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Up, Up, and Away

The balloon flight in Santa Fe was wonderful. We booked through SantaFeBalloon Company, owned and run by Johnny Lewis. He is a charming, colorful, west Texas character who also happens to be really smart and have 8000+ hours ballooning. He told us he had two rules. 1) Johnny don’t get hurt and 2) Johnny don’t hike. That meant we were in good safe hands and would land where the trucks could get to us.

There were two groups of eight passengers each, and a number of ground crew folks who made it possible for us to fly and land and be retrieved. The whole experience was top quality. I can see why the folks in Hollywood have been shopping around a ‘sizzle’ to see if anyone wants to take on Johnny and his crew for a reality show. Here’s the link on youtube if you want to see it and see Johnny at work (and play). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTHtHSfEgDk

And here are the photos:

There was a second balloon, piloted by Sol.

Some happy balloon passengers:

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These were holes in the cliffs that the birds nest in. Johnny told us about doing balloon surveying in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and locating two tombs that had not been observed prior to that time. This terrain is reminiscent of his trip to Egypt, he said.

At the end, we had mimosas, a little snacking, and certificates to commemorate the ride.

Taos to Santa Fe

Riding out of Taos was exhilarating. Mike and I were scheduled to sweep, but he was still not feeling well so David joined me.

First we had to get the bikes and people down from the camp in Taos Canyon. Three of our riders took the road on their bikes.

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We did our circle-up at the Taos Visitors Center and headed out eventually (lots of flat tire issues that morning).

The day started pretty level and we could see the Rio Grande Gorge to our right. Pretty soon we were IN the Gorge and zooming down wonderful curves and up mild climbs.

Sadly, when we left the mountains we also gained an old and not welcome companion – headwind. The next 40 miles were a slog, riding an access road with little to no cover, few businesses, and constant wind.

This stretch went through three or four different Indian reservations, or tribal lands. They are sovereign nations and there is very little development on them. The overpasses are decorated though.

In one there were some pretty churches.

When we got to the last rest stop we were offered a relief van. I was so tired I was doing dumb things on the road, so I took the olive branch. David pressed on for the next 9 miles  to finish so I salute him!

That was my last Fuller Center ride and I was glad to meet my mom at the church. We headed to the hotel where I got cleaned up and rested a few minutes on a real bed. Then back to the church for dinner and farewells.

One last point – early the next morning Mom and I went with Mike on a balloon ride with Santa Fe Balloon Company. It was totally worth the price and the early get up. I’ll share the photos in a separate post.

Alamosa to Taos

I’m a little behind because we didn’t have any service in Taos, and since then I’ve finished my part of the ride and come to El Paso, but I have lots of photos, so here’s a reconstruction.

The ride to Taos was mostly nice steady descent out of Colorado. I wanted to take things slow so I asked Mike to feel free to zoom ahead since I know he really enjoys going fast sometimes. Some of the sights I saw:

There wasn’t much water out here, so when I heard a splashing, I looked over. This is tough to see but that dot in the water is a duck paddling away leaving a small wake. It reminded me of seeing a solo crew shell on the Potomac, serene and quiet, and made me smile.

The first town (if you could call it that) was Manassa, named by the original Mormon settlers for Manassah, one of the tribes of Israel. If you’re a boxing fan, this might interest you:

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Manassa was also home to a beautifully laid out and kept lumberyard. I saw some men near the entrance who looked to me like they were Amish or Mennonite in the way they were dressed. Perhaps conservative Mormons in the area dress that way too. Regardless, I was very impressed with the craftsmanship on display.

The next town was Conejos, a bit off the highway so I didn’t turn in. But I think everyone in our group took a photo of this sign and probably better photos than mine of the church:

This is what Google says about it: Colorado’s Oldest Church was built in 1858 and is still standing and used today, over 150 years later. Our Lady of Guadeloupe Parish is located in Conejos, Colorado just north of the town of Antonito.  Conejos means ‘rabbits’ and there’s a Conejos River nearby, so that’s probably where the name came from. But I’m doubtful we’d ever name a town “Rabbits”. It just sounds better in Spanish, right?

