Friday, September 5, 2014

Riding Cathy Cramer's Bishop Castle 207km Perm!

I'd wanted to try out Cathy Cramer's Bishop Castle 207km Perm for quite a while, and on August 23 I finally did!  It is a loop along and over the Wet Mountains north of Walsenburg, in a scenic, thinly-populated area of Southern Colorado.

Cathy provided excellent materials and write-up, with inviting photos.

I chose the Colorado City start, and a clockwise direction, a 180-mile drive from my house starting at 4am.  You can also start from Walsenburg, and ride in either direction (a choice which may make a big difference, I learned!).


After a quiet start on local roads, you head down the ramp onto I-25, the snowy Spanish Peaks beckoning in the distance.

This sign, and the windmills on the left side of the highway, provided a hint of what the next few hours might offer.  It had been dead still for the first half-dozen miles, and then wham!  You're in the Wind Zone.

I thought, well, ha, I'm only going five miles further on I-25, not the ten miles they mention on the sign. But that was a mere delusion on my part.

Fortunately there are items of interest, such as Huerfano Butte, for which Huerfano County is named, an orphan on the plains.

Heading west on Red Rock Road, it's rolling, rollicking terrain, and straight into the cloud-fed wind pouring over the southern extremity of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.  I could gaze back and see the same windmills in the earlier photo, now down-valley, catching all the wind I was pedaling against (I felt).

Seriously, though the wind was hefty, it was a nice, invigorating day, and not miserable riding.  These are probably the same winds, I thought, that waft you over La Veta pass from the west, and help build the Great Sand Dunes.

(There is a thought that riding counterclockwise would be more favorable, and that could be.)

In places the highway would dip down to the valley, less breezy, and very green with irrigation (and yellow with sunflowers), a contrast to the sage country not far away.

This bicycle windvane may be showing the direction I should be heading in (but am not!).

Gardner, the first intermediate control, is a friendly, eclectic small down, with interesting architecture.  It is also the only spot on the entire course where I saw someone on a bike (a kid biking down Main St.)

Couldn't resist this photo calendar scene of mountains, horses, and sunflowers.

Or this nice pair.

The country opens up a bit with broad vistas.

A few miles north of Gardner, the route angles enough northward to start picking up tailwinds, giving a push up to the saddle (8,578 ft. - A on the elevation profile) between Gardner and Westcliffe.

Looking back down valley ...

... and up towards the saddle.

This country probably was always sparsely settled, and even more sparsely now?

A lone tree stands as a sentry on this high prairie.

A succession of dirt county roads head right towards the Sangre de Cristos ...

... towards passes or trailheads.  
(You can see the continuation of this road a bit to the left, as it angles into the forest.)

A pickup truck in a sea of sunflowers ...

Descending towards Westcliffe, I see a surprising caution sign for horsedrawn, Amish-style carriages ...

... It doesn't look like Eastern Pennsylvania, but you never know.

Close to Westcliffe, wide shoulders have been added to the highway, perhaps for the carriages.  I did not see any on the road, but later saw one on a flatbed trailer heading out of Westcliffe.

The Westcliffe checkpoint store is a welcome chance to refuel, and a friendly spot.  Westcliffe and Silver Cliff are several blocks of bustling activity before heading up into the Wet Mountains.

There are some rolling climbs heading east.  It is cloudy, but not rainy today.  The route turns south on Hwy. 165 for the main climbs of the route ... although it seems like the route has had some climbing already!

The Wet Mountains have a lush look - forest and meadows - so it may well rain on a regular basis here.

A delightful meadow with aspen/pine woods ... and some horses.

Bigelow Divide is the highest elevation (B on the elevation profile) on the route, reached by switchbacks on both sides.  Immersed in the San Isabel National Forest, it's hard to tell it's this high, but it's above the high point of the Peak-to-Peak Highway.

And then up a rise comes the eponymous treat of the ride, Bishop Castle, a fanciful construction augmented by more layers of fancy over time.  The gleaming metal dragon seemed welcoming and congratulatory, nearing the final climb of the route.

(This being the weekend, there were cars lining the highway and many frolicsome visitors having fun on the ramparts.)

The route dips down to sparkling Isabell Lake, sprinkled with anglers and casual picnickers - a nice day for it!

After one brief final oomph, the final climb, now it's a 16-mile descent to the finish, speedy but shallow enough you can just let the bike go.

Lower down, the route opens up to meadows and views of the eastern plains ...

... and sailing into the great finish of a quite memorable ride!

Many thanks to Cathy Cramer for this challenging, rewarding, and scenic route.  As you can tell, I enjoyed it, and I bet you will, too.