Absolutely incredible mind blowing stuff. I have lost all feeling in the majority of my fingers. My bum will probably never look the same again. When Nick and I finish a days ride we look more like long lost arctic explorers than youthful cyclists. My body hasn't experienced this level of physical exertion since being made to do the bleep test back in '96. Consequently we have both shed that stone of fried chicken and rum from our Caribbean days and are gaining buns of steel. Adrenaline and excitement are rife as we spend most of the day high on endorphins or that half a litre of syrup we poured over pancakes at breakfast. Life is sweet.
After a fantastic stay with some long lost relatives in Albuquerque and a day off the tandem resulting in a cultural adventure around ancient Indian Pueblos and the artsy cafés of Santa Fe, we got on the most direct route North out of New Mexico. The 550 highway was our home for four days of desert, blue skies, red rock canyons, head winds and more desert. The miles drifted by and we lived and breathed everything that road had to offer, which was not much apart from colossal breakfast burritos, oil trucks, monster road kill and dust. But on our third day the never ending orange land in front of us was replaced by an enormous white block of mountains. The San Juan Mountains we were planning to cross. Suddenly the challenge we had set ourselves smacked us both in the face and a nervous anticipation hung over us until those snowy peaks were conquered.
The moment we left New Mexico everything changed. The land turned green, trees had leaves, river beds were filled with water and snow dominated the sky line. Our first stop was Durango where we planned to get the bike fixed up ready for the mountains and spend the afternoon scaring ourselves with how big they looked. It was also the first place we had arranged to go and stay with some warmshowers.com hosts; people who put touring cyclists up for a night. Durango turned out to be the best place we could launch ourselves into the mountains from. The bike shops gave Carlos a good seeing too, numerous people told us we we should be 'stoked' and were 'awesome' for attempting the passes on a loaded tandem and we received free cookies at local cafés. Not only that but our hosts welcomed us into their family BBQ feast for the evening, took us out for an enormous breakfast in the morning and cycled out of town with us for 12 miles to the foot of the mountains.
The last three days have been filled with obscenities and exhalations of joy being shouted out from both ends of the tandem. Those massive and intimidating mountains were exactly that and we both loved (pretty much) every minute of the ride over them. The first day we cycled 52 miles from Durango to Silverton over the 10,630 ft Coal Bank pass and the 10,879 ft Molas pass. On the gradual part of the climb we had an entourage of 30 or so people on racers training for a race in a couple of weeks time. Each one would stop and chat as we pedaled and puffed our way up the climb. It made the first part of the day go surprisingly quickly and before we knew it it was time to face the 6 miles of hairpins. Head down, autopilot on and up we go. About 6 inches of snow fringed the road and gradually started to pour out of an increasingly cloudy sky. We reached the top in a thick blizzard and huddled in the shelter of some Portaloos. The thermometer read -4 degrees C. Before we could contemplate the achievement of getting up the pass we prepared for the chill of the way down. Just as we were looking our most mental yet with socks on hands, jeans around necks and jumpers for hats under our helmets a load of tourists jumped out of their cars and abruptly took some shots of 'the crazy folk tandeming through a snow storm'. Ahhhh fame. Nothing warms you like a steaming hot cup of ego!
After an hour of racing downhill into the blizzard we arrived in the bleak mining town of Silverton, frozen to pieces. After automatically opting for motel over campsite we jumped into the only open restaurant ordered two giant burgers, stacks of fries, two pints of Guinness, two shots of rum and waited to thaw. Surprisingly enough the only time I haven't been ID'd ordering booze on this trip was wearing Nick's socks on my hands and a helmet. The blizzard must have aged me worse than I thought.
After sleeping and thawing we head back out up the mountains. This time the sky was blue and the sun was out and despite a flat tyre 30 seconds in we felt prepared for the 11,010ft Red Mountain pass. The whole day was one of the most spectacular of my life and there is little I can write to describe it. On the way up we felt strong, at the top we were cheered on by an entourage of motorcyclists and on the way down we gasped with joy and excitable fear. At the bottom the mining town of Ouray was a haven of sunshine and warmth with spectacular views of the mountains we had just crossed. Smug and content we grabbed some lunch and headed off North into a warmer and flatter Colorado.
Today everything aches; especially since we decided to take a little detour up a 3,000 ft climb to the Black Canyon of Gunnison this morning. Luckily we both had about 10,000 calories worth of pancakes this morning and so made it up to view the 2,700 ft deep canyon in one piece. Unfortunately the breakfast calorie fest wasn't entirely burnt off in the climb and on first seeing the canyon I screamed 'oh my ***, sh*t, f***.....' to the dismay of several tourists enjoying the peace of the canyon just around the corner. No one can hate a tandem for long though and soon they were all admiring our mornings climb.
Despite all the cracked faces, chapped everything and the shadow of an encroaching plague, Carlos is giving us the ride of our lives and we're soaking up every minute of it.