Thu Aug 21 11:25:20 MDT 2003
Flow West, Young Man -- Craig, CO

So on the afternoon of Monday the 18th, I had just escaped a hailstorm, and another one was close on its tail. Fortunately someone had the foresight to put an alpine visitor's center on Trail Ridge Road at 11,800 feet or so. I parked my bike and took refuge in the snack bar/gift shop just before the storm hit. The experience reminded me strongly of when my Dad and I summited Mount Washington on the AT. There is also a visitor's center there, and we were also caught in a hailstorm. In that case, though, there was a hut only a mile or so down the trail, so we hiked out into the hail and did a workstay there.

This time there was no hut, but I was not too worried about my prospects. Mountain weather changes rapidly, and in all likelihood the storm would pass soon. I got a cup of hot chocolate and a baked potato at the snack bar, and asked an older lady whether I could join her at one of the few available tables with a view out the window. Turns out she was with her family, and they had passed me three times on the ascent up Trail Ridge Road. We ate together and watched a small herd of elk wandering into a stand of trees for cover from the hail.

I waited out the rest of the storm in the Visitor's Center proper, where a ranger gave a program on antlers -- elk and bighorn sheep -- and I met an antenna engineer-turned-farmer who had sixty-five patents on various aerospace antennae and was on his way to pick up a truckload of peaches.

Eventually the storm cleared, but I decided to wait a little longer for the roads to dry out further. I walked up a short trail to a nearby peak and enjoyed the view. Soon, however, another hailstorm blew in over the ridge. I went back into the visitor's center to wait some more. This time I met a fellow touring cyclist named Bernhard. He was on a four-week vacation from his job in Germany, and was touring all around Colorado. He had been caught in the first storm, but had stopped at an overlook and asked some van-dwellers for shelter. When the storm cleared he had started cycling again and had just made it to the VC ahead of the second one. We passed the time waiting and commisserating about some of the difficulties of bike touring and telling stories about our different journeys. Bernhard had many more stories than I did -- even though he's just started this year's journey, he gets six weeks of vacation every year and spends most of them on extended bike trips. He's been all over the world.

When the storm finally cleared for the last time, we set off down the mountain together. It was a tremendous downhill, but I couldn't properly enjoy it because the road was still wet and the wind was extremely cold. Even so, it was a nice change from climbing.

On the way down we crossed the Continental Divide, the boundary between Atlantic-draining rivers and Pacific-draining rivers. West of the Continental Divide all rivers flow, like me, to the Pacific. I expected to climb a short ways to another ridge, but this is a spot where the Divide dips between peaks, and the road merely flattened out briefly before continuing down. There were, however, a pretty lake (Atlantic-draining), some elk, and a majestic boulder formation.

We camped together at Timber Lake Campground, still within the park. Sharing a tentsite eased the financial burden considerably, and having company made the evening much nicer. It was still cold, though, and I cooked and ate my dinner eagerly. I remember waking up several times during the night and rearranging my various layers under my sleeping bag for maximum warmth.

On Tuesday the 19th, we rode on together towards Kremmling. There was a town along the way called Hot Sulphur Springs, and we were excited to jump in and enjoy the springs. However, when we got there we found only hotels and resorts with spring-fed pools, not a single open-air hot spring. We took a long lunch break anyhow.

In Kremmling there is a small park behind the fire station which is intended specifically for cycle tourists to camp for free. We spent the night there and met three other cyclists. They were older fellows, mostly retired, and they were cycling the Continental Divide Trail a few weeks at a time. Evidently there is a bike trail which follows the Divide in addition to the hiking trail. We had dinner with them and heard lots of good stories.

In the morning Bernhard and I parted ways -- he was going South on Route 9, towards Arizona, and I was headed West on Route 40, towards Utah. On the way out of town I met the older trio leaving a diner, and they told me they had met yet another cyclist inside, and he was headed West also. I met Dean inside, and we talked about our respective trips. He is also going across the country, but following the Transamerica Trail, one of the routes laid out by Adventure Cycling. What is really remarkable, though, is that he is doing this trip at sixty-three with two artificial knees! And he is travelling about as fast as I am; he started on June 11th in Virginia, and is headed for Oregon, if I remember correctly.

We biked together through the morning until Muddy Pass, where his route split off North towards Wyoming, and mine headed further West. He was lucky. Immediately after Muddy Pass there were two miles of heavy road work, and the road became packed dirt. It was actually fairly good surface in parts, but it was steeply uphill and incredibly dusty. The idea was that there was a pilot car which would lead a caravan of vehicles from one end of the construction zone to the other, then turn around and leaded a group from the other end, but I had no hope of keeping up so I had to fend for myself.

I made it alright, though, and eventually reached Rabbit Ears Pass, crossing to the West of Continental Divide once more. Evidently I had crossed back to the East at Muddy Pass, but I hadn't noticed.

After Rabbit Ears Pass there was a seven mile downhill at 7% grade, which I happily took at full speed, knowing there would not be a car behind me for at least twenty minutes. It was exhilirating to go so fast, although I was almost sad to lose so much hard-earned altitude. I descended about 2,500 feet in probably fifteen minutes or so.

At the foot of the hill, I resupplied at Steamboat Springs, another resort town. I liked this one better, but it was probably because I was in a better mood. I pushed on through Milner and camped along the side of the road, mostly hidden by a stand of trees.

Today has been more easy downhill riding. I've been following the Yampa River most of the day. On arriving in Craig I visited the Cowboys & Gunfighters Museum. And now, hopefully, the pool is open and I can go have a shower (first since Denver!).