Slogging uphill through sheep
September 9, 1996
9:20 a.m.: The group is running fairly late, having had a difficult time breaking the spell of our condo's comfort. Finally, though, we head to the San Juan Hut Systems' main office just off Main Street. Joe, a scraggly, weathered fellow who clearly has spent some time in the outdoors, briefs us on the details and gives us our cotton sleeping bag liners. He explains that the hazards are few and route-finding is simple. But we do need to watch out for lightning storms on the fourth day; that day's riding takes us through a bald, high patch of country where apparently a mountain bike would be downright irresistible to some lightning. Also, we need to be careful of wild, angry Brahma bulls on that day. In the past, Joe says clients have had to fend off angry bulls with their bikes. Once, a particularly aggressive bull put his foot right through someone's spokes. Oh, and we also need to watch out for rattlesnakes after Gateway, Utah. Once, Joe says with a smile, a client left his sleeping bag outside and found himself with a visitor that evening--a thick, long garter snake. I wonder briefly if sleep is, strictly speaking, absolutely necessary.
12:30 p.m.: After quick breakfast (well, lunch) we head out of town. The sun is shining bright, though some of the usual afternoon thunderheads have begun building. It's of little concern though, as thundershowers here are the norm in the afternoon. And they're brief, scattered, and punctuated with long periods of drying sun. After four miles we turn off the main highway and begin climbing toward the airport that sits on a mesa just outside of town. Gack. Starting at 8,700 feet, I'm now reminded how key oxygen is to physical exertion. This first day will take us 14 miles to Last Dollar Hut. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this day is climbing.
1:45 p.m.: We've ascended a few hundred feet on Last Dollar Road up into the Uncompaghre National Forest. During one of the intermittent downhills, Keil stops suddenly--he's just suffered the first flat tire of the trip. Though he arguably should be bummed, Keil's an engineer and looks visibly delighted at having to fix something. A few minutes later he's pumping up his tire and we get ready to roll. The riding is not too painful now, but it is solid climbing on dirt Forest Service roads. On and off we ride through aspen trees just beginning to change color for the season.
2:40 p.m.: Paul has ridden ahead and as the rest of us round the bend we notice a few hundred head of sheep crossing the road. They don't look particularly concerned about us, until we get fairly close. We begin riding through them and they trot out of our way. Off to our right their shepherd, smiling, walks toward us. Then, just as we begin riding clear of the sheep, Annabel stops: Her chain is broken. Again, we stop, although this time for slightly longer. Annabel whips out her chain tool and we begin repairs. Annabel holds the chain, Paul turns the crank, and I hold the tensioner arm out of the way. It's a minor repair, really, but obviously critical. The odds of several, or many, things not going wrong on a 205-mile ride are pretty slim. We're equipped to handle anything but a bottom bracket or rear hub failure. Those require special tools, parts, and time. Otherwise, we're set--extra derailleurs, skewers, tires, tubes, chain, master links, and cables.
4:30 p.m.: Gack. We've been climbing steadily now, and have spread out over about a half-mile. We chug away in our granny gears. For about a quarter of a mile, Keil and I get off and push. The grade of the road is difficult, but the main issue here is its unrelenting pitch. Ahead I see Paul pushing his and behind us Mark does the same. Annabel doesn't push once on the entire climb. About halfway up, Keil and I are still smiling but definitely wishing we were riding instead. Then a blue and white GMC pickup passes us and, as it does, the driver laughs something about having a passenger. Then, from the back, we hear a familiar, loud roaring laugh. Mark bummed a ride.
5:10 p.m.: We have only a few hundred feet left to climb, but decide to flop for a while under some aspen trees.
5:35 p.m.: At last, the Last Dollar Hut is in sight. A clearing to its east affords a spectacular, heart-breaking view of the mountains outside Telluride. Above they're jagged and rocky. Halfway down they surrender to rolling mesas of aspen, pine, grass, and ranches. We each rest for a while in the sun, then unlock the hut and check our provisions for the night. The Last Dollar Hut is a spartan cube, maybe 20 feet to a side. It's reasonably well-appointed with bunk beds for about eight. The food supplies are a little depleted right now; Keil is particularly and vocally galled by the lack of cheese for making pizza. We make do, and Keil whips up some garlic, onion, olive, and Parmesan pizza that tastes great, considering. For our first night we're a little disappointed in the San Juan Hut Systems' food supplies--mostly because they provided menus but with key ingredients missing. Everything else, though, is a tight ship. We fire up the potbelly stove to keep our tea water warm and sit back.
6:01 p.m.: As we sit unawares with the front door open, a mouse races inside and behind a cabinet. I leap into action, hoping to either smash him or shoo him out with the splitting maul. He manages to hide himself adequately and I appear foiled. But Keil has a plan; he's trapped many mice at Camp Muir on Rainier. Later that night he takes a four-quart kettle and stretches rubber bands across it. In the center of the rubber bands he places a piece of plastic with peanut butter smeared on it. Then, he puts water in the kettle and a ramp up to its lip. The theory goes like this: Evil, marauding vermin smells the peanut butter. Vermin then walks up the ramp. Then, really stoked on that peanut butter, the greedy fool walks out on to the rubber bands and--YES!--falls into a watery grave. Superior primates chuckle from the comfort of their beds as the squeaks fade to black. Of course, we've yet to fully prove the theory. However cruel it may seem, we really should get rid of him before we leave to spare the future hut tenants.
9:45 p.m.: We're all tired. Our movement has kept the mouse hidden, so no luck yet with the trap. Keil expects that, and says our plot will take effect later that night. In the meantime, before hitting the hay, we all enjoy hot chocolate and peppermint Schnapps wisely brought by Mark.
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