The Hardest Climb – Part One

Our goal for the day was Devil’s Head in Pike National Forest. We anticipated a full first day of 50 miles, all up hill, with a total elevation gain of 4,000 feet. Our bikes were heavily laden with camping gear, a week’s worth of food, and a heavy arrangement of ropes, carabiners, and cams (of the old rigid stem variety). My bike weighed more than me. Rob and I stood foolhardy beside our rigs as Bob & Denise photographed us as if to catch the last glimpse of two crazed nuts before vanishing away from society. This was a new experience for us and hell did we learn a lot.


Our first mistake was immediate and apparent. We trucked off North when we should have gone South. Later we heard wise words from a local: “Remember boys, keep the Rockies on the right and you’ll be heading South!” We pedaled through Denver once more and started out on a secondary highway towards Sedalia, Colorado, our intermediate goal for the day. It’s nice to have small checkpoints along the way. Cycle touring can become very boring when you consider the grand finale and not the small towns in between.

Rob & I were cramped on a highway designed only for cars. The shoulder was strewn with debris, some of it sharp enough to pierce our highly pressurized tires. We treaded carefully avoiding obstacles moving and non-moving. The white line on the side of the road becomes a track – the game is to stay on that track and minimize wavering side to side.


The temperatures reached over 95 degrees in the sun and the asphalt reflected more than that at us. Our first hill came with anguish and ice cream. Huge props to the zoning committee of Englewood for placing a Wendy’s at the apex of that hill, it could not have come sooner for us. We ditched the highway for a bikeway that ran parallel to a stream, it would take us half of the way to Sedalia. It was the only peace we found that day from the gritty highway.

A fluorescent orange sign was visible up ahead: ‘No cyclists allowed on highway’. Three miles of construction limited traffic to two swift opposing lanes and tight jersey barriers. We looked to the Rockies, the mid-afternoon thunderstorms were moving fast. We took a chance and rode off the shoulder into the construction site. It was a slog pushing our bikes through sand and concrete! We broke through safely and missed a thundershower as another headed us off. The weather out here forces quick decisions.


I burnt out two miles from town. I was dehydrated without electrolytes. The salt from my body was visible as crystal buildups on my sunglasses and clothing. I turned sharply to rest under a tree by an abandoned shack. I found it hard to imagine that we had not even started up the slopes of the Rockies, we were still pedaling along in the high desert!

In Sedalia we ate lunch and spoke with the general store owner who had plenty to say. She grew up in Sedalia and marveled at the progress the town had made. Her only gripe was with Denverites that came down with their big city attitudes. She made the quip “Oh… the locals don’t drink the water” and smirked as Rob & I filled our water bottles at the tap. We bought some Gatorade powder from her to replenish what we had lost. Moments before striking up a cadence, a man named Rick pulled into the front lot to talk with us.


Rick was a cyclist and marveled at our rigs. He was enthusiastic and genuinely interested in our plans. He gave us a pat on the back for making it as far as we did and gave us advice on the road up Jarre Canyon. He said we had to make it to the top in the remaining hours of the day. One side of the canyon is a cliff and the other a ravine. It’s heavily wooded and very steep. We would only find rest and camping at the very top. Jarre Canyon would prove one of the most difficult climbs I have ever attempted. If the exhaustion doesn’t get us the rumored population of mountain lions will.

About Clint Valentine

Clint is currently enrolled in two undergraduate degrees in Biology & Environmental Science at Northeastern University. He enjoys pursuits of endurance and distance which have included summiting many peaks in New England during winter alpine ascents, sailing the Atlantic in a vintage gaff-rigged schooner, rock climbing in five states including Oregon, and cycling 5,000 miles across North America. He has goals of pushing the envelope of his limits and combining his many outdoors interests into one big trip. He has a passion for photography and hopes to one day produce a documentary for a round-the-world tour.
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