Rest in Salida

2F7C0627-33A7-4571-B620-5738CC3B565FA0162548-5C32-4C62-8AF1-4DC5EECF13F0D5E636D7-DB54-4723-96EC-ACBA434537D4We have been biking every day since we left Jasper on July 13th. There are no easy days on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail. We are becoming a little battleworn. Brian and I are not novices In long distance bicycle journeys. We have been tested before. In our 60’s now, we also know the value and prudence in resting. On this ride the weather has been phenomenal. It’s hard to not continue riding in great conditions. Save the days off for wind or rain. We had gotten in to a good rhythm. A good team. We really didn’t talk about a day off.

However, in some of the days before Salida we started just going through the motions. The fatigue was more a mental thing. Just plain needed to change things up. We also needed to take the time to organize our eventual trip home. So……a day off in Salida it was.

Salida has become a hip town. Located south of Summit County and the big ski areas, Salida nonetheless is in the mountains and with great summers and winter weather in the 50’s, It really has become a touristy Mountain Bike town. Monarch Ski Area is here too with good snow in higher elevations. Still, when you think of this town it’s biking. The Arkansas River also adds water sports and rafting. I like this funky place.

We stayed in a little hostel named Simple Lodging and Hostel. It filled up with bikers like ourselves. We spent our day deciding just how many days were needed to reach Antelope Wells, a border town without the town. Just a border station post and a fence. The end of the southern push to our trip. Lined up a nights stay at Jeffery Sharp’s in Hachita. Jeffery has built a little business shuttling bikers to El Paso, Tucson or the nearest Greyhound Bus station to get to Phoenix. He keeps bike boxes there for people like us to pack their bikes in. He can ship them home for you via Fed-Ex or you can put them on the airplane home with you. He has lodging for us and promises beer for Brian. He is our guy to get from a desolate dusty fence on the border to a big blowtorch home.

Jeffery is affable and efficient on the phone and soon arrangements with him are a done deal. Plane tickets purchased. My friend Jonathon will bring my Toyota Bumblebee to Duluth for our final leg home and pick us up at the airport. It’s now 3 o’clock and time for a drink and some food. We feel pretty good about our day.

A couple hours later as we sat outside our accommodations, here came the four Italian women. There is a swirl of activity where ever they go. Yes, there is room for them and bikes are unloaded. Panniers are noisily marched upstairs and showers taken. Things are happening.

I found out later how they had beaten us to the border of Wyoming and Colorado and the Ladder Ranch. We had cycled two days and about 135 miles past them prior to hearing at the ranch that they had been there the night before. Sylvia explained that they were behind schedule to finish and make their flights. So they had hired a pickup and rode in that beyond us on the highway. They have also ridden some highway sections instead of the Trail to gain time. Regardless, they are a lively foursome and great entertainment.

Brian and I had ridden in to Salida with a Czech woman who had pulled beside me on the bike path through Breckenridge. She merely said, “I haven’t met you yet. My name is Jana.” Of course we bikers know from the amount of gear on a bike who is riding the Great Divide. Jana is in her mid-thirties and is a strong rider. Very independent, we enjoyed her company on the route to Salida. She is blunt, confident, and smokes cigarettes when not on the bike. Jana was looking for a camping spot in town. We will probably run into her again in the two weeks left in our journey.

Brian and I biked over Marshall Pass today at just under 11,000 feet. Availability of water dictated that we stop at only 45 miles. The next water was another 40 miles with climbing between. Too far. Thanks to Brian’s adept work with the map, we have determined the days remaining and each day’s endpoint. There are a number of big passes coming up. I look to enjoy these remaining two weeks.

Friends

6AF69919-556A-4C3B-AFBB-7090C2346BED

Friends are the best things in the world. Good friends are our foundations and life support as we all find our own way forward.

I had invitations from good friends along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail. Come and stay with us! We’ll feed you, drink with you, do your laundry, and best of all, share stories with you.

So we put in a few longer days which allowed us to have short days biking when invitations were there.

Scott Beattie met us just outside of Steamboat Springs with coolers of cold drinks, energy bars, and big hugs from an old friend. He and his wife Mary had spent many years running their Pincushion B&B in Grand Marais. They had become a part of the fabric of Cook County. Even though their move to Colorado a few years ago put miles between them and their former home, the bonds remain strong. Scott showed us the town. Mary made a wonderful meal. And we shared stories till the sandman came. It was a great visit.

