A family bike tour across the Colorado Rockies, page 4

Page 1: Fruita to Carbondale
Page 2: Carbondale to Bond
Page 3: Bond to Hot Sulphur Springs
Page 4: Hot Sulphur Springs to Fort Collins

Tuesday, July 27

Distance: 62.4 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 29 minutes
Average speed: 11.3 mph
Maximum speed: 41.4 mph

The mountain passes on our route are getting progressively higher, but they seem to be progressively easier to ride also. The altitudes of McClure, Gore, Willow Creek and Cameron Passes are 8755', 9527', 9621' and 10276'. So far McClure Pass has been the hardest and Willow Creek Pass, which we crossed today, has been the easiest. We've been told that Cameron Pass is easy too, and we hope to cross it tomorrow.

Getting ready to ride this morning was less hassle than usual because Brent and Sarah let us sleep in their guestroom last night, so much of our camping gear was already packed. Sarah served us blueberry muffins and sausage for breakfast, and then we hit the road under overcast, threatening skies. In keeping with our amazing good fortune on this trip, the threatening clouds gradually broke up and moved away to give us great weather.

We saw four moose on our way up to Willow Creek Pass, all of them browsing in thick willows, their favorite food. The only large wild animals that we've seen during this trip are deer and moose. I'd like to see an elk before we finish, but I don't need to see bears or mountain lions. At least not closely.


A warning on the way up to Willow Creek Pass.


Snack break.


Willow Creek.


Bull moose.


Cow moose with calf.

We took several breaks to eat and let the kids play, and when we pulled into a nice national forest campground to eat lunch Daniel asked, "Can we camp here tonight? Can we stay two nights?" My answers were both "No," but Daniel's answers were part of a pattern. Whenever he finds a place he likes, he doesn't want to leave it. He didn't want to leave Brent and Sarah's house this morning and he didn't want to leave the Hot Springs Resort yesterday. We always tell him that we're on our way to an even better place, but that doesn't help him. As much as Daniel loves bicycle trips, I think he misses the stability of being at home or vacationing in a single spot.

I assumed that we would camp near the top of Willow Creek Pass tonight, but when we crossed it early in the afternoon Kathy said that we should shoot for the town of Walden. I didn't think we could make it that far (62 miles for the day,) but it turns out that we can ride pretty fast on flat roads, and the land beyond the pass (North Park) is mostly flat. The best part about being in Walden tonight is the excellent free camping. Walden is on the Transamerica Bicycle Route, and the town lets bike tourists set up their tents in the town park. We set up our tent under a shelter about 30 feet from the playground so that Daniel and Maggie could play while Kathy cooked. We have a picnic table, bathrooms are a short distance away, the green grass is soft under our tent, and it's all free.

Two bike tourists had already set up tents before we arrived, so this park must serve lots of bicyclists. We talked to those guys before dinner, and one of them is finally bicycling across the country after 34 years of dreaming about it. He's riding from Virginia to Oregon. Several of his friends rode in BikeCentennial, a famous cross-country bike ride in 1976 that commemorated America's bi-centennial year. Now he's finally doing it himself in his first self-supported bicycle trip. I'm glad that he never lost his dream, but 34 years is a very long wait. Our children can't even remember a time before bicycle trips, and if they want to do them as adults then the skills should come quite naturally.


Tall rock fin near the top of Willow Creek Pass.


Riding down from the pass.


Looking across North Park, a wide plain surrounded by mountains. The mountains on the horizon are part of Rocky Mountain National Park.


Crossing North Park just before sunset.


Playing in the dark while Kathy cooks a late dinner.

Wednesday, July 28

Distance: 47.0 miles
Riding time: 4 hours, 5 minutes
Average speed: 11.5 mph
Maximum speed: 45.2 mph

Last night a thunderstorm woke us up for a while, and then the park's sprinkler system sprayed us for a while, so sleeping wasn't easy. We made up for it by sleeping until 8:30 in the morning, two hours later than typical, so when we started riding it was almost noon. All we really needed to do today was cross Cameron Pass, about 32 miles away, so that tomorrow we could ride downhill into Fort Collins.

Along the way we crossed Colorado's State Forest State Park and visited a place that Daniel has been asking about for days: the Moose Visitor Center. The park has a visitor center dedicated to moose 8 miles prior to Cameron Pass, and in front of the building is a big statue of a moose made from barbed wire. Earlier this summer we were camping in this area and stopped by the visitor center in our car, but Daniel had fallen asleep during the drive. He woke up right as we were leaving again, just in time to catch a glimpse of the statue. He's wanted to come back to this place ever since, and today he kept asking, "Daddy, are we almost to the Moose Visitor Center?" My answer was, "I think so, Daniel, pedal hard and help us get there fast," but as we crept mile after mile up the gradual hill I started wondering, "where is that place!" Thunder was rumbling and it was starting to sprinkle when we finally arrived. To Daniel and Maggie the visit was well worth the effort, and they played with the interactive displays while Kathy cooked a late lunch. We must have stayed there for two hours. One display had a button that visitors could push to hear moose sounds, and I'm sure that our kids pushed that button dozens of times.


Riding out of North Park.




Barbed wire moose statue at the Moose Visitor Center.


