GREAT DIVIDE BIKE ROUTE SECTION 3
South Pass City, WY to Silverthorne, CO
August 16 to August 31, 2000
32,005 miles (51,208 km) cumulative
"Without water the desert is nothing but a grave."
GDMBR Day 32 - To mile 1103, Section 3, Map A
Water would be our primary concern for the next 3 days. According to the maps there were only 3 reliable and one questionable water sources between Atlantic City and the intersection with route 220, about 110 miles. The first is the Sweetwater River 11 miles out, second the Diaganus well around 15 miles out, third a spring 4 miles off route at the A&M reservoir around 70 miles out. The questionable water source was the Arapaho creek which on a dry year, and this certainly was a dry year, will be bone dry. So we filled up almost every water carrying device we had for a total of around 5 gallons. That's 40 lbs. additional weight to lug over hill and dale.
Up at the crack of dawn to take advantage of the cool morning air, we gagged down a cold breakfast of Poptarts and apples, packed quickly, and set off. I am growing to despise Poptarts. But there aren't too many choices when you want a quick, cold breakfast. Brian doesn't care for granola cereal, bagels are a bit dry, and English muffins take too much room and don't provide enough calories. So an inexpensive option is the sickly, sugary Poptart. Yuck. I'll be glad to get back to cooking pancakes and biscuits. It was a short downhill roll back into Atlantic City and then one tough .7 mile grunt back up the other side of the river drainage. From there it was a fast roll over a wonderfully smooth dirt road for the remaining 10 miles to the Sweetwater River. We hadn't even touched our water supply.
For the next 5 miles or so the road got nasty. Covered with a loose black rock, it was slippery and rough as well as a good long climb. Funny, looking at the map's elevation profile one gets the impression it's perfectly flat from the Sweetwater River on. There's no indication of the 500 ft. or higher climb out of the river. By the time we got to the top of the climb we were once again questioning the accuracy, or lack there of, of the elevation profiles on the maps. In fact there are several climbs, some of which are quite steep, that are hardly noted at all. It ain't flat.
Sitting at the edge of the road, we looked at one of the concrete posts showing the path of the California Emigrant trail. It sat off to one side in the middle of an old 2 track wagon trail overgrown with weeds and scrub. The track veered off to the northeast while to main road continued east. Directions on the map said "Join California Trail." Brian says, "They seem to be saying we go that way." as he pointed down that 2 track trail. "No way," I said, "We'd have al kinds of flat tires. Let's take the road." To our rescue comes a lady in a big dark green pick-up truck. "You lost?" she asks. When we told her our confusion she points to the main road and says, "This is the California Trail. I never noticed that that post is in the middle of that little road." Turns out she was from the BLM and she not only knew this country but she also had a great BLM map with detailed markings of well and spring locations. She confirmed that Diaganus well is running. The BLM just recently redug the well, put in a new fence, and kicked out the cows. She also identified the location of another "gusher" as she called it. "Turn north toward Jeffery City. In about 2 miles, just before the cattle guard, go left along the fence line. Over 2 hills you'll find it." We were later to learn that going over 2 hills actually meant go about 2 miles.
We had a tailwind, the weather was relatively cool, and the road improved dramatically after Diaganus well. So we kept on riding and riding. There also weren't exactly many great places for pitching a tent. Everything was covered with crunchy, prickly ground cover that would be sure to poke a zillion holes in the tent floor as well as in our mattresses. It wasn't until we'd ridden 63 miles that we found a descent spot, one cleared location near a gas pipeline. Not what I'd call one of your most memorable campsites, but it was level, rock and scrub free, and there was a metal fence on which I could lean my bike. Views surrounding us were typical desert, brown rolling hills with green mountains off in the distance. The orange scar of a nearly abandoned uranium mine splashed across the side of one of the mountains. Dirt roads and a large power line led off to the horizon. We could see cars, such as there were, from miles away. One thing abut the desert, it is so vast and open you almost get the feeling the whole world is within your view.
Just as we were getting dinner started one of those SUVs came up, the second vehicle we'd seen in hours. A man in a white T-shirt and jeans climbed out and called over, "What's your water situation?" Brian replies, "If you have any we won't turn it down." From the back he pulls out a 5 gallon water container and says, "Take all you want." There was about 2 gallons and we took it all. What a savior. We weren't desperate, but he saved us a whole bunch of time as well as a trip 4 miles off route and back. You might say he's the guardian angel for bikers and hikers along the continental divide. He always carries extra water and has even pulled hikers who were in trouble off the route. You wouldn't be able to absolutely count on him showing up when you need him, but it's nice to know that there's at least one person keeping an eye out for folks on the trail.
One note for those who may be planning to ride this route. Our guardian angel told us that if we were to walk about .5 to 1 mile up Arapaho Creek we would find water even in this drought year of 2000.
