Blue Mesa of Curecanti
Paso Robles de San Luis De Obispo
Continuing with the story from Telluride back in 1997 – Two days after leaving Telluride, we rode from Montrose to Gunnison. A little background for this story. PC was a dear cat of mine, one of the original three black cats. He died in 1994, and I never quite got over his passing, he was the first animal I ever experienced death with.
The following was written back in 1997, describing the ride from Montrose to Gunnison, along the Blue Mesa Lake in the Curecanti National Recreation Area. At some point during this trip, I am going to drive this same route again.
“The skies started to darken behind me. Storm clouds were brewing again. I had found during the last five days that the weather could change quickly and dramatically in the Colorado mountains. I knew I had better get started in order to have any chance of beating the rain. I had 70 miles to ride. I started back towards the steep climb that had led up to the Black Canyon. A steep six mile descent led away from the Black Canyon and essentially marked the start of my days ride. I reached almost 40 mph as the road fell away from me. I turned east on 50 and headed towards Gunnison. I had been told that today’s route would be easy, mostly up and down, no major passes. Not. The first summit was a 1,000 foot ascent over three miles. The road to Cerro summit was very steep. I thought Cerro summit would be the only climb of the day. Then I met Alison in the van to refill my water bottles. Alison said the rest of the day was like this, up and down with hard climbs. I was worried. I still had 60 miles to go and the time was past 12:00.
We soon believe what we desire – unknown
I reached the second major climb of the day. I was not looking forward to having to ascend another summit. I had missed the notation on the route sheet indicating another climb. I thought I had completed the only major climb of the day. This one turned out to be a 1200 ft climb to 9000 feet over 4.5 miles. I would make this climb alone. I had been riding all alone so far, and I expected to ride the rest of the day alone. Most of the riders were ahead of me. I believe three were behind me. Rain started falling lightly as I started the climb. The rain did not fall hard enough to make me stop and put on my rain jacket. Today was the sixth straight day of rain. I quickly became tired at the start of the climb. My legs felt heavy and fatigued, my left hand numb, and my lower back was aching. The strength I had felt yesterday had been an illusion. I knew now that I was in for an ordeal. The skies darkened considerably, the wind was swirling and howling, and the temperature was dropping quickly. I hoped for a tailwind to help me up to the summit. A few minutes later rain poured down violently, sweeping past me from the rear, almost at a 90 degree angle. I stopped to put on my rain jacket. The rain was extremely cold and pelting my back. I had my tailwind. I was almost thankful for the rain, as long as I had a tailwind. An obscure song from the early 70’s popped into my mind. The song was “I Can See Clearly Now, The Rain Is Gone” by Johnny Nash. At the time, I thought Carly Simon sang it. I sang the song over and over again. I remember thinking at the time how ironic it was that I was singing this song. The storm was producing very cold raindrops, the wind was blowing fiercely, and visibility was being reduced by the minute. I sang the song over and over again while climbing to the Blue Mesa Summit. I stopped several times to rest. After nearly an hour, I approached the crest of the summit. I was near the point of complete exhaustion. I was in tears, wanting the climb to be over. I was cold, wet, in pain, and fatigued to the point of having my determination shattered. Visibility was now less than five feet. Cars were visible only by their headlights. I realized I had climbed into the cloud that had been raining on me. I transcended into a state of body and mind numbing delirium.
I reached the top of Blue Mesa Summit. I stopped to rest and gather in the ethereal scene at the summit. Normally on a summit, you can see for miles around you. I could barely see the road or the scenic turnoff that I was standing on. The thought entered my mind that maybe I was dead and nobody had bothered to tell me. Maybe I had entered heaven. Heaven seemed to have reached down to touch and enshroud the top of the mountain. I wondered whether PC could see me. Then I felt PC’s presence. I sensed him just a few feet away, invisibly suspended in the sliver of heaven that had extended down to the summit. At that point I knew that the flow of events that had led up to this moment had transpired for PC, so that he could see me. The pain of the loss and separation from PC was vanquished. A very deep inner pain that had existed for almost three years healed. I knew PC was near me, could see me, and was happy. I sensed him joyfully scampering around. I knew PC understood that I was aware that he could see me. I started crying uncontrollably.
I started the descent down the mountain from Blue Mesa Summit. I was still crying, the rain was still coming down, and the road was very wet. These were definitely not conditions for a safe descent. I continued to sing the I Can See Clearly song. I braked often and kept my speed down below 30 mph. I descended out of the cloud and into a beautiful canyon covered with sparse vegetation. I started another climb during which I met Alison in the van. She gave me fresh water and some cookies. She was having a rough day as the cycling group had spread out over 40 miles. The rained sputtered on and off the rest of the way up this climb. The sun almost came out. I had hardly seen the sun the entire trip. I took a picture of a very small wisp of a cloud drifting left to right directly in front of me. I believe this cloud contained PC’s spirit and whisked PC back to heaven. The sun finally came out when I reached Blue Mesa Lake a few minutes later. The sun shined very brightly for the first time on the trip. The sunlight seemed especially bright since most of the trip had been so dark. The sun came out and stayed out. I knew the sunshine was a sign, telling me that PC had seen me earlier, and how excited and happy PC was. Even though we had been together only for a few minutes, the experience thrilled PC. I was never to be rained on again the rest of the ride. The sun shined brightly each and every day during the rest of the trip.
