The monsoon season is upon us: Del Norte to Silver Thread campground
Friday August 9, 2013, 62 miles (100 km) – Total so far: 3,715 miles (5,979 km)
First thing this morning Jenny is treated to the first law of Em’s 2013 ride: whatever direction I’m heading is the direction the wind will be from.
It’s only dawn, and the wind is blowing gently out of the west, our direction for the day. On my 2010 tour, I ended up with a pretty even number of tailwinds and headwinds. On this trip, it is rare that I’ve had a tailwind. I’m just used to riding into the wind whatever direction I ride. North, south, east or west – I’ve ridden them all, and pretty much all into headwinds.
The shoulder is wide and the road is smooth to South Fork. Burn scars creep down the ridges into the valley in places. “Thank you firefighters” signs will be a common sight today.
In South Fork, we stop for provisions at the grocery store. Jen wanders off toward the vegetables; I wander off in search of gatorade. She emerges from the store 5-10 minutes after me. While waiting, I inhale a banana. I also entertain the questions of a man with a very pronounced southern accent. I answer the standard six questions, only this time I don’t get question 6 – are you riding ALONE? Yippee! The man can’t believe I’ve ridden so far and that we are going to ride over Slumgullion Pass.
Jen comes out with a big coffee. She’s been harassed by the check-out lady. When asking if the store had coffee-to-go, the lady gets rather upset that Jenny didn’t see it on the counter behind her. She then gets really upset that Jen did not see the ATM machine either. Go South Fork, way to treat the tourists in a tourist town!
Soon enough, we are on the road and starting the Silver Thread Scenic Byway, described on the Colorado Transportation Map like this: “Roam through wonderfully isolated swatches of the San Juan Mountains, stopping to sample historic Main Streets and top-of-pass scenic overlooks”. Yes, we are ready to experience the “swatches”.
The road is narrow and has no shoulder, but there isn’t much traffic. During a pee break at a campground, the camphost comes up and welcomes us to his turf. He’s a very friendly sort. He also tells us that we absolutely have to stop by Freeman’s Store west of Creede. He’ll drive all the way there, 30 miles, for a hamburger. They are the best in the west. They also have the hugest servings of ice cream anywhere. Jen mentally notes this all in her head.
The road is indeed scenic. It is an easy ride up the Rio Grande River through a long, thin valley edged with craggy rocks and healthy forest. The narrow walls of Wagon Wheel Gap are impressive. Neither of us expected anything like this.
After the gap, the road runs through a wide valley with tall grassy pasture and tall peaks in the background. Whenever I pull, I end up leaving Jen behind today. So I just stop and wait for her from time to time.
Creede is an old mining town that is seeing some renewed mining activity. It lies squished between mountain-sides at the head of a wide valley. The main street is historic, narrow and busy with tourists. I tell Jen I wouldn’t mind getting a decent feed here since we’ll be eating out of panniers for dinner. She doesn’t mind, but we disappear into a server-less black hole for quite some time at the busy restaurant we’ve chosen. Our meals are good, but it takes forever, and we waste a lot of time here. The most wonderful thing for me, though, is that I can share the attention and QandA load with someone else for once. Lots of people come up to chat with us, and it’s fantastic to share the conversation load.
By the time we get out of Creede, it’s noon. The storms are already looking nasty in some directions. By the time we round the corner out of town, it’s obvious we are going to get wet. The further up the wide valley we go, the windier it gets. Behind us, moving off in another direction, are dark, angry clouds spouting lightning. I pull ahead of Jen. The wind is variable and gusty. There is a fair amount of traffic. I’m not having any fun at all trying to keep a straight line, as the wind batters me about.
I get to the second campground and wait on Jen. It’s about 1pm. The storms are coming. Jen catches up. We discuss staying here. She thinks it’s too early to stop. She is intent on getting to the ice cream place. I’ve totally forgotten about the ice cream place and am worried about riding with this much traffic in a thunderstorm. I’m also worried about pushing the miles since Jen has been so far behind me several times today. But she wins out and we push on.
Not long after, the dark clouds are overhead with lightning and thunder rumbling around us. It begins to rain. The wind gusts shove me around. Once it starts to pour, I pull off into the entrance to a rural residential neighbourhood. I’m not a happy lady.
Jen pulls in. I’m rather curt: “you can go on ahead. I’m staying here til this lets up.” I can tell Jen is quite happy to ride through the storm. I continue, “this is stupid. I’m getting blown all over the place. There’s hardly any visibility and there’s a bunch of traffic. Go ahead if you want. I just don’t think it’s safe.” She relents. She puts on her rain gear and does the best she can to huddle underneath the row of mailboxes.
We move on 10 minutes later when the rain and squalls lessen and the visibility is not so poor. We both put on our blinkie lights and continue into the wind. Finally, we see the ice cream place. It is very busy and so tight inside that hardly anyone can move. The burgers are the greasy, fried kind. The ice cream selection is rather disappointing and none of it is home-made or anything. Jen gets some onion rings, but they aren’t home-made, just frozen ones out of a bag. We aren’t so sure what all the fuss is about. We share a table with an older couple from Texas who stay at an RV park near Creede for the summer. They do manage to get into the conversation that Texas was a republic – it once was its own country. Um, yeah. Okay.
We head out from the ice cream place into somewhat sunny skies. At the bottom of one fun descent we find the entrance to Silver Thread campground. From there, the road switchbacks up the side of a hill. This is the last campground before Spring Creek Pass, but there is plenty of dispersed camping once you get up the hill. We don’t know this at the time, so we just decide to stay here and find the trail to a waterfall. It is good to get all the gear dried out in the sun.
The trail is short. The waterfall is impressive. We both look a little wasted in the photos. It’s been a couple of decent mileage days. We’ll sleep well tonight.
We can’t find any trees suitable for hanging a bear bag, but I did notice that there was a way we could hang something from the latch inside the dumpster. The dumpster is almost empty and doesn’t smell too bad. The bear-proof latch is almost Jen-proof, too, but we do get our food stored in the dumpster for the night. We never hear any bears, but we do hear storms all around until the wee hours. It rains a couple times and the lightning flashes in every direction, but the big storms never find their way to us. The cold, however, does find its way to us, and we are both cuddled way down in our bags when morning arrives.