GDMBR Day 33 - To mile 1170.2
More of the same is about all one can say about riding through the Great Divide Basin. It's a long, desert section with no houses, no water, no greenery, only one run down cow camp. Just brown hills that stretch on for what seems like hundreds of miles. The only difference was that for half the day's distance we had to endure a headwind and the final 24 miles was on pavement. There's a long, wide, and very lonely paved road that goes out to another uranium mine and stops. There's even traffic on this road, about 5 trucks passed during the 2 hours or so we were on it. Other than that there was almost no difference. Oh how I hate riding through the desert. It's hot, sunny, there's no water, and it's a long, long distance between services. If there were some way to tour throughout the world and never get stuck in a desert, we'd opt for that.
Another long day, 56 miles this time, took us to within 16 miles of downtown Rawlins and 1 1/2 miles of the very busy Rt. 220 which heads north to our adopted hometown of Casper. Campsites were, once again, pathetic. Crunchy, spikey flat spots or rocky, lumpy outcrops. Not especially inviting for a tent. Towards Rt. 220 we started seeing open, sandy looking spaces. At least this would be a place that wouldn't turn our tent floor into a sieve. An abandoned oil rig caught our attention, a place to lean the bikes as well as something interesting to peruse while cooking dinner. There was one of those open, sandy looking sites nearby that looked ideal for the tent. Although what looked like sand actually proved to be more of a concrete looking dry mud. We pitched the tent, checked out the oil rig, and then rested for an hour or two waiting for the sun to abate.
Clouds gathered in the west. At first there were white puffies, then more of those gray meanies. The gray clouds turned to black and we could see the traces of rain falling half way to the ground. A few sprinkles dropped around us, but nothing severe. "Dry rain" is what they call it out west. We put a pot of hot water on the stove to get dinner started, set up our camp chairs, and sat back to cook dinner and watch the passing storms. Within seconds the wind went from dead calm to a howling gale. Dishes, pots, pans, the tarp, chairs, everything went flying with us scrambling behind trying to gather everything back together. Then it started to rain, really rain, not that dry rain stuff. We just had seconds to toss what we could into the tent and dive inside. Soon we learned why the cleared spot looked like dried mud. It is dried mud. Within minutes we were surrounded by a mud bog, sticky, gooey clay style mud. The wind continued to howl, the rain continued to pour, and the dirt got softer and softer. Now, our teepee tent may be roomy and light. But, it has one major drawback. It is not free standing. With that soft, muddy ground there was nothing solid to hold in the stakes. So with the rain pouring down and the wind howling the tent stakes started pulling out causing the sides of the tent to collapse inward. Water dribbled in from the collapsed side, the windward side, getting my sleeping bag and sheets wet and my bike bags muddy. We grabbed what we could of the sides of the tent and held on as tight as we could for a good 1/2 hour while the storm raged all around. Brian kept yelling, "Come on. Enough already." But nature didn't listen. And the little MSR stove left out in the storm continued to burn as if nothing was happening.
With the rain finally coming to an end and the wind stopping we crawled out of the tent to look around. Everything was a mess. Mud covered the dishes, the inside of the tent, the stove, the bikes. Mud stuck to the bottom of our shoes making my height grow by 2 inches and my feet weigh about 5 lbs. each. Dinner was a mess and it looked like more rain would follow. We thought maybe we should move the tent from the mud bog to the rocks near the oil rig, but how to do that without getting everything inside, which was still relatively clean and dry, covered in mud as well. What about dinner? Cooking was out of the question. Deciding to restake the tent, eat a cold dinner of gorp (good old raisins and peanuts) and tuna on tortillas, we cleaned up what we could and climbed back into the tent for the night. With luck the remaining storms would pass without doing any more damage. As far as worst nights on the bike touring circuit go, this has to have been one of the, if not the, worst. Let's get back to the forest.
GDMBR Day 34 - To Rawlins
Morning brought sunshine and high winds out of the southwest. We rose at sunrise, crawled out of the tent, and examined our surroundings. Surrounding us was that very same clear spot of dry looking mud. Apart from a few patches that still showed some wet, you'd never know there'd been such a drenching the night before. The desert hides the rain well. Once again we had a breakfast of cold Poptarts, yuck, and got moving. It'd be a short 16 mile day on mostly pavement to the town of Rawlins into a strong headwind and over a 700 ft pass, of course.
Rawlins hasn't got a whole lot going for it. With a population of over 9000 and being the only service town for a radius of over 100 miles you'd think there'd be more. But there are only a few restaurants, one large grocery store, none of the big discount chain stores, just 2 small discount stores, no department stores at all, and not really that many fast food restaurants either. According to the campground owners the town seems to want to keep it that way. They've consistently refused permitting for Wal-Mart and K-Mart, forced the Safeway food store to close by not supporting it, and refused to allow a large aircraft manufacturing plant to move in. They want to keep the town small even though it may mean traveling over 100 miles to obtain specific services or supplies. For us, the grocery store and discount stores had all the supplies we needed for the next leg of our journey.