At this point I still had 30 miles to go. I still had a strong tailwind at my back. For the first time on the trip, I felt powerful and strong. My legs felt coiled with strength and energy. My breathing was deep and controlled. I cruised along over 20 mph. If I could keep this pace up, I would finish in 1.5 hours, around 5:00pm. The climbs were behind me. The road was mostly downhill or flat, with a few small uphills. My ride through heaven had inspired me. I continued flying along, feeling stronger as the miles went by. I was riding along the Blue Mesa Lake, the 2nd largest lake in Colorado. The lake must have been 30 miles long. I criss-crossed the Blue Mesa Lake for the third time when I saw the van parked. I stopped to refill my water bottles. Inside the van were three riders who had given up in the cold rain and wind at Blue Mesa Summit. They were sitting comfortably inside the van drinking beer. What an incredible difference attitude makes. The wind and rain had defeated them. The experience at the top of Blue Mesa for me was one of the most inspirational moments of my life.
Only 20 miles remained until Gunnison. CA had ridden in the van with the vanquished riders. She exited the van to ride the rest of the way into Gunnison with me. We rode in very fast, covering the last 20 miles in about an hour. The sun was shining the whole time and the temperature was rising. I reached Gunnison, completely exhausted from the pace CA had set. Everyone else had already arrived in Gunnison. The time was already 5:00. Today would be the latest I would finish of any of the days on the tour. Some of the riders were eating pizza in Joe Football and Eric Dahmer’s room. They offered me a piece. I ate it slowly. I sat there not saying a word. The slice of pizza kept me from collapsing from a lack of energy. Alison told me that I had ridden really well today, especially considering the atmospheric conditions. She didn’t know about my special advantage that day. I struggled into my room, with barely enough time or energy to shower and dress for dinner. We went to an Italian Restaurant for dinner that took two hours to serve us. Everyone was getting edgy and mad. I sat next to Alison that night. I think Joe Football wanted my seat. I was just sitting there in a daze, reflecting what had happened to me earlier that day, trying not to break out in tears. Today had been an outstanding day. I made it back to my room around ten and took a hot bath. I slipped into bed and quickly and peacefully went to sleep.”
The following year in 1998, a very sweet beautiful and loving Blue Russian kitten came to live with me. I knew what I would name him long before he arrived. I named him Blue Mesa in honor of PC and the experience I had that extraordinary day in Colorado back in 1997. Blue Mesa lived with me from August 1998 until he passed away in March of 2011.
Once again, this part was written a few years ago, this part was written five years ago, and this post ties together the story of PC, Blue Mesa, and Paso Robles.
Fast forward 14 years. Blue Mesa passed away on March 30th 2011. A month after Mesa passed above the earth plane, I was on another bicycle tour. This tour was along the California Coast near Big Sur, from Carmel to Santa Barbara, along PCH1. Cloudy skies created a surrealistic atmosphere as we pedaled south along the California Coast. Rained fell on us from the very beginning of the tour. Just like the tour in Colorado back in 1997, the rain started at the very beginning of the bike tour and continued for the first half of the tour.
Four days later, we left the coast and climbed up over the coastal range from Cambria. The rain turned into a downpour as I made my way up the climb. At the top of the climb, exhausted, soaked and very cold, I felt once again pushed against the edge of my mental and physical limits.
“After a 2000 foot climb from the Pacific Ocean, I met Blue Mesa at the top of cloud shrouded summit. On the top of the summit, rain continued to pour down. I was frozen, and winds were whipping around from all directions. Then I looked up and saw a lone hawk circling. I instantly knew the hawk was Mesa’s spirit. Mesa was telling me he was fine now and in a better place. I cried. I stayed on the summit for a while, watching the hawk circling. Then the hawk flew away. I started the descent from the coastal range summit. The rain stopped about an hour after I met Blue Mesa’s spirit. The rest of the ride consisted of rolling steep hills up and down through wine country. I didn’t even think about stopping and visiting any of the wineries. I knew the rest of the afternoon’s ride was going to take every ounce of my energy just to make it to destination of the day’s ride. We ended the day’s ride in a town called Paso Robles.
The next morning, I awakened to a surprising sight. Rays of sunlight beamed through my room. I saw sunshine for the first time this morning during the bike ride. The sunshine lit grounds of the lodge looked so bright after all the dark skies of the previous five days. The sun shined brightly the rest of the tour, just like the sun shined on the second half of the tour back in 1997.”
On top of Blue Mesa summit in 1997, I met the spirit of my dear departed black PC. A year later, a Russian Blue kitten came into my life and I named him Blue Mesa in honor of that place.
Fourteen years later, Blue Mesa passed away. During this ride, in a town called Paso Robles, history repeated itself. So I named my next cat Paso Robles. And the cycle of life continues.”
I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash. I think this song might be perhaps the positive optimistic song I ever heard.