Jasper, AB to Denver, CO


Fall 2012


Denis Kertz, ©2012


Day 22 9/25/2012 – Lewis Lake CG 63.38 7:33:33 8.38 37.05 2925 2103

I packed up and rode to the Running Bear restaurant for breakfast that was suggested by my dinner server last night.  I had the Hungry Bear pancakes which were 4 plate size pancakes.  Finally after a 1000 miles I got a decent set of pancakes.

I backtracked to Yellowstone Ave which led me to the park entrance.  There was a sign there showing which campgrounds were open and I was surprised to find that Grant's Village, my planned destination, was not open.  Fortunately Lewis Lake CG just down the road was open.

It was a near continuous stream of traffic as I rode towards Madison.  Initially there wasn't much excitement as I continued to follow the Madison River upstream.  Later, there were a number of anglers trying their luck in the Madison River.  Although Yellowstone is one of the coldest places in the US the Madison River is warmed by the geothermic activity and thus provides good habitat for fish.  I also saw a cow elk near the river, a bull elk laying out in the meadows, and a bison lying in the woods just off the road.

At Madison Junction I turned south towards Old Faithful and started some climbing.  There were several good views of geyser activity as I rode through the geyser basins.  I only stopped for photos since I didn't have time to do more but that was okay since I had been to Yellowstone before and knew what a geyser looked like.

Near 1:30 I approached Old Faithful where I intended to have my second breakfast.  I started to take the exit to Old Faithful to get to a food store but then decided it was too much out of the way.  However, just a little further I found a bike/pedestrian path that led more directly to the town and a food store.  I picked up some milk and a few other items and was checking out when Leland, the cyclist I met yesterday, walked up.  He was just getting ready to leave having seen the Old Faithful eruption.

I learned that Leland was planning to ride out the east entrance versus my planned south entrance.  However, I warned him about the campground closings that wouldn't work for him.  When he wandered off to get more campground information I had my second breakfast.  By the time I left it was 2pm.

Then started the major climbs of the day.  The first climb was to Craig's Pass followed by a descent and then another climb.  As I neared the top of the second climb there was some rumbling thunder and some cars from the other direction had intermittent windshield wipers, not a good sign...  As soon as I reached the top of the climb I put on my rain gear for the descent for both warmth and protection from the drizzle.

Shortly after, I ran into Leland again at a turnout.  He had learned he needed to camp at Lewis Lake where I was headed even though that was almost 10 miles out of the way for him.  So we rode the rest of the way to Lewis Lake, seeing a cow elk along the road.  Along the way I loaned Leland my windbreaker jacket since I was wearing my rain coat.  Incredibly, Leland started his trip without any rain gear nor did he have a proper jacket.  When we reached our campground he commented how much warmer my windbreaker made him.

We found the campground at the southern end of the lake where I used my senior pass to get a tent site for $6, or $3 a piece.  It almost felt like stealing.  Leland was somewhat cold so he was hot to start a campfire despite the earlier rain and damp firewood.  After multiple attempts he finally succeeded and we had a nice campfire.  Talking around the campfire I learned more about Leland's trip and how it came about.


Day 23 9/26/2012 – Angeles Campground 60.94 7:34:28 8.04 37.05 3232 2747

I thought Leland would be late getting up since he said he wasn’t an early starter but he was up before me.  We left camp around 8:30 but went in different directions since Leland was headed out the east entrance and I the south entrance.  It was nice to join up with Leland for the short time but we were incompatible cyclists because of our speed differential.

I followed the Lewis River Canyon out of the park.  It was overcast and chilly because the sun was hidden.  Not long after leaving the park I came to Flagg Ranch where I stopped for breakfast.  Had I known this was so close I wouldn't have bothered with breakfast in camp.  I ordered the short stack with ham when the waiter told me how large the pancakes were.  Normally I would have done a jig but I didn't need a big breakfast since it hadn't been long since I ate.

There was one steep but short climb on what I expected was going to be an easy day since I didn't want to tackle Togwotee (toe-go-tee) Pass at the end of the day.  Along the way I met two women touring cyclists who had started in Portland and were finishing up in Jackson.  After entering the Grand Teton NP the scenic highlight was the view of the Tetons and Jackson Lake.  Unfortunately, Wyoming also had forest fires and smoke affected the sight of the Teton Peaks.

