Thursday, September 29, 2011

Days 61-64: Such Great Heights, and The Dusty Trail to Wyoming


9/23 Day 61: Alma, CO to Green Mountain Reservoir, Heeney, CO 56 miles (2927 miles)
     
Summit this! The crew more than 2 miles high.
    Hector had told us the night before to expect breakfast at 8AM sharp and his girlfriend, Amy, did a bunch of prep that night on a huge bread, egg, bacon, and cheese scramble thing that only needed to be put into the oven the next morning.  When we got downstairs, we found that we were really the only ones awake except for Bill, the old prospector who lived in the house and his giant (literally, a giant, making it the size of a normal dog, apparently it happens in a very small number of litters) Jack Russel Terrier, Jack, but the breakfast was already cooked in the oven. We made a pot of coffee in the still house and dug in on the scramble while we talked about all kinds of things with Bill, from gold panning to Jack Russel genetics to the value of certain crystals in the surrounding mountains. With all the eating and chatting, we didn't end up really hitting the road til some time around 10, and no one other than Bill had yet stirred or made any noise at all. From there, it was all uphill to Hoosier Pass about 6 miles and a little less than a thousand feet. We averaged about 5 or 6 mph chugging up the hill where the air was so thin we would get out of breath just taking a drink of water. The elevation has had varying small effects on us from shortness of breath to headaches, and the dry air up here is very dehydrating- it's not the easiest climate on your body, but very beautiful.
Mike's first appearance on the blog,
playing photographer for everyone on
Hoosier Pass.
        We had some stunning views as we crawled up the mountain to distract us from the climb, and when we reached the top we knew we'd never be this high again on the trip- it's the tallest  point on the TransAmerica Trail. We snapped a couple photos and then bundled up for a 10 mile descent into Breckenridge. We flew down the switchbacks that tiered the other side of the pass and found ourselves in the ritzy ski town in almost no time. We treated ourselves to some pizza and chocolate covered twinkies, and began riding down the fantastic bikepath that goes from Breckenridge all the way down to Silverthorne. It was easily the most amazing bikepath I've ever ridden on. It was lined with aspens, whose leaves are just now turning for the autumn, and around every corner was a new lake, mountain, or scenic vista to awe us as we made our way down toward the Dillon Reservoir. In Frisco, we parted ways with Mike, who wanted to ride to Boulder and Estes Park, but planned to catch us up somewhere down the line. We had no interest in the added miles or elevation gain that Mike's route would tack on, so we wished him luck and moved along.
       

The bike path, beautiful.
We pedaled around the reservoir, stopping every so often for photos as we rounded the dam and descended into Silverthorne, where we got back on the highway that would take us as far as Kremmling, CO. We didn't quite have enough daylight to make it all the way to Kremmling, so we cranked out as many miles as we could down the slight descent- doing somewhere around 16 or 17 mph all the way to Green Mountain Reservoir between Silverthorne and Kremmling where a tiny town called Heeney sits on the shore of the man-made lake. We found the US Forest Service campground we were looking for just about an hour before sunset, and also found that it had been shut down for the season- since it is now officially Fall. There are pros and cons to this- we camped for free, but also did so without restrooms or running water. Thankfully, I've been carrying a water filter since we started, and we were able to filter some reservoir water for cooking and drinking. The sunset over the reservoir was magnificently colored, and since we'd descended all the way back down to around 8 or 9 thousand feet, the evening was a bit warmer than it had been the last couple nights. We cooked some rice and beans, watched the rest of the sunset, and went to bed shortly after it got dark with a sense of satisfaction knowing we would never have to climb that high again, and, also, that were were nearly 3,000 miles in to our long journey.


9/24 Day 62: Green Mountain Reservoir, Heeney, CO to Walden, CO 86 miles (3013 miles)