Scott biked with us for the first few miles out of town, then we headed for our first big pass in Colorado. There will be many more. Lynx Pass is around 10,500 ft but the climbing is spread out over 20 miles. No steep struggles with this one. It was truly a delight to enjoy the scenery while slowly working our way over the big rise. Lynx is not a well traveled pass. Rabbit Ear’s Pass and Gore Pass are much more widely used. After an easy go on the Pass we were confronted with very rugged rocky country on the other side. We struggled mightily on the small tote road as it snaked it’s way up and down the sharp hills. Finally reaching an actual descent, we found ourselves moving down the twisting rocky dirt path at a hardly controlled pace. It was the steepest downhill dirt road I’ve ever biked. Too late for brakes we skidded and slid our way along until a little break finally gave us a chance to slow down and breathe. Far below us we could see the remains of the Radium Mine. It was with a much more controlled pace that I reached the bottom.

We spent the night in Radium. Just a few buildings remain plus a small campground along the river that mainly served rafters and kayakers.

Our next day brought us to Silverthorne. My life long friend and fellow adventurer Becky was awaiting us. We had a small two day window to catch her before she left for Minnesota to visit her relatives. We made it happen.

Becky lives just a couple blocks off the Divide Trail. She moved to Summit County after retiring from a long teaching career. Her love of skiing, hiking and adventure made this place a natural fit. Over the years I have enjoyed so many outdoor adventures with her that it feels like home to me too. I couldn’t find a better friend.

After a great night of food, stories and drink with Becky and her son Adam we had to hit the Trail again.

Once again we were headed for a big Pass. This one is the Boreas Pass just below Breckenridge. We didn’t know what to expect as it is 11,492 feet high. Our highest pass thus far. Fortunately, Boreas Pass was originally built as a railroad crossing. The grades are all easy- we had an unexpectantly easy day. A very good day.

I left Brian on the Divide Trail to bike over to FairPlay where Pat and Karen Neal have a beautiful home built high on a foothill with a huge view. I will connect with him in the morning in Hartzell. As with my other hosts, Pat and Karen have had a long time presence in Cook County and have a home there as well. Karen has invited me to their home several times over the years. I was looking forward to the honor.

Pat has spent a lifetime as a pilot.  Now in his eighties,  macular degeneration is threatening even his driving license.  Despite two cochlear transplants he struggles to hear.  A-fib limits his physical activities.  Yet his attitude is great and we shared stories here in his living room at over 10,000 feet.

Karen has hiked many 14ers here in Colorado and continues to do so with friends of all ages.  She does beautiful glass mosaics in her downstairs studio – artwork fills their home here.  She’s dreaming of a hiking trip to Patagonia in the next year.  Full of energy.

i enjoyed a great evening of good food and conversation with the Neal’s.  And a comfortable bed.

Today I’ll reconnect with Brian.  We are heading to Salida continuing our biking adventure.

Goodbye Wyoming – Say Hey Colorado!

For a kid from the shores of Gitchi Gummi and wilds of the Northwoods, the Great Basin of Wyoming might as well be the moon. We spent several days crossing it. We saw Antelope, Sage Grouse, a lonely coyote, and a lot of dead rabbits. They all must have a hard life in this forlorn place. It is a land of sagebrush and waves of windswept hills. Dry air and drier ground. We very rarely saw a vehicle.

What I will remember most about our journey here will be the ceaseless hills all met by our road at 90 degrees and too steep to clear by the momentum of the previous hill. It was the worst biking of our trip. Aggravating and endless. They taxed our reserves. Also our patience. It did get better as the land flattened moving south. However, never completely let up.

There have been some good Basin memories. Laying in my tent at night listening to the chorus of coyotes rising to a crescendo then falling away. Seeing remnants of previous generations struggles to make something happen here. A forlorn cabin. Once a dream, now a sad commentary on a life just too hard. Maybe the well went dry. Who knows since it could have been any of many things wrong here. But it is nice to think that people tried.

Today we reached not only trees, but are camped just on the Colorado side of the Wyoming border. We are tenting on a large ranch begun by the present owners great grandfather when the Native people and white settlers were still locked in battle over the use of the land. Her forbears had planted the huge willow trees that so majestically surround the old original homestead where we cooked our dinner this evening. The creek just below the homestead is called Battle Creek. The story of that battle resulted in the long history the present owners have on this land. Also the end of a much longer history of peoples before.

