Michael's Colorado/Wyoming bicycle tour, 2007

Page 1: Fort Collins to Sheriff Reservoir
Page 2: Sheriff Reservoir to Encampment
Page 3: Encampment to Fort Collins

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Over the next ten days I will be biking and hiking through parts of northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. This will be my first significant "solo" tour, since my wife has ridden with me on all my past tours, and we've even brought our little son with us a couple times. So why am I doing a solo tour now? Most importantly, because Kathy is pregnant with our second child. She will be resting at home while I'm climbing mountains. Secondly, I've long been interested in a 500-mile road loop through the mountains west of our house. I noticed the loop on a map a couple years ago and have wanted to try it ever since, but the mountain passes are too long and steep for Kathy and I to climb while pulling Daniel in his trailer.

I'll be taking my hiking boots along for the ride, and I hope to explore some hiking trails in the mountains. I'll make a short (but steep) detour to the area that I plan to hunt this fall. Some friends of mine will be camping in that area this weekend, and with a little luck I'll join them for a day or two. Aside from meeting with them, my schedule is open - it will be fun to see what happens.

Thursday, July 12

Distance: 41.4 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 7 minutes
Average speed: 13.2 mph
Maximum speed: 30.3 mph

For efficiencies sake, I started my ride at work after putting in a full day. Kathy and Daniel met me at work to give me some last-minute food items, and Daniel was very sad to see me go. Even though he's only 2 years old, somehow he knew this morning that I would be leaving for a while. He wanted me to hold him and dress him, and he panicked whenever I walked out to a different room. During the workday he kept asking Kathy, "Where's Daddy?" I guess this will be a hard week for him.

My departure was delayed a little bit by a huge thunderstorm - not an encouraging sign right before a bike ride. The rain fell on me only a little bit as I climbed the Big Thompson Canyon to Estes Park, but the wet roads probably put grit all over my drive train. I've biked this route so many times that I don't take much notice of it anymore, but it's a pretty ride, especially between the steep granite walls of the Big Thompson Canyon.


Highway 34 just inside the mouth of Big Thompson Canyon


A steep, tall wall in Big Thompson Canyon. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to see bighorn sheep climbing these walls, but not this evening.


The Big Thompson River.

Tonight I'm staying in Estes Park at the house of Marc and Diana, a couple that I found through the Warm Showers list (www.warmshowers.org). I didn't arrive until nearly 8:30 p.m., and it was much nicer to cook dinner in a warm, dry, lit kitchen than it would have been to cook at a cold, damp, dark campsite. Marc and Diana have taken a few bicycle tours, so we talked about touring. Marc also has an interest in the Civil War, and I'm from Virginia, so we talked about Civil War battlefields. In the morning I'll try to rise early for a safe crossing of Trailridge Road, the highest road of my tour.


My hosts Diana and Marc in Estes Park.

Friday, July 13

Distance: 107.7 miles
Riding time: 8 hours, 31 minutes
Average speed: 12.6 mph
Maximum speed: 38.8 mph

I think there are very few, if any, single day bike rides in this country with better mountain scenery than what I saw today. After getting an early start (before 6 a.m.) from Marc and Diana's house, the next 50 miles of my ride were in Rocky Mountain National Park on Trailridge Road, the highest paved highway in the U.S.A. Many mountain highways stay in the valleys most of the time, blocking your view of the mountains, but not Trailridge. Because it was built for scenic value, you can see the surrounding mountains most of the time, especially above tree line. The highest point on the road is 12,183 feet. Weather was clear the whole time that I was in the park, and traffic was light this Friday morning.

Several park visitors near the top of the road were stunned, after inquiring, to hear that I had biked up Trailridge Road - and most didn't even know that I had hauled camping gear with me. Biking up Trailridge on weekends in pretty popular, actually, and today I met one other woman who was doing it. There were lots of other bicyclists on the road today, but they were mostly riding down. An Estes Park company drives customers to the top with rented bicycles and lets them roll back down.


Long's Peak, the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park (14,255 feet,) and one of the most popular mountain climbs in Colorado.


Riding up Trailridge Road early in the morning.


A bull elk walking across the tundra near the top of Trailridge Road.


Sitting near the highest point on Trailridge Road, with the continental divide behind me in the southwest.


These steps at the Alpine Visitor's Center lead up to a local high point.