At the junction with the Teton Park Road I headed east out of the park.  There were some fabulous views of Aspen and fall foliage leaving the park.  At this point I had ridden 40 miles and had another 8 miles to where I expected to spend the night.  When I reached the Hatchett Resort I inquired about their hostel and was surprised to learn it was full.  I didn't expect that at this time of the year and the middle of the week.  However, there was supposed to be a USFS campground nearby so I rode on.

I never found the USFS campground.  There was a ranger station nearby but I saw no sign of a campground.  The woman at the resort had said it was a mile or so down the road so I kept riding.  However, it became apparent there would be no campground because of the terrain – a steep hill on the left and a big drop off on the right as I started the climb to the pass.

All was not lost however.  There was another campground 7 or 8 miles up the road which began climbing as soon as I left the resort.  I figured this was a blessing in disguise since this would get part of the pass climbing behind me and not leave it all for tomorrow.

When I got reasonably close to where the other campground should have been I saw a sign for a campground.  I was encouraged because the campground was supposed to be off route ¾ of a mile on a gravel road.  However after I rode too far I knew this couldn't be it and turned around.  I flagged down two guys in a truck towing a horse trailer and they confirmed what I suspected.  They were impressed when I told them I was doing 50-60 miles per day.  Just before they left one of them asked “Are you sure you are all right?” but I assured them I was fine – I’ve had lots of practice taking wrong turns.

Back on the road I had maybe 4 miles to the lodge where the campground supposedly was.  About a mile before I got there I saw something crossing the road and quickly realized it was a grizzly, about 100 yards away.  My first thought was about my safety when it should have been a photo.  The grizzly never appeared to see or notice me as he ambled across the road.  Grizzlies reputedly have very poor eyesight and I was downwind.  By the time I got my photo act together I could only catch him in the grass before he disappeared into the woods.  I probably should have yelled at him to wait up a bit...

I gave him a few minutes and then crossed to the other side of the road and rode on.  When I came to the lodge I saw signs for everything except camping.  The guy at the service station told me it was down the gravel road past the lodge and told me where to turn.  There never were any signs and I made a false turn but backtracked and found a primitive campsite where a group of hunters from the Milwaukee area already were camped.  One of these men said they normally camped further into the bush but there was a forest fire that constrained where they could be.

It was getting pretty chilly as I set up camp in an area where there wasn't hardly a decent place to erect a tent.  At least there was a food locker and I had good reason to believe at least one grizzly could be around.  There was a nice sunset looking at the hazy Tetons.

A day that turned out to be a hard rather than expected easy day but with the bonus that about half of the Togwotee Pass was already behind me.

Day 24 9/27/2012 – Dubois 41.5 4:01:20 10.31 36.11 1376 2762

I expected it to be a cold morning and it was, somewhere below freezing with frost on my tent.  I got up at 7am and packed and rode the half mile back to the lodge for breakfast and to warm up.  The lodge had a breakfast buffet with the usual fare so I loaded up on calories.  Since I wanted to linger while it warmed up I didn't leave until a little after 9am.  Interestingly, as I was walking out the lodge I heard the woman at the front desk tell a couple folks that one year she counted 18 grizzlies she saw crossing the road while driving to work.  So apparently the grizzly I saw yesterday wasn’t a fluke.

The goal for the day was Dubois which meant finishing the climb to the pass and then descending to Dubois.  I figured I had about 7-8 miles to the pass but it was about 10 miles.  However, I think I did the hardest part of the climb yesterday.  Only the last mile was really steep.  There were some great views both looking to the pass and looking back.

The last time I passed through here in 2008 the road was under construction and a construction vehicle gave me a ride through the construction area to the top.  Then, since I wanted to say I rode over the pass I rode back to the west enough to be sure I was on the western side before riding over the pass.  This time I didn't have to play games as I climbed and rode over the pass and also crossed the Continental Divide.

There was a fast descent for 10 miles with several great views of the Pinnacle Buttes looking back.  I stopped at the Lava Mountain Lodge for my second breakfast but they didn't have any milk so I had to make do with my powdered milk.

