Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Great Divide Chapter 5: Rawlins, WY to Breckenridge

We were planning to take two days off in Breckenridge when we met up with my family, but as it turned out, we rode more miles than expected and we were getting there a little bit early. So instead, we were going to have four full days off in Breckenridge. This section of the trip - from Rawlins to Breckenridge - felt different than others, mainly because for the first time in weeks, we had a set destination. The terrain also varied considerably in this stretch, from desert-like plains near Rawlins to the towing Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

One of my favorite pictures from the stretch; near Radium, Colorado

Day 23 - Rawlins, WY to Rick's Place on the WY-CO Border

We wanted to get a late start out of Rawlins, seeing as we didn't have a huge day of riding, so we lounged around a McDonalds for a long breakfast. In the McDonald's, we met a few cool people. First was a man from Missouri - a cyclist, with a bike on his pickup - who told us he was traveling to Wyoming to sell his art. We talked with him for a while and he sat down at our booth with us to chat. He followed us on Strava and he offered us a place to stay if we're ever going through Missouri.

The other people we chatted with were a young couple, probably around me and Will's age, who were thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail (from Mexico to Canada). They told us how they Doordash'ed some sushi to their campsite off a random dirt road in the desert, which although I personally wouldn't do, seemed like a genius level thing to try. It was really cool to chat with them for a while, and it gave me a new perspective on huge adventures.

We left the McDonalds on a paved highway that went out into the desert (or plains, not sure about the correct terminology). The highway had some tough climbs, and you could see the road stretching for miles out into the openness. Honestly, it was a pretty hard road. It was net uphill with countless rollers, and no water to be found.

Finally, the road reached the tree-line and turned to gravel, which is where we stopped for a lunch of tuna packets and tortillas. After lunch, we continued up through Aspen Alley (that's a common name apparently out west, this was just a dense section of aspens along a dirt road) and saw a couple bikepackers laying on the ground resting near a water source. We filtered water and didn't really talk to them at all; they seemed super fatigued and not very chatty.

There was then a massive pavement descent all the way to the Wyoming-Colorado border. It started to mist a little bit on the descent, just enough to throw on our rain jackets, but it never soaked us. At the bottom of the descent, our camp was supposed to be just off the road. We looked around, and eventually found it.

We were greeted by a friendly backwoods man named Rick, who offered us a cabin in lieu of tent camping for only $15 per person. Rick cooked us antelope burgers for dinner (free of charge), showed us his trophy animal collection, showed us his 50 caliber pistol, and told us countless crazy stories.

Descending to Rick's; Aspen Alley

An overlook before the descent to Rick's; the shower trailer at Rick's place

That little fence outside the window is the CO-WY border (from inside cabins); the cabin

Day 24 - Rick's Place to Stagecoach State Park Past Steamboat Springs (w/ Brush Mountain Lodge Stop)

We exchanged a genuine goodbye with Rick as we rolled out, and we started up the big climb for the day. It was gravel, thankfully, and we saw the famous Brush Mountain Lodge part way up the climb.

We didn't need to stop, but breakfast sounded nice, so we stopped into the lodge to get some food. It's all donation based, and we saw a few other bikepackers in there who had spent the night. We all had some pancakes and drinks (Mountain Dew for me), and chatted for a little bit.

The owner of the lodge, a woman whose name I forget, was quite the eccentric type. In between smoking her joint, she told us about the lodge and a little bit about the cyclists she's seen passing by. It's really a unique place that's hard to explain without seeing it in person. It's almost like a friendly hippy woman won the lottery and opened a not-for-profit lodge entirely for bikepackers on the Great Divide. 

She asked us where we stayed, and when we said Rick's place, she seemed disappointed. I think there might be some animosity between them, and I can imagine why. She was definitely a progressive left-wing hippy type, whereas Rick was a conservative right-wing mountain man.

We left Brush Mountain and continued up the climb, called Columbine Pass. We opted to take the intended route, which summits around 10,000 feet, and not the easier alternative that lots of people take.

On the climb, we rode through a hippy festival. The open field was filled with hippy vans and old strung-out gray-haired hippies flashing us the peace sign. Will and I were probably the only ones in a mile radius who weren't high, except for the park rangers who were confronting some of the hippies.

Columbine Pass was a fun climb, but there were some hike-a-bike sections. The trail got very steep and loose, and we both had to walk some pitches. Toward the top, Will kept riding while I got off to push. He won't believe me, but I probably could've ridden more, I just wanted to save energy and didn't feel like riding full throttle. Or maybe I'm just saying that to make myself feel better.