Not too far after that sign we made a big left turn. The left turn occurred at the railway yard of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. They were getting one of the engines ready. From far away I first saw dark smoke and then white (combustion and then steam). As I turned the corner they were bringing it out. It was SO cool!

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It runs from Antonito, CO to Chama, NM, 64 miles through the 10,015 foot Cumbres Pass and the Toltec Gorge. I would LOVE to take that trip someday!

The small towns along this stretch were so beautiful. Many of the buildings have murals or paintings. Although the style was distinctly Mexican influenced, the quality and quantity of the paintings reminded me of going through small villages in Bavaria where people have displayed what they love on the outside walls to provide enjoyment for everyone who goes by:

The next big milestone was this:

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You can see in the distance a whole lot of road … and nothing else. That was the case until we got to Tres Piedras (3 Rocks) for our rest stop. Jun30.17

There was a great restaurant across the street — the Chili Line Depot. They had apple pie made with chilies and pinon. I tried a bite of Ruth’s. It definitely had a kick! I bought some chocolate cookies with chili for the group to try. Again, the kick but in this case it really sneaked upon you! This artwork was in the restaurant:

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From there the scenery was pretty boring until we got to the Rio Grande Gorge. Unfortunately, by the time I got there I had no battery left on my phone so I didn’t take a photo. When I was going back up to get my other camera I was told that Mike wasn’t feeling well and was in the shelter area. I went there instead and missed the photos of the Gorge. But here is an internet one:

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By Daniel Schwen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10878282

Being concerned for Mike and getting him to the safety of the church I joined the van and finished the day into Taos by car. There we were greeted by the Presbyterian Church and shuttled up to their camp, Loma Verde, in the Taos Canyon.

More on that tomorrow!

Cottonwoods

Tonight we’re in Alamosa at Alamosa Presbyterian Church. It’s a great facility. They have lots of work crews who come through for missions with groups like Habitat for Humanity so they put bunk beds in two classrooms and remodeled the bathrooms to include showers. On top of that, they provided an excellent dinner tonight!

Riding from Salida to Alamosa wasn’t very scenic. Actually, it was pretty boring so I don’t have many photos. Tomorrow heading from here to Taos will be similar – lots of high desert agriculture and way too much time on the same roads. I like routes that make us watch the turns and stay alert!

The reason for the title is in the name of this town. Alamo means cottonwood in Spanish, and Alamosa is place of many cottonwoods. We have seen quite a bit of the cottonwood drifties while riding the last few days. Achoo!

The best thing I saw today was two small birds engaged in air-to-air combat with a big black bird. I’m pretty sure they were mockingbirds. The big one wasn’t as big as a crow, but something along those lines. The little spitfires actually forced the lumbering cargo plane down to the tarmac (i.e., the road) where he sat for a few minutes with that “WTF just happened?” look. Then a car came along in the other lane and he launched for flight. The second he was airborne the little guys were back and chased him across the field to my right.

I was laughing out loud watching it and trying to pay attention to where I was riding at the same time.

Here are the minimal photos from today.

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My teammate Meredith during circle-up

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Our last morning in the mountains. It was freezing cold! I found a geocache here.

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This is a pretty farm I saw on the way into town.

Two more days and I get to see mom in Santa Fe! Woo-hoo!

Into Salida

First, it’s pronounced “Suh-lye-duh”. Don’t try to make it Spanish. The best thing about this town is that it is downhill from Leadville, and only 60 miles.

There were a couple of fun moments in Leadville last night and this morning. I saw these girls visiting the gas station.

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And this morning before we left, our trip leader Henry was being goofy with Mark.

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Today’s ride was markedly different than yesterday’s. We had some cross and headwinds, but overall, it was a lovely, pleasant ride.

