Michael's Colorado/Wyoming bicycle tour, page 3

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

Wednesday, July 18

Distance: 23.3 miles
Riding time: 2 hours, 37 minutes
Average speed: 8.8 mph
Maximum speed: 34.4 mph

Howling coyotes woke me up a couple times last night, and sounded like they were within a quarter mile of my tent. I have no idea how many there were - the way coyotes howl, a group of five can sound like a pack of fifty. They didn't worry me much.

What did worry me was the sound of a tractor approaching my tent in the morning. I jumped out of my tent to see a rancher mowing the hay. He stopped to tell me that I was on private land, but once he heard my story he wasn't bothered by my presence. He said I was lucky to have camped on his ranch, since a lot of the other landowners in the area are not nearly so friendly.


A tractor approaching my tent in the morning.

My ride was short but nearly all uphill as I rode up the Snowy Range Scenic Byway to Snowy Range Pass. I'm camping near the pass so that I can climb to the top of Medicine Bow Peak tomorrow. I set up my tent on an abandoned dirt road bed from the original road that crossed these mountains. The road used to be called "The Great Sky Road" when it was built in the 1870's to connect Centennial to the La Playa mining camp. It was the second U.S. road to be designated a scenic byway.

After setting up camp I scouted the area to find the trails that I will need to follow tomorrow. I came within 0.8 miles of the Medicine Bow summit, and with the good weather this afternoon I could have climbed to the top, but I decided to leave it for tomorrow. I know that I'm camped at almost 11,000 feet, but the air is so warm and calm and the sky is so clear that it feels like I'm home in Fort Collins. I was a lot colder last night, camping down in the North Platte valley.


Approaching the Medicine Bow Mountains on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway.


Looking southeast from Snowy Range Pass.


My campsite on the original mining road.


Scouting the trails around my campsite.


Filtering water in front of Old Main Mountain.


A deer running past at sunset.


An evening view from Snowy Range Pass.

Thursday, July 19

Distance: 45.0 miles
Riding time: 2 hours, 34 minutes
Average speed: 17.5 mph
Maximum speed: 42.0 mph

When I camp alone in the forest, I always wake up thankful to be alive, by which I mean, thankful that I haven't been eaten by a bear or mountain lion. I saw a deer nearby last night, so I expect that mountain lions prowl this area too. When I woke up at 6:30 and saw the sun shining, I was happy.

There was no wind as I climbed Medicine Bow Peak this morning, and this was one of the most pleasant climbs I've ever done. Near the top a ferret seemed to be following me, and at the very top a pair of marmots were sunning themselves. A group of hikers from Ohio came to the top, talked with me for a while, and shared some of their lunch with me. I had enough food of my own, but I wasn't going to turn down a sandwich and apple after eating nothing but trail mix all morning.






Views from my climb up Medicine Bow Peak.


Climbing boulders on the north side of Medicine Bow Peak.


A marmot sunning himself on the very summit of Medicine Bow Peak.


Another marmot. The blurry mountains in the background are the Sierra Madres, about 50 miles away.




Views from the summit.

Rain began falling during my descent, and I spent almost 2 hours in my tent waiting out a midday thunderstorm. Perhaps because of the altitude, the thunderclaps were very, very loud. The lightning was very close.

Once the rain stopped and I was on the road again, I was able to travel fast - it was all downhill - but with various breaks it was about 6 p.m. by the time I reached Laramie. Rather than fight a headwind by continuing towards Fort Collins, I called up Evan, a Warm Showers host in Laramie. When I first called, he asked me to call again in ten minutes so that he could find out if it was O.K. for me to stay with him. Ten minutes later he said that yes, it was fine, even though his in-laws were at his house also, and even though he was leaving for a softball game and wouldn't be home to greet me. Good - but when I arrived at the house I learned the rest of the story. Evan's future in-laws, his finacé's parents, are at the house because Evan and his fiancé, Kennedy, are getting married in 9 days. Kennedy and her parents have been fixing drywall, painting, and rushing to get many other things done before the wedding. Kennedy's brother will arrive in 2 days, Evan's roommate hasn't moved out yet, Kennedy's parents brought their dog with them, and I'm the 3rd Warm Showers guest to show up in the past 5 weeks. The in-laws welcomed me into the house and even shared some of their dinner with me, but then Kennedy came home from a bad day at work to find me cooking in her kitchen, and I began to feel awkward. Kennedy is stressed out by her approaching wedding day, though I suppose she's handling it about as well as Kathy would. Evan should have said that he couldn't host me.

