Long Range Deployment
Get on down to South Park…and prepare to get cold, and dirty. It’s amazing to me how much more ground you can cover solo. Is it as safe or soul satisfying as riding in a group? No. But the sheer numbers you can put up are pretty awesome when you make all of the decisions and only stop for you. I went for a big loop my second trip through the area. At this stage of the training course, there was a night ride, so I had all day to explore on my own. Remembering a slice of Colorado I explored during an ATV trip years ago (the Banana Belt), I headed back there.
As I stated before, US-24 is the prime route out of Colorado Springs, and if I just kept on truckin, I’d have gotten to Buena Vista (the center of Bananaville) in a hurry. But what is a bike trip in Colorado without traversing a high mountain pass? After crossing the Front Range immediately outside of the Springs, I dropped into the South Park area. Yes, that South Park. But there is no South Park City, it’s more of a region, with the fictional city based on the town of Fairplay, the county seat. Descending into South Park gives the sense of dropping into a deserty plain, but the whole area is above 9000 feet, and covered in a thick blanket of snow most of the winter. The vista is contrasted by another row of snowcapped mountains far to the west (even in July), the Collegiate Peaks.
Turning off of 24 onto SR-9 the flattish pastureland continues. Fairplay is a sparse collection of houses and gas stations, with that blue blue sky of high elevation. I lied, there is a South Park City, but it’s just a tourist trap; a rebuilt mining town from the Colorado Gold Rush era, set up as a museum for school children.
Just up the road form Fairplay is Alma, the highest city in the US. But it’s beyond Alma that things get interesting. The SR-9 rises relentlessly up the east wall of a long valley, with a series of small settlements along the banks of the South Platte River. Soon enough, I was approaching the tree line, with the snow-capped mountains of the Mosquito Range closing in. Seeing the headwaters of any major river gets more for some reason, and this ascent was no different.
I probably don’t need to tell you that while crossing mountain passes, you need to dress warm. If you bring your tank top and bare head, you’ll probably not have a good time. Heck, if you only bring chaps and a halfie, you’re still probably a little miserable.
At the top I had a decision to make, continue into Breckenridge on the other side then back through Leadville, or just turn around and head straight back to Buena Vista. It seemed like I’d not have quite enough time to complete my very ambitious loop if I continued this way, so I turned back. The time crunch was from the uncertainty of road conditions on the pass I really wanted to try, which was the very challenging Tincup pass, 60ish miles to the South.