I’ve made it. At last. I am surrounded by mountains and will be staying put for almost two weeks in one spot. It feels heavenly. After being in high heat, followed by stormy weather in the Colorado Springs area, it is wondrous to wake up to crisp, cool mornings and plenty of sunshine. This morning was a brisk 45 degrees. I hadn’t brought in the heaters, so I just toughed it out with long pants and a sweatshirt. And coffee…always just the thing on a chilly morning. Or any other morning, come to think of it. I’m sitting at 9300 feet in elevation. It’s a Rocky Mountain High, to be sure.
I’ve been on the road again now for almost three weeks. Some might wonder why it took me so long to get to the mountains. I had to cross all the states in between Illinois and here. They aren’t the most exciting of areas, so why did I not hightail it here? I determined when I set out this time that I was going to make driving days as low stress as possible. And that meant making sure I was not behind the wheel for too long. I set my limit at three to four hours, aiming for as close to the three-hour range as I could get. I was successful up until the last day of driving to get to my current location. Now that I am in the mountains, I hope to move a little less and drive even shorter distances. I will try my hand at real boondocking, finally. And stay in a few host sites with Boondockers Welcome.
I stayed at one such place already. Just outside of Colorado Springs. Prior to that, I had been a few days on the plains of Colorado, but still had some time to kill before my first reservations in the mountains. I was not quite ready to full on boondock, so I made reservations for a couple of weeks at a USFS campground near Dillon. In the meantime, I hung out at a host site for a few days. And an eventful few days it was. The storms followed me there. We had one every day I was there. The first day, we had a tornado warning. That was fun. I was happy to have been in a location where I had a basement to take the cats into…and my hosts’ dog was absolutely thrilled to have kitty company. I can’t say the cats felt the same way about the dog, even though the dog was an absolute sweetheart that I would have taken with me if I could have found a way! In addition to the storms, I also discovered that the trucker who rear-ended me (and drove off when I got out of the rig to check on what happened) on the off-ramp at the previous stop had actually damaged my bike as well as the bike rack.
I had been heading to the store and to ride a rail trail when I noticed that I was having an exceptionally difficult time pedaling. I did not think the conditions were that bad, and I’d done the hills in Kansas without too much trouble, so it made no sense to me. Until I glanced down at my front wheel and noticed my brakes rubbing and wobbling, and then I further noticed the tire, wobbling as well. So, that was it. Front wheel was bent, and the five-mile ride I took to the store and back felt like 20. Fortunately, I recalled that Dillon has an REI, so I gave them a call and made my plans to drop my bike off on Tuesday. Needless to say, while my hosts were absolutely lovely people, and the views from where I was parked were gorgeous, I was glad to finally make my way into the mountains.
I opted to take the advice of one of my hosts and take the highway through the mountains, rather than I-25 and I-70. I’d come along part of that route, in the opposite direction, the previous year, so I knew it would be a beautiful drive. And it was. But so slow. It took ages to get out of Colorado Springs, but then once in the mountains, poor Knight struggled with the altitude and the climbing. At least the roads were pretty good and the other drivers polite. And the views were stunning. My three-to-four-hour limit turned into a five-hour drive. It was long, but I was never without amazing views to stare at while I passed the time behind the wheel. The cats did great, too. They were all crashed out asleep when we got to our camping spot. They were troopers. And maybe the CBD I’ve been giving them has helped too…
So, yesterday, I rode my bike to REI. The distance wasn’t bad, and only a short bit of it was on a scary-busy mountain road. The rest was on this great bike path that goes all the way around Dillon Reservoir. However, while the 5 miles I had first ridden with my bad wheel was on fairly mild grades, this 7 miles had more than a few steeper climbs. My legs got quite the workout, as did my lungs. But the weather was spectacular, and the big, white clouds, blue skies, water, and mountain peaks (still with snow patches dotting them at higher elevations) all made the ride in worth it. I love this area. I love the mountains and the cool, dry air. It does something to my soul. It’s sad to see all the beetle damage around here, but the Forest Service has been working to remove and replant, so there are many areas with young trees growing where dead trees were removed. And then there are the mountain peaks jutting above treeline. Rugged peaks that rise up strong out of the ground. That stand bold against the blue skies. They automatically make me feel stronger. They make me feel like I, too, can rise up, show formidable strength, and grace and beauty at the same time. That I can stand strong against the storms and winds of life, face into them, and remain standing when they pass. Maybe weathered a bit, but that just creates character, right?
The folks in the bike shop at REI were awesome. They knew my situation, that my bike was my only form of transportation other than Knight, and they worked diligently to get my bike done yesterday, even though they were already busy. Turned out that the master tech did not think that my wheel would be as dependable as I would want it to be for what I needed because the damage was too great, and he couldn’t get the tension on the spokes to a comfortable level. My rear wheel was also slightly bent, but that one was easily corrected. They had one rim in the shop that would work for what I needed, the right size and everything. So, I got a new wheel. And still got my bike back the same day I took it in. Incredible the difference in the ride on the way home! I’m not going to lie…there were a couple of steep climbs that I just couldn’t hack. My legs were as wobbly as my wheel had been. For those stretches, I hopped off my bike and pushed it up the hill (with my pack of groceries on my back, as well…I didn’t take my panniers because I thought for sure I’d be walking back to the campground without my bike). It just gave me extra time to take in the scenery, view the wildflowers, and gaze out over the valleys and through the trees.
I’m looking forward to a lot more riding and hiking while I’m here. I’ve been investigating the AllTrails app to see what hikes I can access from where I’m at. I’ll always have to do a bit of traveling to get to trail heads, but some of them are easily accessible with my bike. Others, I can take the free bus that travels this entire area, giving me access to a whole host of hikes I’d not otherwise be able to reach. I already know it’s going to be hard to leave this area. Everything I need is within reach. But there will be new places to explore in the Colorado mountains. And I’ll do that for as long as I can. This Rocky Mountain High is addicting. I’ll keep chasing it until the weather chases me south. Now I think I’ll go listen to some John Denver as I watch the sun sink lower over the mountains…