DAY 4 - (Thursday) Cottonwood Hot Springs to Crested Butte
After a restful evening and a good night's sleep I arose, had my usual breakfast (o.j., banana, p.butter on bread, and milk), and was on the road at 8:30. Cottonwood Pass is at 12,126 feet. From where I started I had to climb 4,000 feet in 14.2 miles. Only an average grade of 5.3%, but 14 miles of it.
After shaking the "first half mile" blues I had a wonderful climb. The weather was clear, the temperature moderate, and the scenery was wonderful. The Cottonwood Pass road is paved all the way to the top, then it's dirt down the other side. I stopped at Ptarmigan Lake to eat my lunch (turkey sandwich, chips, water, and an apple). Everything felt fine, meaning my knees. I was riding at a decent pace and didn't feel as though I was overdoing anything.
I reached the pass at about noon, stopped long enough to take a picture, and put on another layer of clothes as the weather began to look a little threatening. The ride down into Taylor Park and Taylor Reservoir was a bit over 14 miles on a dirt road that is in fair shape. Be on the lookout for the occasional washboarded spots. [Why does the smoothest part of the road always seem to be on the left side of the road?]
When you get into Taylor Park there are some cabins for rent, a convenience store and a small restaurant. I filled up my water bottles and began heading down Taylor Canyon towards Almont and highway 135 to Crested Butte. Taylor Canyon was 24 miles of not so steep downhill. I had to pedal a lot. The road has those little cracks coming from the edge of the road every 10 or 20 feet. The constant ba-dump ..... ba-dump ..... ba-dump, began to get on my nerves.
[When in Crested Butte I was told that there are MTB-only trails around the north side of Taylor Reservoir that require a little pushing (walking). If you're into more of a challenge you should get a Gunnison National Forest Map and a Crested Butte Trails map and find a route that stays in the mountains. You may need to camp in the mountains that night.]
Almont is a quaint little resort town, mostly for whitewater rafters. That night they were going to have a pot luck dinner followed by bingo. I kind of wished that I had stayed there. After leaving Almont, turn right right on highway 135 and it's only 17 more miles to Crested Butte. The last few miles of this ride were really a pain; uphill grade, slight headwind, and growing knee pains. It's a beautiful ride, but slow and frustrating if you like to cover miles quickly.
By the time I made it into Crested Butte (71 miles for the day) I felt delirious from exhaustion. The couple I had met at the Breckenridge Brewpub two nights ago passed me in their jeep on 135, waved and pulled over. As I didn't recognize them at first I was confused and thought someone was going to offer me a ride. We talked for a short bit and I told them about the brewpub in Crested Butte.
I turned left up the main street to the Idle Spur/Crested Butte Brewery. Since I'd ridden all the way there and also recommended the place to the couple in the jeep, who were already there, the bartender gave me the last bottle of "Red Lady Ale" (one of my favorites). They were bottling "Red Lady Ale" in the basement and didn't have it connected to the tap. The bartender was saving this one last bottle, but decided to give it to me [try it, you'll like it].
I asked the bartender (a very amiable chap) about finding a room. I was nearly delirious and my knees were really bothering me. He suggested the Elk Mountain Lodge. I called them. Fifty-eight dollars for for the night. I asked the bartender for another suggestion. "Try the Forest Queen just down the block."
The Forest Queen is the place to stay in Crested Butte. A bunk (there are two in the shared room) is only $14 and includes a fantastic free breakfast in their restaurant (the Forest Queen seems to be one of THE places to eat breakfast in Crested Butte). A private room (double bed) with shared bath is $27 and a private room with private bath is $32. Be sure that you get a room on the creek side of the hotel. I repeat, be sure that you get a room on the creek side (east side) of the hotel. The private rooms in front are OK, too. If you can't, consider staying somewhere else.
I reserved a private room with shared bath and went back to the brewpub to finish my beer and another. I left the jeepsters there, after asking them if their last name was Crested Butte tonight, and went back to the Forest Queen for a great supper (spinach pasta with vegetarian marinara). The cook offered me extra pasta when he heard how far I'd ridden. I went back to the brewpub, bought a Red Lady Ale, to go (they had some bottles upstairs now), and headed up to my room to relax and get an early night.
After consulting with the evening manager, Mark, a 10 year veteran MTB rider and member of the local ski patrol, my plan for the next day was to head north out of town and go just over Schofield Pass. This is a relatively short ride (~15 miles). I could camp there, near timberline, and the next day ride through Marble, Redstone, and Carbondale on my way to Aspen.
Remember, stay on the creek side of the Forest Queen. I got to my room ready for an early, relaxed evening with ice on my knees. As I settled onto the top of the bed to update my log I heard the incessant thump, thump, thump, and howling wahoos of a late night dive next door. I closed my window. No difference. When I went into one of the two bathrooms right across the hall, the noise was gone and all I could hear was the peaceful, constant sound of the creek running outside the window. I was tempted to try and sleep in the bath tub. I asked Mark if he had a fan I could use to drown out the noise (no). Then I asked if he had another room available (no). This is the down side of the Forest Queen. Again, make sure you have a room on the creek side or one of the private rooms toward the front.
I sat upstairs in my room for about a half an hour, frustrated, and then decided, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. So I wandered over and commenced to drink many Bud's, chat with the late night crowd (I met a woman that introduced herself to me as Jimmy Bob Lee) and to close this silly bar next to the hotel.
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