48.5 mi / 9.6 mph / 2563 ft. climbing
Home: Caribou Cabins
Yesterday on the way into town some knuckleheads yelled something goofy to us as they drove by, but my opinion of them improved when I realized they were part of a wedding party celebrating a good time (just as long as the driver was relatively sober, and they seemed to be). But there seemed to be a subset of wedding guests staying at our campground (which also had motel rooms), and combined with the 2am closing of the bar across the road, our sleep was more-interrupted than usual. But hey, it made me feel less bad than I normally do if the noise of our 5:30am wakeup could be heard by anyone else.
The Wyoming winds we’ve been dealing with have always had a westerly component to them, but today we got headwinds even when we were heading east, and also definitely from the south, leading to one of the slowest average speeds we’ve had in a while.
27 miles in we made it to US state #15, Colorado! We were quite aware how luxurious Wyoming’s highway shoulders had been, but just in case we had forgotten, Colorado helpfully put a spotlight on Wyoming’s largesse by stingily eliminating any whisper of a shoulder immediately when they claimed jurisdiction over the highway we were riding. I mean not even a weed-filled strip of gravel next to the asphalt edge, the grass ran right up to the white line, and with few driveways or crossing roads, it was actually a challenge to find a place to pull off if we needed to stop pedaling for any reason.
With 12 miles to go, one of the only buildings we’d seen all day turned out to be a store in front of the Sentinel Mountain RV Park, so we pulled in and were able to get some ice cream and drinks to fuel us the rest of the way. But just as we got going again, a merciless wind galloped out from the black clouds to the west and pummeled into our right sides, forcing Rett to a halt in the middle of the highway. This was clearly a downdraft coming suddenly out of the storm clouds. Unable to proceed, I suggested turning back to take shelter at the store, but Rett was determined to continue on, and eventually caught a break in the gusts where she could get going again. The radar showed the line of blackness to the west was basically training north as we rode south, so maybe we could skirt past it? As we continued on, bikes leaning towards the right, the raindrops began hitting us, but only on one side; the right halves of our sleeves were soaked through, but the left halves were completely dry!
After a mile or two the rain let up, indicating that we had snuck past the storm, without getting blown off the highway, or struck by lightning. And then the road turned a bit away from the storm, and the downdraft became a tailwind, locally reversing the day’s prevailing winds. Victory! We could see another black cloud straight ahead to the south, approaching from the opposite side of Walden, so we engaged it in a game of Steal the Bacon. We won, making it to the bacon (i.e., our AirBNB motel room) before the storm did, and the sore loser then dumped far more rain than the first round, in a failed attempt to get us wet.
Another good reason to race to town was that we would be able to see our new friends Karrie and Fred for the last time! They had jumped ahead of us six days ago, after our first night in Lander, and normally would have been long gone since they don’t take nearly as many off-days as we do. But as luck would have it, Walden was a special place for Karrie and her husband Jake (they had worked there together for the Forest Service, and he had proposed to her halfway up a nearby mountain), so they had been taking their first significant break there. So not only did that give us a chance to catch back up to them, it gave us a chance to meet Jake too (we’d somehow talked about him from the first day we’d met Karrie in the Tetons!), who had flown up from Arizona to meet his wife (and father-in-law) for their anniversary.
They were nice enough to come by our room and pick us up, in Jake’s (rental) car! We drove out to the edge of town (definitely further than we would have gone on our own) to a “new” to them (and certainly to us!) pizza place. Jake was just as good of a guy as expected, definitely a little jealous of this adventure his wife was on, but generous enough to put that aside for the benefit of her and her dad. Sadly this would definitely be the last time we would see them (at least in this phase of our travels!), as they would be cutting straight east towards Fort Collins from here, while we would be continuing south. But to maintain this traveling connection for as long as we did has been a rare and valuable gift for us in our isolated life.
We had been leaning towards staying in Walden for two nights, and the much-stronger-than-yesterday’s winds in the forecast sealed it for us. The motel we were staying in was an old run-down place that had just been bought by a family (one of the town guides in the room still had an ad listing it for sale!), and they were fixing up the rooms one at a time and renting them on AirBNB as soon as they were habitable again. So it was nice to see the investment being made in this small town (and even better, they have a Facebook page describing their work/status, far more detail than you get at most motels!), but the $136 price, while the best in town, was still pretty steep.
Since the forecast was for wind but not rain, we decided not to re-up, and instead moved a few blocks over to Hanson Memorial Park, where Walden allows free camping. Thank you Walden! Unlike Lander, they don’t have an RV section, so we were the only people here for the day and night. I tucked our tent right up against a stand of large bushes that would protect it from the wind, back near the outfield fence of the baseball field, and near the bathroom building. And then the central gazebo is also surrounded by a good amount of wind-blocking foliage, so that’s where we set up to hang out for the day (it has power outlets too). Temperatures never got out of the lower 50s, and the wind forecast held true, with constant 20+ mph winds all day, and gusts to 35mph. But bundled up and sheltered, it wasn’t too bad, and the price was right!
Yesterday on the way into town, I saw a roadside sign that said “If you voted to reintroduce wolves, do not recreate here, you are not welcome.” Um, whoa. Good thing I didn’t vote to reintroduce wolves, but…I might have? It turns out Colorado recently had a statewide referendum on the question, and “yes, reintroduce wolves” won (barely). The problem is most of the “yes” vote came from the urban areas around Denver (who will never need to worry about wolves attacking their livestock or pets), while the rural areas were very much “no”. So while the idea of wolves returning to Colorado sounds like something cool to say “yes” to (and some have already migrated in on their own), I also totally get why someone would post such a sign, an unenforceable cry of frustration that is their only way to push back on the city folks projecting their values (and resulting costs) onto communities that live a different lifestyle hundreds of miles away. If not for traveling through this barely-populated ranchland, I probably wouldn’t feel any sympathy toward the people here. But unlike many issues that define the urban/rural divide in this country, this one seems entirely rational, so it’s easy to sympathize with a family who has their border collie taken. And I would say that absorbing different perspectives like that is a major reason to travel.