Friday September 12, 2014
When I wake up, the sun is already high in the sky, but the tent still sits in the shade of the aspen trees. It is cold enough still that I stay snuggled up in the sleeping bag with Verne and Kermit. I can tell there is snow on the top of the tent by the shadows. Sllliiiiipppp! Some of the snow goes sliding down the side of the tent. I unzip the door and fly to have a look. The snow has already melted from most of the vegetation, but it still coats the top of the tent. It is very crisp outside, but the sky is a deep, brilliant blue.
We crawl out of the tent about 10am, when the air temperature has warmed a bit. Verne is a wee bit grumpy and slow after I pull him from the warmth of the sleeping bag. I promise him a day of habitat exploring and tuck him into the outside pocket of my Camelbak with Kermit. I pack a bit of food, then we head off to hike the North Platte River Trail.
The trail winds along the slopes of the river valley through rocky cliffs and open slopes of bushes and sage. In some places, the trail runs high on the valley wall as a thin wedge of horizontal soil between steep upslopes and downslopes. In other places, the trail winds right down to the river through tall, open Ponderosa pine forest. Plenty of overgrown and narrow fishing access paths take off from the main trail. Much of the time we traverse fairly open and rocky slopes, but sometimes we find deep shade in the lee of a valley wall and brush through head-high bushes. Snow still lingers in the deep shade. Droplets of water decorate the surfaces of leaves in a random polka-dot pattern. All the while, the river tumbles downstream over rocks and fallen logs.
The air is perfectly still. The sun beams down at full-strength. But it is still quite cool, even at noon. Many of the understory plants have given up on chlorophyll for the year and are turning shades of gold. One plant type we find all along the trail has leaves the exact shade of Verne’s belly. He stands in the midst of leaves and is almost fully camouflaged. It is a glorious day, but it absolutely feels like autumn. I’ve pedaled through another summer and will close out the season as I ride down through Colorado over the next two weeks. In some ways, our trip start in IL feels forever ago. In some ways, it feels like it was just last week. The days and the miles have ticked by, and now we are just a short commute from my parents’ place in Colorado. Sigh…..
The guys and I hike out for about 2.5 hours at a leisurely pace, and then turn around and hike back. We’ve had the trail all to ourselves today. The silence and stillness combined with the bright sun and rushing river has stuffed us full of positive ions. It has been a beautiful and rejuvenating day.
I chat with the other camper, who has been fishing today without much luck, and he says it got down to 26F last night. He is from Nebraska and we chat for a long time about his state and all of the interesting places to visit there. He is impressed that not only do I know the tiny town where he lives, but that I camped near there in 2010. He is even more impressed that an outsider would enjoy the state so much that they would have ridden their bike on a portion of every scenic byway in the state. I joke with him, “Well, if you know anybody in the Tourism Department, you should tell them to hook me up with a job!” He laughs and says, “Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone more qualified! You’ve been places even I haven’t been!” We talk more about conservation issues in an agricultural state, the threat of the XL Pipeline, and some of the innovative things a few of the Natural Resource Districts have implemented. It’s a most enjoyable conversation.
The day has been a great way to close out my time in Wyoming. I really do love this state and all of the riding I’ve done here. Now, it’s on to Colorado in the morning!