Finding bike parts was also on our agenda, a new tire for Brian and new chains for both. There are two bike shops in town. Murry's, located on the east edge of town, is normally closed Sunday and Monday but also decided to take an extra day off on Saturday. So we headed over to Todd's Cyclery located somewhere on 5th St. We cruised down the street all the while looking at old 1930s style houses. No sign of anything that looks remotely like a bike shop. We turned the corner and there it was, in an old run down garage with a wooden sign over the door, "Todd's Cyclery, Peddlers welcome." The hours posted in the window said, W-F 10-4. This was Monday so it wasn't looking too good. Peeking in the window, we spotted someone. "Maybe we could just get a new tire." we thought. We knocked and Todd opened the door to welcome us inside.
This was one of those bike shops that looks like a lot of old garages I've seen. Bike parts, tools, and stuff stashed all over. Much of the stuff looks like it's been sitting there for the entire 50 years of so that Todd has been in business. Just walking through it is like walking through a minefield, one wrong step and you'll certainly crush something. The bikes he was servicing were mostly of the Huffy level of quality, but he does maintain a good supply of higher end equipment for the tourists that come through. We wondered about the short hours and he said, "I've been doing this for 50 years. I'm tired of bicycles." We asked about a new tire. He said, "Well if you don't mind something with color I've got these blue and yellow ones." "How much do they cost," we asked. "How about I make you a deal and just give you one," he replied. Now that was a deal to good to pass up. Brian took a blue one, it matches his bike color almost perfectly. It's not a great tire, but for the price it'll certainly do. We also got some chains at a very good price.
Todd got to talking. I think he could easily go on for hours if you let him. He told us stories about his son-in-law, a guy from Finland. Todd says, "He's Finn. He has no feeling. He'll be riding along, the back of his T-shirt flapping in the breeze, and think nothing of it. I'll be freezing." The best story was the one about the Finn and the bear. He and his wife were out tent camping. His wife woke up in the middle of the night. There with it's head stuck in the door of their tent was a bear. She wakes him up, "Wake up, wake up there's a bear in the tent." He mumbles something and goes back to sleep. She shakes him again, "There's a bear in the tent. Do something." So he gets up, makes a fist, and punches that ole bear right in the nose. That bear didn't bother them again that night.
Someday soon old Todd will give up the bike shop business. He says there's someone in Casper who may buy out his inventory. Too bad. The tourists on the GDMBR as well as the TransAmerican routes will be losing a great asset.
GDMBR Day 35 - To mile 1212
Rawlins does grow on you after a while. At first we thought it a bit of a dumpy place. But upon closer inspection you find nice houses, some good parks, and one of those neat old frontier downtown areas. But, 2 1/2 days was enough. We'd completed all the business we wanted, resupplied our food stores, and had some good tummy stuffing meals at the truck stop. Time to move on.
Twenty-three miles of pavement with a 2 mile climb at the start and a bunch of rolling hills until pavement end was what we faced on the southward trek out of Rawlins. We were still in desertish lands, but glimpses of green tree covered hills to the south gave us an indication that lush mountains were in our not too distant future. The last 9 miles of the day were over dirt, a stiff 5 mile climb and a more gradual 3 mile drop. At around 2:30 in the afternoon the skies once again turned black. As we crested the Middlewood hill we could see lightening storms all around. I wanted to get off that open hill - NOW! Perhaps one of the things we find more scary about mountain riding are lightening storms. We rolled down 4 miles to a creek crossing, hurriedly found a tent site and got it erected. Just as soon as we slipped inside the skies let loose. It poured and poured and poured. For over 2 hours we stayed inside wondering if the rain would stop long enough for us to make dinner or if we'd be eating cold tuna sandwiches once again. Finally at around 6:30 PM the rain stopped and the sky cleared. At least for this rainy evening we did get to have a hot supper.
GDMBR Day 36 - To mile 1234
In the morning the sun's rays slowly penetrated the depth of the valley in which we'd been camping. The tent seemed to be covered with a heavy dew, both inside and out. I climbed out of the tent to head for the bushes and, much to my surprise, had to knock frost off the tent. Frost? This is only August 23. I couldn't believe there'd be frost already. Although we were at somewhere around 8000 ft. After relieving myself I climbed back into my snuggly, warm sleeping bag and we waited for the sun's warmth to melt the ice.
Cow pies. The one thing we are definitely growing sick of is the continual presence of cow pies, also known as manure, cow droppings, cow chips, the stuff that drops out of the other end of the cow. Ever since we've been on the GDMBR we've found cow pies everywhere, in the fields, on the roads, by the streams, and always in the best camping spots. Sometimes there are so many pies scattered about it's hard to find a spot for a tent that's not on top of one or two. We know that there's going to be cows out in the pastures and that the ranchers need to make a living and that we Americans are going to continue eating millions of cows every year. But, we just wish there could be more cowless places in the forests and BLM.
