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Day 19: 2nd Highest Vehicle Pass in the USA (Imogene Pass)

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

Like usual, Claudia was up, packed, and gone, before I was even awake. I said a quick goodbye to my hosts, DeAnne and Dave, and biked into town for breakfast at the Butcher and Baker. I had planned to head up Imogene Pass right after breakfast, but I realized now was probably the best opportunity to mail home my shirt that I won in back Middlegate, NV and get it out of my bag. The shirt fit into a small box, so it only cost $8. I planned to mail back my cold weather gear once out of Colorado, so it’s good to know it isn’t too expensive. But the diversion did mean I got a late start. I wasn’t on the Imogene Pass trail until around 9:30 AM.

Claudia, not having a gravel bike, would be riding around the pass. I originally saw the pass on a map back when I was planning my route in California. Since then, I had been determined to just go straight over. There wasn’t a ton of information on biking over Imogene, so I decided I needed to see it for myself.

I was making pretty good progress up the side of the canyon. All of it was ridable, although quite steep and loose in places. I passed a sign saying “Imogene Pass Closed” and a few hikers. The hikers quickly caught back up as I stopped to rest and fly my drone. Already, not even a quarter of the way up the climb, my drone was giving me high elevation warnings… But I got to chat with the hikers and gave up some of my water. I would regret that later as I set out with less than normal in order to save some weight for the climb...

Despite the closed sign below, several Jeeps also passed me, especially as the trail went from mostly gravel and dirt to just pure rock. I started having to walk my bike much more at this point...

When it wasn’t pure rock, it would be giant chunks of loose rock. In both cases, it was un-ridable not only because of the terrain, but because I was on greater than 20% grades.

Up until the lower section of the ghost town, Tomboy, the route was mostly ridable. After Tomboy, I rode about 25 feet in total before giving up. This meant I was left pushing my bike up these grades of loose rock where I kept sliding down, and my bike would struggle to roll over the rock chunk. The old town of Tomboy, was cool though!

Trying to drag my bike up the mountain was about as fun as it sounds... The marmots constantly diving through the wood remnants of the houses were a pleasant distraction, but not enough to aid in my ascent.

I’m a pretty strong rider, and I usually love climbing challenges. But loaded down as I was, on a rigid bike with semi-slick tires, it was absolutely impossible to ride up these roads. This left me pushing my bike for several miles. As I pushed, several cars came down the road and cheered me on. Each time it was a big boost of energy to keep going. I hope the Colorado Trail is nothing like this. But I wanted to do Imogene Pass for the challenge, and I got exactly what I was looking for. Despite the difficulty and slow progress, I was actually having a pretty good time since this is what I expected out of the pass. I was far more annoyed by the 20 miles of washboard in Arches since going into that day, I was anticipating something far more enjoyable to ride. I find that whether I enjoy a segment or not is largely determined by my expectations going into it, rather than my actual difficulty in riding it.

After a lot of effort, I was at the top! 13,114 feet after starting at 8,750 feet that morning. All that elevation gain in just 6 miles of trail. Half of that was hike n' bike too, which made it all the more brutal.

It was now time for the descent! Which was even worse terrain than the ascent… Being on a rigid bike, I have no shocks and my tires don’t have all that much grip. On top of that, the snow surrounding the road melts right into my path. I had two big river crossings ahead of me. Half under control, half slipping down wet rock, I pick my way down the other side of the pass.

On a full suspension mountain bike, this wouldn’t be too bad to ride. But talking to several Jeep tour guides I run into on my way down, they say no cyclists come over Imogene, let alone someone on a rigid bike on top of being weighed down by gear getting them across the US. While I‘m almost certainly not the first person to do the trek, it seems that the locals had never seen someone do it. Definitely a cool feeling for me that even the locals were blown away a cyclist made it over the pass.

I had to ride through Owl River twice. I was too focused on not falling in on the two sections that I forgot to get a picture. I was only able to get a picture of the river later on when it actually had a bridge.

Both times I crossed the river, I would have to pedal through and under the water with my feet. So my feet would be submerged at the bottom of each pedal stroke. On the second crossing, the river bed was lots of pebbles and loose rock, and I nearly didn’t make it across. But I did with nothing worse than some wet feet!

Eventually, the chunk gave way to one of the smoothest dirt roads and that led down to Ouray, where I heard there were hot springs! Finally getting over the pass, I could see Ouray for the first time. Ouray was wayyyy more impressive than I was anticipating.

I had never heard of the place before, despite seeing the town on maps while planning my route. I thought it would be as insignificant as most of the other towns I rode through. Instead, I drop into a beautiful valley and I hear that there are a lot of hot springs only locals know about on top of all the touristed ones!

I googled bakeries to find any in town, but all of them are closed. At this point it’s about 3:30 PM and I’ve only gone about 20 miles, despite leaving at 9:30 AM. That should give you a pretty good idea of just how slow Imogene Pass was. I decided I didn’t want to waste time at the hot springs and would just go directly to my host for the night, John and Mallory. They were less than 20 miles away in a town called Ridgway. Before I leave, however, I am approached by a guy around my age curious about my trip. It turns out he lives in Denver and offered to let me crash at his place should I go through there. I may have to take him up on that!

A short ride later and I arrive at John and Mallory‘s. Another cyclist I met on the trail a few days back, Rob, had also stayed with them and I learned from his review that John is the mayor of Ridgeway! When we were planning my trip at home, we were trying to figure out a way to make it special. One of the ideas pitched was to eat lunch with the mayors of the small towns I passed through, and while that was scrapped, I did get to have a taste of what that experience would have entailed!

Mallory is a school teacher, and I don’t envy what teachers have had to go through the past year and a half. However, it sounds like despite the struggles, she handled it excellently, which is no small feat.

John had a meeting that night. Afterwards, we talked for just over an hour. They showed me where I would be staying, which was the master bedroom of the house with a full kitchen, shower, everything! Then they said that they would see me in the morning.

Usually, when I am at a host’s house, I talk with them right up until we go to sleep. I really enjoy that, however, it was incredibly nice to have some time to myself at John and Mallory‘s. I relished it. I made some instant noodles I have been carrying since California because I never had enough water on hand to cook them until now and then fell asleep with the lights on… Imogene really took it out of me I guess. I woke up at 2:00 AM to turn the lights off and get some good rest.

Imogene Pass looks like another planet!

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Carol Amos
Carol Amos
Jun 28, 2021

Really enjoying your posts, Peter! And saw your Middlegate t-shirt in one of your pictures from an earlier post. You earned that t-shirt! Take care and thanks for sharing part of your journey with us. Carol and Mike in Fallon

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