Thursday September 11, 2014, 47 miles (76 km) – Total so far: 5,189 miles (8,351 km)
I start to peel back my sleeping bag. But I decide it is just too cold. The sun isn’t out. So I curl back into the warmth and go back to sleep. How many times in normal life do you wake up on a cold, dark day when the alarm goes off and wish you could just stay in the warmth of bed? How many times do you think, “Ugh. I soooo don’t want to get up and go to work.” But you have to, because your employment depends on it. It would be nice to think that your employer depends on it, or the world depends on it, but most of us probably overinflate the importance of our positions to the general needs of society. But still, we get up and go in.
My second attempt at the day 30 minutes later is more successful. I emerge from the tent to find a cold, wet world enveloped in fog. It is only 33F, so the damp day makes it feel colder than that. The droplets in the air settle on surfaces and saturate anything slightly porous. I start packing up since it doesn’t look like the thick fog will lift soon.
The English cyclist comes down to chat while I’m packing up. He keeps stamping his feet and blowing hot bursts of air into his curled up hands. He asks if I’d had many cold mornings up north. I tell him I hadn’t had very many cold mornings at all until the last couple of weeks. We both agree the dampness makes it feel pretty bitter this morning. We ride down the rough road back to the highway together, and then he heads north, and I head south. I pick up a couple days of food at the supermarket, and then I stop at the Forest Service office to make sure that water is still available at SixMile campground. That will determine how much I need to lug with me from Riverside up the road. All is good – the water stays on til the end of the month.
I head south into the gloom. The fog layer is high enough that it’s safe to ride with the blinkie light flashing, but the grey envelopes everything in the distance. The short view of cured grass and short sage growing on gentle slopes could be almost anywhere in the west. The feel of the day makes me think of Indiana winters – cold, damp and gloomy, but not quite cold enough to snow.
But slowly, the fog starts to lift. First, it is just a lighter area of the sky here or there. Then, there are lighter patches in more places that leave you certain that the sun is behind there somewhere. Then, like the latter stages of a strip poker game, the sky sheds its clouds more quickly. Bare spots of sky appear and then disappear. Thick grey turns to white, wispy layers that clump and gather and dissipate. Soon more bare patches appear, and stray clouds linger in light layers. By the time I’m hitting more downhill than uphill on the way into Riverside, the sky stands naked and blue above us. Just as the sky has stripped itself of cloud, I strip myself of the warmie layers so needed to start the day.
I stop in Riverside to get some drinks to take with me for the next couple days. The man unloading the delivery truck asks the standard six as I’m packing the drinks into my panniers. He is incredibly impressed with the number of miles I’ve ridden. But he’s worried that I might be unaware of the coming cold front. “You do know they are predicting snow with this one, don’t you? Do you have clothing to keep you warm? Because if you don’t, you should keep going to Walden. There are motels there. People get in trouble in fall in Wyoming all the time because they aren’t prepared.” I assure him that I’ve been lugging around a winter hat, gloves and warm gear for four months, and that I do know there is snow forecast. He is hoping to get his route done and get back to Casper this evening before it all comes in.
The road out of Riverside climbs up a series of hills of granodiorite between the Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre Ranges. The valley features wide swaths of rangeland and several large ranches with big fancy gates whose owners likely own much of the land here. We fly down the hill on the other side of the main ridge and ride back onto late Miocene valley fill. The green ridges ring the gently sloping valley floor, and it is not long before we get to the turn-off for the campground. The wind has been increasing all day, and it has provided considerable assistance in the last 10 miles. It has begun to bring in more and more puffy cumulus clouds as the weather system moves in from the northwest.
The dirt road into the campground climbs through the sage up a rounded slope. There are deep grooves where people have driven when the road was wet. There are numerous holes and puddles to dodge as we fight to stay in the grooves on a downhill. The next uphill is quite rough as it appears a herd of elk have strolled along the road in the rain. Hundreds of hoof prints are indented into the road, and there are a lot of elk turds to dodge. Further up the road we pass out of the elk prints and into cattle hoof prints and cow pats. Finally, we find smoother, grooved road and freewheel down into the campground. The campsites are spaced out along a creek. High, rounded sage hills back the creek on both sides. However, one side of the loop has spaces in the open. The other side has spaces built into a grove of aspen on the slope. You have to park your car down below and take short paths up to each site in the aspens. It is cool enough that full sun is attractive, but the wind is continuing to strengthen, so I opt for wind and weather protection in the aspens over sunny and open spots.
The sites are quite nice, and once we get the tent set up, the guys and I head down to have a look at the river. It courses through deep canyon walls and high slopes of open pine that are battling the pine beetle. Slowly, the clouds build and the wind becomes unpleasant, so we head back to the tent. I chat with the only other camper while I fill my water bottles, and I let him know I’m going to put my food and toiletries in the empty trash container on the end of the row since there are no bear boxes. Then the guys and I go settle in for what we anticipate to be a night not suited to ectothermic animals like Verne.
The wind gets crazier. The sky fills with a thin grey stratus at high altitude. Smaller, puffy but grey, cumulus clouds scoot along at lower elevations at high speed. When the sun drops behind the hill, the temperature plummets. I crawl into the sleeping bag so I don’t lose any body heat. It is only 6 pm. By 7pm, the first drops of rain come barrelling in at speed onto the side of the tent. By dark, the rain comes in spurts, and the wind whips the aspen around outside. By the time I fall asleep for the night around 10pm, the rain has started to alternate with ice pellets and sleet. I tuck down low in my bag, pull my winter hat down over my ears and eyes, and listen to autumn imitate winter until I drift into darkness and dreams.