Rain and Wind on the GDMBR
There is a certain mental state that creeps in after enough days of riding. It's as if we can only focus on the present moment, on what is in front of us and the days and hours behind us recede quickly into the past. Remembering where we had breakfast a few days ago becomes difficult and we rely on pictures of our campsites to remember the sequence of days. That's part of the reason for this blog, to help us remember and to imprint the memories. But there's something to be said for the state of mind that lives directly in the here and now, with the tires crunching over the gravel and Hotel California playing an endless loop in my mind. There is not much thinking going on except where to go and what to eat next. This fugue like state of living in the present is a big part of what we are seeking on the road and why we go back again and again. In the unrelenting dystopian world that is America in 2020, our three weeks of travel was a most welcome respite.
By the time we left the hot days and smoke of Wyoming, we were ready for some cooler weather and green trees. Little did we know that the next few days would become very challenging as we pedaled through the wind and huddled in our tent in the rain. We left Steamboat Springs on a beautiful morning and pedaled south along with lots of road bikers out for a morning ride. They zoomed by us on their skinny tires but soon enough we were back on dirt and they had to turn around. We were headed to Lynx Pass to rendezvous with Michelle. Back in 2018 we met Michelle on the Great Divide in Idaho. She was pedaling the route solo and we became friends and traveled together. Now she and her partner Karl had arranged to meet us with their motorhome. It was a great evening of hamburgers and beer and catching up on the last two years
Our next day's ride included a steep descent to cross the Colorado River. Little did we know that it also included some brutally steep climbs as well and by the time we reached the sun baked, flat campsite at Radium, we were faced with the choice of a long hot climb out of the canyon or hiding from the sun all afternoon. We chose option C- asking the river guides who were doing their shuttle if they would consider throwing our bikes on top of the pile of rafts. In no time we were masked up in a van and riding to Kremmling. For the cost of a 12 pack of beer, we found ourselves in an air conditioned hotel room and sipping margaritas.
The next portion of our route was closed due to fires so we were faced with 40 miles of busy highway into Silverthorne. After coffee and a covid breakfast of oat bars from the hotel, we put on our big girl/boy pants and headed out. It was Karen's birthday and within a half mile we were riding scared on no shoulder and large trucks passing an arms length away. "Is there a U-haul in this town?" An hour later we were signing up for a van, enjoying a more leisurely second breakfast and headed down the road. It made for a much more enjoyable and relaxing birthday.
By the evening we were ensconced in our tent and making plans for the big climb out of Breckenridge. But the weather had other plans and the next morning it was pouring rain and windy. We settled into a tentbound day.
Being stuck in a tent while the rain pours down is really not too bad, if you have something to read and a high capacity for laziness and as long as you can stay reasonably dry. However, midway through the morning we discovered that our tent site had been reserved for that day and we had to pack up and move to another site. By the time we finished packing and setting up again, we were thoroughly drenched and using our towels to bail out the tent. Eventually the rain stopped enough to get things partially dried out and we settled back into a tentbound stupor.
Our climb out of Breckenridge to Boreas Pass was on the old railroad grade. Since the railroads couldn't climb more than a 3% grade these roads are great for bikes- spinning uphill as the road contours back and forth. At the top we took a break in bright sunshine and 15 minutes later were pulling on raingear and fleeing a hailstorm down the other side. The wind picked up and near the bottom we were being pushed by 30 mph gusts. We stopped in the town of Como to wait out the storm, but the winds persisted all afternoon and eventually we gave up and set up camp in the shelter of the community hall.
It was actually a great place to stay as the town had thoughtfully provided electrical outlets and an outhouse.
In the morning we headed toward Hartsel, beginning our 90 mile traverse of the South Park Basin. More than an animated comedy, South Park is an actual geographic feature; a high (9000 feet) alpine basin surrounded by mountains. Riding through it is a treat, with rolling steppe like terrain and expansive views. However, the road to Hartsel was the roughest kind of washboards and our initially fast pace slowed to a painful crawl. Each turn of the pedals was like hitting a 3 inch curb with both wheels and no matter how we zigzagged across the road, there was no place to avoid them. It seems impossible that we cannot find a tires width of road that is not rough with washboards.
Eventually we arrived back on pavement for the turn to Hartsel. By this time of the day, the wind had built up and we suffered through a severe crosswind and no shoulder for 5 miles into town as the cars and trucks ripped by us. Somewhat shattered by the mornings ride, we took shelter in a local cafe to figure out what to do next.
Luckily for us the owner of the cafe was a font of information. Jordan told us about several places to stay as well as offering to let us camp behind the restaurant. By this point the wind was shrieking wildly around the building and we gave up on the notion of pushing on down the road. We wound up choosing to stay at a nearby guest ranch that seemed to offer a place for cyclists to camp. We were unable to get them on the phone but headed out there anyway. When we arrived we were directed to the barn, a cavernous space full of mice and rabbits. At least it was some kind of shelter, so we tried to settle in. Eventually, the caretaker's daughter came and directed us to one of the cabins. Evidently we had arrived at a bad time as they had plumbing problems in the main lodge, the manager had lost her phone and they had just decided to stop actually functioning as a guest ranch and shut the place down. However, Kenny the caretaker (from South Park) told us where the key was hidden and allowed us to stay.
It was kind of a weird place, with the rooms smelling of fuel oil and mouse urine and the beds unmade. But the price was right (free) and we were deeply grateful not to be riding as it rained and hailed and the wind howled all afternoon and into the evening.
We began our last day of riding in the predawn darkness. The sun rose as we pedaled into town and met our friend Jordan again as he served us breakfast. Soon enough we were rolling across the basin. It is pretty empty country, but there are signs that it won't stay that way for long. The area is crisscrossed with roads to nowhere with names like Arapahoe Lane and dotted with trailers and RV's. It won't be too long before the road will be paved and someone will set up a coffee stand.
Eventually we rode out of the land of mini ranches and back into cow country. The road rose until we looked down on the 10 mile descent into Salida. By this point we had eaten everything we were carrying and it was time to head back to the van and some pizza and adult beverages. It was a memorable day and a memorable tour on the Great Divide.