We set off again, with some 150 miles riding ahead of us. The maps promised two tough days and one easy day to get to Steamboat Springs. We had breakfast in a great old style diner in Rawlins and then immediately realised the first day was going to be tougher than we thought – a stiff southerly wind suddenly rose up, promising that we’d be fighting the notorious Wyoming headwinds for the day. And so it proved. The first 30 miles, supposedly the easy section, was a tough slog. On the open plains, the wind doesn’t gust, it just feels like a wall of warm air grabbing at you and the bike. And it didn’t let up as we hit the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains and climbed another 1,000 feet or so to the rolling uplands of the area. The area is slightly less arid than the Wyoming plains (proven by the odd rainstorm), and gradually we moved into beautiful Aspen forests.
The occasional creeks were full of beaver dams.
After a day of climbing and fighting winds, we only made camp after sunset. Dawn revealed a lovely campsite among the aspens.
Although the Sierra Madre mountains are quite remote and there are few roads in the area, the roads and campsites were surprisingly busy. Hunting season started last week so there were plenty of people around hopeful of filling a freezer with an elk. But mostly they seemed to just like driving around at high speed in their trucks and ATV’s. The ATV’s are very controversial here, they allow hunters and thrill seekers to press deep into forest trails, creating dust and noise havoc wherever they go. And it means fat lazy hunters don’t have to walk too far. Fortunately, the noise also warns the animals about the presence of fat, lazy hunters. In the previous weeks I met quite a few bow hunters (bow hunting is allowed weeks before shooting season). They seemed a much more thoughful, likeable bunch of people.
The second day started with a climb, never welcome on stiff morning legs, less welcome when it wasn’t marked clearly on the maps so we didn’t expect it. However, this was forgotten when we reached the beautiful Aspen Alley. This isn’t the gateway to Colorado (the border is about 20 miles further on), but it should be.
A few miles on from there, we rode onto a paved road that followed the ridgeline of the Sierra Madres, looking down on the fertile valleys on the Wyoming/Colorado border.
The road dropped giving me the blessed release of a long, exhilerating descent down to the valley of the Little Snake River. From there I had a choice – follow the main route, with two very tough passes, or the ‘alternate’, which promised just one tough pass, lots of little climbs, and some very interesting countryside as it followed the Little Snake. I chose the latter.
The lush farmland was a relief on the eye after days of arid Wyoming plain. The border of Colorado and Wyoming follows the Little Snake for about 10 miles. Unlike the huge ranches of Wyoming, this is an area of small farms, a very pleasant place.
After 10 miles of this, it was back to climbing. It was a seemingly interminable series of climbs for the 29 miles to the hamlet of Columbine (no, not that Columbine). The landscape was a fascinating mix of ranching, open forest, scrub and fertile valleys.
Eventually, the hill topped out at Columbine, which consists of one shop (closed).
From Columbine, there is a wonderful high speed descent downhill to Steamboat campsite, 35 miles from Steamboat Springs. I hit my Great Divide Tour record (41mph) and passed the first cyclists in many days – two lean and tough looking old guys on expensive mountain bikes. They’d be the first of many – Colorado is a mecca for outdoor sports lovers, it seems that everyone here, whatever their age or background loves to ride, ski and hike.
Eric had ridden ahead of me, but i found he was camping in the vast Steamboat Lake State Park camping area. Its a beautiful lake intensively developed for recreation, but being out of season (and presumably protected from hunting), we had it almost all to ourselves.
After two very tough days, we deserved an easy one, and the 35 mile ride to Steamboat Springs was a delight. After going around the lake on rough tracks, we hit a great downhill section, bringing us to the lush farmland of the Elk River Valley.
We arrived in Steamboat Springs in a thunderstorm, but getting soaked doesn’t really matter when you arrive somewhere with nice motels and bars. We checked into the delightfully named Rabbits Ears Motel and decided this was just the place to relax and recover for a few days.