A quiet county road: Steamboat Springs to Yampa
Monday July 29, 2013, 38 miles (61 km) – Total so far: 3,294 miles (5,301 km)
You know you are on a decent route when all the local roadies pass you on their training rides. The first two guys pass me just on the outskirts of town.
The next guy passes me as I’m lumbering up the first decent hill on 131 near the turnoff to the reservoir at Stagecoach State Park. This guy slows to chat with me; I don’t think he believes me when I say I’ve ridden over 3000 miles. He probably can’t believe anyone can be riding this slow with that many miles behind them. Well, I can. Even this far into the trip, I still only average 12-13 mph on flat ground!
The road continues gently upward through open and hilly terrain. It is cool and cloudy this morning. Rain is forecast after noon. I’m trying to get some miles in before that occurs. The road has a generous shoulder and a good surface. There are huge, fancy homes on the hill tops interspersed with older ranches and grazing land.
As the road swings south, it enters the narrow canyon of Oak Creek. The railroad tracks follow the river closely. The road climbs and falls, following the river at times and cutting through cliffs at others, depending on canyon width and where the road will or will not fit. For the most part, the vegetation is sagebrush, scrub oak and a few aspens. It is an open landscape, despite the narrow walls of the canyon.
We lose the shoulder as the road begins to curve and wind upward, but there isn’t too much traffic since it’s only about 9 am. A group of young roadies passes me going the other direction. They ALL look at me closely. Or at the bike. Probably at the bike – it’s pretty cool, and I’m not. Plus, I’m probably 15-20 years older than most of them. One guy gives me a thumbs-up. Several say hello. Two of the guys at the back fist-pump. I wave, say hi and smile.
Oak Creek (pop. 884) is a small place but has a great vibe. There are several places to eat, a mining museum, a motel, and a park that looks like you could camp there. If I’d known there was this much here, I would have skipped Steamboat entirely and waited out the rain here. Several people smile and say hello as I’m checking out the mining display in the main street. This used to be a huge coal mining area, so I’m sure there are some good stories to be heard at the bar. There is still a lot of coal in the area – it’s just not economical to remove at this point. So stay tuned – shale gas was not considered economically viable 30 years ago, and now they are going after it with gusto in other parts of the state. Oak Creek could rise again!
The clouds start to look menacing while I’m in Oak Creek. I’m hoping I can make a dash for Phippsburg before it buckets down. It’s only 3 miles. I do make it. Barely. Unlike Oak Creek, Phippsburg has pretty much died.
I go in the post office to buy stamps. The postmistress is incredibly friendly. Most cyclists must ask to use the toilet because, as she gives me my change, she tells me where the toilet is located. I’m not in need of these facilities, but I do need somewhere to wait out the storm. I ask her if it is coming this direction. She immediately gets up, walks around the service desk and says, “well, let’s go out and see”. We head out the front door and around the building. She takes one look at the brooding sky and says, “Yes, all our weather comes from the northwest. It’s coming this way”. Some thunder rumbles in the distance, as if to confirm her statement.
No worries. I’ll just hang out under the overhang and write some postcards. This is all good until the wind picks up and blows the rain horizontally. I’m in my rain gear, so I’m not too wet, really. At this point, the postmistress comes out again and says, “Get in here. Don’t you stand out there in the rain”!
So I go inside and stand in the lobby while the worst of the rain passes. As I’m getting ready to go, I thank the woman for her kindness. She asks where I’m going. When she finds out I’m heading to Yampa, she says, “Come here. I’ll show you a back road so you can get off the busy road for a bit”. She proceeds to draw me a map of the county road, where the library is located in Yampa and the motel I should stay in there. She goes on to tell me the whole history of Phippsburg and Yampa. Very cool.
After the sky begins to brighten a teeny bit, and the heavy rain turns to light rain, I take off. The county road is a beautiful, though hilly, alternative to the highway and well worth a few extra miles. The sagebrush and grasses take on crisp colours of green and yellow after the passing rain. They almost seem fluorescent against the backdrop of dark and stormy sky. Even though I get wet, I don’t get soaked.
I head into Yampa. I don’t see anything that looks fantastic for camping, but there are a couple spots that look do-able. There are no official places to camp that I can see. The postmistress in Phippsburg said the motel here was reasonable and very nice. It was purpose-built to house UP rail-workers, but they rent rooms to the public when available. The man at the cash register in the attached diner doesn’t really seem to like cyclists, but he does say he can give me a room if I come back at 4 pm.
There is really nothing in Yampa. If it were a nice day, you could kill some time just sitting in the main street or at the roadside park, but on a rainy day like today, there are not many options. So I do what you do. I go to the library. The only problem is that it is very tiny, very well patronized by the townsfolk, and I stink like sweat and wet. I’m also freezing, since it’s only in the 50s, I’m damp, and I’ve stopped generating heat now that I’m not riding. I sit as far away as I can from everyone and read old National Geographics and Scientific Americans. It really is not a bad way to spend an afternoon – even though I absolutely freeze for the two hours I’m in there.
The rooms at the motel are really nice. They are sound-proofed and the curtains are block-outs. I never see anyone the whole time I’m here. I never hear anyone either. I turn the heat up high, eat a dinner from my panniers, have a hot shower and the absolute best sleep I’ve had in a very long time. It was a pretty cold, wet day, but a very good one, too. I’m excited to be on the road again after a few days of feeling pretty blah.