Green Mountain Reservoir, some rules were made to be broken.
              We woke up today with a plan to go off route a little by following the route prescribed in my guidebook. The woman who wrote this book did her trip about 15 years ago, and apparently the Adventure Cycling Association has changed the route they recommend since then- for good reason. The original TransAmerica Trail was first traveled in 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial of the United States, the trip was cleverly dubbed "Bikecentennial" and hundreds and hundreds of people participated. Back then, Highway 40 between Kremmling and Steamboat Springs was not the major thoroughfare that it is today, and we found ourselves riding 20 something white-knuckled miles along the pencil thin shoulder on the winding desertous mountain roads while bunches of speeding tourists and holiday-goers (since it was Saturday) whizzed inches past us at ludicrous speeds. The first part of the day from the Reservoir to Kremmling, was a very calm and scenic 19 miles around a nice, well-paved backroad, but what followed could not have been any more different.
         We rode along just as fast and safely as we could while trying to keep from getting squished until we reached a small byway, State Road 14, that would take us all the way up to Walden, CO. The drivers and people in general (excluding my lovely family) have not been terribly friendly since we left Pueblo and entered the mountains. It seems people here are either tourists- which makes them de facto awful drivers because they don't know where they're going and are gawking at the scenery instead of yielding an extra inch to a quartet of cyclists- or they're natives who hate tourists and therefore don't like us because we are literal tourists, or transplants who feel like since they moved their million dollar house to the top of some ridge, they own the state and the scenery and don't want to share. The general attitude really has been summed up by the old man whose 'hostel' we camped in front of in Guffey, "It sure is beautiful here, some of the best scenery you'll ever see- and you'd be lucky to live here... but we don't want you here! Hahaha." I'm sure there are plenty of nice Coloradoans, and I don't mean to offend, but in comparison to Kansas, where everyone waved or said hello, this state has seemed mighty cold.
3,000 miles and all we got is up this hill.
                Anyway, we've been heading mostly north for the last few days, and ever since we crossed the Hoosier Pass and have gotten beyond all the rich ski towns with chairlifts to the slopes in the city parks, we have noticed things are even more dry and arid than before. The mountains around us, once dotted with colorful aspen and evergreens,  now are increasingly covered with low, scrubby trees and brittle grasses. Where Hwy. 40 was a nightmare of weekender traffic, State Road 14 was a beautiful, picturesque winding road that meandered northeast through some scenic wetland replete with colorful red plants I didn't recognize, and little furry mammals that are either small beavers or marmots splashed around in the near-stagnant water as we rode by. Even though there seem to be small creeks and rivers all over this area of Colorado, the moisture seems never to reach the dusty soil around it beyond a few feet where clusters of tenacious vegetation compete for liquid. We rode on until the sun was all but set, and pulled into Walden where we immediately headed for the town pool, where we heard we could get showers. Showers somehow cost $6 in Walden- the most expensive place to shower in the country- but we hadn't showered in days, and coughed it up. Camping, however, was free and we threw our tents up in front of the elementary school because the sprinklers were going off in the city park, and they kept going on into the evening despite near freezing temperatures predicted for the wee hours. We cooked a modest camp dinner while the locals drove by and jeered us every so often on what was a Saturday night with little to do (I'd wager) and then hit the hay as a group of four for only the second time in nearly a month.

9/25 Day 63: Walden, CO to Lake Saratoga Campground, Saratoga, WY 71 miles (3084 miles)
           
           I got up a little early and went for a brisk (very brisk at around 30 degrees and in the shade) ride to the grocery store to try and get some cereal to go with the milk we'd bought last night. Unfortunately, since it was Sunday the store didn't open for another few hours so I went to the convenience store instead and got a variety pack of tiny boxes of cereal for us all to share and a tray of coffee. We ate in true hobo style on the sidewalk next to the school while we checked out the route for the day and realized we'd be in Wyoming in nearly 20 miles. How surreal it was, for some reason, that we'd soon be in Wyoming: a place none of us had ever been, and a state with a population less than most of Boston's suburbs at 500,000 souls. We were in Wyoming, and we'd ridden our bikes there. Wyoming was once a major hurdle for the settlers headed west on the Oregon, Mormon, Gold Rush, and Pony Express Trails because of the state's insane winds that in some areas get up to 60 and 70 mph, horrifying winters, and tough-to-find water sources- just to name a few obstacles. Thousands upon thousands of settlers and travelers have gone through the state and left behind tons of history, artifacts, and culture. Between Walden and Riverside, the next town of 30 people, there is a 40 mile stretch of dry, drab sagebrush flats that go as far as the eye can see and nothing else.
We can soak our cares away, but nothing will wash off
the tan lines.
          While riding this we were treated to long previews of the road as it wound through the countryside. It's a real bummer when you can see a car coming toward you, dip behind a hill, come over the next, around the bend, and then pass you four or five minutes later, because you start doing a little bit of mental math. The car is going 75, you're going 13, and the top of the hill is... not close. Once we arrived in Riverside, we stopped for a bit at the restaurant in town, the "Bear Trap", and ate a quick, delicious lunch before setting off again into the sage-covered wilds. We didn't especially want to keep riding into the dusty expanse of windblown nothing, but we knew that at the end of the road in Saratoga were some free municipal hotsprings to soothe our achey muscles. We showed up in Saratoga and shortly found our way to what the locals call "the Hobo Pool", a hot (very hot), slightly sulphury concrete pond for scalding your cares away. Most people couldn't handle the heat in the Hobo Pool, including us, so we sat in one of the small pools in the nearby cold (very cold) stream where some of the extremely hot water was diverted to make several bathing areas of varied temperatures. We chatted up the crazy locals ("My dad, well, my real dad, had seizures, like I have, and that's why I can't ever drive.") and the Californian tourists sucking down Coors, while we soaked up the warmth.
           After a long soak in the springs (that also counted as our bath for the day), we rode on a couple miles down the road to the city campground and threw our tents up in the dark. We made dinner fast, while some kind of animal splashed around in the water, and built a fire out of some wood we found at an abandoned site in the park, warmed up for a while, and then found our way to our tents.