They were having a dinner party here including a US Senator and several conservation groups.  We kept a low profile.

Tomorrow we will be in Steamboat Springs to visit old friends, Scott and Mary Beattie. We look forward to our time in Colorado.

Wyoming’s Great Basin

Biking south from Pinedale we moved rapidly on a great road with downhill being the key part of it. A flowing downhill. The road would take us towards the big hills until we seems certain to be facing a climb, then a quick turn and we would slide through on a weaving trail back into the open desolate land. It is a dry rocky landscape where one should not tread without a good supply of water. The smaller hills we soon met head-on were like big ripples of irritation since the next one was so close to the one we had just climbed. Ceaseless. They were steep and too close for momentum to be of any help. I would be cussing them all day.

We traveled 86 miles today since there was nothing until we reached Atlantic City. The place is a long way from the ocean and a far cry from being a city but it is home for the night. I was very tired and hungry. We pulled into one of the two bar/restaurants. They had a cabin out back. We took it. A shower, internet, electric for charging our stuff and a washer/dryer for our clothes. Never would have imagined when we biked in.

One of the Italian bikers had given me a decal from their non-profit organization when we rode out of Crooked Creek Lodge the other morning. She said, “Look up who we are – what we are doing.” As I learned from their website Ciclistepercaso.com they are a very accomplished group of women. Linda Ronzoni is a graphic designer who heads a very successful firm. She is also a writer. Her friend, Sylvia Gottardi, is a former pro basketball player who was a member of the Italian National team. She is a sports media personality doing commentary and creates sports documentaries for television. She rode her pink car around the world raising 70,000 Euros for women’s causes. The other two women weren’t mentioned in the website.

This trip is fully funded for them including all of the equipment. The money they raise is spent on women’s causes through their non-profit.

We are a full day ahead of them now. Probably won’t see them again. It was inspiring to see their efforts on a really tough bicycle route. They will succeed – they are just as tough. Sent from my iPhone

Back in the Trees and Mountains, in Colter Bay

Our stay in Colter Bay started out with a little confusion. We had been looking forward to a full service real village. What we found was a giant government campground complete with a small grocery, a restaurant, a laundromat, and a gift shop. The campground had so many loops that you could easily find yourself lost. The RV’s always get the prime location and the tent area for hiker/bikers is in the outer fringe with no electric and a long walk for a shower. All that aside, it is a wonderful location.

Colter Bay is just a few miles south of the South entrance of Yellowstone. The Bay itself is on the north end of Jackson Lake in Wyoming. Looking across from Colter Bay to the west side you find the beautifully rugged Teton Range. Still snow on high in August. Grand Teton is in the mix. It’s very impressive. Jackson Lake Lodge is a few miles east and Jackson itself about an hour away.

What’s not to like about all this.

We managed to get showers, do laundry, get our internet work done, and have a great meal. The Tetons were hazy from smoke we assume was caused by the fire in the Dubois area a few days before. That evening we had the first rain since our initial day just out of Jasper. Like that first night this rain came after our cycling day was over. That’s 20 days of cycling with nothing but blue skies!

As we left Colter this morning, we met the four Italian women that we had kept hearing were just ahead of us cycling the Divide. We had caught up.

Our day today consisted of climbing Togwotee Pass. At 9658 feet, it is our highest point so far in the trip. Due to some problems with the regular route experiencing some cave-ins and wash outs, we took the Wind River Alternate route. At the end of the route we had a long winding gravel road climb to the country lodge for the night. It was tough. The climbs are much easier early in the day.

What makes a climb tough is not necessarily the total feet of climbing but the surface and the grade of steepness. A highway pass usually has a top grade of about 6 percent. The surface is smooth. A gravel road pass can be much steeper in grade since it has not the highway regulations.  We have had gravel/tote roads with grades exceeding 20 percent and often reaching 10 to 14 percent.   The gravel surface can be very rough. Often they are very washboardy as well.

Today’s ending climb was the rough gravel variety with steep grades.

We got a cabin in the small resort. About 4 hours later the Italians showed up. They looked as tired as they should after a tough ending climb.

