Aspen to Durango
A few gray clouds are hovering on the horizon as we select our rental bikes at a shop in Crested Butte. The funky mountain town has a ski slope at its northern edge and miles of single-track bike trails running all around in the hills. Crested Butte is a cyclist's heaven; locals like to claim that this is where mountain biking began.
The clouds scud closer as we gear up. Fat drops hit my legs. By the time we reach the trailhead a mile out of town, it's raining steadily.
Sam hates biking. When I asked her to join me on this trip, the first thing she said was, "Okay, but do we have to go mountain biking?" So it's a testament to her spirit that she looks at me now, her blonde hair plastered to her face, and smiles an enormous fake smile: "This is fun!" she says.
We take the Lower Loop along the Slate River to Oh-be-joyful Creek. The trail cuts under cottonwoods at a gentle grade. It would be spectacular if, at about 5 miles out, it didn't start to hail.
Cold water streams from my helmet down the back of my neck. My thighs are peppered with red dots where the hail balls hit. Kate's legs are covered in mud.
Kate is a truth teller. "I am not proving anything by staying out in a storm," she says. "This isn't joyful. Let's get out of here."
We can hardly wait to warm up in Ouray, but it's a three-hour drive. Set at 7,760 feet in a box canyon, the town is ringed by sheer rock walls; beyond them peek out jagged, snowy edges of the San Juan Mountains. It's like being in a rocky double boiler.
We've come for the area's natural hot springs, like many travelers before us. At 126-year-old Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa, we follow a tunnel underneath the lodge to the vapor cave. The little room is dreamlike and steamy; the walls drip, echoing. The shallow pool is 108°. I dip a toe in.
In the corner, a man we hadn't noticed for the steam starts chanting. The deep sounds reverberate off the rock walls. He's a skinny, bearded guy in a half-lotus position, eyes closed. I want to giggle. He opens his eyes and starts licking the wet rocks. Well, at least we're warm.
We are ruddy, steamed dumplings by the time we hit the road south, known as the Million Dollar Highway; according to some locals, the name doesn't refer to its construction price tag of $1,000 per foot but to the gold found in the gravel used to pave it. We twist and turn up to Red Mountain Pass at 11,018 feet, with visions of snowcapped Twilight and Sunlight Peaks set off by a crystalline blue sky.