Day 1: Telluride to Last Dollar hut

Starting elevation 8,750′
Ending elevation 10,960′
Total ascent for the day 2,760′
Total descent for the day 550′
Distance for the day 14.04 miles

Eh, what’s 14 miles? That’s not exactly what I was thinking on Friday morning, but that’s the sense you’d have had from watching me. I’d slept poorly, so I rose well after 7, showered, went to Maggie’s for a pancake breakfast and a takeout lunch, and stopped by Paragon to get a bottle of Sportlegs capsules, a dietary supplement (calcium, magnesium, vitamin D) that supposedly reduces muscle fatigue. (At dinner Wednesday evening at the Telluride Bistro, a well-spoken mountain biker name Hans, who was sitting next to me at the bar, had recommended Sportlegs, and I was concerned enough about my inadequate training that I was willing to give it a go. I later checked with a doctor friend who was skeptical, as was I, but she figured it wouldn’t hurt.) Back at the Victorian Inn, I finished packing, checked out, and finally was on my way around 10:30.

Last shot of the Victorian Inn before departing

The Victorian Inn is on the left. My bike is parked in front.

I made two big mistakes on that first day: I underestimated the difficulty of climbing 2,760′ from a starting altitude of 8,750′ (the equivalent of a 276-story building when you include overcoming 550′ of elevation loss), and I assumed that the elevation gain would be roughly evenly distributed over the distance. The first half of the day’s ride augured ill for the last half; the climbs were too gradual, and by the midpoint, downhills had wiped out all of the elevation I’d gained. At 7.6 miles, I was down at 8,770′ again and had to climb to 10,960′ feet, or a grade of about 6.5% over 6.4 miles. As I rode, I kept recalculating the amount of elevation that I had to gain for each mile remaining and knew that suffering lay ahead. Still, the views continued to distract me.

The road ahead

The road in the valley is where I’m headed.

Creek where I had lunch

I had lunch on the bridge that crosses this creek.

The road ahead

This is a view to the south. The mountains on the horizon are to the west of Telluride. I’d just come up the road.

Log fence and mountains

This, too, is a view to the south, another half mile along the same road.

Closeup of a log fence

A closeup of the log fence in the previous shot.

The route wasn’t nearly as isolated as I’d expected based on accounts I’d read online. Until I reached the “County Road T60 No Winter Maintenance” sign at mile 11, I was rarely out of sight of houses, travel trailers, or RVs. Last Dollar Road was no freeway, but cars and trucks passed me headed in both directions a couple of times an hour until the road became especially steep and rough, about the time that I started thinking seriously about accepting a ride to the pass if someone offered. After that, the only traffic that passed me was headed downhill, and I pushed a 35-pound bike loaded with 40 pounds of gear for most of the last three miles, in addition to the mile or so that I’d already walked earlier in the day. No one was going my way anymore, but everyone stopped for a brief chat, mostly, I suspected, to gauge my condition and, if I were in sad enough shape, to offer me a ride back to Telluride. My interminable slog was well shy of a picnic, but I could appreciate the absurdity of finding a gasping biker still wearing a helmet while pushing a loaded bike up a steep gravel road, and I couldn’t help but return their cheery greetings.

Mountain view from near the hut

At this point, I was about a mile and a third from the hut. I’d been on the road in the lower left corner of the shot an hour or so before.

Road near the hut

This was the road ahead, such as it was.

The road leveled off some after the third switchback, and I got to bike the last few hundred yards to Last Dollar Pass, but that minor victory was forgotten on the climb from the pass to Last Dollar hut with which I began this account. By the time I hove in sight of the hut it was already after 7:00, and with sunset maybe 15 minutes away, I had to quickly haul my bike and gear inside, learn how to work the propane stove and lights, start dinner, find the outhouse, and take some pictures before dark set in. A box of macaroni and cheese was the best I could do on the energy I had left, that and a few cookies (the package was already open) and a can of store-brand cola. I was in bed by 8:30.

Sunset from the ridge in front of the hut

Maybe it was worth it after all.

Sunset from the ridge in front of the hut

Good night, moon.

On to Day 2: Last Dollar hut to Spring Creek hut

Back to Mountain biking (and walking) from Telluride to Moab