The downhill off of Columbine Pass was brutal. It was extremely rocky - like almost beyond words chunky - and continued for quite some time. I think I heard someone died on the downhill before, and honesty, it doesn't surprise me. We kept our speed in check, and we (and our bikes) made it through unscathed.

After the descent, we got to a general store in Clark, Colorado. We each got a sandwich, a soda, some electrolytes, and even a side dish. It was a legitimate restaurant with lots of people. We even talked to a few cyclists (not bikepackers) who asked us about our trip.

There was a friendly old couple at the store, also, and they tried to give us detailed directions on how to get to Steamboat Springs. I always find it funny that people don't understand we have a set route; we're not just aimlessly riding down the country. 

After explaining to us for ten minutes the best way to go to avoid traffic, and conceding we'd still have to ride a highway, Will showed them our route.

The older gentleman said, "Oh well now yeah, I guess that would cut-off the highway".

I genuinely enjoy talking to people like that, and even though their directions didn't help us much, the conversation was still very valuable to me.

The route from Clark to Steamboat Springs was extremely fast. It was pavement, downhill, and even a tailwind I think, so we averaged quite fast. After riding past the Big Agnes headquarters (they make our tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads), we made it to a bike path in Steamboat.

We cruised on the bike path before turning off to find a Walmart and a restaurant. At the Walmart, Will went in (as usual) to shop, while I stayed outside with the bikes. I sat down on the pavement in the shade to rest, and near me was another man with a backpack sleeping. People walked by us and intentionally avoided eye contact. I don't really think they thought I was homeless, but still, the feeling of being avoided was something different.

After leaving the Walmart, I asked Will if he noticed the thru-hiker resting near me with his backpack.

"You idiot, that was a homeless person, not a thru-hiker!" Will said.

I have a bad habit of mis-identifying homeless people and thru-hikers.

After Steamboat, we rode some cool gravel roads to our campground at Stagecoach State Park, which was a lake. The campsite was busy, and the water spigots gave a nasty brown water, but it was still a nice place to spend the night.

Hike-a-bike on Columbine Pass; the view from the top of Columbine Pass

Will at the top of Columbine; a scenic view on the descent off Columbine

Scenic dirt road near Columbine; cool road along a creek near camp

The campsite; looking out from my sleeping bag

Day 25 - Stagecoach Stage Park to somewhere near Ute Pass

There were no store stops on the docket for the day, so we set off for the day with everything on our bikes. The roads were pretty hilly to start, and mostly wide gravel roads. I think there was a pass early on called Lynx Pass, and honestly, most of the day went by without too much drama. 

Halfway through the day, we saw two girls bikepacking the route, Zora and what's-her-name, and filtered water with them at a creek crossing on the road. I took some time to walk around in the water barefoot; that felt really good.

We then saw some other bikepackers further on who mentioned how cheerful Zora and her friend where.

He remarked, joking, "I wonder what they were smoking, haha".

Will and I looked at each other, the guy seemed to have no idea the two girls we sharing a joint most of the day, and that's why they were so cheery.

Anyways. The roads got narrower, rougher, and more scenic as the dirt turned a redder shade. It felt more like the southwest, and the ground was extremely dry. A thunderstorm loomed ominously in the distance, and we stopped for lunch halfway down a chunky descent.

During lunch, we threw some rocks to compare out throwing motions. Clearly, I had the stronger arm.

After lunch, we finished the descent down to Radium, where we expected a slight chance of finding a store for resupply. No such luck, in fact, we sort of forgot to look, so on we went.

The local whitewater rafting guide service, M.A.D. Rafting, must've hired some pretty unfriendly guides, because their trucks and busses nearly ran us off the road on several occasions.

There was a big climb after Radium, and we took it pretty easy. The road, Trough Road, was not ideal for biking, and had much more traffic that you'd expect. After a big downhill, there was an even bigger climb. It started off as gravel, and as it turned to pavement, Will tried to turn the screws on me.

He must not have been TOO annoyed with me, because he didn't drop me, but we still went very hard up the climb. The next descent was a screamer; I think I almost hit 50mph.

The descent took us near the town of Kremmerling, where we decided to keep riding a skip a Subway stop that was two miles off route. At the time, it seemed smart, but we quickly regretted it.

After some miles of grinding on an exposed, hot, sunny, dusty road, we stopped for some food in some shade. While we were eating, a bikepacker came riding up behind us and stopped to say hello.

His name was Tas, and we ended up riding together and talking for a few miles. When we reached a reservoir, he kept going, but Will and I stopped to filter some water. We followed Tas on Instagram though, so perhaps we'd see him again (hint: we do, in New Mexico).

