Day 17 had no remarkable scenery, or people (sorry randoms that I met) to speak of. I camped at night just outside Cimarron, CO, at a small RV park near a rapidly flowing river (in hindsight, perhaps not the wisest choice - isn't it colder near water?). At 7,000 it was a bit chilly, but all the better, as Day 18 was anticipated to be a big day, and deserved my 5:30 wake up.
There is one thing to mention regarding Day 17. I realized, about halfway up a 1700ft climb, that I am really beginning to enjoy this tour. Not that I wasn't before, but I caught myself grinning way too many times on Day 17 - it can't be passed off as anything but glee any longer. At the beginning of the trip, I was bumbling along a bit, without some of the modifications to my ride that have made it significantly more comfortable. Further, the people who have impacted my trip positively have really done a number for my morale.
"Hello Darkness, My Old Friend":
Today was the day that I go for the Monarch Pass. This pass scraped the sky at over 11,000 feet, and is the largest mountain that I have or will summit on my journey. Nothing to be trifled with! To top it off, Monarch Mountain straddled the continental divide, meaning that after I passed the summit, I would be on the "Atlantic-side" of America. Significantly imposing physically and figuratively.
Beginning in Cimarron and breakfasting in Gunnison, CO (at a great joint: W Cafe) , I made my way to Sargents. Sargents sat at the foot of Monarch Mountain, 17kms from the summit, and 3000 feet below it. A snickers bar and a gatorade later, and I began my jaunt up to the heavens. It was 2:48pm.
No doubt about it, the climb was steep. It began to noticeably get colder. I had to stop and throw on extra layers during my breaks for water and snacks (fuel for the Mule). Many pedal grindings later, I arrived at the summit. It was 4:38.
I wish I could say that it was a more beautiful sight, but today just wasn't the day for it. The skies were cloudy, and the peaks of nearby mountains mingled with the grey rain-bearers to obscure the landscape. I was the only one at the summit. No other cyclists to congratulate, no motorists to ask to snap a picture of me.
However gloomy and desolate the atmosphere was, I can't help but be happy with the picture below. Simple and unornamented by a smiling Alex, but significant. The metaphorical halfway mark of my journey.
Day 18 ends in Salida, CO. A neat little town that has a very well preserved historic district. I'm going to take Day 19 off (my first rest day!), explore and rest my legs.