Tomorrow on to Pinedale – considered just south of the Grizzlies range. If it weren’t for cougars we would ditch our bear spray. Sent from my iPhone

Just Puttin’ in the Miles

The rolling treeless desert hills of the bottom of Montana twist and wind their way south. We rolled along with them. Slowly the foothills spread wider until we found ourselves in a vast flat dry plateau. Pedaling was flat and mostly straight except for the 90 degree turns back across the flat to another road and another turn.

At some point in the day I found myself just putting in the miles. Watching the odometer on my GPS. It’s easy to zone out ones surroundings in such a place. There are very few people here and almost no traffic. Three or four ranches dominate the area. Just rough gravel roads.

Watching for the rocks, the holes and avoiding the washboard on the road kept my attention. That, and watching the miles on the GPS.

Midway through the day we came to a small wooden bridge in the midst of a small wetland in the middle of this desert plain. Time to pull over for lunch. The place was alive with birds. Mesmerizing. We sat to listen and watch. There were no other sounds. It was hard to leave. I would no longer just be putting in the miles today.

We stopped to camp at the Red Rock National Wildlife Sanctuary at the end of Red Rock Lake. This Sanctuary was created in 1935 as a haven for Trumpeter Swans. They were endangered at the time. The little campground reflected the diminishing resources devoted to maintenance in all our various national parks . Overgrown and rustic, it just looked abandoned. We claimed a spot.

There was a natural spring with a pipe flowing clear and cold. What a wonderful find for a couple of dusty bikers. After drinking my fill, I brought my towel and soap down and did the best I could.

We shared the campground that evening with two seasonal Montana DNR employees who were spending eight days studying wetland sites nearby. Sam, the young botanist, told us of all the bikers who had camped here during the week. All doing the Great Divide Trail just like we were. Heading south as well. He mentioned the four Italian women bikers. Also the Czech riding solo and the nine bikers staying here just last night. The only other tourists he had seen here in the last year were birdwatchers. There were only four of them.

This morning we were awakened by the sand hill cranes just behind us. We said goodbye to Sam and his co-worker, then headed south. Gradually we left the barren hills behind us. Trees started to fill our environment and the flowing waters of the Warm Springs River appeared next to us after we had passed the Continental Divide into Idaho.

We are staying on the river at a campground just one days ride from Colter Bay. We look forward to views of the Tetons tomorrow.

Remote Biking Life

We returned to the Divide Trail via an alternative route below Helena called the Boulder Alternate. It was a fabulous ride following the river as it courses through canyons and curves. Routes that are sweet flow along in a way that allows your momentum to always carry you up the next hill. This was a sweet ride. Nothing but smiles.

We spent the next couple of days following rivers through dark mountainous forests. Small limited service campgrounds were our homes for the night. We reached altitudes around 8000 ft. Gradually the valleys grew broader and the trees sparser. Large ranches started to dominate the terrain. Foothills replaced mountains. Shade was harder to find. We pedaled on.

There have been no stores, cafes or anything for several days. We are eating the food we made up before we embarked on this journey. Plenty of streams cross the route. Filters come out and hydration bags are filled. Our days are about 60 plus miles on average.

Last night we stayed at a large ranch. There were 3 cabins to stay in but were all taken by local ranch workers. We tented in the yard under some large shade trees. Tenting is free said the hand-written sign next to the ranch house door. Showers $10. We stuffed our money in the envelope that we put into the provided box. Never did see anyone in the house. Dust on these gravel roads finds its way into every pore on any exposed skin. Caked on. In your nose and ears. Takes a good amount of water and soap to get it all down the drain. Showers are a blessing.

After another day weaving our bikes down and up through the treeless dusty foothills we arrived at Lima. We had high hopes of a grocery store and a shaded campground. A nice restaurant where I could enjoy a glass of red. Re-filling our larder. Hopes hit the ground with a thud. The buildings were out of the 30’s and in ill repair. We sat next to the motel waiting for someone to show up. The rooms were low cinder block ovens. The diner across the way had a couple of cabins. We wandered over and took one of those. Original from the 40’s and a little sunken into place, they were welcome respite from the forlorn heat of the afternoon. This and some old fashioned food in the diner made our day. The grocery store was part of the gas station. Our larder for the next couple of days – basic.

The owner of diner/cabins told me that around 75 percent of his business is from cyclists like us. We are hearing similar reports at all the little towns along the Divide Trail. We feel welcome.

We reached 1060 total miles on our bikes today. That’s a little over 1/3 of the approximate 3000 miles of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail. We are a little weary but satisfied.