The rest of the way was a gradual descent with some pedaling required.  I reached Dubois by 1:30pm and wasn't sure if I knew what to do with the extra time.  Almost every day I had been arriving after 5pm.  Since I had stayed in Dubois before I stayed at the KOA campground again.  It was a reasonable place right in the middle of town and one block off the main road.  Unfortunately, the place was on winter hours and there was no one around until 5pm.  I picked out a tent site for $20.50 and set up camp.  I wanted to do laundry but I didn't have any soap so I had to wait for later.  Instead, I accessed the Internet but found it inconsistent.

I walked to town to the Cowboy Cafe for a chicken sandwich which was good but overpriced at $10.  Then I took my time walking back and found the KOA office was open even though it wasn't 5pm yet.  I paid my fee and got some soap and did my laundry.  I again tried to use the Internet and it worked good for about 10 minutes and then went flaky so I gave up on it.

After I finished my laundry I walked towards the west part of town for a few grocery items so I wouldn't have to bother in the morning.  I went back to the KOA Laundromat and tried the Internet again but this time I couldn't get into my email and I suspected that was a problem with my email provider.  So I just took care of my notes and called it a night.

Day 25 9/28/2012 – Lander 79:19 7:04:59 11.17 32.37 1959 3181

I got up a little earlier than normal because I didn't expect it to be quite as cold and it didn't appear to be, in the upper 30s.  I rode to a donut place where I got a reasonable breakfast – 2 pancakes and bacon – for $6 plus coffee.  That was very reasonable for a tourist town.

I left town just after 8:30 with temps now in the low 40s which was fine for riding.  My goal for the day was Lander which was 75 miles but mostly downhill as Lander was 1630' lower.  The first 20 miles were easy riding and very scenic with the Windy Ridge on the north side and the road following the Wind River downstream.  Despite the downhill I didn't make great time because I stopped to take so many photos.  The Windy Ridge was red and white striped and there was some nice fall foliage on the trees around the river although the fall foliage wasn't as far along as it was up by the pass.

Somewhere along the way I entered the Wind River Indian Reservation, the seventh largest reservation in the country.  After 30 miles I stopped at Crowheart which was the scene of one of my worst navigational errors in touring in 2008.  Like that time I pulled off to the store on the left side of the road and swung my bicycle around and leaned it against a bench so I could get easy access to my left front pannier where I had my money.  The store didn't have any regular milk in small size but they had some chocolate milk and I decided to try that with my cereal and it wasn't bad.  While I was eating a woman asked me which way I was headed and I pointed in the direction my bicycle was pointing then quickly corrected myself.  She said I was lucky, that the road to the pass had just been completed after a 7-year project.

When I left I was very careful to not ride off in the direction my bicycle pointed – back to Dubois as I had done the last time.  I swung my bicycle around pointing towards Lander, verified that the store was on my left, verified that Crowheart Butte was ahead of me on my left, and carefully rode out on to the road to satisfy myself that I was headed in the right direction this time.

By this time the scenery was not as interesting as earlier because the mountains had receded as the valley widened and they were also lower or at least looked lower.  So I made better time for the next 15 miles as the road continued to descend.

After 45 miles I left the Wind River behind as I veered to the right to follow 287 to Lander.  This was the start of the only major climb of the day, a 500 foot climb over a couple of miles.  This also led to better scenery through desert like scenery with sage bushes and rolling hills.

After 60 miles I stopped for a cold drink in Fort Washakie, the headquarters of the Wind River Indian Reservation.  The remaining 15 miles to Lander were mostly flat and it was mostly cattle country.  I reached Lander just before 5pm and rode through town to get an idea of what motels were available.  Since I planned a rest day tomorrow I considered camping tonight and getting a motel tomorrow but I found a good deal at the Maverick Motel for $50 a night.  I got a large room with a 42” TV.  It was a smoking room because the only available non-smoking room was over a lounge with live music planned for the weekend.  So I checked out the smoking room and it seemed okay and I opted for that to avoid the noise.

There was a Subway just a block away so I ate there.  By the time I got back there was no vacancy in the motel for the night.

Day 26 9/29/2012 – Lander – rest day

I ate breakfast at the restaurant that was part of the Maverick Motel where I was staying because it was convenient.  I had a regular breakfast because I didn't need any special energy kick.  After breakfast I walked downtown to check out the stores.  There were several empty stores as well as a couple of motels out of business, presumably a victim of the poor economy.  I checked out the bike shop, an outdoor store, and a book store.

