Mountains and Desert

Jul 5th, 2017 in Adventure

I’ve been riding high in the mountains lately, checking in today from Rawlins, Wyoming at 6,834 ft. This is the land where all the cities list their elevation as you enter. I’m feeling gleeful being way up in the clouds after battling through the mental fatigue of Kansas’s endless farmland and the East’s relentless humidity.

Hutchinson in Kansas was where I last posted, and from there I dashed west. This area is a sparsely populated place and more arid than the rest of the state. That didn’t stop the land from being entirely converted to agriculture. Grain elevators tower like obelisks over the flat horizon. The empty stretches here increase to 20 or 30 miles a pop, which starts to test the mind in the thick of it as you roll down a seemingly unending road with nary a turn. At least towns with amenities and free camping reliably awaited me at multiple points each day. Something not realized about Kansas until travelled lengthwise is that by the Colorado border the elevation hits 4,000 ft. The nights started getting blissfully cool.

I have one tale to tell of note from Kansas and that regards the storms. It stormed (or at least threatened to) nearly daily as I traversed the state, and I started to dismiss them with an air of hubris. As long as I kept my eye on my weather app, I’d be fine, right? Wrong.

On my final evening in the state, heading from Leoti to Tribune, one descended on me unexpectedly. I watched it blasting lightning in the distance, but then I realized with dismay that the wind was pushing it towards me. The sky quickly grayed out all around me, and there’s nothing for cover out along these Kansan highways. The winds kicked up to 50 or 60 mph as I got pelted by hard rain. I started to actually backtrack for the last farm I saw as the last gap of sunlight behind me was starting to close, but then I got a rescue!

A man by the name of Dustin Fritzmeier, pulled up with his family in his minivan and offered me shelter just a bit up the road at his in-laws’ farm. He blocked the wind for me as much as he could with the vehicle while I pushed on in its wake. They got me in, immediately hooked me up with a shower, hot food and even let me do my laundry. The storm expended its wrath as quickly as it came and with the sunset, I departed to finish the last few miles to town in a peaceful dusk. Talk about good fortune, who knows how that could have gone for me otherwise.

Reflecting on Kansas overall, I have to say I’d be disinclined to bike there again. The state acted as a sort of purgatory on this trip in terms of heat, grinding wind, and repetitiveness sourced from a paucity of nature and wildlife. The roads lack of shoulders and busy commercial traffic (it was wheat harvest season) were real concerns. I welcomed this state as a challenge for me to overcome, and this is no indictment of the personal friendliness and helpfulness of the people throughout Kansas.

I noticed a difference quickly upon entering colorful Colorado. The desert climate in the state quickly left a larger percentage of the land unmaintained. Once I hit the city of Pueblo, the mountains opened before me. In CaƱon City, I reunited with Amanda to traverse the mountains. Through South Park, we climbed up and over 11,000 feet at a personal peak along the Hoosier Pass.

The transition to an alpine climate was a most welcome one. No more lamenting waking up after dawn on losing potential miles. The middle of the day has now become my favorite part to ride and the early morning and evenings are again reserved for rest. I get to sleep in until 6:30 now and I zip my sleeping bag up all the way!

What else is cool about the mountains? Well there’s been a plethora of wildlife up here, pronghorns and deer most prominently. I’ve got to visit a few hot springs and meet plenty of other travelers lured by the elevation. Tourism is definitely an economy driver up here. The mosquitoes unfortunately have been a regular twilight assault. The season up here for them must be short but unfortunately its intense and misery inducing. As I navigated around the snow-capped peaks, I find myself longing to understand how it must be to experience Winter here. Probably won’t be doing that on a bicycle though.

Colorado emptied out as I proceeded to the Wyoming border, and things have only gotten more desolate as I’ve started traversing the least populous state in the union. It’s fascinating how empty the state is; my trips between blips of civilization now are hovering around 50 miles or more. The land out here is starkly beautiful, it sort of feels like an alien planet. It’s cool, dry, and full of crazy rock formations, canyons and jagged mountains. An interesting point of addenda also is that Wyoming has been the safest for cycling thus far, with an ample shoulder nearly the entire way.

Yellowstone and the Tetons beckon before the vastness of Montana. I’m entering some of the most fascinating natural places in America as I start to close out this trip. I know I’m privileged to get to see these places and meet the folks who reside out there.