Between our impromptu campsite and Wyoming route 70 there was supposed to be one or two 500 ft climbs. Not a bad day for this route. However, the map fails to note that at each and every stream bed there is a good 300 to 400 ft. drop and a corresponding climb up the other bank. Since we crossed about 4 to 5 creeks that means an additional 1200 to 1500 ft climb. For some reason I've always found it's much easier to just do one single, long 3000 ft. climb followed by a nice long downhill rather than do multiple, smaller climbs in a day. I guess the legs get into this pumping mode, a good rhythm, when climbing. Going up and down many times breaks this rhythm making for a much more tiring ride. Or maybe the leg muscles stiffen a bit on each downhill. In any event, I'd rather do a single pass climb than a bunch of little climbs that amount to an equivalent elevation gain.
As our up and down climbs continued we slowly gained elevation, more ups than downs. The brown scrub that had surrounded us for days gradually took an a more greener hue. There was more grass in the valleys because there was more water flowing in the streams. There were green pine trees scattered across the hilltops. There were some small aspen groves reaching to the road's edge. Then we entered Medicine Bow National Forest. Instantly we found ourselves in lush green forests, tall pine trees and lacey aspens bordered both sides of the road. Our senses were relieved by the cooling, calming effect of greenery and shade. The air seemed somewhat cooler, the sun less harsh, the road not so endless and foreboding. At the edge of the forest we turned around to look at the dry, brown hills through which we'd just passed. Farewell for now old man desert. It's trees and forests from now until Grants, NM.
"There is no woe the forest can not heal, nor any grief."
Once we reached the forest we only had a few more miles of dirt road before turning right onto Wyoming's paved route 70. At the end of the day's dirt section and the end of most of the day's climb we were treated to a rare spectacle. It's a mile of road known locally as Aspen Alley. This one mile is lined by some of the tallest, straightest aspen trees I've ever seen. They all appear to be the same age and are lined up in two perfect rows as if someone many years ago planted them. Their lacey crowns knit together high above forming a light green canopy. It's easy to see why it's called Aspen Alley as it literally looks like a tall, narrow tunnel among the trees. At the end of the alley is the pavement.
We turned right and coasted downhill about a mile or so right into the Medicine Bow National Forest Guard Station, a water stop. The guard station consists of an old cabin that now serves as a visitor's center, some storage sheds, and a covered parking area. In days when transportation throughout southeastern Wyoming was long and difficult, a forest ranger would actually reside at the cabin. Today, the guard station is only open in summer months and for the past 8 years it's been manned by a delightful 76 year old woman named Betty. She was expecting us as one of the fire fighters we'd met earlier on the road warned her that we were coming. Betty is full of stories about the fires this summer, the sheep and sheep dung left on the roads, the 50 to 60 other cyclists who've stopped by this summer. One could sit and listen to her tales all night long. However, we chose to continue on to find a wooded campsite down the road a bit. We wanted to be deep within the trees for this, our first night out of the desert in a long time.
GDMBR Day 37 - To mile 1272, Colorado
What a way to start the morning, ten wonderful downhill miles on pavement. One thing about downhills on pavement versus dirt. On pavement you can sit back, relax, let the bike fly, and enjoy the sites that surround you. On dirt, forget it. You have to concentrate on the road constantly. If you relax for just one instant a washboard, pothole, or rock will appear out of nowhere sending you, your bike, and your gear flying in three separate directions. Downhill on dirt is nearly as much work as uphill. We coasted down out of Medicine Bow National forest enjoying the surrounding tree covered mountains, the drier valleys below and the rustic looking ranches in the valleys.
At the bottom of the hill we chose, for the first time, to ride an easier, alternate route listed on the map. Weeks before we had asked Dave and Tim, the two south-to-north riders we met at Beaver Dam Campground in Montana, about the main route versus the alternate. As soon as we showed then the map the both, simultaneously, scoffed. "Don't do it," they both exclaimed, "It's not worth it." Evidently it would be 20 miles of hard ups and downs as the dirt road dipped into numerous creek beds. Then there was a super tough, rough 4 wheel drive jeep track climbing some 2000 ft. "It was beautiful," they said, "but you're working so hard on the riding it's hard to enjoy." Considering there are many really tough climbs before Grants, NM, including a 4,000 ft one near the southern Colorado, New Mexico state line, and both main and alternate routes are beautiful dirt trails we decided this time to go the easier route. We would need all the energy, will power, and determination we could muster later on.
