It was finally time to leave Hot Sulphur Springs even though I wished I could have spent another day – I was getting antsy but I didn’t want to be a part of the now 13-person bicycle touring caravan to Walden, CO: there were the six in the clique, Dan and the Chinese couple, a couple from New Zealand that camped just outside of Hot Sulpher, and Rick, the wild man. Given the geography there was really only one realistic stop for the day, especially considering it was a day to cross the Continental Divide again over Willow Creek Pass. This meant we’d all be together again at the city park in Walden for the night. Yay.
I was up and packed early, ready for the Glory Hole Cafe to open at 7am. If I was going to climb a mountain I wanted real food in me to do it. From the parking lot I took in my last Sulphur Springs sunrise:
I don’t know what the rest of the riders did for breakfast. If they ate at Glory Hole, they came in after me. Crazy man Rick showed up again, though, and started talking and talking about a possible leak in his air mattress and government conspiracies. He went back and forth between these two topics interchangeably and seemingly without any logic as to why.
I didn’t want him on my back wheel all day. He said he was going to Steamboat Springs but wanted to get there from Walden, where I was going. I firmly but politely explained that I was riding my own ride; if we were going the same way, fine, maybe we’d hang out at the end of the day, but between the start and the end I ride alone. He said okay. Knowing he didn’t have enough water or food for the 60 miles it would take to get to town I told him he should get what he needed for the day at the gas station. I was already good to go, so off I went, hoping to make time and leave him behind me.
The order of the day was climbing, but before I could do that I had to go down a bit. It was awesome.
I was very much on my way out of the high Rockies, and even though I knew it was time to move on I was sad about it. Seeing rock formations like this along the road was something I soaked up as much as I could while I could:
There’s no way to say how much of a pleasure it is to weave through the mountains on winding roads, and after two and a half days off the bike I was feeling very strong.
And then it was time to climb.
This was basically my third mountain pass ever on a bike if you include the Eastern Continental Divide way back at the Great Allegheny Passage, and I didn’t know what to expect. I just started climbing up though, and I still felt great.
I was riding around Hannah, by far the nicest of the group of six, who I asked to take a picture of me riding. Not many opportunities for that when riding alone:
It was a really nice ascent to the top of the pass, where I was working hard but making plenty of headway. And it was just as beautiful as the rest of my time in the mountains:
And occasionally more beautiful. I have no idea what kind of rock formation this is, but YESSSS:
I was coming around a corner to see a mountain with perfect light:
So happy to have a picture of me at this point! Thanks Hannah!:
Soon enough there was the sign for the summit:
The two miles flew by. I had to take a water break after a mile, looking at this:
And then I made it to the top.
Despite the fist it was a quiet, satisfied summit. There wasn’t the childlike amazement I had at Hoosier Pass, but it was just as sweet.
And then it was time to go down!
The descent down Hoosier Pass set the bar high for descents. Willow Creek was no Hoosier Pass, but it was still incredible. I was zooming down very fast with no cars to get in the way of my joy.
But after a few short miles the peaks and valleys within the downward trend started throwing me peaks:
With wind, as the sign says. I plodded up them; I didn’t know they were coming and my mind was still riding high from descending.
The road brought me to Rand, another “nothing” town without much in it. There was a gift shop there that was closed, but they left water for my kind:
I was good on the life juice so I left the jug for those in more need.
And then the road went on to Walden.
If there is one truth I’ve come to realize out here it’s that wind is infinitely heavier in the afternoon, and in the mountains the wind is that much stronger. The last ten miles of the day were a grind:
And even though the mountains were in the distance I still kept saying goodbye to them.
The destination was Walden… For me, all the other riders, and three more. The city park became a bicycle touring tent city. I still couldn’t shake the whole “bicycle touring sheep” thought trap despite my efforts to keep it at bay.
And the group of six was wearing on me again. When I come across another bike traveller I invite them to join me for coffee or a meal and I ask all my curious questions. These people were oblivious to the others that just rode the same roads they did and are having the same transformative experience as them. I made up my mind that I was done with them. I don’t suffer unfriendly tourists too well. They should know better.
*** *** ***
I woke up in Walden with a very strange sight:
Seagulls were all over the place. Seagulls! In the middle of northern Colorado! WHY???
I made my way out early, headed for Wyoming. I was still in “goodbye” mode as I pedaled north.
Views like this off to the left on a bike for hours is enough to make you a very happy person:
There’s nothing better than ripply roads:
There was a fair bit of climbing leaving the state, which was fine by me. The lessons you learn on a monster climb are priceless.
It seems I’ve been skirting wildfires since making it into Colorado. “Smoke on the roadway” was a new warning though (I never saw or smelled smoke on the roadway throughout the day):
The sign made a good place to stop for a breather though, where I saw another seagull!
WHY ARE THEY OUT HERE AGGH!
Soon enough I made it to another state line, entering Wyoming for basically the first time in my life (too young to remember a family trip to Jackson Hole):
Just like every state line it was an opportunity to stop and reflect on the state I was leaving. Riding through Colorado was the best part of the tour by a long shot, from conquering eastern Colorado with the Delaware rowers, to the Dead shows, to climbing with Dave up to Hoosier pass, to Hot Sulphur Springs. But I also thought about the road ahead and how much more wonderfulness is out there for me.
Wyoming certainly didn’t start out bad at all:
The landscape was opening up, the mountains were getting lower, but still breathtaking country:
With incredible descents and climbs – you can just make out that winding climb in the distance:
It was a beast. Short (by mountain standards) and steep. But super fun to ride.
Like clockwork, the wind started killing me with 8 miles left into Saratoga:
I made it into town and went to the grocery store, the first I’d seen in days. I had to restock the staples. I made it down into town and saw the high-fivin’ group of six doing their end-of-day rituals and silently made a beeline for the hot springs.
The thing is, it was already in the upper 80s and I was feeling overheated. It was much cooler higher in the mountains and I had to get used to the heat again. I opted against the hot springs and headed for the campsite:
Dan and the Chinese couple were set up, along with Norm and Linda, the retired New Zealand couple, and Jim, another guy from Walden the night before. Jeesh. So many tourists.
But the sunsets out here are astounding, even before it really gets dark:
I chatted with Dan about plans for the next day, and of course he was aiming for Rawlins like me. I decided to embrace it and invited him to join me for breakfast the next morning since we always start early around the same time. I slept great even though my tent was covered in dozens of very large mosquitoes that wanted desperately to eat me alive. I never thought it would happen but I’m really enjoying nights in the tent. I always thought I would curse the fact I couldn’t hang my hammock while sleeping in a tent, but being outside all day long makes having a shelter (nylon though it is) very cozy.