I had originally thought a bit about trying out the unsurfaced Rollins Pass west of Winter Park, but I had too little time for adventures like this and it was not clear whether the road is passable. As usual it was fine weather in the morning and as usual a 20 km climb up the next pass. 20 km for climbing many of the passes in Colorado seems like the standard, since they are not very steep. This is a nice pass, but rather regular in all ways. There are some nice switchbacks on the way up, but the road is very wide. There are good views from the top section on both sides. The descent down to Empire is a very fast one on a sometimes wider road than any motorways are built at home (like three lanes in both directions). You could easily and safely go through switchbacks in above 70 km/h. There was a little roadwork near the top on the Winter Park side. I do not think I visited a single highway without ongoing construction work throughout Colorado and a road worker later in the day told me that it would get even worse in the coming years!
In Empire there is a paved road to a pass, but unfortunately it is not possible to use on the way down to the I-70, so I took the normal road and sort of found (no signs) the alternative road going parallel with the interstate up to Georgetown, on which I had cycled only two days ago.
In Georgetown I now found out that the real town is really hidden away from sight as one pass by on the interstate and I could not see it before entering on a small road near the mountainside and even then wondered if I possibly could be on the right road. The signs were not very informative. I found a nice looking restaurant at the other end of the town and had lunch there.
I filled my water bottle and started the climb of the actually sign-posted Guanella Pass road. I happily discovered that it was a nice and steep road with plenty of serpentines. This was the road most looking like an Alps pass road that I found in Colorado. This road was supposedly not surfaced all the way and not over the pass itself, I had read in Michael Seeberg’s book. Still this is a highway and I met a few large trucks here too, much to my surprise. Higher up are some dams and it is flat around the dams, but then there are a few steep ramps again with worse pavement. (Michael Seeberg is correct thus far in his description.) Then some way after a power plant I suddenly came to a road work and a lady said she could not allow me to pass on the bicycle! Was she joking or something?!? This I should have to learn about after having done the worst part of the climb? Traffic was allowed through (one way at a time), but somehow bicyclists were not allowed?!? I said I simply had to get over this pass and could not bother to ask for permission to do so and simply continued. She said she would have to ask someone to stop me.
I went ahead and ignored the lady. There was indeed heavy road work going on, but there was no problem cycling up in the lane they was not tarring. The road was unpaved here but not steep. After coming around half-way up to the top the cars came coming down and met me, so I pulled over to let them pass. Then I noticed they were led by a car taking them down and the man stopped and insisted that I did not go further and he promised to take me up in the pick-up to where the road work ended. I was surely not happy with that as I wanted to climb the whole way, of course. After some further arguing with the stubborn old man and since I did not want the queuing people behind him get out of their cars to beat me up, I decided that he would have his way. This was really annoying – what rights do road workers have to block roads due to whims of their own? I threw up the bicycle on the pick-up and he took me down again, whereupon we went back up again after some time. I would have been quicker up at the pass by cycling. He claimed he was nearly fired the day before because he had let some cyclists pass by. I said it was sorry I was not there the day before then! ;-) I should have insisted to speak to construction site boss – I said she should be fired and not him. Anyway, the man was nice. I just pointed out a couple of times how stupid this was. He claimed that they were going to let the extremely rough pavement they were putting on the road be the new pavement and that no asphalt would be put on top. (It will be nearly uncyclable when they are finished for many years, if I understood this corectly. – I was not sure he could be trusted on this though.)
When I was left off just before the pass – what an anti-climax!! – I noticed the bicycle had gotten some scraping from a road-sign he also had on his pick-up. Now I was very angry for a long time and thought about all things stupid with America, like fighting half-wars making things worse for everyone than if they had committed to a real war on islamic fascists or ignoring them altogether. But, it is just things like these that could happen when you are out on adventures and there is not much sense in projecting the temporary anger at non-related things. Still one has to let the anger out. I was happy again by the end of the day! :-)
The Guanella Pass (3557m) is nice at the top but not outstanding. One reason I doubt that they were going to leave the road with the ridiculously rough pavement was that they had just asphalted a long stretch just below the top on the south side and there the road was super-smooth. It ended abruptly, however. Then there was some old pavement for a long stretch and then finally an unpaved stretch to near the end of the road in Grant, which was a bit dusty but not too difficult and it was not steep here. So there was actually more asphalt on the supposedly mostly unpaved south side than on the north side at the time of passing.
There was an overcast all the day from the Guanella Pass onwards. The highway over the Kenosha Pass (3049m) has quite a lot of traffic, but Kenosha Pass is easy. Then there was a very flat section and I took a photo showing that flatness is very typical of Colorado too. I was passing over a small pass, called Red Hill Pass (3044m). It was amazingly high altitude up on these farmland plains here. At Fairplay I went into a Pizza Hut for some stupid reason and had to wait over half an hour to get something to eat and then I think I got a stomach ache later from the pasta I had ordered.
However, things got better! I cycled on and could keep a good speed here on the flat road. Soon I was up at Trout Creek Pass (Bath Pass) (2892m), which offers very good views on the descent westwards into the mountains around the Cottonwood Pass I had come over at the start of the trip. Last photo is from here.
I now headed south and was again very close to the rain that was falling heavy in the mountains nearby. I just had a few drops from the winds on my way down to Salida. It had been 214 km of cycling (discounting the few kilometres in the pick-up truck on Guanella) and I was really in need for lodging as I reached Salida. The first place I saw was fully booked and in the town I did not see many places (the next morning I discovered that I had been coming in from the wrong way, not seeing all the hotels on the main road that goes to Poncha Springs just outside the city). After a while I returned to a bed & breakfast I had seen near the central town and asked there for a bed. It turned out they did not have any and even though they tried to telephone for me to some other places, they could not find a place with a free bed. However, they had an appartment/house that they had planned to rent to someone staying a long time and that they would want more money for than a regular room. They agreed to give me it for 100 dollars in the end (which they apparently thought was ridiculously cheap and nice of them). Anyway, it was fine and central.
I strolled downtown and heard some nice music being played at one place – it was the Bongo Billy coffee house, but they served no food (at this time anyway). The B&B owner had recommended an Italian restaurant in town and I asked about it and the girl at the coffee place called to tell them to keep open until I arrived. It was nice to have some proper food as a change and the place was just right – perhaps a little finer than I had hoped, but they had a relaxed atmosphere there. I had some fish and wine. Then I went back to Bongo Billy for coffee and caught the long second set by the (sort of) folk artists playing there (Taarka). It was really nice to hear some live music after having cycling for so long. Much appreciated! I was happy again!