The alternate begins with a reasonable, but sometimes washboard or loose rock, road that parallels the Colorado/Wyoming state line. Ranches on the right, south, side are in Colorado and those on the left in Wyoming. Now we know that to be on the Wyoming side of the road you have zero state income tax. But those on the Colorado side have the river with greener grassy fields and lots of trees. So which side of the road makes better financial sense? The road gently rolls along the north side of the Little Snake River for about 10 miles. It then crosses the river and those gentle rollers turn into steep grunts, up and down. With the exception of the 8 cattle bearing semi trucks, traffic was very light just a couple of cars per hour. It wasn't long after leaving the river that we discovered and passed the source of the cattle trucks. On the right side of the road was one of those cattle sorting and loading pens we've seen all over the west and that normally stand idle. This one was in full swing. Five cattle trucks were lined up waiting to be loaded, one was backed up to the cattle ramp. Upset cows filled one of the pens, their mooing making quite a racket. Cowboys wearing jeans, cowboy boots, spurs, and hats sat on the fence, sat on horses, or rode around with a whip herding the very reluctant cattle up the ramp. A man inside the truck, prodded the cattle with a cattle prod, a stick that gives a good electric shock, pushing them to the front of the top level. With about four loaded, he closed and locked a gate, making a small, mobile, top level pen. At least for their last ride the cattle get a room with a view.
A little further down we passed the ranch responsible for these cattle, the 3 forks ranch. Wow! Talk about your wealthy rancher. These dudes definitely have some money and one well appointed ranching facility. There were two huge, beautiful ranch houses sitting up on two separate hills to take advantage of the views. There was a garage with at least 8 garage doors, we wondered how many cars and trucks actually were stored there. There were at least a dozen other large out houses, some barns, some barracks. Everything was painted to match and, unlike so many western ranches, there was no junk scattered about, no junk cars and trucks, no junk farm equipment. It was a spotless, neat, and very fancy looking ranch. The maps call it "impressive". I'd have to say that is an apt description.
After the 3 Forks ranch we were now heading due south deep into Colorado through the Routt National Forest. What a road. Of all unpaved, well used National Forest roads this has to be one of the best. It's made of some kind of black dirt or stone that compacts into a beautifully hard surface. Despite lots of fast moving traffic, it maintains it's surface without washboard. It's smooth and fast for riding, better than just hard packed dirt. Only when it's completely saturated with water does it get a bit sticky. Otherwise it's a great road. Which was fine for us as there was still a lot of tough climbing ahead. We pumped along this road for a couple of hours stopping only at another guard station, this one not open, to get water from an outside tap, and then headed into the woods at the peak of a crest to find a campsite. We got the tent and tarp hung just in time for the 2 hour long afternoon thunder shower, managed to get in a hot supper, and hit the sack at an early 9:30 PM. We were both pooped. Considering this as the "easier" of the two routes, I can only imagine what the harder route would have been like.
GDMBR Day 38 - To Steamboat Springs, 2 days rest
The true Continental Divide enters Colorado from Wyoming east of the Wyoming town of Savery, west of Encampment, within the boundaries of Medicine Bow NF and Routt NF. It passes just to the west of Steamboat Springs and climbs over Rabbit Ears and Muddy passes. Here it takes a sharp 90 degree turn to the east to enter Rocky Mountain National Park where it takes another 90 degree turn to the south. From here it zigzags back toward the southwest passing just west of Central City, east of Dillon, and west of Leadville. It then goes on a mostly southerly journey passing west of Twin Lakes and Buena Vista and through Monarch Pass. It now makes a huge loop toward the southwest and the town of Silverton and then back southeast to Summitville. Then it goes pretty much due south crossing into New Mexico between highways 84 and 17.
The GDMBR stays to the west of the divide passing through Steamboat Springs, Kremmling, Silverthorne, and Breckenridge. At the Boreas Pass it crosses back to the east side going through the towns of Como, Hartsel, and Salida. From here the route climbs over the 10,846 ft high Marshall pass and then quickly descends to the town of Sargents on the west side of the divide. Once again turning south the route climbs over the divide again and passes through La Garita, Del Norte and Summitville. It climbs back into the high country, switching across and back on the divide, crosses the highest pass on the route and enters the town of Platoro. From there it goes mostly due south and enters New Mexico near the town of Chama.
From our campsite high atop that mountain ridge in Routt NF we had a reasonably easy downhill ride into the bustling tourist town of Steamboat Springs. Only 1 1/2 miles of dirt, 4 miles of pavement, another 13 miles of smooth dirt, and finally pavement right into the KOA parking lot. At that point we resolved to take another 2 days off the bikes. It's easy to do in Steamboat as the town runs a free bus service that goes everywhere we could possibly want to be. Not only is it free, but it runs frequently enough to be useful, 3 times per hour from 6 AM to 11 PM weekdays or 1 AM weekends. It's heaven for those of us without cars.