At the reservoir, Will and I went for a quick swim to cool off, and then filtered some of the warm, algae-filled water we had just swam in. I've never drank water that I've swam in, but eh, I guess the filter works well (another hint: it apparently doesn't, because we both later got Giardia).

We left the reservoir with some water, and had a tough time on the following climb. It was hot, exposed, and quite frankly, just a miserable climb. 

Near the top, a fence was covered in cowboy boots, and Will said to me, "Look at all those cowboy shoes".

We both laughed at the "cowboy shoes" line, and then got into some friendly-yet-heated debate which passed the time very well.

A few miles past the climb, we reached the campsite and got set up. We filtered a lot more water from a clean-looking mountain stream, ate some dinner, and chatted with two other bikepackers at campground. The one guy's name was Trent, but I forget the other guys name. I think one or both of them had east-coast and maybe even Pittsburgh connections.

Amazing gravel roads near Radium

More great views around Radium, Colorado

One last scenery shot; Will's terrible dinner of peanut butter and ramen

Day 26 - Ute Pass to Breckenridge

The day started with a long climb up Ute Pass, but it went by fast and I felt pretty good. At the crest of the climb, you could tell by the scenery we were close to Breckenridge. The mountains we more tree-covered, and it just had more an "alpine" feel to it.

There was a fast pavement descent off the pass, followed by quite a few miles riding the shoulder of a highway to Silverthorne. In Silverthorne, we stopped at a Wendy's for breakfast, and touched base with my family to figure out when they'd arrive in Breckenridge.

Seeing as we were only an hour or so from Breckenridge, and we still had several hours until my parents got there, we were in no hurry to leave Wendy's.

When we finally left, we followed a bike path all the way from Silverthorne, through Frisco, and then into Breckenridge. Along the way, we saw quite a few e-bikers, some being safer than others. Once in Breckenridge, we got some supplies, then rode to the ice arena and the famous Troll statue to wait for my family.

Before long, my family got there. It was a crazy feeling to see my family in Breckenridge after saying goodbye four weeks away in Pittsburgh, flying to Canada, and then biking halfway down the country. 

A mine before Ute Pass; views from the top of Ute Pass before Silverthorne

Top of Ute Pass; Fiesta Jalisco in Breckenridge

The Non-Riding Breckenridge Break (Plus Hiking a 14er)

The first thing Will and I did at the AirBNB was shower, change into some clothes my family brought, and lay down on the couch. We shared some stories with my mom, dad, and brother, and really enjoyed just doing nothing for a little bit.

For dinner that first night, went back to the home of infamous and massive Meat Master double patty burger. Last year, in 2021, I got that same burger with Will while doing Breck Epic, and it helped solidify my nickname as "Johnny Hamburgers".

Just as Will was shocked in 2021 that I finished the burger, he was surprised once again that I finished it in 2022. Although, this time I had been biking for 2000+ miles, so it was perhaps more understandable. My brother, not having ridden 2000+ miles, also finished his meat master. That was more concerning than impressive.

The days in Breckenridge were somewhat of a blur. There was an equal mix of hot tub soaking, beer drinking, and Mexican food eating.

Plus, my brother's friend (my friend also) Nicky drove up from Colorado Springs on Thursday and stayed until Saturday morning, so that was something else cool. He runs for Colorado Springs, and he knew of Will just from the high school running scene back in western Pennsylvania.

The one big thing we wanted to do with our time in Breckenridge was to climb Quandary Peak, a relatively easy 14er. On Friday, we set off for the climb, which is more a hike. Will pushed the pace early on, and before long, my brother was gasping for air. After a few rest stops, seeing a few mountain goats and gophers, me, Zach, Will, and Nicky reached the top. It was a super cool view and definitely worth the effort. My calves, however, were paying the price.

I think every night in Breckenridge we got Mexican food, and Will and I even got it for lunch once or twice. The best place was Fiesta Jalisco, and we even dragged my parents there one night. After dinner, it became standard routine to attempt to boil ourselves alive in the hot tube for several hours every night. I don't really know what the science says about hot tubs for recovery, but I don't care.

Finally, after a fun few days of relaxing, it was time to pack up and hit the road again. It was nice to spend some time in Breckenridge, but Will and I were excited to continue our adventure to the Mexican border.

Halfway up Quandary Peak and my brother found a squirrel friend

Mountain goat on Quandary Peak, and hiking

From the top of Quandary Peak at about 14,200 feet; going back down

A gopher on Quandary Peak

Tub soakz

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