After returning to my motel I concentrated on resting, since that was the purpose of the layover.  I could feel that my legs were really tired and needed the rest.  Normally I don't care about the TV in my room but this one had a 42” TV and that made it great for watching the Ryder Cup and lying around doing nothing so I got the rest I needed.

In the evening I did a little food shopping to get ready for tomorrow when I would start a couple of days with little service until I reached Rawlins.

Day 27 9/30/2012 – Jeffrey City 61.15 6:32:28 9.34 33.31 2410 1634

I rode to the other end of town for breakfast where I had two large pancakes and ham and it was good.  I was on the road before 8:30 with temps close to 50F.  The road continued to pass through cattle country through an up and down route but overall climbing.

After 9 miles 287 turned left to go east and away from the Wind River Range.  There was less traffic and the road was much quieter.  The shoulder was a little bumpy so I rode just to the left of the white line when I could which was most of the time.

After 20 miles or so the road descended into a basin and then began a long, 6 mile climb to Beaver Rim which was fairly steep.  It was a very interesting climb, trying to figure out where the road was going.  As I got closer to the top I remembered this road because of the scenery at the top.  At the top there was a turnout that offered a spectacular view of the climb and the Wind River Range in the distance.  This was such a spectacular view that I decided this was the place for my second breakfast so I could spend more time here.  Interestingly, in the 20 minutes or so I was there no one else stopped at this turnout.

When I rode on I left the Wind River Range behind for good and it was an easy descent to Jeffrey City.  In a few miles I stopped at the rest area at Sweetwater Station for some welcome cool water.  I didn't recall this rest stop from the last trip through here so maybe it was new.  After checking my 2008 report I saw that I stopped at this rest stop but there wasn’t any water here at that time.

The road continued through a long flat area including the Ice Slough where travelers on the Oregon Trail could get ice through early summer on their long trek to the west coast.  Nearing town, some mountains came into view including the infamous split rock, two peaks shaped as a V that was a landmark on the Oregon Trail.

I arrived in Jeffrey City just before 4pm.  I debated riding another 20 miles to Muddy Gap but I was leery whether there was really camping available there so I stayed with the known.  I ate at the Split Rock Cafe where I had a good hamburger but this meal wasn't as good as the last time when there was a buffet.  There also was only one other group there while I was there.

After eating I rode across the street to the Lions Park building that had two closed sides and several picnic tables.  I set up to use one of the picnic tables as my bed for the night.  Then I walked back to the cafe to have a beer and use their WiFi.  While checking out the weather I noted that a cold front was coming through so I hoped I could miss or mitigate it since I would be riding south tomorrow.


Day 28 10/1/2012 – Rawlins 70.95 7:30:35 9.44 25.53 2166 1662

It was almost as easy packing up as being in a motel since my panniers were already on the bike.  I only had to stuff my sleeping bag and roll up my Therm-a-Rest pad.  The Split Rock Cafe was just across the street.  It opened at 6am but I was the only customer just after 7.  I had seen the menu listed a Hungryman special, a pancake 22” in diameter and 2.5” thick.  Unfortunately, they no longer offered it, saying it was just too much trouble to make although it was a favorite with cyclists.  So I went with a ham & cheese omelet which was fine.

I left shortly after 8 with temps in the upper 40s, just fine for starting out.  It was supposed to be 22 miles to Muddy Gap but it seemed longer.  I rode through some familiar territory with a long view of the Split Rock in the Rattlesnake Range.  I took the Split Rock turnout and did a quick hike up the rock pile that offered a view of the surrounding area.  Then it was continuing on to the Muddy Gap Junction where there was a food mart and I had my second breakfast.

When I left it was close to noon and I had gone only 25 miles.  With 45 more miles to go I was concerned how long it was going to take to get to Rawlins.  I rode south on 287/789 and faced some headwind.  This was potentially a very windy area.  It was wide open and there were snow fences on the west side of the road.  There was moderate climbing for the next 10 miles.  I rode through Muddy Gap Pass but saw no sign for the pass.  At the end of the 10 miles I crossed the Continental Divide and then descended to the one horse town of Lamont which had a small cafe. 

I got a can of soda for $1 and rode on in the Great Divide Basin which was a flat 18 miles long.  With the flat riding I made good time but the riding left something to be desired.  There was a fair amount of traffic and a good part of it was large trucks.  The shoulder was wide enough but not good enough.  It was wide enough to accommodate the rumble strip but the rest of the shoulder was a mess.  It was cracked up and barely rideable so I played a weaving game.  When no traffic was behind me I rode in the driving lane.  When traffic approached I moved back to the shoulder and took the jarring. 