Touting itself as Ski Town USA, Steamboat Springs becamea ski oriented area back in 1913 when a Norwegian emigrant started ski jumping on the hill behind town. Ski jumping and downhill skiing soon became quite popular and by the 1940s skiing was even a part of the school curriculum. Today Steamboat is a destination place both in summer and winter. Mountain biking and hiking are all the rage in summer, skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing in winter. From the main downtown street, lined with impeccably neat and pristine shops you can see the large swaths of the huge ski area just to the south. Stores in town cater to this outdoor enthusiasm with at least 5 bike and ski shops and several camping and sporting good shops. Of course there are the usual tourist trinket shops selling things one could just as easily buy at home at a far less inflated price. It's a very well-to-do town filled with high salary yuppie types who think nothing of paying over $15 for a plate of pasta for dinner. It did have a Wal-Mart which gave us an opportunity to restock our badly depleted food stores, so it wasn't all super high priced. Even in these places it is still possible to find a bargain if you look hard enough. There was one thing we did find that we'd been looking for for over a month, a new kickstand for my bike. A tiny, one-man, hole-in-the-wall bike shop happened to have just one. It was pricey, but it was the only one we'd been able to find. Sold!
GDMBR Day 39 - To Lynx Pass
"In this unbelievable universe in which we live, there are no absolutes. Even parallel lines, reaching into infinity, meet somewhere yonder."
Every now and then the most bizarre coincidence occurs. Something so strange that it could never again happen in a thousand years. We had one such coincidence happen to us at the KOA campground in Steamboat. The story begins four years ago, the year we went to Alaska. We'd arrived late in the evening at Juno on the Alaskan ferry. So we headed for the very first campground we could find. While we were cooking dinner a short woman with short white hair and a tall man with long white hair and a shaggy looking beard approached us. Marnie was from Australia and her husband Allyn spent his years in New York. They have a house in Adalaide, Australia but happened to be visiting the US for about a year. As we talked about bike touring and bike tourists we realized that we had common acquaintances, Lynn and Gerard. This is the couple who at that time were touring around Australia towing a very large dog behind in a trailer. Lynn and I had been corresponding via snail mail ever since 1994, before I quit work. Marnie and Allyn met Lynn and Gerard somewhere in Australia, gave then a lift in their van, and continue to write to them on a regular basis. We were both shocked at this coincidence.
As it turns out Marnie and Allyn were spending a month or so in Alaska, but we never thought we'd see them again. Wrongo. We met up a few weeks later in the Fairbanks campground and for a third time in Denali National Park. This we thought was about as strange a coincidence as one could ever experience. We continued to write occasionally to Marnie and Allen evyn after they returned to Australia. However, we didn't have any idea what their latest plans might be.
So here we are, sitting at our table in the Steamboat KOA munching on dinner salads, when Brian looks up and says, "I think that's the couple we met in Alaska." I turned round and sure enough there were Marnie and Allyn taking an evening stroll, looking to see what interesting birds they could find. I can only say that for some reason fate has decided that Marnie and Allyn should cross our paths at any time and any place. So I shouldn't be surprised the next time.
The day we left Steamboat we awoke to gray skies and big clouds. It was going to be one of those drizzly, wet days. Although the rain was actually rather pleasant for a change. It tempered the mid afternoon heat that usually turned into violent thunderstorms. We rather enjoyed the light shower and were not overly inclined to don our rain jackets. Only for the few minutes where the rain got a bit heavy did we get them out. Of course, the rain stopped almost as soon as we put the jackets on. That is, after all, how we control the weather.
Our route south from Steamboat took us past large and very elegant mountain homes. They were scattered among the woods up the hill opposite the ski area. Nearly everyone had a huge windowed front looking out toward the ski area. There's definitely a lot of money residing in the Steamboat valley. Toward the southern end of the valley we turned onto a more primitive dirt road and then onto a trail that continued up along the beautiful Yampa river. It's a favorite spot for fly fishing. There was no traffic, just cars parked while the fishermen spent their time out in the river. Trail and road conditions were great, bit muddy, but not soft and not washboarded. Even the climbs weren't overly difficult. We crested out at the dam for the Stagecoach Reservoir and were surprised to find that this lake, seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, is surrounded by still more large and very elegant houses. In fact we were to continue seeing nice houses and even nice cabins to within a few miles of Lynx Pass. It's evident that the well-to-do people of Steamboat are fast encroaching on the forest. Everybody wants their place in the mountains.
A short, but fun hiking/biking/horse riding trail took us 1/4 the way around the lake. Then we started the heavier climbing up to Lynx Pass. It was tiring, but not overly difficult as the road surface continued to be excellent and there was a 6 or 7 mile section where the grade was fairly level. Only the last 1 1/2 miles were a grunt. We topped out on Lynx Pass making for a 2300 ft. total elevation climb for the day. That was enough. The Lynx Pass campground looked just too tempting to pass up.
GDMBR Day 40 - To Pumphouse Rec. Area
The map said to "Cross Rock Creek." However, it also mentioned that in times of high water, May or June, it may be impassible. We stood looking at the crossing and knew immediately things had changed since the map was written. Beavers had been busy this summer erecting a dam just downstream from the road crossing. We now stood staring at no less than 2 to 2 1/2 feet of standing water right at the crossing. To the left was tall, impassable bushes and to the right even more water. The road was now part of a new beaver pond. Our choices, strip off the shoes, socks, and pants and wade through being sure to get at least the lower half of the bikes wet or return to Rt. 134, take the pavement for 4 miles, and then make a correct turn on to NF route 212. I was set to start stripping, Brian vetoed that option. So we turned around to ride the 2 miles back. Bike tourists typically hate to backtrack, but in some cases it's the wiser thing to do.
