We took 2 and a half days of rest in Estes Park and it was marvelous. Aside from an increased amount of down time, we were treated to 2-hour massages (Thanks, David and Alix!), and we went on a multi-hour hike. It was so nice to be able to cook in a real kitchen, drink good coffee, spend an evening watching Netflix, sleep in, and not have to worry about if it was going to rain. But as all things good, you can’t rest forever, as fun as that would be (?), although Estes will be less than a 2 hour drive for us come this fall!
David drove us back over Trail Ridge Road to Granby on July 1st, where we rejoined our route. It was a cold morning and we were conflicted about what we wanted to wear because we knew we would be starting a long climb to Willow Creek Pass shortly after leaving town. We went for windbreakers and bike gloves, even though we were still freezing, and sure enough 3 miles out of town we had to lose the jackets. We stopped on the two lane road, with no shoulders, where cars had good visibility, to pack up our jackets and put on the cold, thick sunscreen. In the middle of this process, Nicole heard a rustling in the trees on the hillside across the road. A moment later a moose and her calf came walking out of the trees, approximately 200 yards away from us, then re-entered at another point to exit again near the top of the hill, and finally disappear over to the other side. Neither of us got a picture of it though, so kids these days would say it never happened.
As we climbed to the pass we encountered some interesting geologic features that resembled straight-line walls cutting through hills across the landscape. Geologists call them dikes; I likened them to a mohawk hairstyle. From the top of the pass, the terrain looked to be downhill for the remainder of the day, however, the scale on the graph did a good job at hiding all the climbing we would encounter, nor did it forewarn us about the wind on the other side. Several times I was thrown across the lane by a gust, but the traffic was light so we took the amount of space we needed. As we ventured further north from the pass, the landscape dried out and flattened out rather quickly as we entered a large plain. Snow-capped mountains lined the horizon on 3 sides of us, all except where we were headed.
We arrived in Walden, the self-proclaimed “Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado,” however, we only saw seagulls – lots and lots of seagulls. We checked in with the sheriff through a basement window of the large and elegant courthouse then went to the park to set up camp. The city pool, where we planned to take a shower, was closed for the weekend. We then walked down the main strip looking for dinner only to find restaurant after restaurant closed an hour to two before their posted closing time. We settled for the dollar store and made dinner back in the park. As we crawled into our tent, a lady came up to inform us that 65 firefighters would also be camping in the park that night and that they would arrive in an hour or two. It was hard to believe, but shortly after dusk group after group of firefighters came marching across the grass, opened their pop-up tents and went to bed. By the time we woke up the next morning they had already packed up and left for their shift of managing a wildfire.
The wind was at our backs that morning swiftly carrying us away from the mountains and further into the arid high desert. As we crossed into Wyoming, we stopped to take a picture with the sign and noticed in the distance a road zigzag over a large hill. We learned that road was our road, and it was 12 miles away. For the next 12 miles the hill was the only thing to look at. It never appeared to get closer and the cars driving up never appeared to get bigger, even as we came to the base of the climb. The wind was no longer at our backs and by the time we crossed over the top it was in full gale at our sides. This combined with the heat may have put me in a rotten mood and you would have found me yelling profanities at the wind. I was briefly distracted by gunshots coming from an SUV parked in the middle of a field, with a rifle sticking out of the window towards an antelope and its fawn across the field. I assume they were just trying to scare them away, and when it didn’t work, they drove closer and shot again, and again, until the antelope calmly bounced away and looking back as if to say, “what’s his deal?” It wasn’t until we arrived in Riverside where I ate a pint of ice cream and drank a 20 oz fountain drink scrunched in the 14-inch band of shade that wrapped the south side of the store that I started to feel back at ease. Nicole got a cup of yogurt and a small milk.
The rest of the day was calm which allowed us to look around a little more and realize there were more sun-bleached skeletons on the shoulder than roadkill. I was ready to hang a skull and antlers on the front of my bike, but I was only able to find one antler. Eventually we made it to Saratoga and went straight to the grocery store. We bought a half gallon of orange juice for immediate consumption, a half gallon of pineapple-mango juice to have with dinner, a Gatorade for the next day, and a few other items not juice related. We then found the city pool, behind which was a hot sulfur spring free to the public. It smelled, the stairs were slimy, it was crazy hot, and it was great. We showered, made dinner in the park, bought a pint of ice cream to share, then went to the city campground, which turned out to be swarming with mosquitos. But we had a lovely view from inside our tent of the bright red sunset over the calm adjacent lake.
In an effort to minimize mosquito contact the next morning we packed up like a NASCAR pit crew and cruised north 20 miles before taking a rest to eat breakfast. This brought us to Walcott, also known as the Shell gas station at exit 235 on I-80. During our breakfast break we met several other cycle tourists, including Stuart, who is biking the continental divide one to two weeks at a time each year, as work allows, and Miles, a recent graduate of vet school also westbound on the TransAm. From “Walcott” our route put us on the shoulder of I-80 for 13 miles. While many people were nervous about this, we were actually rather glad because this meant we would actually have a wide shoulder for cars and trucks driving equally as fast as on smaller roads. With half the highway closed for construction, everyone was squeezed onto one side for 7 miles thus slowing the traffic a little more for us. We exited at Sinclair and followed frontage roads to Rawlins, where we found a Subway and split a $5 footlong for lunch. We assessed our options for the rest of the day: the next place to stay was in 70 miles (we had already gone 40 miles), and there were 20 mph westerly winds throughout the afternoon, with gusts of 50 – 55 mph. We decided to call it a day and stay in Rawlins. We found the public library, air-conditioned, furnished with comfy armchairs, had ample free WiFi, bathrooms, water, outlets, and books to browse. It was pretty great. For dinner, we ate baked chicken on the demo patio furniture in front of the grocery store. The chairs were chained to the center post of the small table so we really had to squeeze in – we are getting oddly comfortable eating in places most convenient to us with little regard to its social acceptability. That night, the free camping option was the lawn on the side of Wal-Mart, and while it was not pretty great, it wasn’t horrible either. Actually now that I think about it, it was bad. On the west side of us was Wal-Mart with a parking lot full of RVs and flood lights, on the south side of us was a train yard that was active through the night, and on the east side of us was I-80. The only thing giving us privacy was a dozen pallets of fertilizer.
We started July 4th, biking north from the dusty cowboy town of Rawlins into the wide open scrub land. We crossed the continental divide twice each after a long steady climb, followed by a dramatic drop. Lots of antelope could be seen in the fields and ditches. We came across Split Rock, a natural landmark for the Oregon Trail and a Pony Express station turned US Post Office, which remained in operation until the 1940s. The mountains looked so bare and isolated across the landscape, like drops of biscuit dough on a cookie sheet.
We made it to Jeffrey City, a uranium mining town that collapsed in the 1980s when the mine shut down. The town had a church open for cyclists to stay, and by the looks of the walls, nearly every passing cyclist has stayed there. There were showers, which were much needed and appreciated, a full kitchen, and private rooms with mattresses. We were lucky to have the company of 5 other cyclists that night, and have a viewing of another gorgeous sunset.