The road from Rawlins plunged headlong back into the desert, though this time it was intent on leaving. After thirty miles, I climbed out of the desert landscape and crossed the continental divide into the Sierra Madre mountains. However, it was not an easy thirty miles: the headwind was as bad as it ever has been, and the terrain, on account of ascending the foothills of the mountains, was filled with pointless steep ups and downs. Around three o’clock, the rains started and continued for the rest of the day. Rain and wind have become a perennial state of being for me on this trip, a state of affairs which at some times feels so ridiculous, I can’t help but laugh. I put in another 20 miles that day in the drenching, miserable weather, the stiff headwinds, the steep hills, and the mushy road before stopping in a wet little creek valley. It was definitely one of the hardest days of riding yet.

The view towards Rawlins as I climbed into the Sierra Madre.

The following day, it was cool and the mountains were dressed in slithering, thick gray clouds, which slowly dissipated. By the afternoon it was sunny again and I could begin the somewhat tedious task of drying out the soggy things. I am greatly looking forward to the day of riding that has neither headwinds nor rain. It has been so long I can hardly remember what that feels like, to be unencumbered by bad weather of one kind or another. 
What is it like to ride in the rain? It feels dangerous out here, more so than riding in the rain at home. This is amplified by the high elevations and sub-freezing nighttime temperatures. It feels strange on the legs, which have some kind of plasticy, nylon fabric soaked through and clinging to them, growing taut at the pedal stroke extension. The water soakes the helmet and drips down onto my nose, the back of my neck, and even soaks through my rain coat and my back becomes damp. My shoes, forget about it. They are quickly soaked, and stay wet for a full twenty-four hours after the rains stops. Everything is wet and muddy. Everything.

My very wet and cloud-ensconced campsite. But hey, I was back in trees again!

The desert has ended most definitely, and now I am in Aspen-covered mountains, entire hillsides lit up with quaking, shimmering leaves in green and gold. I started my trip when I did partly to arrive in Colorado at the time when the aspens were changing. In this section I rode through Aspen Alley, an especially loved miles of road crowded by tall aspens:

Aspen Alley, just before the leaves change.

If you’ve seen a desktop picture of a picturesque road flanked by aspens and covered by a brilliantly colored canopy, you were probably looking at an iconic picture of Aspen Alley. Unfortunately, they hadn’t quite changed yet when I was there, though it was still very beautiful. 

Though I seem to be a bit early for the foliage change, in the minds of many I am quite late indeed. On many occasions I have been told that I am too late in the season to be doing this. The day out of Rawlins, for example, a man pulled up in his truck and warned me of the rain that was coming and said it could be snow in the mountains, that I needed to be really careful, and that I was late in the season to be doing this. See? I’ve been getting that a lot lately. And it’s fair to say, since last night at Steamboat Lake campground, it was as cold as it’s been so far on this trip. The frost was so thick on the bike and the tarp that it almost looked like snow. 

I am now in Steamboat Springs, CO, which I am happy to report has a very lovely library. My sense is that Colorado will be the most civilized-feeling of the states I ride through, with towns popping up more frequently, and more often being filled with espresso shops and boutique stores. I can deal with that; it might be nice since morning after morning I’m bound to wake up frozen and in need of a warm place and hot drink to help me thaw.