9/26  Day 64: Saratoga, WY to Lamont, WY 79 miles (3163 miles)


            Shortly after getting ready, we realized that the water spigot at the park was not potable water and we'd already filled all our bottles up with it, and drank a little the night before. We've had a lot of public water, but this stuff was ostensibly lake water, so we decided the ride back into town two miles was worth the trip for some clean water especially in light of the fact we'd have another 30 something miles of dry nothing between us and the next gas station or store to fill up. The day heated up quickly, yet again, and in our conversations with the few Wyomingans- what the hell do you call them? I mean, it's not like you've ever met someone from Wyoming...so of course you don't know. Wyomingler? That sounds better. So, in our mingling with the Wyominglers we've discovered that we are, in fact, experiencing something of an early autumn heat wave. The days are getting up to the high 70s and low 80s still, while the nights are getting down into the 30s- this is a Wyoming heatwave. We've also sort of come to understand that we are really dancing on the edge of the knife as far as the season is concerned; the cold weather in this part of the country, where the elevation is still in the 7,000 ft above sea level range, can break in a few days and then all of a sudden it's early winter instead of early autumn. Most of the people we've talked to have told us that the first snow could come any day now.
"Listen, these teepees better be made of goddamn gold
if you want me to go that way."
             When we did finally reach the first stop of the day, a lonely little service station on I-80, we filled up our water, bought some snacks, and then did something we've never done before: we got on the highway. Apparently, it's legal in Wyoming to ride a bike on the highway and recommended by our maps as the fastest, safest, etc route to get to Rawlins by way of Sinclair. Sinclair is a town that used to have a different name before Sinclair OIl bought the refinery there and changed the town's name, and Rawlins is the largest Wyoming town we've seen yet, at around 9,000 folks. In Rawlins, we raced to get some laundry done, eat, and ride off as fast as we could to brave the headwind and 36 more miles to get to Lamont, WY where we were told that we could find free lodging in teepees (yeah, real ones). Before we left, though, we met some more cross-country riders, Dallas and his riding partner who we didn't actually see. We had heard of them before, but not since Illinois where we leap-frogged them in Elizabethtown, just after Cave-In-Rock. We even saw them cross the street in E-Town, and they saw us but didn't register that we were fellow cyclists or didn't want to chat. Dallas was a bit cool, and didn't have much to say to us really, but we sort of gathered that he and his riding buddy were tired of the ride, and basically just wanted to get to the Pacific as fast as possible. To that end, they were going to ride I-80 all the way to California- skipping the Tetons, Yellowstone, Lewis & Clark's Route, and innumerable other attractions in favor of about a thousand miles of highway. One of the reasons he did give us for their decision was that they were told if they went north to Montana, they could be snowed in and have to fly home. We wished him good luck, and went on our way.
              We shouldn't have left Rawlins as late as we did, at around 4PM, but we'd only gone 40ish miles, and didn't want to take too short of a day or miss out on teepees, even if it meant forcing ourselves into a cross-headwind for 36 more miles across barren sagebrush flats with no other camping options in between other than coyote infested prairie. We made it fine, but the highway got more and more dangerous as the sun began to set and the ample shoulder dwindled to a pothole ridden shadow of its former self. When we arrived in Lamont, which isn't so much a town as three or four buildings, it was fully dark and we stopped in at the cafe there to maybe get some food and some direction. Anna Lope's, the place we stopped, had surprisingly good food and very friendly service. The woman there directed us to L.B.'s house, where we would find our wigwam accommodations. A quarter mile down the road we found the place- which was surprisingly easy to miss, despite the two huge teepees. L.B. is a very sweet older lady who lives on the land for free in an arrangement with the ranch's owner that appoints L.B. as something of a caretaker for the land. L.B. showed us the fridge where we could get some gatorade, snacks (anchovies and bison meat), and ice cream cones if we so chose, and then introduced us to the one other guest she was hosting that night.
Here they are in the daylight, pretty neat.
          The man told us his name was Wilson, and he had his hair drawn back in a long braid. He had dusky skin, a salt and pepper mustache, and wore some kind of camouflage t-shirt. He told us, also, that he was half Sioux, half Apache (but the story changed once or twice) and that he would like to sing for us and say a prayer for us to the fire and the teepee. We've had  a few people pray for us, but no Native Americans yet, so of course we agreed and watched with great interest as he began. First he started chanting in what he later told us was Sioux, then he reached his hand into the fire, grabbed a burn coal and proceeded to exchange it from hand to hand and blow on it to keep it brightly lit as he sang. He went on for a while, then sang us a song, and told us we were now protected- he had invoked Mother Earth and Father Sky to help us in our journey. Then he grabbed a burned piece of charcoal, spit on it and rolled it between his hands, then smeared it on his face under his eyes- "medicine" he told us, a blessing. We talked to Wilson for a little while longer, thanked him for his prayer, and went to bed in our canvas and wood housing about as excited as we've been all trip to sleep anywhere.

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