One of oh-so-many things I look forward to when overnighting outdoors is letting my body decide when to wake up.
No rude alarms or calendar reminders buzzing; I can take as many tries as necessary to ease into the day.
Further pleased on this particular morning, with a 2500 foot climb behind me and a 3000 foot whiz down to Steamboat on the horizon.
Turns out, I was mistaken to think the Continental Divide sign implied having reached to top of the climb.
How could I have anticipated 2 [two] climbs would be involved in getting over Rabbit Ears Pass?!
Setting out with low expectations set me up for stellar success. In the pre-ride wave of consternation and doubt I had fully prepared to be walking Nippon up the majority of the climb.
Another good thing about roads, they are graded.
I only dismounted when it was time for a break. Further spectacular was that every time this happened in the vicinity of others, they would seek me out and proffer food!
Entered Grand County and just as quickly passed out of it and into Routt County and Medicine-Bow Routt National Forest.
A lovely area, it invites further exploration. The signs indicate it is snowmobile friendly. Research (typing it in to Google) yields dozens of videos which back this up.
Abundant roadside propaganda encourages ramblers of all modes to share the trail.
Though, with as much Wilderness and non-motorized options available, I find it more pleasant to give other kinds of recreationers wide berth. B/c neither of us (hikers and motorized vehicle riders) enjoy abruptly encountering the other on a blind curve. Also, as I learned from traveling through overlapping areas on the Pacific Crest Trail, the resulting trail wear from different uses makes it difficult for the other to travel.
[The irony of fleshing out this distinction while riding a bicycle alongside semi-trucks is not lost on me.]
Rabbit Ears Pass (west) offered a large parking area for recreationists and, at last, the much anticipated downhill.
A frequently ridden road, the shoulders were wide and smooth. In that 8 mile stretch, I encountered more riders than the entire day previous.
The long downhill was exhilarating and I quickly experienced why road cyclists appear tight lipped when they’re riding; bugs.
Soared into Steamboat on a gust of undue glory.
I am Atlanta.
Hung around Safeway, charging phone, filling water vessels from bathroom sinks, poaching free samples from Starbucks and just generally being cheerfully trashy. The ‘clipless’ (ie. Clip-in) shoes clacked on the floor like high heels, making me feel really quite supreme.
Here I had reached the edge of what I knew. Asked a couple employees and the consensus was much to my liking, the road to Craig was generally flat and mostly shouldered. I set out for the last 40 miles.
They were right, mountains gave way to a landscape akin to states to the north.
Trees and shrubs tell of water; otherwise, open and low fields, divided and cropped in familiar patterns.
Hay or cattle trucks became the most frequent passers-by on this gently curving road, sometimes hedged by overhanging cliffs.
Falcons and hawks listed overhead; the sound of their call across open space.
I imagined I was riding highway 2 across Montana, on my way to Dancing Moon Ranch.
Encountered construction twice, both times without incident.
Again, thank you courteous drivers.
Passed through a few small towns, then there was. . .
Arriving at the hotel just minutes before the rain, I checked into my room.
Talk about shifting too fast and dropping your chain! It was a quick transition from Road Bike Brave to State Health Care Conference Attendee. Those 3 days in sum:
The Goliath institutions of our country have set massive mechanisms of change in motion. And change at this scale comes with Growing Pains.
Whatever the personal politics, it was good to be in a room of allies. Asking questions and realizing we are not alone in our frustrations. Much to the detriment of produtivity, the hotel internet kept crashing. I pointed out this was great real time practice for the first rocky months of simultaneously developing, managing, and using a massive online system of highly sensitive information.
On Friday, packed and mounted up, making my way back toward Steamboat.
Just outside of Hayden, got my first flat.
Having wasted the CO2 cartridges hosing freezing smellyness all over my bedroom while attempting to plug them into the little device before the ride, I had opted against bringing such. I spent an hour and a half trying to fill a new tube but even as the hand pump (which I had borrowed from my mountain bike) heated up, the tube remained flaccid at best.
Turned down two  rides to town, determined to fix this myself.
An hour and a half later, just as Papa M had warned, a passing storm cell detected my distress and loomed near. nerves on edge, I was deciding which piece of the whole mess to throw into the road when Rob Bos-Sox rolled up.
We broke the bike down, fit it into his speedy little car and were again on our way to Steamboat. Rob had set off from his Maryland home on the Summer Solstice to travel the country, photographing landscapes and old machinery and meeting up with old friends along the way. A knee blow-out had laid him up in the area for longer than expected.
Demonstrating a level of chivalry on which our generation has all but given up, he dropped me at a bike shop, made sure I had access to everything necessary before washing the chain grease off his hands and departing.
Discovered a significant tear in the tire wall. Purchased a new one and replaced it myself on the bike repair stand outside the shop. It wasn’t efficient or pretty. The cyclist’s equivalent to a 1st grader’s drawing (when viewed by anyone other than their parents).
5 blocks to Bolt’s lofted apartment. We met on the Colorado Trail last year. Reunions never come without some degree of preemptive nerves but after a few moments we were back to laughing and fervently discussing future grand endavours and comparing notes.
Something happens when people, motivated even in different directions, come together. The will and desire rekindles and is amplified; multiplying disproportionately. It is wonderful and exhilarating.
We spent several hours eating and catching up.
Mighty Mouse met us and she and I loaded Nippon onto the bike rack on her car and set off into the night, up the mountain, to Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Darkness obscured the scope of the pool but it is certainly larger than any other hot springs I’ve yet encountered. Lapping silence surrounded, making those few of us remaining in the pool feel each must be the last one there.
Thin white fog hovered over the water where it faded into darkness. Stars crowded overhead, the Milky Way was a thick band across the cosmos. The main pool was chin deep in some areas and quite hot. Water spilled through a hole in the stone retaining wall, cascading into a shallower, cooler pool below. A massive stone chimney contained a happily crackling fire where we enjoyed conversation and pontification late into the night.
Suffice it to say, it was well worth the $10 entrance fee.
Camped at a trail head near by. Mowed slabs of banana nut bread in the morning, went for a short hike, then a garage sale, then home.
As always, I’ve done my best but words cannot encapsulate the full experience.