Day 4: Columbine hut to Graham Ranch hut

Starting elevation 9,160′
Ending elevation 8,240′
Total ascent for the day 1,600′
Cumulative ascent 7,760′
Total descent for the day 2,520′
Cumulative descent 8,270′
Distance for the day 36.1 miles
Cumulative distance 112.02 miles

The ride to Graham Ranch hut, where the only shower of the week awaited me, began with more long hills and more trees. I stopped for my mid-morning break, by now a tradition, to eat yet another PowerBar, remove the wool undershirts that insulated me against early-morning temperatures in the 40s, slather on the day’s layer of sunscreen, and take some pictures:

The road ahead

Much of the first nine miles of day 4 looked like this: a canyon formed by trees, and more uphill.

The bike

The bike snuck into lots of view shots; this is one of the few pictures of which it was the subject. The red bag on top of the rear rack is a CamelBak backpack, which held water and the camera.

Shortly after the break, I emerged from the forest to a postcard panorama. I’d have been happier with a less hazy sky, but I was still thrilled to have a view of something other than trees.

La Sal mountains

The La Sal mountains, where I’d be at the end of the next day, are on the horizon.

Mesas and La Sal mountains

Mesas between me and the La Sal mountains.

Closeup of the La Sal mountains

A closeup of the La Sal mountains.

A view of the mountain range to the north

There also was a mountain range to the north.

The availability of drinking water on the road was a recurring concern throughout the week. SJHS queue sheets identified the location of a spring on four of the seven days of the ride (plus a scummy irrigation ditch on another day), but all of the springs were near the end of the day’s route, and the queue sheets implied that the SJHS folks mostly wanted to preserve the water supplies at the huts, which they deliver in five-gallon jugs. (SJHS material repeatedly implores riders to keep water consumption at the huts to no more than two gallons per person per day for all uses: drinking, cooking, cleanup, tooth brushing. Bathing clearly was out.) Moreover, the queue sheets noted that three of the four springs were unreliable; one may have dried up, and two others may have been destroyed. If I’d completely run out of water too far from the next hut, I could have stopped at the rare RV in a campground or, on the plateau, even rarer house, but my independent streak made that a last resort.

I started each day with almost six quarts of water, and I generally made it to the hut with a quart left, but on day 4 I wasn’t doing as well. Once the forest no longer separated me from views of the mesas and mountains to the west, I’d stopped a number of times to take pictures. A steep hill had me walking in deep gravel for the better part of a mile, and the road in general was in worse condition than it had been earlier in the week, so even on downhills I had to take my time. By the midpoint I was down to my last two quarts of water. According to the elevation profile in the Hlawaty book, the worst of the climbing was over for the day, but another 18 miles at an average of six or seven miles an hour on a sunny day with just two quarts of water was cutting it close.

I’d stopped on an uphill for a snack, a drink, and a rest when a guy on an all-terrain vehicle stopped for a chat. He asked how I was doing, and I allowed as how I was tired but doing OK, plenty of food and probably enough water. He immediately started rooting around in the mass of stuff strapped to the front of his ATV, produced a bottle of water, and handed it to me; it was easier for him to get more water than it was for me, he pointed out.

Con and I talked for quite a while. Like the guy I spoke with the day before, Con had rescued some SJHS bikers several years before. They, too, had been caught in a rainstorm, and one of the riders was nearly hypothermic. Con had been a grocery store manager in Pueblo for 30 years, but his job was forever on the line, and after the third trip to the hospital for symptoms related to stress, he quit one day and walked out. He now drives a truck most of the year, but from September into November he’s a hunting guide there in western Colorado. I’m sorry now that I didn’t think to get his picture.

Now with some buffer on the water supply, I continued stopping to take more pictures:

Rock face on the east side of the road

Rock outcroppings like this were common.

Still another view of the La Sal mountains

The La Sal mountains remained photogenic throughout the day.

A plateau to the east of the Uncompahgre Plateau

Late in the day, I got a view to the east of this plateau that I can’t name.

The last few miles were easier than I’d expected, and I arrived at Graham Ranch around 4 and headed straight for the shower, my first since Telluride. Water is precious in that area; a sign in the shower room asks guests to turn off the water while soaping up: “It’s the cowboy way.”

I rustled up a large batch of pasta with tomato paste and assorted spices from economy-sized bottles, and nibbled on it as I went through my evening routine: replenishing the food and water supply that I’d take on the next day’s ride, choosing a bed from among the eight in the cabin, slipping my sleeping-bag liner into one of the SJHS sleeping bags, stuffing some of the dwindling supply of clean clothes into a pillow case for my pillow, and writing some notes about the day’s experiences so eventually I could write up the trip for this blog. Just before bedtime, I read for a while and finally shut out the light.

Graham Ranch

The hut is situated on Graham Ranch property, just a short distance from the ranch house. The concrete block building behind the travel trailer on the right contains two showers and a toilet.

On to Day 5: Graham Ranch hut to the Gateway Canyons resort

Back to Day 3: Spring Creek hut to Columbine hut

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