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From Salida Colorado, I began a period of climbing high passes to lofty elevations, reaching eventually the high point of the route at nearly 12,000 feet. But first I had several passes to climb up to, then descend off, over several days. The routine is climb for most of the day, then quickly whiz down the other side into a camping spot. When travelling at 3 miles per hour, it can take a long time to climb a twelve mile pass. The route from Salida to Del Norte, CO counts among my favorite of the route so far, winding among brilliantly-colored aspen and fascinating hoodoos and other formations in the volcanic rocks.

Beautiful stuff in Colorado.

Prior to arriving in Del Norte, the route dropped out of the mountains along the edge of the San Luis desert, and there I took up an extremely primitive two-track that rollercoastered the rest of the way to Del Norte. Look, I yelled, I’m almost mountain biking for real!

Two-track winding trhough the desert to Del Norte.

In Del Norte, I was given hospitality by Gary and Patti, two local mountain bikers who often host Great Divide riders when they come through. I arrived in town and made use of Gary’s well-stocked shop to change the cable and housing of my rear shifter, which had started to bind and creak several days before. After, Gary and Patti took me along to a wedding celebration where I met many interesting local people (of which Del Norte appears to be in no short supply of), congratulated the bride and groom, and ate many plates of wedding food and drank wedding beer from the local brewery. The next day, I had the biggest, baddest pass of the route to climb, from Del Norte’s diminutive elevation of something like 7,500′ to about 12,000′. In the morning, I hung around and talked with Gary and Patti, did a bit more work on the bike, went to the store and showered and packed, and by the time I finally got on the road, it was nearly 11 and I had 4,000′ feet to gain. While I was meandering alon south of town, I ran into Kevin, a guy I met at the party the night before, who farms free-range, organic buffalo just outside of Del Norte. I chatted with him for about a half-hour, and was nearly persuaded to stop at his cabin just a few miles up the road and eat some exotic birds his neighbors had just dispatched, thereby putting the gruesome climb off til the next day. Alas, I did not do this (perhaps the most regrettable decision of the trip). Instead I rode steadily all day, cresting the pass late afternoon just as a violent hailstorm was unleashed from the overburdened skies. Right after the pass, the route went through Summitville, a pleasant little Superfund site where copper had been mined since the forties. There was nothing up here except industrial reclamation equipment, one badly eroded and scarred mountain side, and miles upon miles of contaminated surface water that was unfit to drink even after filtering. I ran into a couple out for a drive near there who stopped to ask me for directions, then offered me water which I greedily took and drank. I hadn’t wanted to carry much water up that gigantic climb, so their offer was deeply appreciated. I rolled into camp that night just as darkness was filling the basin, muting the colors of the aspens to gray. Even here, the water was unsuitable to drink, so saturated in heavy metals that it could dissolve a nail in eight months. There happened to be some guys from Texas camped where I stopped, and I asked for some water from them. They, naturally, invited me to dinner. We had pork chops, beans, fried potatoes, and corn, a very southern-style meal, all tightly clustered around the table in the R.V., and the guys told me about how terrible the fishing was and the work they did in Texas (one was the dad, one was the son, and the other was a co-worker at the golf-cart business ran by the dad). The co-worker was missing his front teeth, and I could only barely understand the son through his heavy Texas twang. A handgun casually rested on the back of the booth seat we ate in. These were my kind of people. But ultimately, they were good people, kind to share food with me even though, in all honesty, I am sure we come from very different places and believe very different things.

The next day, I passed through Platoro Colorado and I stopped for breakfast (I’m a sucker for a big, hot breakfast). I laid out all my sleeping accoutrement to thaw the ice coating everything and then dry the residual water while I ate. When I cam back out, my groundsheet was gone – I had draped it over a bench in the sun just outside the window of the front desk. I asked the man at the desk if he saw where it went, and he came out to help me look. After a bit, a horrified look came over his face and he said “I think Jim may have picked it up with the trash”. Now, my groundhseet does sort of look like a big piece of trash. It’s a kind of dirty large piece of clear plastic, and has bits of tape patching various holes and half a produce bag ataped over one large tear in the center. But it is a fundamentally critical piece of equipment in my kit, and I really needed it back. The front-desk guy sent one employee to go dig around the trash trailer, but she came back empty-handed, too squeamish to take the plunge into the garbage to find the groundsheet. Eventually Jim came back and was sent to fetch it – Oh shit, he said, sorry – and he came whirring back 20 minutes later in the little cart, the groundsheet wadded up on his lap and smelling only slightly of garbage. I packed up, thanked everybody for their work, and headed on. The ride down the valley was incredibly beautiful, with everything in the boldest of color.

The incredible, confetti mountains of south Colorado.

Later on that day, I rounded a corner and found myself in the middle of a cattle drive on the road.

Cows! This went on for about ten minutes.

And guess what? That evening, I crossed into New Mexico! Yeah! It was a good day.

When I was coming into camp that night, I noticed a strange looking log which, as I came closer, turned out to be one very large, very dead cow lying on it’s side, it’s thin little legs sticking straight out. All night, the smell wafted into my camp, though it did bring in the coyotes which serenaded me as I slept. The next morning, a guy came over in an off-road buggy and invited me over for breakfast to his camp. The night before, as I was setting up camp, his friend came over to check if I was alright. They were up with their wives, hunting elk, and had shot one the day before. I had breakfast with the four of them, and then I was offered (and gladly accepted) a shower in the trailer. Talk about good people – they were kind and thoughtful, they offered a prayer for my safety and in the same prayer, thanked God for the beautiful creature they had just killed and were going to be eating. I should say now, at the risk of alienating a whole host of readership, that I usually identify as an atheist, and I have had both bad and good expreiences with the religous of all faiths. But I was so touched by thoughtfulness and graciousness of these people, who I hope I run into again some day. I love when people care for the land they live in and walk on, and I love when people who hunt honor the life they have taken. I appreciated deeply their generosity and concern.

