Range Roaming – Colorado 2013 – Day 111

Too much traffic!: McClure campground to Mile 12 Kebler Pass camp

Saturday August 3, 2013, 30 miles (48 km) – Total so far: 3,454 miles (5,559 km)

Not another soul stirs, as I pack up at first light. The mozzies, however, are incredibly excited about breakfast. They waft about my head and dive bomb my legs, as I tramp about in the weeds and unfasten all the ropes to retrieve the pannier I’ve hung in the tree out of bear reach. The mozzies accompany me all the way to the campground entrance where I finally manage to leave them behind as I resume the downhill off of the pass.

The sun makes the distant red ridges glow pink as the rays illuminate the rocks. I can see the road heading down the valley wall below as I gather momentum. It is a fast 17 or so miles to the turn-off for Kebler Pass.

Early morning start – looking at our downhill to begin the day.
The downhill to the Kebler Pass turn-off is fast and scenic.

We follow the dirt road up the valley. The valley floor is all private land. The ranch is huge; it stretches all the way up to the Ericson Springs campground. I wonder how much that property is worth and who owns that!

I roll into the campground. It is situated along a fast-flowing creek beneath high valley walls. It will be quite some time before the sun reaches the campground. It is dark and damp. There are not too many people moving about at 7 am. I refill all of my water bottles, so I can dry camp somewhere up the pass tonight.

The camphost comes over. He thinks I’m trying to sneak out early without paying and has come to collect the fees. I assure him I did not camp here last night but have come down from McClure and am refilling bottles since this is the last source. After we establish that I’m not a sneaky bastard, he gets friendly.

He tells me that he is really in awe of us touring cyclists. He can’t believe how hardy we are and how we all seem to just ride up and down the passes like they aren’t even there. I laugh and say, “Oh, then you haven’t seen me going up one before”! He talks about an 84-year-old guy who came through in June, riding from Salt Lake City to Denver. The guy asks, “How could he do that”? I tell him that I think a lot of it is mental determination and a bit of good physical fitness, but at that age, good genes would have to play a part, too. He agrees. He wishes me good luck and tells me to be careful because the road ‘has deteriorated in some sections’.

Just up the beginning of the road to Kebler Pass. It starts off flat, following a creek and a huge private ranch. There is water available at the Erickson Springs campground.

And then the real climbing begins. I’m weighed down with two days of food, 2 litres of water in my Camelbak, three litres of water in the panniers and 375 mls in the water bottle holder. Goodness, does the bike feel like a container ship with all that on.

But up we go. There are steep bits, but they never last too long and are interspersed with somewhat easier grades. I still stop a lot. It’s okay, though. The views are outstanding. As we climb into a Gambel oak ecosystem, we get plenty of open views toward distant ranges. As we round one corner, we get a great view up a valley and toward a whole heap of aspen spread across entire hillsides. Apparently, this is the largest aspen grove in the world.

View toward the Ragged Range after we start climbing.
The climbing begins in earnest after the campground. There are some quite steep bits, but luckily they only last for a few hundred feet and are interspersed with continuous climbing at a more do-able grade. The road is in decent shape for the first few miles of climbing past the campground.
Views off to the northwest while climbing.
Views to the east while climbing. For awhile you are in a Gambel Oak ecosystem, looking upward to the mountains and their aspens.

The day is warming quickly. The road surface is okay, but it’s really hard to try to find a good line along the road edge. Even though it’s only 9 am on a Saturday, the traffic is heavier on this dirt road than on many of the paved highways I’ve ridden. I’m getting passed by an oncoming car, or one from behind, every 3-4 minutes. I can never get out in the ‘lane’ and get a good line. A lot of the time I’m stuck over in the less compacted, gravelly stuff. Not ideal.

I stop to apply sunscreen where there is a pull-off along a curve, at the top of the hill. A pick-up goes by. It stops ahead and turns around. The guy comes back and stops beside me.

“Hey, are you okay? Do you need anything?”, he asks.

Oh, my. Normally, I don’t think quickly on my feet in regards to things to say. It always hits me later. But this time, my response forms instantly. I want to say, ‘your phone number’, because he is not much older than me, looks outdoorsy and kind, and is very attractive. However, I’m normally very shy. And that remains the case today. Besides, I really do not need another man in my life! So I just respond, “Oh yes, I’m fine. I’m just putting on some sunscreen”.

“Where you headed”?

“Don’t know, really. I’m hoping to find somewhere along the way to camp tonight before I head down to Crested Butte tomorrow.”

“Oh, do you know what you’re in for”?

“Not really. I just know it’s 25 miles to the pass from where the turn-off was. I’ve got plenty of food and water to stay out”.

He looks at the bike and looks at me. “Ah, it’s been a long time since I drove this road. I’m just headed over to the festival and thought I’d come this way. Thought I might bump into you again, if you were heading to the festival. Be safe”! And he drives away.

Doh!! Nope. Nerd Em will, unfortunately, not be bumping into you at the festival – whatever that is. Damn, I should have asked what it was about. I might be willing to fight my way through the traffic and up and over a pass, if the festival’s got to do with bicycles, hot guys, punk music or nerdy stuff. See, I always think of what to say later! Never mind, another beautiful man goes driving off into the rising sun to find an equally attractive woman, leaving Nerd Em behind. Cue the sad music. At least now I know why there might be so much traffic.

A few miles up the road, I see a dirt road heading down to an open parking area. I head down. It’s only 10.30 am, but I’ve had it with that traffic. Besides, I’d really like to just have a quiet day alone. I’ve not had a day where I didn’t have to talk to anyone in a long time. Introverts need days like that to recharge. Unlike extroverts, social interaction doesn’t invigorate us. It drains us, instead (interactions with cute men included).

I pull off the road at about mile 12 to camp for the night. It is only 10.30am, but I’m tired of the traffic and would like an afternoon of solitude. I lie here on my sleeping pad for several hours. What a nice view to have to yourself for an afternoon.

So I spend the day just absorbing the scenery and solitude. The road is not far away, and its traffic only diminishes at dusk, so it seems a good call.

After I get my tent set up under the shade of a little oak tree, I just soak it all in. Being alone in all the beauty refuels my soul. It makes me feel so happy to be alive. I feel huge and finite simultaneously. It’s as if I’m connected to everything and all the beauty of life is flowing into me, yet it wouldn’t matter a teeny bit if I wasn’t even here on earth at all. Oh yeah, Nerd Em needs days like this, and I’m so, so full of gratitude that I’ve had so many days like this on this trip. All of the crap of the past ten years feels incredibly far away. The next ten years aren’t important. I am just here. Now. And that is all that matters.

Looking south from my perfect little campsite.
Mountain, tent, no one around = absolutely perfect.
It storms in the afternoon and is unsettled the rest of the afternoon. During the biggest thunderstorm, there are actually waterfalls cascading down the mountain near our campsite.
This huge aspen tree allowed me to do a text-book hanging of the bear bag: 10 feet off the ground, 4+ feet out from the tree.
I cannot express how alive, whole and connected I feel. If only a bike tour could last forever and evoke these feelings even after the tour ended.

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