Rob & I got to the steep part. We found inclines so steep and regular that our busy legs burned out trying to spin our lowest gears. I felt like a Volkswagen bus in both weight and power. Our bikes perform wildly at slow speeds. They are easily spilt over when there is no forward momentum – these rigs pull themselves to the ground. Many times we were forced to pedal slower than the pace of any average adult walking. The sun was still high and the wind quit. We were in a dip of a rolling edge that led straight up into the heart of the Front Range.
A black cloud rolled in like smoke from a wood stove. Fueled by the desert sun, this monster threw lightning bolts at the ridges around us and pelted the Earth with rain. We were stuck in this tussle between Earth and sky! Rob & I had never experienced a mid-afternoon summer thunderstorm borne of the Colorado Rockies. I was quickly chilled from the rain, a problem I never thought I would have hours earlier in the desert sun. We kept pedaling, heeding Rick’s advice that we needed to get to the summit of the mountain pass before sunset. It was 6pm and we had a dozen miles to go.
Rob & I were lowlanders. We were warned of the perils of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and the effects it would have on our bodies, especially if we resisted acclimation. We spent too few days in Denver, a mile high, and too few days again at our destination elevation, 9,250 feet. I could barely breath. My legs seized after a few aerobic bursts and I would gasp for air, never getting enough oxygen. Back at our home-base, Bob gave Rob & I pure bottled oxygen to help with the acclimation but I told myself to wait to use it, we still had a few thousand vertical feet to go.
The sun set slowly behind the mountains and the air got much cooler. The rain worsened and the muddy cliffs around us started to buckle and crumble. We were not in a safe place for flooding. We rounded a corner and stopped. We couldn’t see through the rain and road was becoming inseparable from the runoff on either side of us. We stood still and waited, breathing shallow unfulfilled breaths.We were desperate to stop so we scouted a dirt road off the mountain pass. A sign simply read Madge Gulch and the road dwindled up into steeper ground, we could see no flat surfaces for our tents. Pinyon Pines bent and splayed around us and made it difficult to see deeper into the terrain.
Up ahead was a cleared housing development with no homes but an abandoned building at the front of the lot. The hill was cleared and emptied, an odd sight, and readied for the potential new houses. This seemed like a quiet place to bunk. We pushed our bikes behind the building, cooked a savory dinner of 65¢ Ramen, and dosed off soundly. It rained throughout the night and the air remained humid and chilly. I resisted waking in the morning but the necessity to leave our guerrilla campsite was high. We were one thousand vertical feet from our goal: Devil’s Head Mountain.