Inside the visitor center was a stuffed moose and a bunch of toy songbirds that sang their calls if you squeezed them.




The hummingbird feeders on the back porch were always busy.

The rest of our climb to Cameron Pass had good views and cool, cloudy weather. We never had to walk the bicycle. Eight years ago, during our first year of marriage, Kathy and I biked over this pass during the last day of a bicycle tour from San Francisco to Fort Collins. I can still remember how weak I felt that day, and how we had to walk part of the final climb. It's amazing that we performed so much better today despite being eight years older and towing an extra 100+ lbs. of children and their associated gear. Today we took a picture of ourselves at the top of the pass, just as we did years ago, and then zoomed downhill in search of warmer weather.

We got our best view yet of a moose on our way down, but with no time to take a picture. A big bull moose was standing at the right-hand edge of the road, and we braked hard to stop and let him cross the road in front of us. We didn't want to risk colliding with a moose at 40 m.p.h. We never really found warm weather because a storm on the east side of the pass had already cooled down the canyon, but at least the rain had stopped before we started our descent. We turned into a national forest campground right at dusk for our last night of camping.


The Medicine Bow Mountains north of Cameron Pass.


The Noku Crags and Never Summer Mountains south of Cameron Pass.


Marshy moose habitat at the top of Cameron Pass.


The highest point of our bicycle tour.

Thursday, July 29

Distance: 57.2 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 17 minutes
Average speed: 17.4 mph
Maximum speed: 34.9 mph

I think Maggie is finally figuring out the importance of getting sleep while camping. She went to bed without complaining last night, slept until 7:30 this morning, and woke up happy. She even cooperated by talking quietly and not trampling Daniel until he had woken up on his own. We've had some tough challenges on this trip, but the toughest has not been the mountain passes or the summer heat. It has been getting Maggie to sleep at night so that the rest of us can sleep too. I am so happy to think that the late night crying might be over. Daniel went through a similar fight-sleep phase when he was 2 years old, and I was overjoyed to see it end.

With an easy downhill day ahead of us, Kathy took time to cook a pancake breakfast for our final day of riding. Our ride was warm and pleasant, but we ended up playing a game of race-the-storm with some dark clouds in the northwest. As the clouds moved in the air would cool and rain would start falling, so we would race down the Poudre Canyon until we were in warm, dry weather again. Each time that we took a break the storm caught up with us, but we were always able to outrun it again. The Poudre Canyon is beautiful and we're lucky to live close to it in Fort Collins. Today we noticed how little of the canyon we normally visit, despite living so close. Our frequent bicycle day trips usually stop in the lowest 15 miles of the canyon, leaving most of the 60+ miles unexplored.

On this last day of riding our front derailleur cable decided to snap, and since it was 9 years old, I wasn't too surprised. If that had happened on a previous day it could have been a minor disaster, but not today. We knew that there were no big hills left to climb, so I moved the front derailleur out of the way and left our chain fixed on the middle ring.


Getting ready to leave Sleeping Elephant campground. The "Sleeping Elephant" is the mountain behind Kathy.


On our way down the canyon we passed Profile Rock, which looks a little like a face.




Familiar views of the Poudre River. We often bike up Poudre Canyon for picnics.

After leaving the canyon we quickly turned onto a bicycle trail that follows the Poudre River right into downtown Fort Collins. That bike trail is one of my favorite features of this city, and after our long bike tour the trail felt like a red carpet welcome into downtown, our favorite place to celebrate. We stopped and celebrated with ice cream cones, and let Daniel and Maggie play in the downtown square for a while. Our parked bicycle attracts attention, so several people asked about our trip and were amazed at what we had done. I'm kind of amazed myself. One young woman was especially excited to see us - her husband was in town to consider taking a job here, and she had flown with him to get a feel for the local culture. She was hoping to find a community that loved outdoor recreation, and we were her prime example. Her husband has biked across the U.S.A., they've talked about buying a tandem, they might have children in a few years... and our family was demonstrating the possibilities. Of course I gave her a glowing review of Fort Collins.

Over the course of our trip we rode 458 miles and crossed 4 mountain passes plus many more difficult climbs. The temperature ranged from chilly to 100+°F, and the landscape varied from hot scrublands to damp aspen forest. I'm amazed at how fortunate we were, as I often am after trips like this. It barely rained on us. We rarely fought the wind. No flat tires. Our one mechanical failure (broken derailleur cable) was not a problem. Twice in one day, people gave water to us in remote places, right when we needed it.

We had many fun times during the trip, like visiting old friends and making new friends. Maggie played with five different dogs during the trip and lost most of her fear of dogs, while Daniel became even more outgoing as he talked to every stranger he met. We visited Aspen, an interesting town that I'd wanted to show to Kathy. During our bike trips I pray that our family will simply stay safe and healthy, since that is all we really need. I'm thankful that this trip was much more. Colorado is a beautiful place, and our family explored it and enjoyed it together.


Celebrating with ice cream in downtown Fort Collins.


Playing in Old Town Square.


Happy to be riding home.

PREVIOUS

Page 1: Fruita to Carbondale
Page 2: Carbondale to Bond
Page 3: Bond to Hot Sulphur Springs
Page 4: Hot Sulphur Springs to Fort Collins