How much awesome can you fit in a day?: Riverside to Baggs
Wednesday July 24, 2013, 59 miles (96 km) – Total so far: 3,164 miles (5,091 km)
So often on this trip the beauty has been so enveloping I feel like my heart might explode. Today was no exception. The Battle Highway is lightly traveled but big on beauty.
I pack in the dark. I’m on the road with blinkie light flashing just at first light. The wind is not predicted to strengthen until this afternoon, so I’m hoping to get up the hill and past the fire while all is calm and predictable.
Dawn catches me on my way out of Encampment, a mile or so up the hill. The steepest climbs of the day are in the first few miles out of Encampment. There are several 7% grades; the climbing is pretty unrelenting here.
You quickly gain elevation out of the valley, ascending through rounded hills of sagebrush and light brown, chalky dirt. I stop a couple times to rest and breathe, letting the wheeziness subside before moving on. Looking back, I can see the road curving up the hill, the tiny trees down below where we camped last night, as well as the peaks of the Snowy Range that we crossed the day before.
Soon the road reaches the trees, a mix of aspen and pine. The pine beetles have been having a great time in this forest, too. That is always a concern when there is a fire – lots of standing dead fuel is never a good thing.
We climb and climb and climb. Once the road reaches the forest boundary, the gradient subsides a bit. The forest closes in, reaching right down to the road. We ride in an avenue of trees, some alive, some dead. Periodically, fire trucks and other Forest Service vehicles pass me. No one stops to tell me that what I’m doing is a bad idea, so I proceed. In the 13 miles to the pass, I’m overtaken by 5 fire appliances, 2 logging trucks, 7 Forest Service or county emergency service vehicles, and 2 cars that may not be related to fire activities.
At times, the road curves along the edge of the mountains, providing spectacular views over the range to the south. At other times, we dive back into the avenue of trees. At one point, we can see houses high up on a ridge. I think, “oh please, don’t make me ride up there”. But yes, that’s where the road goes. There is a sharp curve and then a couple hundred feet of steep climbing. I wheeze my way up.
From the short, steep bit, there is only a mile or so more to go. Before we know it, we see the signs for Continental Divide trailhead parking. And then we are there, at the top of Battle Pass on the divide, 9955 feet high. 2800 feet of climbing over 13 miles is never a bad way to start a day.
After a brief food consumption break at the interpretive signs, we head off for the downhill. We still see no evidence of a fire, the wind is still light, and none of the Forest Service trucks stop to tell me I should turn around. In fact, several of them wave and give me thumbs-ups.
For the next 15 miles, it is mostly downhill. Fast at times. Other times we have to pedal to maintain speed. There are rocky peaks that emerge between the trees from time to time. Other times, we just ride between walls of dead and alive trees. There is no traffic. The different rock types, the views, and the changing vegetation as we lose elevation all make me feel very happy and very alive. All of life is right here, right now. Nothing else matters but the road in front of me, the beauty around me.
Eventually, I can see the smoke haze from the fire. There are no plumes. That is a good sign. Then I pass the incident command base. They have 3 helicopters in the field, but none up flying. There are various trucks driving around, but except for the guys who must be out on the line somewhere, everybody else is just sorta standing around, waiting for something to happen. Just before reaching this hive of ‘activity’, I could see the fire from the road. Luckily, it’s just creeping and smoking today, allowing me passage.
The general trend is still downhill. There is one somewhat steep and short climb up gravel where they are rerouting the road. The road around the hill keeps getting washed out, so they are building the road OVER the hill instead. The construction guys don’t laugh at my snail pace up the hill, but they certainly do give me the once over as I ride by. The one guy who is standing at the top, and who has been watching me since I rounded the corner into the steepest bits says, “I was starting to think we’d have it paved by the time you got up here”. I laugh, smile and wave. He says, “Ride safe”!
This is such fun riding. The long downhill reward combined with absolutely no traffic – we haven’t been passed by anyone since the fire ground – makes this the most relaxed riding I’ve done in a long time. Eventually we leave the national forest and pop out into rangeland. To the west, rounded hills of sagebrush fill the view. To the south and east though, the Sierra Madre range stays in view. The forested peaks rise in isolated conical shapes, as well as in a long series of peaks. It is easy on the eye.
The road plunges down through the sagebrush hills. The high peaks loom in the background as we lose elevation at 30 mph – 35 mph. The road curves ever downward, and this is so much fun I can’t help but giggle. Verne’s goofy smile stretches even wider than normal, I’m sure. This road also has the greatest concentration of cattle guards of any road I’ve ever ridden. It seems like we zip over one every half mile!
All too soon, we reach the Little Snake River Valley, and our long cruise concludes. The road turns west and we head downriver. Sagebrush hills slope upwards from the lush, fertile river valley where tall cottonwoods grow and hay is being harvested. Ranch houses can be seen here and there.
Just before 11 am, I arrive at the museum in Savery. There is nothing else in this town but a post office. However, the museum itself is the size of a small town. There are numerous historic buildings and sheds housing exhibits that visitors can tour. The residents of the valley have donated an incredible amount of buildings and items for display.
One of the volunteers comes outside and is excited to meet me. She offers me a free, ice cold bottle of water out of their cooler. How kind! She tells me all about the museum and its history. I wander around through all of the buildings for over an hour. There is just so much to look at! After exhausting myself with all of the exhibits, I go to the office to thank the staff and tell them what an amazing place they have here in the middle of nowhere. They invite me to stay for lunch. So I stay and learn a lot more about the area and their lives here. Good stuff!
Finally, I head off for Baggs. By now the wind has picked up pretty substantially, and it’s a slog into the wind for 12 miles to Baggs. It’s quite hot by now, too, as the road follows the river downstream through an arid landscape. Once to Baggs, I get the last motel room in this tiny one-street town. The motel is packed with oil/gas field workers. I turn up the A/C and take a cold shower to get cooled off.
For dinner, I head down to the Mexican restaurant. It is the only place in town, besides the lounge attached to the motel. It turns out to be excellent. I celebrate my last night in the state with a beer and some Chile Colorado. I hear the waitress telling another guy that they make all of their sauces by hand. It tastes like it; my Chile Colorado is awesome.
Thanks, Wyoming. It’s been grand. I really hate to leave you tomorrow. I can’t recall when I’ve been so challenged but also had so much fun. The beauty you’ve shown me has been mind-expanding and heart-exploding. It’s been so much more than I ever expected when I rolled across the state line back on Memorial Day weekend. You are one well-kept secret.
I fall asleep thinking about how lucky I am. I love, love, love life on the road. I am so, so grateful for the chance to chase a dream.