The ride through New Mexico has been wild. I think that New Mexico may be my favorite state so far, where the roads are so deteriorated that it’s hard to believe a car could ever drive them (I coincided for a long while with the Continental Divivde National Scenic Trail along these horrible roads), and where the terrain feels more robust and featured than what I’ve been through so far. I skirted the Cruces Wilderness Basin, with spectacular views into the many river valleys, and climbed up and down, up and down through the Tusas Mountains. The only unfortunate aspect of being in New Mexico is that the day I hit the primitive roads that can’t be ridden if they are wet is the day it started to rain again. It’s been cold and windy, and even thunderous, but I’ve managed to race the storms and repeatedly I’ve just barely been leaving a primitive dirt road as the rain starts to fall hard. The risk of snow is fading, though I did have some flurries the other night, but I’m only four or five days away from being done with the Rockies (and out of the high country).

Today I came into what truly feels like New Mexico, passing several remote little villages. All adobe and cob, close to the road, junk filled yards, and dogs everywhere in the tiny roads, it reminds of Mexico.

A building with character in Vallectios New Mexico

I’ve met some very friendly gangster-types, one guy who showed me the (I actually lost count, there were so many – maybe 10?) bullet hole scars from where, apparently, the police shot him all up.

I head to Abiquiu tonight or tomorrow, and from there to Cuba.Thanks for checking in!


Over the last few days, I have been so delighted by being alone. And over the last few days I have found things I would love to share with someone who will laugh with me. Isn’t this the tension I have sought to explore? From Silverthorne, I climbed over boreas pass along the route of an old narrow-gauge railroad. Trains can’t climb really steep stuff, so routes that follow old railroad grades are generally a pleasure to climb, not to mention historically  interesting.

The view from the road up to Boreas Pass.

Boreas pass, the apex of the climb, used to be a town, albeit a small one, situated at about 11,500 feet. Can you imagine? It used to have a big stone house for turning the trains around, a post office, and miles of shed housing the tracks to protect them from snow drifts. Now the old post office building is all the remains. I traced the route of this train down the other aide of the pass to Como, another historic town with roots in the railroads. Como doesn’t have much else beside those roots, though. The one store in town had almost nothing in it except one deeply irritated woman who bristled and my request to use the bathroom and to fill up my water bottles. “Just hurry, will you? I’m trying to close. I don’t like other people to use my bathroom. All the water is shut off because you’re too late in the year,” and so on. Como is something of an important water source, since there is no more water for another thirty-plus miles. In my rush to get out if the woman’s store, I didn’t quite fill up as much as I should have and spent the rest of the evening riding with an eye for a water source. From Como, I went into South Park, which is a large, mountain ringed basin with little in it: cows, the occasional wind mill-driven water pump (the ones I checked were dry) and road after eerie road laid in a near grid patter with nothing on them. Each intersection was marked with your standard-looking street sign, with names like Arapaho Trail and Navaho Drive. What strange ideas someone had once, about what to do with this empty basin. I passed empty road after empty road, none of them paved, many starting to be reclaimed by the native grasses and dead-ending only shortly after branching from the main road. That night, as the sun dropped behind the western mountains edging the basin, I stopped where I was, waterless, and crept through a hole in the fence surrounding an abandoned playground. Is there anything quite as eerie as an abandoned play ground at dusk?

Abandoned play things in the creepy playground.

I checked the cinderblock bathroom structure to see if the water was on, but this place had clearly been long abandoned. No water, the toilets filled with rotting excrement, rodent nests and droppings all over the floor, and garbage, broken bits of furniture, decay. The tennis courts were being reclaimed by weeds, the nets on the basketball hoops were disintegrated, and the only reason I knew there was a baseball diamond was the batting fence – the rest had returned to arid desert. I slunk about in the dark, trying not to be spotted trespassing by the occasional car that passed, and left early enough to leave under the cover of darkness and moonshadows.

I’m now in Salida, which is a nice littel town. I met a man at the laundromat as I stood around in my rain gear, my clothes tumbling away in the machines, and he was an authentic miner working a claim he filed up on some huge mountain near by. That’s like something out of the late eighteen hundreds; most miners work for big companies now, not on their own just shipping away at some random bits of rock. He has had some success, though. Apparently he found, a couple years back, the largest aquamarine gemstone ever found in North America. As I was talking to him, a woman asked me where I was staying, and then offered a place at her home. Yay! I am so lucky! I was given the old carriage house, which had a small kitchen, a bathroom and shower, internet, a bed, and even a clean towel. Jen and her family just moved to Salida to start a sustainability retreat center on a beautiful, vistorian-esque piece of property, which I delighted in occupying, if only briefly.

I’m headed ever south, over a series of passes in the next couple days and down to Del Norte. The weather looks lovely, save for some possible thunderstorms in the afternoons, but I can dig it. I’m getting into the rapid swings from being waterless and hiding in the shadows, to sleeping in the swanky, converted carraige house of an old Victorian estate. What can I say – I like surprises.

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.


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.

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.