In Steamboat, as I wandered slowly around the natural food store and feasted my eyes on all the options, a woman struck up a conversation with me about the bike ride (I apparently have the look of a bike rider – I think it’s probably the gleeful confusion showing in my eyes when I am in a store). She asked where I planned to stay that night and when I told her I’d sleep in a ditch somewhere, she must have felt sorry for me. She came back to offer me a place to stay, which is how I came to meet Karen, John, and their son Hill. I had a beer with neighbor, I got licked by the dog, and Hill and I compared our hat tricks. This turned out to be timely, since Hill was headed out to his first middle school dance, and was sporting a very nice hat. Karen and John gave me a shower and let me stay in the his-shed out back (they have his and hers sheds). Really, it’s hard to overstate how great this kind of hospitality is when you are on the road. All of you reading, if you can find it in your heart, and then you can find a dirty, weary hiker or biker, take them into your home, offer them a clean towel for their shower, and then watch the tears well up in their eyes. It doesn’t take much.

So I had a great time in Steamboat, and the next day departed in fair spirits which only grew fairer, because I finally got that day I’ve been wanting. No rain, no wind, hardly a cloud in sky, just a beautiful autumn day. All the fishermen were out to enjoy it, and the aspens were lively in color. It was  gorgeous.

Riding out of Stemboat Springs. See how beautiful it was?

All the anglers in that same river enjoying the day.

While in Steamboat, I asked a number of people about the trends in colorado weather to figure out if I was going to get a weather break. From the people in the bike shop, I heard that they’ve had a lot of snow in October in years past. Someone told me to get a move on. Others told me if it didn’t snow, it would be the perfect time to go through the state. John told me that most years it would be fine, but every, say thirty-first year it would dump a bunch of snow early October and they’d all get twenty days of good skiing. So apparently there is no way knowing how that wind is blowing; I will just have to ride and make the best of the beautiful weather I’ve got. This isn’t as easy to do as that sentence makes it seem, though. With all the free time I have every day to think, it’s hard to avoid thinking about what could be happening a week from now. 

Whether snow or not, the cold will be unavoidable. From where I am now in Silverthorne, CO (at about 9,000′), I only go up, and then stay pretty up for a little while. The first night out from Steamboat, to avoid a slightly warmer but still very cold version of the ‘cold night’, I slept in an empty, two-story log cabin that was built in the 1880s. All hand-hewn logs, the building was stabilized by a historical society in 2000, and now people can walk around on the dirt floor and peer at the non-original engravings in the interior: “Amber 7/10” or “D loves K”. The building used to be home to a woman named Katherine, back when it was built, and also served as a hotel for travelers, so I felt it fitting to be housed under it’s roof for a night. It was a roof I shared, though; as I was settling into my sleeping bag, mice came out and were crawling up and down the walls. Lucky for me, mice tend to prefer the edges of rooms, and I was in the middle, so we had an uneasy (for me) arrangement.

The former home/hotel/polling place/mail stop.

The next day, hot and sunny, found me diving several thousand feet out of the high mountains to the Colorado river. In a few miles, the aspens and lodgepole pines gave way to shrubby hillsides of juniper and pinyon pine.

The Colorado river is the shiny ribbon on the valley floor. I took this right before plummeting several thousand feet to reach it.

Sometime during the descent, I noticed a familiar kind of stiffness in the handlebars. As I climbed away from the river bottom and above the gorges it wound through, the steering grew stiffer and more recalcitrant. I repeatedly held the front of the bike up and swung the handlebars back and forth to test how they moved unloaded, and by the afternoon, they were thickly falling into discrete positions. My headset was once again shot. At camp that night I overhauled it as best I could, cleaning out the grit and smearing more grease on the bearings and races. It returned enough responsiveness to get me to Silverthorne. I don’t know why I am having such fascinating luck with headsets on this trip. When I was in Steamboat, I took Lolita into the bike shop and had the bottom bracket overhauled. The mechanic found the bottom bracket shell was full of, yes, water. You must have had a lot of rain, he said. So I can only imagine the same is true of the headset. That coupled with the fact that it bears a great deal of weight when I go downhill, I suppose is my perfected recipe for destroying a nearly brand-new headset (I got this one new in whitefish Montana, if you’ll recall).

Though, the day I left the log cabin, I had to ford a creek and the water was so high, it came over the bottom bracket. As I have yet to ford a creek where the water comes over the handlebars, I hope that there is at least somewhat less water in the headset than in the bottom bracket.

Fording Rock Creek. So cold.

(Think about the implications of this photo. I am traveling alone. It was 7:30am when I took the picture. The dregs of my breakfast tea had frozen into my pot when I left camp only fifteen minutes before, and frost was still on the grasses. I forded the creek, set up the camer on auto timer, and then ran back into the creek with my bike to get the shot.)

I am riding in a world tinted with the light of fall. Colors have become more amber. Trees are in brilliant autum colors.

Aspens.

Also Aspens.

I am so not disappointed by Colorado at this time of year. The weather is perfect, though of course the nights are cold and long. It gets dark around 7:30pm, and the sun rises around 6:30am, which leaves me many hours to pass sleeping, reading, writing, and eating. But the pleasure I take in each day’s ride is immense. As long as the weather holds, this will be a spectacular several weeks.

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