The North American Epic reached its zenith today when we crossed the Continental Divide at the 11321’ (3450 meter) Monarch Pass. In cycling over the divide we left the huge Colorado River watershed (which flows west) behind and joined the high waters of the Arkansas River watershed (which flows into the Gulf of Mexico).
The day began with the rude shock of frost on our tents in Gunnison, with folk cuddling their coffee cups to stay warm. As the sun rose we gradually gained elevation for the first 60 km, cycling past the cattle ranches of the upper Gunnison river valley.
Then began a 3700’ climb over 8 challenging miles which took most riders the better part of 2 hours to complete. Reaching the top was time for celebration and a later than usual lunch with a stunning view of the Monarch Range peaks as the backdrop. The temperature was now in the upper 50s.
As they say “it’s all downhill from here” … to St. John’s Newfoundland. And what a downhill it was. The next 30 km from Monarch Pass to the outskirts of Salida (Sa-lay-da) took about 36 minutes as we dropped 4200’ at an average speed of 50 kmph. Had it not been for the traffic and the swirling winds we could’ve gone faster. It didn’t take long for the afternoon heat to be upon us and by the time we reached Salida’s artsy old downtown the temperature was registering 92º F.
Now we are camped near the rushing Arkansas River at about 6300’ with only one more day and one more climb and descent in the Colorado Rockies. Soon the Great Plains will loom into sight and beckon us further east on this amazing journey.