Today was the day that I had spent the last three days working towards. Wait, what am I talking about? Today was the day that I had spent the last three months working towards. Today I would climb Hoosier Pass and reach the highest point on the Trans-America trail.
The last three days of riding were strenuous. Over the 128 miles since Pueblo I had accumulated nearly 10,000 feet of elevation gain. From my hostesses home in South Park I stood 10,345 feet above sea level. As high as that was, I would need to climb over 1,000 feet more in order to cross the Hoosier Pass. It would be a challenge, but one that I was certainly up for.
Bob Potter, a nice guy I met in Ordway, had prepped me for the Hoosier Pass. As a Colorado native, he knew the land well. He told me that crossing from the South was the right way to go. With a glimmer in his eye he recounted to me how beautiful of a ride the Hoosier Pass would be. I'm not sure if it was the words he used or the excited look on his face, but he clearly sent the message that I was in for a treat.
So, Celine and I headed out on what would (hopefully) be our last uphill ride for a while. Within a few miles we arrived at Alma, the highest incorporated town in North America with an elevation over 10,500 feet. This place had tons of Colorado character, including about as many marijuana dispensaries as inhabitants. Alma was the last town before the Pass, so we took a quick break to purchase some supplies that would help us get high enough to make it across. You know, we got like water and stuff so we wouldn't get altitude sickness. You gotta be careful out here in Colorado!
Anyways, about a mile outside of town we came across a sign informing us that we had arrived at the final climb. I followed the road with my eyes. The good news was that it was a fairly straight path. Climbs with lots of switchbacks tend to get a bit stressful. The bad news was that it was four miles uphill with a healthy grade to it. I was definitely going to feel this climb in the morning.
This final ascent was as beautiful as Bob Potter had described. With each peddle I got closer to the overpowering cliffs that surrounded me, bringing their details into full focus. Little snow pockets contrasted sharply with the rocky red cliffs towering high above the treeline.
As the cliffs became closer, so the town became more distant, slowly being crowded out by the vibrant mountain scenery. Looking back I could see that we had come a long way. Not only did it feel like we were high up, but it even looked like we were high up. There weren't too many things above us at this point. There was a part of me that yearned to turn my bike around and cruise down the 100 miles that we had just ascended. It would have relieved my achy leg muscles of this dreadful climb. But I knew that was not a realistic option, I had come way too far to just stop climbing at this point. I had a goal and knew that this climb was an essential part of me achieving it.
We peddled and peddled and peddled. At times we became unnerved by impatient drivers or narrow roadways. Despite the distractions, we stuck to our training. As I looked forward I noticed that the roadway was beginning to level off. A few more turns of the peddle and we were there. At 11,539 feet above sea level, we had arrived at Hoosier Pass.
Why was this such a big deal? Well, first of all, it meant that I was officially and totally in the West. There wasn't anything Midwestern or even Middle American about my location anymore. I had crossed over the continental divide and was fully on the West side. Second, and most importantly, I had climbed a mountain. I navigated treacherous roadways, adapted to extreme elevations, braved through foul weather and sweat it out over 2,500 miles to get here. I felt like I was on top of the world, and in some respects it was fair to say that I was.
Atop Hoosier Pass, Celine and I took some time to regroup. During this brief respite, a local fellow got to talking to Celine. It's funny, because her interaction with this gentleman actually answered a question that was burning in my mind. I wanted to know why this mountain pass was called the "Hoosier" pass. Since my father was from Indiana, I knew that a "Hoosier" was a person from Indiana. Then, during this journey I learned that in Missouri hicks were referred to as "Hoosiers". So I wondered to myself, what did the "Hoosier" in "Hoosier Pass" refer to? When Celine returned from conversing with this local fellow, she informed me that this gold-mining, bridge-painting guy who had a rifle in the break seat of his truck had described himself to her as a redneck. "Ah!" I thought to myself, "I guess this fellow was the 'Hoosier' that they were referring to in 'Hoosier' Pass." I was pleased that Celine helped me to solve that mystery.
As essential to a victory of any sort is the celebration of that victory. When you scale a mountain on a bicycle, the celebration is automatically arranged by the very nature of the activity. What do I mean? I mean that what goes up must come down. The celebration of my three day climb would take the form of me blazing down the North side of Hoosier Pass into Breckenridge. And that's exactly what I did. Over the next 15 miles I averaged between 30 and 40 miles per hour. I couldn't be bothered to take photographs of the picturesque scenery. I was fully engrossed by the sensation of charging down this mountain road.
I cruised right into downtown Breckenridge. I couldn't quite believe it: this place was poppin'! There were tourists absolutely everywhere. I reflected on my Winter trip to Breckenridge with my brother over two years ago. The town wasn't this vibrant during that February in 2014. Seeing Breck in the summertime slowly brought me around to something that all my Coloradan friends had told me and firmly stood by, basically that Colorado is even better in the summer than it is in the winter.
That afternoon we arrived at the home of Carlos and Kain, our couch surfing hosts for the night. The two of them became friends when Kain, in the middle of a Panamerican bike tour, couch surfed at Carlos' home in Chiapas, Mexico. These guys seemed to have a revolving door for couch surfers. As the two of us rolled in, two others were just heading out.
Celine and I, so enjoying the town of Breckenridge and the company of our hosts, elected to take a rest day in Breck. During our 48 hours in this town, we would continue our celebration of victory on Hoosier Pass by binge-watching the Office, taking aimless gondola rides, hiking up Quandry peak and burning a bonfire in the company of our new friends.