Regardless, it felt great to shower tonight, and the pork chop and corn on the cob tasted really good. Evan did come home eventually, and it turns out that he's on the University of Wyoming's bicycle racing team. He was fun to talk to. Sleeping indoors tonight should help me get an early start tomorrow, and with a little luck I'll be back home in Fort Collins tomorrow night.


Riding down from Snowy Range Pass after a thunderstorm.


Lunch at the Old Corral Restaurant in Centennial.


The open road between Centennial and Laramie - lots of open space out here.


A long pedestrian overpass above the railroad switching yard that divides the city of Laramie.


The railroad switching yard. West of the railroad, Laramie looked gritty and was not hospitable to bicycles.


This is historic downtown Laramie, immediately east of the railroad. Unlike the west side of the railroad, this area is full of nice restaurants, upscale shops, and college students walking about or riding their bicycles. The railroad does an impressive job of dividing the character of the city.

Friday, July 20

Distance: 68.6 miles
Riding time: 4 hours, 19 minutes
Average speed: 15.9 mph
Maximum speed: 32.1 mph

I got an early start this morning, hitting the road just before 7 a.m. after eating breakfast with Evan. I was eager to get home today and see my family, especially knowing how much Daniel has missed me. When I've called Kathy, she's told me that Daniel talks about me every day in his little 2-year-old voice, saying, "Daddy gone long bike trip." When I've left voice mail, Kathy has played the messages several times for Daniel, who excitedly yells, "Daddy!" Daniel has also been singing the "Happy Birthday" song a lot because I've had a birthday coming up - today is my 34th birthday.

I had a headwind, but my route was slightly downhill so I rode pretty fast. The landscape was open and undeveloped as soon as I left town - Laramie is an isolated urban area in what is otherwise vast ranches. I saw many pronghorn antelope, but never took a good picture of one. My bicycle scares them, and they run away from me very fast. Near the Wyoming/Colorado border there are hills, pine trees and tall rock formations, and it's good to know that some of this land is preserved by the public - a few years ago Fort Collins, Larimer County and the Nature Conservancy teamed up to preserve about 50,000 acres of ranchland along the border. The Soapstone Ranch bought by Fort Collins is 18,700 acres and will become a great public park in a few years. A little farther south I came to the Virginia Dale Community Church, established in 1880, which never locks its door. If I had been there a few years ago I would have seen the original church building, which stood for 123 years before being destroyed by arson. The community built a new church 2 months after the old one was destroyed, and it looks nearly identical to the old church.

Around lunchtime I rolled into Fort Collins and met Kathy and Daniel at a downtown coffee shop. Daniel was soon saying, "Daddy bike trip all done!" over and over. I gave him a pinecone that I'd picked up at the Wyoming/Colorado border this morning, and it became his special toy for the next hour. Kathy had missed me too, and was glad to have me safely home. Tonight we celebrated both my bike trip and my birthday by dining at a nice restaurant across the street from our house, and our waiter threw in a free dessert for my birthday.


Evan, my host in Laramie, and his future father-in-law.


Riding south from Laramie.


My morning/evening biking partner.


Rock formations south of the Colorado border.


The little Virginia Dale Community Church sits alone beside highway 287.


Picture of the original Virginia Dale Church, which was destroyed by arson a few years ago after standing for 123 years.


A nice bicycle/pedestrian bridge over the Cache La Poudre River in northwest Fort Collins. I'm lucky to live in a city that cares about bicycling.


A welcome relief - shady streets near downtown Fort Collins.


Daniel and me at the coffee shop.

Reflection

This was one of the smoothest bicycle trips that I've attempted. Over the 533 miles I had no flat tires or other significant delays - just a single lost bolt that I quickly replaced. I did several things that I'd been yearning to do: bike the length of Trailridge Road, hike with friends near Colorado's Flattops, and climb mountains in Wyoming's Sierra Madre and Medicine Bow mountains. Surprisingly, I spent 4 of my 8 nights on the road as a guest in other people's homes, relieving much of the strain that comes with extended camping. I never needed to pay for camping or lodging.

This was my first bike tour that both started and ended at my house. While this obviously helped Kathy, since she had access to our only car all week, it had other benefits too: no hassle of transporting a bicycle, no bill for gasoline (or air fare or bus fare,) and no travel delay at the beginning or end of the trip - I spent my whole vacation biking or hiking. This trip probably had the lowest cost and lowest environmental impact of any vacation that I've taken in the last ten years. Not every vacation can be so simple, cheap and convenient, but some can. When we plan vacations, it is easy to dream of grand excursions to far away places. This trip was a great reminder that adventure can be found close to home.

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