This continued for about 14 miles and then the shoulder improved somewhat.  The rumbles disappeared and the cracked up shoulder mended but the cost was a shoulder only 3 feet wide.  This was okay except when a large truck approached with oncoming traffic.

With 16 miles to Rawlins the road started climbing up the Rawlins Uplift, a climb of 700 feet over 5 miles but only about a half mile of steep climbing and I crossed the Continental Divide a second time.  After that climb it was mostly easy descending to Rawlins and I rode into town just before 5pm, much better than I expected based on my early progress or lack thereof.

When I got to Spruce Street I rode west and eventually found a motel for $50.  It was the same price as the motel in Lander but not nearly as nice.  There was a Chinese restaurant nearby with a buffet that wasn't the greatest but it supplied quantity.  I got back to the motel just in time for the Bears/Cowboys Monday Night Football.

It was a pretty hard day that ended better than I thought it would.  I saw quite a few pronghorns as they warily eyed me from the fields.  Unfortunately, not all of the pronghorns were alive.  One was dead on the shoulder along with a dead deer and a dead fox, all victims of hit-and-run.

Day 29 10/2/2012 – Riverside 65.48 7:11:08 9.1 27.71 2566 2163

I checked the weather in the morning and the forecast called for winds up to 25 mph WSW.  This was not good news but it was better to have the wind today than yesterday.  The motel claimed to have a free breakfast but all they had was toast and donuts.  I grabbed one donut and rode out looking for breakfast.

I think the west side of town was the place for inexpensive motels and figured the east side was where I would find breakfast but I found little.  There was one motel restaurant that I skipped and went for a McDonalds.  I had the Big Breakfast with hot cakes which were okay but the service was lousy.  There was a big drive up business that seemed to be handled briskly but the “front desk” was handled by a woman who looked like she was mentally challenged and virtually incapable of handling this job.  I can imagine she was doing the best she was capable of but was incapable of handling the folks waiting in line.  I was fortunate that I got there when I did because there was a long line waiting by the time I got my order.

While eating there I met a guy and his wife and the guy was interested in my bike and my trip.  He was 73 years old and was from the Chicago area (Morton Grove) and rode about 100 miles per week but he pointed out that was in a flat forest preserve.  I told him I was from Naperville (Chicago area) and he remarked that they had a son living in Naperville.  When he left he took a photo of my bike with his camera phone.

Leaving town I had to ride east 25 miles and part of that was on the Interstate.  For this stretch the wind was actually a good thing, a tailwind.  I was able to ride WY76 to Sinclair, whose reason for existence was a Sinclair refinery, and then I had to get on the Interstate.  Along the way I saw another pronghorn who was on my side of the nearby fence with his colleague on the other side.  He looked like he was going to jump the fence but he stopped at the fence and waited to see what I would do.  I wasn't sure if he was unable to jump the fence or was just reluctant to leave his patch of grazing ground.  Later I read that pronghorns are not good jumpers.

I reached the Walcott exit at 10:30 and had my second breakfast at a foodmart, the only thing available at the exit.  There I took WY130 south most of the way to Riverside.  This was really wide open country with sagebrush and snow fences and nothing to stop the wind which seemed to be 15-20 mph.  It was a cross wind and the shoulder was wide enough for me to deal with the wind trying to blow me into the driving lane.  It helped a lot that there was little traffic but there was big truck traffic.

130 initially descended some and then climbed about 400'.  After that it was up and down to Saratoga, 20 miles from the Interstate.  I stopped in town for a cold drink and a slice of pizza.  Just outside of town I did a little grocery shopping since I didn't expect to find a significant grocery store for quite a ways.  I entered town at 1:30 and left at 2:30 with another 20 miles to Riverside.

The North Platte River passed right through Saratoga and the area was the start of cattle country.  As often is the case, trees grow up around the river and they were displaying their fall colors.  Even though you couldn't see the river you could tell where it was by following the fall colors.

After Saratoga it seems the wind resided somewhat.  Some of the time it seemed it had quit but other times it came back to life.  In any event the wind never became quite the problem I feared.  I was very thankful that it wasn't a headwind.

