But before I dive into how exactly we put the “in” in “inclement,” let’s return to a far more different moment, when we departed the house around 1130 on Sunday to start the annual Tyler Gets Older Birthday Tour…
… and clouds black as the Dread Pirate Robert’s pupil loomed treacherously overhead, and we wondered what exactly we were getting ourselves into. Behind us, over the Gore Range, an intimidating number was winding up, ready to put a show of rain, wind and thunder — the likes of which present annually with the monsoon season. But the monsoons usually kick off in late June/early July, right? My theory is that since we beelined from winter into summer, this, naturally, must be spring. Just in time for us to take a three-day bike tour.
Eh, precip, schmecip. By the time we pedaled into Summit Cove, it seemed we’d dodged the soggy bullet. At a confluence of popular mountain bike trails and a dirt road (just past the big chain link fence that keeps the rabble off elite golf courses), we popped on up the Hay trail. Two mountain bikers passed us on their way down, exchanging bewildered glances upon catching two mostly loaded bike tourists tra-la-la-ing up the trail.
And so it was that we reached the Dredge (an old ship-like piece of mining equipment that guards a parking lot where all the Breck bikers take to the woods) and found roads already soaked with water and dotted with puddles like chocolate chip banana bread. We were more exhilarated than two overweight cops swimming in a pool of glazed donuts to have missed the deluge.
Up we went, as usual, on a wide dirt road that became increasingly bumpier and steeper. Creeks were forded, weird backwoods houses ridden curiously by. On the topography map we found a marker for a”Masonic monument” in the middle of flipping nowhere. Its strategic location begged that we take a peek — which required a brief wander through the woods where we found said monument and a wallet belonging to a 9th grader from Cherry Creek.
As to who these “hardy pioneers” were and how exactly they became “Fathers of western Colorado…” I suppose their random story will remain as elusive as what the heck a Mason is anyway. At any rate, the sun was out and shining proudly on the still damp ground, and I had a nectarine and some chocolate in my pannier that desired, above all, to explore the insides of my large intestine.
As the afternoon progressed, so did the weather. We holed up like hairless kittens underneath a pine tree for the worst part of another afternoon rain show, emerging again as the spindly trees all around us whipped around like helicopter rotors. We ran into a posse of dirt bikers behind a closed gate (closed because it was too early to take a herd of dirt bikes on a trail that looked more like Hershey’s syrup than dry dirt).
“You guys still talking to each other?” said one guy’s voice from behind a mud-spackled helmet. I couldn’t really tell which one of them had spoken; they kind of looked like a gang of recreating Autobots before the evil Decepticons started harassing Shia LeBoeuf and his ridiculously hot onscreen girlfriend who wears short shorts and of course can work on cars.
And then the road to Georgia Pass was conquered in a quiet battle by the still present forces of winter. These forces came out of the forest just to give us a big, icy middle finger. Snow piles the size of Subaru wagons (which pervade Summit County like the common cold) littered the road like a cold patchwork quilt. Said quilt made riding challenging, really challenging and then downright impossible. At one point we lost the road entirely, then found ourselves on the wrong road, which became just a long, steep vista of snow piles sloping into one another like half done mashed potatoes.
We took to scrambling through the woods, over soggy logs and dead timber, carwashing ourselves through baby pines that looked upon our plight with glee. Dragging a mostly loaded touring bike, one foot in a stump hole and the other in a two-foot pile of melting snow is almost as fun as repeatedly forking oneself in the eyeball. I wouldn’t recommend either.
Eventually, we turned around and righted ourselves again on the Georgia Pass road once more. Fortunately, a new team member had joined Mother Nature’s team of Sylva and Tyler Butt Kickers: sheets of ice as thick as a car door, slicker than a ladies’ man and gouged in the middle to create a frozen Grand Canyon for small insects that would stand and shiver on one side or the other, wishing for a bug-sized helicopter. A bike tire down that gorge was not a fun spectacle, but then again, neither was the rest of it.
A couple of hours into our two person war against our surroundings, four vehicles came rumbling slowly down the road, slipping and sliding along with all the grace and control of a newborn goat steering heavy machinery.
“Just so you know, the gate at the bottom is closed,” said Tyler.
“No way!” Said the driver, shooting a slightly panicked glance to his co-pilot, a middle-aged brunette wearing a skirt and make-up.
“We can’t go back up,” she said, biting her painted nails. “It’s too slippery.”
This is one of those moments where I wonder how the human race has made it half way into 2013. The next vehicle in the clueless caravan — a big blue Ford — had a small herd of children bouncing around the back. If I had munchkins in tow (which I probably never will, so maybe I should shut up now) I might at least consider whether or not I could get back up what I had come down, before I passed Go (and did not collect $200, I might add).
Anyhow, after three hours of pushing ourselves and our bikes up a steep, muddy, icy hill we made it to Georgia Pass, situated at 11,585 feet and 12 miles from blink-and-you-miss-it Jefferson (and its one store, which closed at 6 and we’d missed that window by about three houses and a picket fence). My brakes contained at least a gallon of mud and most of the pine needles in the forest. Thankfully, the other side of Georgia Pass was mellower and south-facing, which meant absolutely no snow.
The other side of Georgia Pass, however, is literally what turned on the light bulb for the creation of Rocky Road ice cream. At a campground most of the way down, we stopped to hole up again as a storm spit hail on us and thunder crashed all around like a drum set falling down stairs. Since I was more worn out than a pair of heavily used hiking boots from 1953, we fired up the Jetboil for round one of organic Ramen noodles (as Tyler said, “Organic Ramen… now I’ve seen it all”). Luckily, with our teeth scattered from the wet picnic table to Georgia Pass, eating was a unique endeavor.
Eventually, as all roads must do, this one too became flat. We cruised past a pasture which contained — all coexisting peacefully — several llamas, a handful of horses and a small herd of elk. The horses ate grass while the llamas stalked towards us with curious force and the elk took flight into the trees, only to re-emerge a couple of miles down the road. They ran with me along the length of a pasture dotted with aspen and sagebrush as the sun melted slowly down the sky in a soft, buttery smear.
And finally, we made it to the Jefferson store, staring hungrily through the unlit open sign at checkered tables where — if we hadn’t been in hike-a-bike hell — we may have chomped happily on hot dogs or something equally warm and not cooked by us. Taking advantage of the .5 bars of service allotted to us in sprawling six-building Jefferson, we called our dads to say “Happy Father’s Day.”
A man in cowboy boots stared curiously at us. I realized I still had on the rain pants, gloves, Tyler’s hat (too big and smacking me repeatedly in the pupils) under my helmet, a wool shirt, my synthetic down jacket, my rain jacket and Tyler’s orange down jacket. I looked like a female version of the kid from “A Christmas Story” and it was a good thing I never fell down, as I would have remained prone forevermore.
By the time we crested Kenosha Pass (not too bad by comparison being paved, relatively short and snow-less), the day had been completely replaced by night. We located a suitable campsite near a portal to the Colorado Trail, set up camp in the dark, tramped about the damp woods and then hung all our goodies high in a tree to give the bears a piñata to play with.
In total, we’d ridden 34.62 miles, ascended 3,598 feet and were still talking, if grunting at each other over round two of organic Ramen counts.