An elk grazing near the Alpine Visitor's Center.


The overlook above the Alpine Visitor's Center.

After crossing the continental divide I was soon riding next to the Colorado River, which follows highways 34 and 40 for the next 50 miles or more. The trees look a little different on the west side of the divide - because they are mostly dead. Hot summers and warm, dry winters have combined with other factors to let mountain pine beetles kill huge numbers of pine trees. On some hillsides the kill rate is nearly 100% - I guess the landscape will be changing soon. I put some of the blame for hot, dry weather on human-induced climate change, but only time will tell if I am right.

I arrived in the nice little town of Kremmling around 4:40 p.m. and cooked my dinner in a park behind the visitor's center. How I wished that I wasn't in such a hurry today! The visitor's center was sponsoring a crawfish broil dinner in the park, complete with a band playing Cajun music, but the meal wasn't going to start until at least 5:45. I ate my rice and moved on, but crawfish would have tasted really good - I'm getting sick of trail mix and Power Bars.

I wanted to make a lot of progress today so that I can reach the Sheriff Reservoir campground (where my friends will be) by midday tomorrow. I decided to bike no later than 8 p.m., which is exactly when I reached the summit of Gore Pass. There's a national forest campground at the pass, but I chose to camp in a meadow a couple hundred yards from the campground. Thank goodness that I pitched my tent here; some jerk in the campground has been running his generator all evening, and it's almost 11 p.m. now. The generator sounds pretty loud even in my tent.


Dead trees just west of Rocky Mountain National Park. The brown trees are pine trees killed by mountain pine beetles. The green trees are aspen, which the beetles don't attack.


A ranch near Hot Sulfur Springs. The landscape became much more arid west of the park.


The Colorado River along highway 40.


Cooking lunch behind the visitor's center in Kremmling.


Hills and cliffs west of Kremmling.


Riding up towards Gore Pass in the evening.

Saturday, July 14

Distance: 44.9 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 50 minutes
Average speed: 11.7 mph
Maximum speed: 37.5 mph

When I woke up at 5:30 this morning I could still hear a generator running in the nearby campground. Why did he need to run his generator all night? To power an alarm clock? I'm so glad that I didn't pitch my tent in the campground.

My ride was full of wide-open views of broad, grassy valleys surrounded by forested hills. I rode 11 miles before seeing my first building, and the buildings that I saw were sparse in this area of huge ranches. All the public land is open range, so cattle herds were grazing in several valleys, and sometimes were standing right on the road. I admit it - biking past cattle scares me. This fear started a couple years ago when a herd of cattle with big horns chased me, but was stopped by a fortunate cattle guard across the road. Today's cattle did not have horns, and I didn't see any bulls. They nearly all stood their ground while watching me pass by, but it's still intimidating to ride past the intense gaze of a cow less than 10 feet away.

In the little town of Yampa I stopped at a local diner to eat my first restaurant meal of this trip. It tasted great, naturally, because it wasn't rice or oatmeal.

After lunch I turned onto the Flattops Scenic Byway. This is a steep, gravel road, and it was tricky to stay balanced on the loose gravel, but the ride was worth it to meet up with my friends Clint, Shawn and Gary at Sheriff Reservoir. The three of them spent today fishing and hiking, and tomorrow I'll go hiking with them.


Eating breakfast in Routt National Forest at the top of Gore Pass.




Because I was in Routt National Forest, I saw no buildings for the first 11 miles of my ride.


One of many, many billboards put up by F.M. Light and Sons. Their billboards appear about once every 5 to 10 miles along all highways that lead to Steamboat Springs, beginning 100 miles or more from Steamboat. When Kathy and I rode from California to Colorado a few years ago, their signs first appeared near the Utah/Colorado border. I've never shopped there (and probably never will,) but I've seen most of their billboards.


Eating lunch at Penny's Diner in Yampa. This picture shows nearly the full width of the restaurant, kitchen included.


Sheriff Reservoir. The reservoir is on the edge of the Flattops Wilderness, where I'll be hunting this fall.


Clint and Shawn work on dinner at our campsite.


Gary and Clint try to catch some fish after dinner.

NEXT

Page 1: Fort Collins to Sheriff Reservoir
Page 2: Sheriff Reservoir to Encampment
Page 3: Encampment to Fort Collins