The last 5 miles or so were messy because there was road construction underway.  They seemed to be moving a lot of dirt with their contingent of earth movers but it wasn't clear why.  At the end of the construction a sign said the work would be completed by next October.

Riverside was a pleasant surprise.  I didn't expect much because it's a small town with a population of 52.  However, I got a tent site for $9 at the Lazy Acres campground which also had a small motel.  This was the private campground deal of the trip.  The $9 included a shower and WiFi and there was a cafe just across the street where I ate.  After eating I retired to the laundry room to access the WiFi.  A bulletin board contained an article from the Saratoga newspaper that Riverside was a cyclist's oasis.

A fairly hard day ending with a nice campground.

Day 30 10/3/2012 – Walden 51.6 5:38:50 9:13 45.14 2690 1933

I packed up in time for the 8am opening of the cafe across the street.  I had pancakes, eggs, and ham and the pancakes were the size of my elliptical plate.  A good meal to start the day.

I left a little before 9.  It was 48 miles to Walden, the closest place with real services, and about 900 feet in elevation change.  There was one major climb followed by a major descent to get over a mountain ridge.  Other than that and one other relatively short climb the elevation gain was gradual and there was a fair amount of ups and downs.

The scenery was great with large open areas and mountains in the not too far distance.  This was cattle country and pronghorn country.  Shortly after leaving town I saw two herds of pronghorns out in the fields.  For the first herd I was able to count about 50 and the other herd seemed to be almost as large.  This was the first time that I saw pronghorn lying down.  In the past they were always standing and feeding and warily watching me whenever I approached.

A distinguishing feature of the scenery was again the trees growing along the rivers/streams displaying their fall color.  When I started there was little wind but it didn't take long for the wind to pick up.  Fortunately, it was a crosswind with some helping tailwind.  The wind was supposed to start out from the southwest and shift to the northwest through the day.  I think the tailwind component was probably stronger than it seemed and helped my progress.

After the first major climb, there was a major descent.  Because it was so windy I didn't want to turn the bike loose so I was surprised when I glanced at my cyclocomputer and saw 45 mph.  It didn't seem that steep but maybe the wind was helping.

The road had a reasonable shoulder but it also had cracks so I spent a fair amount of time riding in the driving lane.  This was easy to do because there was very little traffic and you could hear the traffic well in advance to move back to the shoulder.

After 28 miles I left Wyoming and entered Colorado.  What was WY230 became CO125 and the shoulder virtually disappeared, leaving maybe a foot but it didn't really matter with the little traffic.  It was hard finding a good stopping point for my second breakfast due to the wind but finally I rode by a about a 10 foot high steep hill that offered some respite from the wind and had my second breakfast about 1pm.

Nine miles into Colorado, CO125 intersected with CO127 and did an abrupt right turn.  This didn't help.  The wind now became a partial headwind although it was still primarily a crosswind.  When the road passed through Cowdrey, which only had a few cabins for accommodations, the road turned a little east and that helped with the wind.

I rode into Walden just after 3pm.  Since there wasn't anything else for quite a ways Walden was the stopping point.  I had been watching the weather fairly closely because it looked like a cold front was passing through.  I had been telling folks my destination was Denver rather than La Junta because everybody knows where Denver is.  Now that it was into October and the weather starting to look shaky I was giving serious consideration to catching a train in Denver.

The big problem with Denver, other than riding into a metropolitan area on a bicycle, was getting into it.  I decided if Denver were going to be my destination the best approach would be to ride through Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge.  There was a certain symmetry to this.  With my east-west ride through Glacier National Park I had now ridden it in both directions.  If I rode through Rocky Mountain NP then I would have ridden it in both directions too.

While checking out Walden I accidentally found the library.  So I went in hoping to use their WiFi but the librarian said I could do so only if I didn't plug in my PC.  There were obviously trying to keep folks from using the library as a charging source for their PCs.  However, I was welcome to use one of their Internet PCs which was actually great because they had nice big LCD screens.  So I did a fair amount of research on the upcoming weather and checking out the elevation profile through the park.  The biggest problem was the forecast for Estes Park mentioned possible showers on Friday afternoon and that could mean snow on Trail Ridge.

So if I wanted to be sure to get through Trail Ridge it looked like I needed to do it on Friday and that meant that tomorrow I needed to ride from Walden to Grand Lake, about 70 miles along with the climb to Willow Creek Pass.  It sounded like a hard ride tomorrow and then a hard ride on Trail Ridge the next day.  Seems like these things never turn out easy...

