Cycling from the New Mexico Bootheel to Canada, Day Thirty-Four: Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado to Walden, Colorado

July 4th, 2016: 61 miles. Total so far: 1,175 miles.

We woke up to find that it was a chilly start to the 4th of July — in the high 30’s. Our little room had a kitchenette, so I was able to have my morning oatmeal in a bowl, not a plastic bag, and Joy didn’t have to fiddle with our camp stove to heat the water. Oatmeal in an actual bowl! The day was off to a great start!

We’d be on the TransAmerica Trail for the entire day, and in fact I’d ridden this section (or most of it) two times previously, so I didn’t expect to see anything novel. One of the most fun things about bike touring is the opportunity to see new, different stuff every day, so while I didn’t dread today’s ride, I didn’t feel a lot of excitement about it, either.

After several miles on US-40, we turned onto CO-125, a narrow, winding two-lane highway that goes up and over Willow Creek Pass, the last crossing of the continental divide we’d do on this tour. There was some annoying holiday traffic, mostly recreational vehicles, but they were all well-behaved and gave us a wide berth.

We climbed steadily for the first few hours, and I pulled ahead of Joy for a while. While I was stopped along the side of the road, fiddling with my camera, a very, very large man on a very, very light road bike went past me, so I hopped back on, caught up with him, and we had a brief conversation. Soon his much skinnier friend caught up, and after they rode off I was a little surprised to observe that the large man was faster than his extremely skinny riding partner. Later Joy asked “Did you see the calf notch on that big guy? I bet his skinny friend regrets introducing him to bike riding.”

We continued to see other fast road cyclists throughout the morning, most of whom were apparently locals riding up to Willow Creek Pass and back down. We had a longish talk with one couple about our ride. They’d seen the “Ride the Divide” movie, and so knew something about the route, and I assured them even riding it as a tour (not a race) was harder than it looked in the movie (the New Mexico portion anyway.)

After lunch at the campground which was our original destination yesterday (before we wimped out and got the motel room in Hot Sulfur Springs), we ground out the last miles to Willow Creek Pass, stopping for a while a mile below the top to observe several marmots on a large rock. Marmots are pretty cool, we decided.

At the top we took a few pictures of the sign (since it was our last continental divide crossing), and then some friendly tourists from Maine showed up and offered to take a picture of us together.

Several miles later we stopped at the only open business in tiny Rand: An improbably-located bookstore that is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The store stocks a few cold drinks and snacks, and while on my previous visits there was a small selection of ice cream sandwiches, this time I didn’t see any, and the lady running the store flatly told me that “books and ice cream don’t mix.”

We bought a few snacks and some Gatorade, and when I attempted to pay with my credit card, the store’s machine flashed “Declined.” I went ahead and paid for the stuff with cash, but later when I called my credit card company, they said the charge had actually gone through. Is this double-charging how the bookstore in Rand stays in business? I cannot rule it out.

After Rand it was a mostly flat ride through empty range land for a few hours. Pleasant. At some point I looked down and noticed my left front rack and pannier were dangling. I got off to investigate and discovered that the expensive steel rack had snapped, probably due to all of the abuse it had taken in New Mexico. Joy caught up with me, confirmed that the rack could not be fixed, and transferred my two front Ortlieb panniers to her bike. She hates Ortliebs, so this was painful for her. Also painful was the extra 25 pounds she was now carrying on her bike. I was now 25 pounds lighter, and absolutely flew the rest of the way to Walden. This was the way bike touring should be! I tried not to enjoy myself too much, since poor Joy was now more heavily loaded than me. But it was fun.

We got to Walden (population 590), most of which was shut down for the holiday, and got a room at an OK-but-nothing-special motel. We attempted to have dinner at a nice restaurant that I’d liked in the past, but the place was short-handed (the “Help Wanted” sign on the door should have been a warning), and we gave up and left before we even got water. Instead we got burritos and snacks at the gas station and took them back to our room, as it quickly cooled down and the sky darkened.

Last continental divide crossing. Good!
After my front rack broke. Two of the hated (by Joy) Ortlieb panniers are now on her bike.