Day Sixty Eight: Ridgway to Telluride

Distance: 48 mi.

Elevation gain: 4,016 feet

6:45 AM: Slink out of crash pad, walk blocks to grocery store; buy a pear, two donuts, two yogurts, half gallon of almond milk, granola and energy bars. Eat pear on the walk back (Lizzie doesn’t need to know about my sneaking extra juicy morsels), I dump the rest of the loot on the table back at the pad.

Stuff in calories anticipating another gruesome 4,000 foot climb, this time surmounting Dallas Pass.

11AM: Down the southern side of Dallas Pass a slow trickle of road bikers turns into a constant stream of smiling and waving passers-by. We’re exotic and alien to the road bikers, out for a day’s ride before returning to work or vacation homes. Three senior cyclists climb in the opposing direction, each wear thin plastic discs around helmets and horrifying white face masks, contraptions apparently effective at blocking out unwanted sun. Lizzie and I look at each other and shrug: our faces, beat to hell by sun and wind, noses swollen, professor-like.

We pass three or four fully-loaded bike tourists heading West-to-East, reinforcing the opinion we’re traveling against the grain of typical summer expeditions. Holler encouragement at one another but don’t stop — don’t you dare interrupt my downhill descent.

An extra 35 lbs of gear and my fear of brakes means I beat Lizzie down the hills by a good measure.

Ride seemingly endless 12-mile downhill stretch to Placerville, at the base my stomach hurts from forty minutes of jersey lashes in 50mph wind. Placerville is couched between the San Miguel River’s crystalline ambles on southern bank, forests and parks on the north. Country store stop for lunch sandwiches; muscular, suntanned young woman tends the store, not a bad job I think. Liz and I split half gallon of ice cream, refill water and banana supply.

Downside of ice cream binge is the swollen, tranquilized agony of the unexpectedly windy final ascent to Telluride. I zone out, burnt out from hours of climbing, but feeling enough pain and soreness that stopping isn’t any better than continuing; so we keep going.

We are rewarded.

A fast three mile descent brings us to downtown Telluride.

Snack at the main street coffee shop until Lizzie alerts me it’s time to meet our Warm Showers host at Paragon Sports. That embarrassing feeling after Googling a location fifteen feet away.

Find Max in mechanic shop crowded into a basement cutout in outfitter store’s underbelly. In dizzied exhaustion we assault Max with manifold observations about our journey, psychoanalyze our bicycles and what’s wrong with them in solipsistic and impenetrable detail. Unphased, Max is adept in the ways of strung-out bike tourists; calms us down with kind words, clamp clamp bikes into the stands, our drivetrains dismantled and shoved into a bubbly ultrasound bath. Max proffers beer while we pour over an elevation map scotch taped to the counter and pontificate on upcoming routes; I’m sips from being drunk and becoming impressed by Max’s off-cuff advice to head North as far as the rockies take us, cutting through Missoula and into Wyoming. Lizzie also drunk and freewheeling her own mountain route fantasies. Eventually we let Max get back to work; he gives us the address of his house and offers to meet us at 7 for dinner. We hit a taco truck and eat over a pound of spiced tortilla chips.

Words about Max

Max came to Telluride from Brooklyn, where he founded the Red Lantern bar/bike shop in Brooklyn; he knows most of the folks who steered Lizzie and I towards this crazy journey, including Brian at Red Lantern who was an inspiration to Lizzie. Max works as a ‘regular’ mechanic at Paragon Sports (i.e. non-owner): no management duties, no meetings, strictly building and maintaining bikes punctuated by many, many single track mountain rides, even mid working day. There’s nothing average about Max’s work: when not caretaking for virtually all the bike tourists passing through Telluride, including overhauling all their gear as he did for us (he effectively cleaned and re-built both of our bikes from the frames up, charging us only a puny “miscellaneous labor” fee), Max is working on special builds for his family and friends, experimenting with inflatable backpack rafts, and even brandishing his chainsaw to cut his own trails into the mountains. He knows everything — and I mean EVERYTHING — about bikes. He’s a local legend in hardtail and hike-n-bike riding, the latter of which blends cardio-busting sections where bike is hoisted over shoulder and hiked through moutain trails to discover rideable sections, which are attacked hard before the next hiked section. Max also cranks out special builds for his family and friends, tricking out Xtracycles for his wife Hillary (also a Telluride town commissioner) and daughter Zoe to zoom around on.

5:30PM: Lizzie and I jump on the free gondola back into the San Juan mountains before dinner; we’re flattered and warmed by Max’s suggestion that we take his daughter Zoe up with us; after two months of existing in approximation to gutterpunks, grease smeared over every article of clothing, it’s good to feel trusted by another person.

I enjoyed the gondola.
Blues / bluegrass festival at Mountain Village

7PM: Arrive at Max and Hillary’s house, recognizable from the street by the dozen or so bikes clumped in the front of the house — never locked. Is this a real place!? Four or five of Max’s friends swing by the house, some transplanted from New Hampshire and Vermont; stories, beers, laughter, food. Max casually mentions that another Warm Showers biker is expected tonight, a 21 year-old who’s destroyed his cell phone and is stuck somewhere in Silverton pass; his mother has called Max a dozen times. Tucker finally joins the party, just in time for dinner scraps; everyone picks on him for his mother’s relentless phone calls.

Provide me a place to live in Telluride and I’ll move there tomorrow.