After the library I checked out the camping possibility in town in the town park.  It was free but there were no showers and it didn't look like any water either.  Those weren't really killers given the price but it was still quite windy and it was supposed to get down to about 26F overnight.  In the end I decided to get a motel room at a place that advertised $46.  It was a pretty decent room that actually had two beds in it.

After cleaning up I walked downtown to eat at the Moose Creek Cafe – Walden calls itself the Moose Capital of Colorado – where I had their beef steak special which was a pretty good deal.  Then I retired to my room and settled in for the night.

Day 31 10/4/2012 – Grandby 60.44 6:12:21 9.73 36.11 2964 3013

Today was one of those rare days when all the stars are aligned but it sure didn't seem that way in the morning.  The weather website said it was 16F at 7am which was 10 degrees colder than was predicted for the overnight low.  The goal for the day was to get in position to ride Trail Ridge through Rocky Mountain National Park tomorrow.  Instead, incredibly the day ended with me and my bike on an Amtrak train destined for Chicago and it took a couple of lucky breaks for that to happen.

Given the temperature I was in no hurry to leave, figuring 9am was probably the earliest I would want to take off.  I rode to the Moose Creek Cafe for breakfast and had 3 large pancakes.  I was looking at 70-80 mile day so I needed all the calories I could get.  I lingered at the cafe until almost 9am when I took off.

The temperature sign above a bank said it was 20F.  I wore my typical attire which consisted of cycling shorts and jersey, my light tights, and a long sleeve shirt.  I've worn this attire – I have 2 copies – virtually every day of this trip but that wasn't enough for a 20 degree morning.  So I wore my down vest under my light windbreaker.  For my feet I wore my SealSkinz socks, the first socks of the trip.  For my hands I wore my lobster claw gloves, the first gloves other than my cycling gloves.

This attire was barely adequate and probably would not have been sufficient for a sustained 20F day but I was counting on it warming up before too long.  However, starting out it was very foggy so the sun was not a factor.  It was a little disconcerting riding down the road chilled and not even having a view.  However, after about 20 minutes the fog started burning off and the sun quickly warmed the morning to something reasonable.  By 10 am it probably reached 40F, a very tolerable riding temperature.  Shortly, I removed my down vest and went back to my cycling gloves but I kept my socks on for a while.

The road was slightly climbing as it continued through North Park.  It was very scenic again with mountains ringing the park.  I kept a constant scan from left to right and back to take in all the views of the mountains, the sage brush, and the hay and grazing fields for this combined cattle country and national forest.

After 21 miles I reached the small town of Rand that had a post office, a store, and a bar that looked like it was closed for good.  The store was really a map and gift shop with a few drinks and snacks but no milk.  So I sat outside on the porch for my second breakfast.  Lucky for me.  There I met Phil who was from Granby.  When I mentioned I was planning to ride Trail Ridge he informed me that Trail Ridge was closed last week and that once closed it generally remained closed for the winter.

On one hand I was really disappointed to hear this since this was my planned route into Denver.  On the other hand it was really good to find out now and not later after I expended time and energy getting as close as I could to Rocky Mountain NP.  It would have been a killer to have ridden all the way to the park only to find out the road was closed.  So hearing this now made the day's ride a lot more comfortable since I would only be riding to Granby.

Shortly after I left Rand the road began the serious climbing to Willow Creek Pass at 9683'.  The climb also passed through pine forests which were the first real trees along the road since Togwotee Pass.  Unfortunately, the pine trees were apparently beetle infested.  Logging was underway and it looked like the purpose was to clear out the beetle infested pine trees.  If so, there was a great deal of work to be done.  These infested trees were all around.

The climb wasn't the hardest of climb and it weaved its way to the top.  There seemed to be helping wind on the climb.  However, on the descent the wind was a headwind and pretty strong at times.  After the pass the road descended the rest of the way except for one climb.  But it looked like I would have to be pedaling despite the descent.  Then the wind switched around and became a helping wind.  Then it was mostly coast with easy pedaling, my kind of riding.

The road followed a stream on my right and a very steep hill on my left.  There were a couple of campgrounds along the way but they were closed for the season.  After one more significant climb the road descended to its end at Hwy 40, with views of the Rockies in the distance.  I took the turn to Granby which was my expected destination now that Rocky Mountain NP was out of the question.