Along our way we were accompanied by the Arkansas River as it winds from its headwaters at the top of the Sawatch and Mosquito mountains in the Rocky Mountains. Apparently it got its name from the mouth of the river, in Napoleon, Arkansas and the name travels upstream.

There were some interesting vistas, including the “chalk cliffs” and the “Collegiate Range”. No kidding, there are mountains named for Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. All are over 14,000 feet. Harvard is the tallest, of course.

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We found some fun sights in Salida as we walked around.

And finally, it was Mike’s birthday. I took him out to dinner to a place called Quincy’s. Before they seat you they tell you what’s on the menu – one entree, one side, and salad with house dressing. Take it or leave it. Fortunately, what was on their menu was exactly what we wanted – filet mignon, baked potato, salad, and water. I also had a beer. They gave Mike free cheesecake to celebrate his birthday. The total bill was less than $30!

Mike’s friend (and now mine) Mo had arranged with me a few days earlier that she would have a cake and ice cream delivered to celebrate the event. We got back JUST as the caterer was leaving. It was a gorgeous and delicious cake!

Happy Birthday, Mike!

The Summit

Today was a beautiful and difficult day. We were constantly climbing from Kremmling towards Leadville. From the Leadville history page: Prospectors first descended upon Leadville in 1860, when gold was discovered in nearby California Gulch. Though the gold rush brought 10,000 people to Leadville, the city didn’t reach its height until 1877, when the Silver Boom was in full swing. Profitable silver mines supported a population of 30,000, including hotels, saloons, gambling halls, stores, boarding houses, and brothels. Some of the country’s greatest fortunes were made during this time, such as the Guggenheim’s, Marshal Field’s, and founder of Macy’s, David May’s.

But before we could do any prospecting or shopping, we had to get there. We spent the first 50 miles today with some cross winds and steady climb. The views were beautiful though.

We crossed several rivers, the most beautiful of which was the Blue River. Before we reached it, we crossed the Colorado. In its form here it wasn’t very impressive — it seemed impossible that this was the river that carved the Grand Canyon! When we got to Frisco, we left the road and started riding on an amazing bike path that wandered along the Blue River. There were some whimsical sculptures and beautiful houses.

After the town the path climbed up to the top of the Dillon Dam. It was quite a switchback but I made it! The view was totally worth it!

From there I took the shuttle to the summit at Fremont Pass.

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When we arrived in Leadville it was SUCH a relief. Two of our team members went down with altitude sickness – one out on the ride and one once she got here. Both are recovering but it’s a miserable feeling until it passes.

Here’s to a better tomorrow!

 

Craig, Colorado

We stayed in Craig 2 days. Saturday was our build day. The team was dispersed between 8 different locations. John went to work on oiling logs at an elderly lady’s home. Lindy and I went with Mike to work on a different lady’s mobile home. She needed work done on her roof, back door, and painting work. It turned out the only thing we could do was the paint work. We had neither the time or tools to address the other issues. These are the photos.

It was delightful to have Lindy and John with me. After the build the three of us went to a local hotel to have an evening together with real beds and a real shower.

Sunday was a free day. After the kids left I did a bit of exploring Craig and then got prepared for this week.

This morning the president of the local Fuller Center, Neil Folks, came by to see us off. He’s a wonderful guy.

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Then we headed out to Kremmling, our stop for the night. I skipped 15 miles of straight up climbing, but did the rest, so my total miles was over 80. At the summit of Rabbit Ears Pass, the valleys were beautiful, but the dead lodge pole pines are just so sad.

Before we got up there we went through Steamboat Springs. The Yampa River goes through there and there’s a great riverside trail.

As we neared Kremmling the scenery changed. There was still a lot of water in the landscape, but very different look.

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And finally, the sign we were waiting for:

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We are having some technical difficulties this evening. Our support van died just outside of town. Apparently it needs a starter. Several people are jumping through lots of hoops to see if we can get it moving tomorrow. Our ride tomorrow is to Leadville, which will be our biggest climb, but we’ll probably have to all do it before the van catches up with us. Here’s the profile:

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