Part 8: Bicycling the Continental Divide—Mexico to Canada—you never know what happens next
By Frosty Wooldridge
“A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.” ~ Edward Abbey
Abbey wrote Desert Solitaire about his years in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. I highly recommend reading it for stunning sunsets and comments on life. As a Park Ranger, he promoted walking and bicycling as the only modes of transportation throughout our national parks. As we overpopulate our country faster and faster, he will most likely realize his wish.
In the morning, as I sat by my cook stove boiling up some water, an early morning cyclist stopped when he saw my sign: Across America, lying on the ground near my tent.
“My name is Dave,” he said. “Mind if I join you? I’ve always wanted to ride across America.”
He pulled up a rock next to my camp seat.
“Are you up for a cup of hot chocolate?” I asked.
“Don’t mind if I do,” he said.
“Coming up,” I said.
Luckily, I carry two pots and cups for just such a moment. I heated up some water for the hot chocolate in the early morning coolness. Then, I cooked up oatmeal and sliced bananas over the steaming breakfast. Also, dumped in some raisins.
We sat in the middle of the trees with the white water rushing past and the sun rising over Guanella Pass and her mountain peaks. At 53, Dave traveled across six continents and 88 countries. He loved Muir, Emerson and Thoreau. We talked about God, Nature and the universe. Our conversation became animated with mutual understandings and experiences brought about by travel.
He talked about how people bought a bunch of meaningless “stuff” to fill up their lives when all they needed: exercise, purpose, action and effort over time to reach their dreams. Instead, he said, “They stick their faces in cell phones and write inane sentences that do not resemble reality or possess any meaning. You must get out and do things. You must travel. You must realize your potential and you won’t do it locked into a cell phone.”
As the sun rose, he said he had to ride to the top and get back down to his family. Before he left, he gave me a bear hug. Nice to meet a fellow Muir, Thoreau and Emerson reader.
(That’s a 1957 Mercury in Empire, Colorado on Main Street. She’s a beaut with the same license plates from 1957.)
I broke camp and coasted into the old mining town of Georgetown where you can smell the past by walking along 130 year old buildings made of brick and some of wood.
(Bikes in bloom in Empire, Colorado.)
Sometimes, it feels frustrating to climb for five hours only to descend in 30 minutes on the other side of a mountain pass. That distress hit me twice in two days, because I coasted out of Georgetown to Route 40 heading north where I faced another 5.5 hours of climbing up 13,307 foot Berthoud Pass on the Continental Divide. I started the climb even before Empire, Colorado at 8,500 feet. All together, I faced 4,500 vertical feet of climbing. Two passes like that in two days takes the steam out of your legs, mind and body. But of course, that’s why I took the ride—for the incredible scenery and challenges of high mountain passes.
(The www.TheGlenBrookGalery.com in Empire, CO. Full of amazing carvings and lamps and more. Stop in for some astonishing artwork. This is a unique store.)
“Quit your whining boy,” I muttered to myself. “Get your butt up the mountain and make your dad and mom proud.”
Cycling in the mountains matches life in many ways. I hardly breathe pedaling on little hills in states like Kansas. I battled monster climbs in the Andes of 16,000 foot passes that kicked the hell out of me and took all day. Colorado features 12,000 foot passes that take five hours. But just like in life, you can either give up or git going. Effort over time propels you to your chosen destiny. At the top, you enjoy a “free descent” after your efforts took you to the top. It all blends into the ride we take in life.
What would you choose? All flat terrain like Kansas? Easy, smooth, little effort! You see the same landscape mile after mile. Sure it’s easy, but no challenge. Me? Give me a monster climb, wind storms, hail, snow, wild fires and every tempest. This life passes too swiftly to live it too comfortably.
You won’t ever see me in a doctor’s office being given laxatives, sedatives, Excedrin, Prozac, Valium, Ritalin and other synthetic crap to put into my body. American society appears to drug itself up with processed fast food, stuff and endless sports where everyone sits in the stands. I think the happiest people create their own challenges and go out to triumph in their own ways, their own sports and their own speeds. Passion, purpose and grit get a person through life better than drugs or TV. What are you doing with your life? Whatever it is: get to it with gusto, energy and enthusiasm.
(Riding up Berthoud Pass on Route 40 and stopping to appreciate the wonders around me.)
With my attitude, I slipped into Condor’s straps. The chain tightened, the spokes turned in the morning sun and I began to climb. I climbed to 8,000, 9,000, 10,000 on my way to 11,000 feet. I passed 10 white water streams, five circling hawks, more snowfields, tremendous beauty in the high country with towering peaks above me and a certain sense of inner peace at the beauty surrounding me.
At the top, I pulled into a sign: Continental Divide, 11,307 feet, Berthoud Pass, Atlantic Water Shed, Pacific Watershed. I snapped a few pictures and jumped into a snow bank. The ice cold snow felt good on my body. My body thrives on engaging every muscle and the tenacity of my mind.
As luck would have it, a couple approached to take pictures of me. He bragged that he had suffered a heart attack, a three-vein bypass graft operation and now lived on a pace maker. We shared the same age. Only, he weighed 60 pounds more than his body could handle. His very rotund wife said they had moved from Miami, Florida to Montgomery, Mississippi where she boasted, “I feel much more slender living in Mississippi because everyone is so fat.” I guess you call it the American Dream.
(Jumping into a snow bank to cool off from the five hour climb up to Berthoud Pass.)
I flew down the other side of the pass along with stunning mountain vistas of the Continental Divide. I had crossed seven passes on the ride so far.
After rolling into Winter Park, Colorado on Route 40, I ordered a veggie foot long Subway sandwich. I think I inhaled it in five minutes or so. I spent time writing in my journal and rolled north on Route 40 looking for a campsite.
In minutes, I found a perfect niche behind the Winter Park Museum out of sight and on a nicely mowed stand of grass. After two horrendous passes in two days plus a third that I didn’t mention—sleep arrived before I hit the pillow.
Frosty Wooldridge has bicycled across six continents - from the Arctic to the South Pole - as well as eight times across the USA, coast to coast and border to border. In 2005, he bicycled from the Arctic Circle, Norway to Athens, Greece. In 2012, he bicycled coast to coast across America. In 2013, he bicycled 2,500 miles, climbed 150,000 vertical feet and five states from Mexico to Canada on the Continental Divide with 19 pass crossings. He presents “The Coming Population Crisis facing America: what to do about it.” www.frostywooldridge.com . His latest book is: How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World by Frosty Wooldridge, copies at 1 888 280 7715/ Motivational program: How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World by Frosty Wooldridge, click: www.HowToLiveALifeOfAdventure.com
Live well, laugh often, celebrate daily and enjoy the ride,
6 Continent world bicycle traveler
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