As I rode through Granby checking out the motels I spotted a small bicycle shop.  I could stay on Hwy 40 and climb Bertroud Pass at 11,315’ which didn't look too bad but then it looked like I would have to take the Interstate at least part of the way into Denver and at least some parts of the Interstate were prohibited for cyclists.  So I stopped at the bicycle shop, Full Circle Cyclery, to see if I could get some advice.  There I met VJ, the owner, and he explained how I wouldn't need the Interstate. 

Then when I mentioned I was going to Denver to catch an Amtrak to Chicago he pointed out that Granby had an Amtrak stop just across the street.  This was news to me since I wasn’t aware the train passed through this area, much less that this was an Amtrak stop.  Even so the problem was Granby didn't have baggage service for boxing up my bike but VJ suggested it could be possible to get my bike on the train anyway, depending on the discretion of the conductor.  And as luck would have it the California Zephyr train which goes to Chicago was due to pass through in about a half hour.

Well, that was a flash of hope.  It would be an incredible end to the day if I could somehow hop on the train with my bike.  So I rode down to the depot which was just a waiting room and waited.  Well the train was late but I didn't know that.  VJ, however, had checked on the train schedule and learned that instead of coming through at 4:30 it was now projected for 5:50.  So he drove from his bicycle shop to the depot, maybe a half mile, to let me know the train was late.  That was just incredible that he would bother to check on the train and let me know.

As he was leaving he suggested I might want to try a little Mexican restaurant, Jose's, nearby rather than waiting in the depot.  So I rode to the restaurant and had a good burrito.  Then I went back to the depot to wait.  Just before the Amtrak was due a freight train passed through and then stopped.  The Amtrak itself was late but I don't know if it had anything to do with the freight train since it came in on a different track.

Then the moment of truth arrived.  The train stopped and I approached the conductor with my sob story about the weather and appealing for an exception to roll my bike on the train.  He didn't seem too sympathetic but then mentioned my predicament to another guy who was the real conductor.  It didn't take long for him to let me load my completed loaded bike in the baggage area and lay it on its side.

Incredibly, in just a few short minutes I had my bike loaded in the baggage area and I was sitting in my seat.  It was a great relief to have all this work out and eliminate all of the weather issues and logistics of getting into Denver and the Amtrak station.  Then the conductor went even further and helped me get a reasonable ticket when my attempt to call in got dropped.  He got me a ticket for $185 when he could have just charged me the full fare of $238, not to mention I wasn't paying anything for the bike.  This guy was a real service conductor, thanking me for being on the train when I was the one who needed to be thankful.  I would have loved to write a glowing commendation to Amtrak for this conductor but that probably would have gotten him into trouble for not following the letter of the law.

Of course everything wasn't perfect.  Once I left the locked baggage area with my bike I had no further access to it so I was only able to grab a few things, like my sensitive electronics that I didn't want laying in the baggage area.  But that was a small price to pay for the totally unexpected appearance on the train.  I couldn't wait to tell others what an improbable day this turned out to be.

Day 32 10/5/2012 – Naperville

Riding from Granby to home was almost a 24 hour ride.  So I got to sleep overnight in my coach seat.  No one was sitting in the seat next to me so I was able to stretch out across two seats but that still wasn’t particularly comfortable.  But with my good fortune it was hard to complain.

Having ridden the Amtrak several other times at the conclusion of a bicycle tour, I liked to spend time in the observation car rather than my coach seat.  I spent most of the morning there watching the scenery zip by.  When I returned to my seat I found I had a seat mate, a young guy who had recently returned from Afghanistan.  So I got some interesting stories from my seat mate.

Normally, when I return home from a bicycle tour on Amtrak I have my bicycle boxed up and I can only retrieve my bicycle at a station with baggage service.  That means I have to go all the way to Union Station in Chicago even though the train actually stops in Naperville, just a mile and a half from my house.  But my good fortune continued.  The conductor allowed me to just roll my bicycle off the train at the Naperville stop where it was an easy ride home.  I arrived home at 5pm, a couple hours late by the train schedule, but 2-3 days earlier than if I had had to pick up the Amtrak in Denver.


Copyright Denis Kertz, 2012. All rights reserved.