mountain had about an inch of snow covering their roofs. The thunder got louder and lightning illuminated the sky about every 45 seconds. Even if I wanted to go back to Breckenridge, now was not the time, it just wasn't safe to be on my bike.
As the temperature continued to drop, the rain had soaked through my gear, making my already sweaty biking clothes completely soaked. I was getting cold, really cold, so I started walking around in the woods to try and get my blood circulating. Forty-five minutes had passed and the rain had not let up. The thunder and lightning however, seemed to have moved to the east. If I was going to make it over the pass and down to Fairplay tonight, now was the time to try. When I got back on my bike and rode around the first bend in the road, the sky above began to brighten, but ahead was 3 miles of switchbacks. The climbing had just begun.
Up until now, the altitude had not been a problem. Since you're on a bike, you gradually climb your way into elevation acclimation. Up until now, the highest elevation I had been at was at Togwotee Pass, over a week ago, and that was only 9,600 feet. Now I was over 10,000 feet, climbing 3 miles of switchbacks with a 25 mph headwind in the rain, sleet, hail and cold. I was miserable.
Many people wonder what you think about when you're riding by yourself for so long. When the weather is great and the riding is easy, I sing songs, think about life, and talk to the cows. When you're riding up Hoosier Pass in these conditions, your thoughts are different. I didn't want to think about riding back to Breckenridge, although it would be an easy downhill ride, instead I tried to think about motivational things. I tried to dig deep inside to find a reason to keep going. I thought about when I did the Ironman, about mile 18 of the run and how painful that was. I thought about how I kept going and didn't quit. I thought about Ernest Shackleton and his failed journey to the South Pole and the torments that his expedition faced in traveling to safety. I thought about Lance Armstrong and his training regiment when he was battling back from cancer. I thought about the miseries he went through on the cold, rainy mountain top when he almost gave up cycling before winning the Tour De France. Then I thought about resting, I'd stop, catch my breath, pick a tree a quarter of a mile up the road, and continue cycling.
About a mile from the top, I ran out of things to think about. The temperature dropped to 35 degrees. I was wet, I was cold, I was tired, and I didn't want to go on. Then a jeep drove by. There were two guys in the front seats and they had two road bikes attached to a bike rack on the back of their car. They were driving down the mountain, saw me and honked. They looked amazed and the driver smiled and raised his clenched fist to offer encouragement. In an instant, my attitude changed. This was the adventure I was looking for, the challenge I had brought on myself, the conditions that test your spirit. There was no way I could turn around, not when I was so close, not when the situation I was in was brought on only by myself.
Riding your bike across the country isn't easy, at times it's hell. The people that do this trail have something to prove to themselves. The scenery is beautiful, but that can't be the reason that you pedal this far. If what you want is a truly enjoyable tour of the country, you'd rent an RV, or you'd turn around and head back to Breckenridge. You bike across the country to find out how far your body will take you and to find out what are really the depths of your soul. A mile from the top of Hoosier Pass, I found a level of motivation and inspiration I didn't know existed. I found strength, speed and stamina in an area that had never been discovered. In a small, physical sense, I discovered what I was made of.
When I got to the top of Hoosier Pass, the rain had stopped. The wind still blew strong and the temperature was still cold, but none of that affected me. I parked my bike next to the sign that marked the Continental Divide to take a picture. While I was catching my breath, enjoying the scenery and basking in my accomplishment, I met a couple driving towards Breckenridge. The couple had just finished hiking the southern section of the Appalachian Trail and was heading to Boulder, where they were graduate students at Colorado University. After chatting briefly about our adventures, they offered to take my picture. I was soaking wet, freezing cold and there were snow plows behind me. It was the best feeling I've had on my trip. This is why I was biking across the country.
To read more of David's stories, visit his web site.