Tue Aug 19 18:12:14 MDT 2003
Over the Mountains and Through the Wind . . . -- Kremmling, CO

When I returned to Boulder on Friday the 15th, I heard back from Becca that she couldn't make it out -- plane fare was too expensive. So instead I spent the day exploring Boulder and looking for a part for my bike. There's a small chain that comes out of my rear hub and indexes the planetary gearing in there. Unfortunately I mangled it recently while tightening down the bolt that goes over it. Naturally none of the bike stores in Boulder have it. They all inform me that it's a rather old part, having been in use four years ago. Anyhow, I wound up ordering a replacement from Peter Stull in Alfred Station, the new manufacturer of Linears. Speaking of which, Peter asked me to clarify that the problem I had with my seat stays earlier was on the BikeE I was riding until Omaha, not the Linear. The only troubles I've had with the Linear were the small chain I just mentioned (my own fault), and a worn-out fiberglass seat spreader (nobody's fault).

Anyhow, in addition to the bicycle shops I saw some more of Boulder's funky downtown and their pretty bike trails. In the evening I had some falafel and sat down to talk with a young lady who was travelling around the West and was evidently very interested in experimental airplanes, because that's all she talked about. Then I went to see an amazing fire poi show. For those of you who have never seen fire poi before, they are essentially balls of fire at the end of long chains. There is a Kevlar wick in there somewhere, but once a performance is in full swing you'd never know it. People swing them around in circles, weaving patterns and making a great big wooshing noise. It's quite beautiful.

After the show I snuck off to a park on the edge of the city and slept between some trees -- again without a tent, and again nothing bothered me.

Saturday morning, I felt I was finally free of the hassles of town, and was ready to move on to the mountains. It turns out there is no way to go directly across from Boulder. I had either to go back south to Denver and I-70 or North to Lyons and then across Rocky Mountain National Park. I chose North.

On the way to Lyons I was passed by an inordinate number of other cyclists. I learned from a peach vendor on the edge of town that there was a huge folk festival going on this weekend. I was excited at first -- this is just the sort of serendipity I love! But when I arrived at the festival grounds I was told that the tickets were all sold out. And even if I could find a scalper, they originally retailed at $45, so I could expect to pay more than that. Even so there were lots of folks trying to buy tickets.

I set off on the long uphill to Estes Park. It was a steep and winding road, but even so I managed to overpower a Plymouth Voyager, sitting overheated by the side of the road. I stopped and talked to the folks, and they gave me some nice cold water to prevent me from overheating, but there was nothing to be done for their car. They were planning to turn back around. I pressed on with a newfound sense of accomplishment.

I was a little surprised by the sheer number of cars passing me. I thought I was headed for a small park in the mountains. When I finally came to the top of the road, I saw my mistake. Estes Park is actually the name of a resort town, and evidently quite a popular one. Naturally I had also failed to consider the fact that it was Saturday, one of the most popular days for mountain trips.

The ride down was harrowing, since even as fast as I was going, the cars behind me insisted on passing. Even when I moved to the middle of the lane to stop them, they would pull way out into the next one. I don't understand why these cars wanted to go so fast. I think they simply believe that the only thing you can do with a bike is pass it.

By the time I reached the bottom I was more exhausted than at the top. After all that time expecting a nice park by a lake, I was now in a high-end resort town where I was a completely foreign entity. Children (and adults) would look up from their ice cream cones and stare, heads turning as I went by, but they would refuse to respond to a simple "How you doing?"

I met a trio of other cycle tourists, a momentary relief. But they informed me that I would likely have trouble finding a campsite around here, as there was no camping in the city limits and all the private campgrounds would be booked up solid. Dismayed, I sat down at a picnic table to eat my lunch. A fierce, cold wind kicked up from the West. Finally I decided I had to find a place to sleep sooner or later, so I biked on West to the borders of the Rocky Mountain National Park. The campground there was full too, but I went on a little further and stealth camped in a small stand of trees. I felt much better knowing where I would sleep that night.

The next morning, Sunday the 17th, started out partly sunny and became completely cloudy as I started up Trail Ridge Road, the road which would take me over the Rockies. By the time I had reached the first trailhead, there was a slight (but very cold) drizzle and I stopped to wait it out under the shelter of an information kiosk. It continued to rain for an hour or so. People who had come from the other side by car told me it was really pouring down. Finally I decided to give up on crossing the ridge today and go back to town. But not before meeting a nice couple (Hi Bob and Lynette!) who gave me a Clif Bar and took my picture.

I got soaked, naturally, on the way back into town. And despite waiting in the rain for so long, I was still early enough that most businesses were not yet open, and certainly not the library (this was Sunday). Fortunately I found a pizza place that was ten minutes from opening and let me in. I spent the first half of the day eating hot food, waiting at the library, and visiting tourist shops. I found that Estes Park was not as antithetical to my mindset as I had first thought, but all the same I tired of it quickly. I went back to the park around one or two and got a paid-for, on-the-level campsite. It cost me eighteen big ones, but I felt a little more stable there.

Once I got my tent set up and found I still had half a day left to me, I wanted to go on a day hike. But I found that any activity which did not get me over Trail Ridge Road was too much effort. I had postponed the moment of crossing the Rockies so long that it was incredibly frustrating to be unable to do it. When I had checked the weather at the library, it had said thunderstorms today and possible thunderstorms all week. I slipped into depression, imagining that I would find myself trying every day to cross the mountains, and thrown back down every day by foul weather. I read my book, cooked a big dinner, and went to sleep early.

During the night it rained, and in the wee hours of the morning I dreamt of more rain, and of failed attempts to cross the mountains. Imagine my surprise when I finally opened the door to my tent and found a beautiful blue sky. I packed up my tent quickly. I was afraid if I didn't hurry the weather would turn foul again.

Once I got on the road, I felt practically euphoric. It was a perfect day for riding, and I was finally going to go across the Rockies after nearly a week of having them within reach. The ascent was difficult at first. I felt especially disappointed when I started to descend after climbing only a few hundred feet, since I knew I would have to climb that distance again. But I quickly got into a rhythm. I found that I did best if I only took short breaks so I could stretch and catch my breath, but not allow my legs to get stiff. Traffic gradually increased during the day, and I got lots of astonished looks and encouraging waves from people at the overlooks. I was astonished to find myself doing so well. Everyone I had talked to recently had told me Trail Ridge Road would be incredibly difficult -- it is the highest paved through-road in the U.S., with a highest point of 12,183 feet. But naturally it has switchbacks, and pulloffs to rest in. It was certainly a euphoric experience, and even though some of that euphoria may have come from the thinner air at 12,000 feet, I think the greater part came from overcoming this obstacle that had loomed so large.

When I stood at the rock cut at 12,183 feet, I was nearly twice as high as the highest I had ever been before -- Clingman's Dome at 6,600 feet -- and I had reached this point by bicycle! It was quite exciting, to say the least.

Along the way, I got hit briefly with hail while the sun was still shining. I could see the cloud it was coming from, and the wind blew it fiercely sideways. I rode on out of the storm, got hit by some rain, then some more hail, none of it serious. The weather cleared up briefly as I started descending, but as I reached the Alpine visitor's center West of the Rock Cut, the sky was darkening and I heard thunder.

I will write more later, I am out of time for now.