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Day 55: Out of the Frying Pan… And Over the Handlebars

Today we biked east. Which aimed us into the morning sun, gave us another small taste of tailwind, and threw us (somewhat literally) into some of our more intense moments on the trail.

Part sunset, part the "East Troublesome" forest fire.

It started out casually enough. We woke in Kremmling, hit the decent Big Shooter Coffee, and set out on what was a pretty modest biking day. But we were about two miles outside of town when our first incident struck: I was following too close behind Sara, and the shoulder of the newly repaved road wasn't consistent; there was suddenly less shoulder than I expected, and I slid off the road onto the gravel. Because this bit of road had been built up over the years, it was a drop of several inches. Rather than just roll with the dip and ride the gravel, which I might've been able to do, I tried to correct back onto the highway. The front wheel shot hard left; the bike went sideways. We were, of course, going downhill at a pretty good clip.

Not too long after this picture, I eat that gravel.

I let the bike go, jumped the handlebars. My leg caught the right pedal, but mostly I cleared my ride, so that we could both go smush on our own. As the bike fell on its left side, the handlebars and front wheel hit road and flipped. I landed mostly on my right palm, I think, and rolled (it's all a little blurry, ya know?). A truck that was stopped in a near cross street watched the whole thing, then pulled out and sped away.

I'm shaking when I stand up, but I stand quickly and easily. Sara comes back; it looks to me like my handlebars are bent from the wreck, but it turns out it's just the right brake hood, which Sara shoves back into place. She tries to get me to sit down, but I'm a little afraid that if I sit down I'll have a real hard time getting started again. In a minute or two, we're back on the road.

It's actually beautiful riding. The wind, which seems set on blowing east, is finally to our backs. And the Colorado River runs along the south side of US-40 nearly the whole way to Granby. The road runs through canyons for a bit, and we almost stop at Hot Sulphur Springs for the eponymous hot springs, but opt out because it seems like a hassle.

We make quick time to Granby, CO, which isn't technically on the trail but is only a couple miles off, and it has a load of coffee shops — Sara has the opportunity to apply for a Zoom directing gig this winter, so we head there and spend most of the afternoon in a spot with wifi where she can work on that application. I wander the town a bit, stock up on supplies. Thus passes much of Day 55.

We almost pulled a Cañon City — we almost decided to just spend the night in Granby, since it seemed like a cool town. But there's a free campsite about a dozen miles away, and we agree it'll be wise to save the money, as well as to get used to camping in the cold — it's supposed to hit 30 degrees tonight, which we aren't exactly excited about, but if we can't handle that then we're in trouble.

So we head out a little after 4pm, this time headed into the wind — we have to go back west on 40 until we hit CO-125, which we passed on the way in. And, have we mentioned the wind? Surely, it can't always be like this — the cafe where Sara was working also housed the Granby Info Center, and that morning the wind had blown the sign around until it split down the middle and half of it fell off. I heard the lady at the desk tell people about it twice. This is not normal. It just can't be — there'd be no signs around.

But we've been riding into wind since the MO-KS border, it seems, and we plow into this like into any of the others. I'm actually laughing for the first little part of this; for some reason all this constant wind strikes me as ironic and hilarious. And we only have to make it 12 miles. Pretty soon we turn north onto 125, and we start climbing — of course it's uphill.

Well, and it's probably about 200 feet before we hit the sign — one of those big CDOT signs, black background with the orange bulbs that spell out warnings and admonishments. This one's flashing two different messages: FIRE CLOSURES and 125 NORTH OF WALDEN.

We stop and check the map. 125 definitely is the road we're supposed to take out of Walden, where we intend to sleep tomorrow night. We stand on the side of road, on the side of this big hill, in this ripping wind, and we try to look up alternative routes. Nothing obvious presents itself. But, also: we need to get somewhere so we can set up camp while there's still light. We decide, at least for the moment, to push on — to bike up the hill, into the cold and the wind, despite the fires and potential road closures. Why? Because, dear friends, sometimes that's the only thing to do.

Then we top the hill, and our eyes and lungs are suddenly clouded with smoke.

One side is the clear air we're coming from; the other is the smoke we're riding into.

We roll down into a valley flooded with haze. And we've known that the fires are around, but this is the first intense encounter we've had — we soon realize that the bulk of the smoke is pouring over us. There is daylight, underneath, on the other side. We push on.

The sun begins to set as we come out the other side of the great cloud. We continue to our campsite, taking comfort in the fact that at least this stretch of the road is still open—they'd close it if it was dangerous, right?—and that we continue to hear cars passing, and that the last screenshot we took, when we had reception, showed the nearest fires still pretty far away — we'd actually passed closer to them earlier in the day. Did the wind blow the smoke our way? Was there a new fire?

With these questions, and with anxiety building over the near future of the trip, we pulled into the Sawmill Gulch Campground and set up camp. It was a beautiful sunset. We bundled into the tent, read more Monte Cristo, and slept none too soundly.

Day 55 stats: Kremmling to Sawmill Gulch, CO, 43.2 miles, 2275' elevation gained, our first legitimate wipeout, a potential road closure, and a pillar of smoke.

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