Cycling from the New Mexico Bootheel to Canada, Day Thirty-Two: Silverthorne, Colorado

July 2nd, 2016: 0 miles. Total so far: 1,069 miles.

We didn’t set the alarms on our phones last night, and we both slept until well after 7:00. The forecast was for a 90% chance of rain, and in fact it was already raining when I looked out the window. And it was chilly. It was another hour or so before we spoke aloud what we were both thinking: We were not going to ride our bicycles anywhere today. Joy walked to the front desk of the hotel and reserved another day, and with that taken care of, we began to discuss what was coming up on the Great Divide route in the next few days.

We consulted the maps and a couple of online journals of people who had done the route previously, and verified that yes, as we suspected, we would be climbing up more mountains on rough dirt roads, (and perhaps pushing our bikes up some unrideable sections), and then riding back down again. Again and again.

I believe I initially broached the subject of changing our route, but only slightly — perhaps backtracking on the nice paved bike path we’d rode on yesterday, then taking another bike path to a paved county road I’d toured on six years ago, then another couple of low-traffic paved roads, until we met up again with the Great Divide route at Steamboat Springs. But… what if instead of going to Steamboat Springs, we headed toward western Colorado, reversing a route I’d ridden in 2010? We could be in Utah in less than a week, probably! I’m not sure why I thought riding our bikes to Utah, where we lived for three long years, was a good plan, and Joy immediately rejected (strongly) that idea in any case. But it spurred discussion. What about riding to California? Nah, I’d done that already by myself, and Joy wanted to see California on a car trip someday, not on a bike. What about Nevada? Not in hot July.

We both like (in Joy’s case, love) the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. Why not ride to the Canadian border up there? (We still liked the idea of riding from the Mexican border to the Canadian border.) In short order we had a rough plan: We’d get off the Great Divide route, probably tomorrow, then make a right turn, ride out of Colorado in a few days, check out the southeast corner of Wyoming, head into Nebraska, maybe check out the Sandhills, then up into South Dakota (where neither of us has ever biked), then North Dakota, then Minnesota. Once we got to Nebraska we’d try to find a combination of quiet rural paved and dirt roads the rest of the trip. Hopefully do a lot of gravel forest roads in the Superior National Forest in Minnesota.

It was slightly shocking how quickly we arrived at the decision to abandon the Great Divide, but as Joy said, we’re grownups, and we can do what we want.

I felt a sense of relief and excitement at our decision. In a certain sense, making our own route, covering several states and at least 1,500 miles, would be a bigger adventure than sort of mechanically following the super-detailed maps for the Great Divide. (The maps are so detailed that they mention individual cattle guards, trees, and old cabins on the side of roads.) On the other hand, the remainder of the Great Divide would certainly be more difficult in terms of terrain and services than our proposed route threw the upper Midwest states. But I think we both felt that the 700 miles of the Great Divide we did in New Mexico was a worthy accomplishment on its own.

(Another reason I was relieved to get off the Great Divide was my fear of bears. The morning we made this decision, we heard the news that a cyclist had been killed by a Grizzly near Glacier National Park. I don’t care if my fear is irrational, and that it’s statistically unlikely for a cyclist to be attacked. I just don’t want to worry about it every day.)

The rest of the day was spent shopping for new bike shorts at the nearby outlet mall (Joy) and doing chores (both of us). I was in such a good mood that for the first time on this trip I thoroughly cleaned my bike, shoes, and panniers! Joy lubed both bikes’ chains, though. I wasn’t in a good enough mood to do THAT.