On the way back to 134 we passed, for the second time, the interesting old Wells Fargo stage stop. The sign attached to the building claims it was constructed in the early 1800s, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense as the Lewis and Clark expedition didn't even enter this area until 1804/06 and the emigrants weren't crossing on the Oregon Trail until after 1843. We suspect mid to late 1800s would be more accurate. It was a rather large, 2 story, rectangular log building with 3 windows across front and back upstairs, 2 downstairs, and the central door. Today only the shell of the building stands, just barely that is. All the chinking between the logs is missing and the side wall, now supported, has a serious buckle. Supposedly it's to be restored, but I wonder how long it will last without perpetual care.
After turning onto the paved Rt. 134, we climbed up to just about the top of Gore Pass where we finally made the right turn onto the fabulous NF route 212. Rt. 212 is a primitive dirt road that is in excellent, hard packed dirt condition. It begins with easy riding through dense aspen forests. It's your picture perfect country lane type of ride. It then spends about 3 miles going over some mighty steep but very short hills, one of which was a 1/4 mile pusher. Finally the road crests at a high alpine meadow with an incredible view into the canyon scraped out by the mighty Colorado River. From our vantage point we could see down to the water's edge. It was lined with a ribbon of light green vegetation contrasting sharply with the more muted green scrub on the hillsides. There were dozens of colorful dots floating down the river, rafts and raft riders. This is one of the more popular rafting sections of the river and folks come from all the ski town resorts to partake of the sport.
Dramatic views accompanied us the entire cruise down to the Colorado River. Of all descents on the GDMBR this has to be the best. Not just because the road's in really good shape, but those wonderful views. The blue snaking river below, the scrub covered hills in the foreground, and green tree laden craggy mountains in the background. To the east was the magnificent Gore Canyon, the first of many spectacular canyons through which the Colorado flows. We made an all too rapid descent into the tiny town of Radium, crossed the bridge, and stopped for lunch at one of the many raft pull-out locations located along this section of river.
Along the river between Kremmling and State Bridge, etched right into the canyon wall, runs the Union Pacific railway. It's the rail line that runs from Denver, through the Winter Park ski resort town, and then onto Salt Lake City. It was the dream of a self made Denver millionaire named Maffett. He started the project in 1903 but he died in 1911 and never lived to see it completed. It took several railroad line mergers and a full 31 years before his dream of having Denver on a transcontinental line would be realized. Today there's a long tunnel, east of the Gore Canyon, dug under the continental divide that bears his name. Also, it's one incredibly busy rail line. As we lay in our tent in the Pumphouse Campground, located across the river from the rail, we heard the rumble and squeal of long, long trains passing by all night long. It was not a particularly quiet night spent on the Colorado River.
GDMBR Day 41 - To William's Reservoir
Normally in bike touring a good rule is, "What goes up, must come down." In other words, for every uphill there's a downhill. In this case the rule had to be reversed. For when going down to the Colorado River there's always a corresponding climb on the opposite side. Now we could have skipped this long climb by continuing on Rt. 134 to Kremmling, but there's no way we would have wanted to miss the fabulous descent. So now we woke to a good, uphill grunt. Actually it wasn't so bad, only around 1200 ft or so and some of it was paved. It's just that this particular road from Radium to Kremmling is very busy for a dirt road. Raft companies with their van and trailer in tow come whipping around corners way too fast and there were a surprisingly large number of trucks and other cars on the road. We were glad to have a long descent to the intersection with Rt. 9.
Kremmling, located about 2 miles north of our route, is a nice place to head to to get lunch and food supplies. It's a great example of just how ordinary a Colorado mountain town can be that has not been discovered as a ski resort. It has a small City Market, the local grocery store chain we'd been seeing since Rawlins, with a fairly good selection of goods. There's even a good supply of produce available in the store. Cafes in town are relatively inexpensive compared to the town's more famous neighbors. The only drawback was the fact that we had to ride 2 miles each way on the busy, shoulderless Rt. 9. Believe me, Colorado drivers are not well known for their courtesy to bikers. It was a relief to get into town, get our food, and get back on the much, much quieter continuation of the route.
