I awoke to the sound of a gurgling mountain stream just outside the tent. After lying awake for ten minutes or so, waiting for Joseph to wake up, I crawled outside the tent and started to change out of my sleeping clothes. The air was chilly but not frigid, a good contrast to the heat of the previous afternoon. Just as the sun peeked over the top of the nearby ridge we set off. After less than two miles we rode through an area called “Aspen Alley.” It is so named because the tunnel of aspens that you ride through. A few miles later we hit a paved road and after some climbing were able to descend for miles through the Sierra Madre Mountains toward the Colorado border.
About 250 miles before, in Pinedale Wyoming, we had called ahead to Orange Peel Bicycles in Steamboat Spring Colorado to get our bikes serviced. After over a thousand miles of wash boarded and dusty dirt roads we were due a drivetrain checkup as well as a suspension fork overhaul that I had needed since Butte Montana. It was July 2 and our appointments were for the next day so we needed to cover around 80 mountainous miles by nightfall. After a few miles of glorious downhill we made a left turn onto a road that quickly turned into gravel.
We had had almost nothing to eat that morning because we saw there was some services about five miles after the turn off the main road, and we planned to eat breakfast there. Five miles came and went and still there was no place to eat. We found a shaded spot to rest, by now it was getting hot, and we weighed our options. After 25 miles of gradual climbing there was the small community of Columbine that the map said had limited grocery options. With no intention of turning back, Joseph and I choked down what little food we still had and set off. Although my stomach was empty by this time, I was feeling better than I had in days so I pushed the pace up the interminable climb. When we had turned off the main road the surroundings were arid and barren, but the further we climbed the more trees we saw. Eventually we climbed through a stand of aspens that even rivaled the famed “Aspen Alley.” Sometime during this climb we entered Colorado; unfortunately there was no state sign beside which we could take obligatory photos. After what seemed like hours of climbing, probably because it did take hours, we saw the sign telling us we were in Columbine. We rolled up to the store, leaned our bikes against a rock wall, and walked into the store. The map wasn’t kidding when it said limited groceries! All they had was a few candy bars, some sodas, Gatorades, and ice cream. After we bought one if not two of each item, we sat down on the same rock wall we had leaned our bikes on, and talked to some of the locals.
When you show up anywhere coated in a layer of dust, sunblock, and sweat, people tend to ask where you are from and where you are going. When we would tell them we are from Virginia, riding from Canada to Mexico we usually had one of two reactions. Many people would spout some version of, “You’re crazy!” then walk away shaking their heads. Everyone else, however, seemed to really identify with what we were doing. Most said they would never be able to do what we were, but their eyes seemed to light up when I told them about our adventure. It seems that in almost everyone there is an innate desire to not just see, but to do great things. It is the same desire that drove people throughout the ages to discover what was over the next mountain range, ocean, or jungle. While the desire to discover more about the physical world in which we live is certainly a large part of the longing to explore, there is also another side to exploration; we want to learn more about ourselves. In the “civilized” world in which we live we are able to hide our true character behind a façade of empty words and platitudes. People often never truly reveal who they are, even to themselves. However, when you are in extreme situations with no one to rely on or to blame except yourself, there is no longer any place to hide. You can no longer conceal who you truly are and this can be a very troubling as well as humbling experience. Just as the heat from a furnace refines metals and drives off impurities, adversity can drive away all of our external shows and leave our character exposed for examination. This desire for self-exploration is what drives so many people in this modern age, where there is so little hardship, to seek out experiences that many can’t understand.
After our short break in picturesque Columbine we descended for a few miles, and then skirted the shore of Steamboat Lake. A few more miles of gravel roads and we were in another small community called Clark. We stopped at a store/restaurant/post office and while we waited for our food to be prepared I pulled out my cell phone and called home. After a good meal, some more snacks to get us the rest of the way to Steamboat, and a new pair of socks for me, we headed south. With a tailwind of nearly ten mph we were able to make great time into Steamboat. Except for our first flat of the trip, Joseph slashed the sidewall on his front tire on some glass; we were able to cover the 18 or so miles into town fairly quickly. We made it to town in late afternoon and we were able to find the bike shop, but they were not able to fit us in that evening unfortunately. We ate a sub-par burrito at a little shop downtown, grabbed some more groceries, and then rode the three miles to an RV park on the edge of town.
During the first part of our trip I avoided RV parks. They were loud as well as being filled with swarms of people since it was the height of the tourist season. Quickly though, we realized that the ability to take showers and do laundry outweighed the downsides of camping within earshot of hundreds of people. We leaned our bikes against the office and checked in. Only a few minutes later it started pouring down rain. We got permission from the lady who seemed to be in charge to get our bikes inside to keep them dry until the rain slacked up a little. As Joseph and I strewed our gear across a worn-out pool table, people walked by with faces that seemed to say, “Who are these crazy, smelly people?” By this point I really didn’t care, all I wanted was a shower and some clean clothes to sleep in. The rain didn’t stop for another hour but that gave us plenty of time to get things cleaned up. We set up camp in the dark next to a river with mosquitoes whining around our ears the whole time. Within minutes of putting in my ear buds to listen to an audiobook on my IPod, I was asleep.