"Well," Brian said, "according to the map we're supposed to be climbing all along William's Reservoir." We had ridden the remaining, easy miles up to the reservoir and were now trying to determine whether we should camp at the very exposed campground on the northern end of the lake or continue onto another campground at the inlet end. Our maps showed only the northern site, but a map posted at that campground showed the second. One thing we had discovered was that the entire elevation profile for the section south of the Colorado River was not just inaccurate, it was completely wrong. At a spot called Inspiration Point the profile shows a downward trend. Not only is it up, there's a good 2 to 3 additional miles of up. Ute pass is shown at a low point in the map. A quick climb to the top of a hill proved to us that the elevations around the reservoir are wrong. We think that the entire graph may be slid to the left by about 4 miles. Amazingly, the text is correct. It gives the proper mileage for the pass. Yet the text disagrees with the chart. You'd think someone at ACA would have checked for such gross errors or that someone would have notified them on that error. In any event, it's wrong on the published maps and there's not even an errata for this oversight.
Our final decision, once I'd verified that the route was indeed flat around the lake, was to go on. It was a good decision in the end as the campground at the inlet was down in the small river valley and had a lot of sheltering bushes around. In addition, the view of the sunset looking directly down the lake was absolutely fabulous.
GDMBR Day 42 - To Dillon, End of Section 3, Map B
Sunshine greeted us in the morning, but we knew this was not likely to last. Colorado's monsoon season had been bringing variable weather for more than a week. We could expect some sort of rain by mid to late afternoon. By 10 AM we were well on our way up Ute pass.
Ute pass is rather unusual. All of the climb on the dirt section is rather easy. It only gets steep for the last 4 miles which happen to be paved. So as far as passes go, it's actually relatively easy. Brian kept saying, "Gosh I wish all passes on this route could be paved at the top." Our only complaint was the amount of traffic. Hunting season had begun, specifically bow hunting. Part way up the climb we passed a huge hunting camp filled with trailers set up out in the woods. They looked as though they were there for a long time. Of course they had ATVs which they used to cut new paths through the woods. We can't have them using existing paths now can we. Where's the fun in that. Oh and all those beer cans lying along the road side. Frightening. We have no qualms about hunting, it's just the accompanying beer drinking and ATV abuse that we'd rather not see.
Climbing up Ute Pass doesn't have overly spectacular scenery. It's rather spoiled by the scar of a large mine located at the top which, by the way, is the reason for the pavement at the top. However, coming down. Wow! There are wonderful views of the jagged mountain peaks of the Gore range just across the valley. Since the downhill is paved it is possible, for once, to just sit back, coast along, and watch the views unfold all around. We were so disappointed when the downhill came to an end and we were forced to join the all too busy Rt. 9 for a last huff into the bustling town of Silverthorne.
"One can find so many pains when the rain is falling."
Dark clouds gathered over those ragged peaks to the west. Lightening flashed across the skies and thunder followed a few seconds later. We hustled up the gradual incline headed toward the dam that creates the large Lake Dillon. We barely made it under I70, the third northern major east/west US highway, headed for the shelter of a small strip mall, and sat tight. Within minutes the skies opened up and the rain poured, poured, and poured. Had we not made it to shelter we would have been soaked in a matter of seconds, it was raining that hard. We watched lightening hit the surrounding hillsides, too close for comfort, all the while grateful for our shelter. Yet, it only lasted for about 1/2 hour. The sun came out once again and we could safely head on our way.
This night we slept in a bed, only the second bed we'd been in since leaving Deming on June 1. In Jasper we'd met a tandem riding couple, Kurtis and Tracy, who happened to live a few miles off the route in Dillon. An invitation to stop in for a hot shower, hot meal, and warm bed was just too much to pass up. They live in a neat 2 bedroom log cabin that Kurt built all by himself. He even cut and peeled the logs. It's on a hillside overlooking one of the coves of the lake in a neighborhood that's never heard the term "Home Owners Association." There is everything from little one room cabins to huge custom houses perched on their hillside.
This is a growing area, however, growing too fast. The entire Dillon, Silverthorne, and Frisco area is rapidly becoming an upscale metropolis in the mountains with lots and houses selling for millions of dollars. We recall that when we lived in Denver there was just a Village Inn, Motel 6, and Dairy Queen at the Silverthorne exit off I70. Today there is every fast food restaurant imaginable, several sporting goods stores, an Office Max, at least half dozen hotels, restaurants galore, and even a bunch of outlet shops. Growth such as this has some advantages. For example the great network of bike paths that run between Breckenridge, Vail, and Keystone. There is also great free summer entertainment. That night we were fortunate to be able to see a free Blue Grass concert featuring the marvelous band called Nickel Creek. But growth brings with it crowds, traffic, congestion. For us a visit to the area is enough. We prefer more downscale living.
So here we are at the end of the third section of the route. There's just over 1000 miles remaining and many thousands feet of climbing to be done. It would have been nice to stop for a day or so, but winter weather comes early to the high elevations and the busy Labor Day weekend was upon us. We needed to keep going, to get out into the wilderness where traffic would be minimal and to get further south. It's on to Salida and section 4.
Appendix A - Route
August 17, 62.72 mi to mi 1103
Appendix B - Campsites or hotels
August 17, Side of road at mi 1103
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.