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Days 5 and 6: Steamboat Springs to Kremmling

Days 5 and 6: Steamboat to Kremmling

More than a century ago, it took about two days for the stage coach to travel from Steamboat Springs to Kremmling and that’s about how long it took me to bike the 80-odd miles. These two days featured some tough stretches but the route passed through beautiful country that I’ve never explored, except by train.

I left Steamboat on Tuesday morning after running some errands: mailing about five pounds of gear that I don’t really need back home, buying new gloves at the bike store, picking up food at Safeway, etc. The ride out of Steamboat was easy enough and I saw tons of recreational cyclists, all of whom seemed to get a kick out of me. The route makes its way up the Yampa River, passing by some trophy homes and ranchettes before entering Pleasant Valley, where I had about 50 ravens fly over my head.
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The dirt road then ascends to Stagecoach Reservoir, where it was sort of fun to ride over a narrow causeway above the dam. There were trout anglers fishing in the tailwaters below and people waterskiing on the reservoir. For a few miles, you follow a path around the edge of the lake that sometimes narrows to almost single track but is never too steep. There are lots of houses around the lake, and nice to see many of them with solar arrays.

From the reservoir, the route continues ascending up Morrison Creek and into the Routt National Forest, though it takes a long time to get to public lands. One thing about this route is that you pass by a lot of private land–mostly hay farms, cattle ranches, or subdivided rangeland in this first week–as you make on your way to the higher elevation national forests. I opted to ride all the way to the top of Lynx Pass, which wasn’t too bad of a climb and the road was in decent shape. Even better, I had a tailwind for a change1

Just on the other side of the pass, I biked up a side road for a half mile or so and made my camp near Tee Pee Creek, which emptied into a small pond. There were signs advertising moose in the area but I didn’t see any. If there weren’t a Forest Service work station nearby, I would have stripped down and taken a swim in that pond, but I heard some voices and opted to go upstream, where I found a mini-pool, about the size of a bathtub and two feet deep, where I could bathe and wash my clothes. The water wasn’t too cold and it felt both primal and refreshing.

Took a pretty cool time-lapse of the sunset with my iPhone, which I’d upload if I could find a decent internet connection, and then hit the sack early, like 9pm. I decided not to put the fly on my tent, so of course it rained overnight. I got a little damp before I woke up and quickly threw the fly on the tent. Fell right back to sleep: insomnia is not going to be a problem on this trip.

It was super damp in the morning and the sun wouldn’t come out so I had to pack my wet tent into my bag before taking off. My shoes were also soaking wet because I forgot to take them inside my tent. But that didn’t really matter because a few miles into Wednesday’s ride I had to ford a stream and walk through calf-high water in Rock Creek, close to where there’s an impressive 2-story building that served as the stage coach station more than a century ago.

Although I had camped near the top of Lynx Pass, the first dozen miles or so today still featured a fair amount of hills and was slower than expected. I’ve made the mistake before of thinking that achieving the top of a pass means it’s all downhilll from there. On a road bike in Colorado, that’s pretty much true–you top out and then go right down. But on these dirt roads, you’re often summiting a ridge, then dropping into a valley that’s usually braided by streams and interspersed with ridges. So after reaching the “top” of a climb, I might go another 5 or 10 miles before the descent.

My guide map was a little off, telling me to go up a paved road for 2/10 of a mile to get onto the forest road that descends to the Colorado River; in reality, the road was right in front of me. I was a little worried I was getting lost, in part because my GPS watch died this morning for no apparent reason, but after a half hour or so of riding I could tell I was on the right track.

The ride down to the Colorado River is described as one of the wildest descents on the whole GDMBR, and with just cause. You lose about 1,300 feet in the last few miles and have great views of the river valley below. Went from aspen to juniper to sagebrush in a matter of minutes.
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When I got to the crossing and RR station at Radium, I found tons of rafters in the river. I was also treated to the passing of the Amtrak California Zephyr, which goes from Chicago to the SF Bay Area. Ginette and I took the trip a few years ago and I recognized the area around Radium from that brief introduction.

I filled up on water in the river, thinking I might camp in the surrounding highlands without access to a stream. I wasn’t sure if I could make the nearly 20 miles to the tiny town of Kremmling. As I was leaving the river, the sky continued to darken and soon there was a lot of thunder and lightning. And then it started to pour. I circled back a mile on the route to the Radium campground and put up my tent, thinking I would either wait out the storm inside or just crash there for the evening. But as soon as I was done with setting up the tent, the skies started to clear as the storm either dissipated or moved on, so I repacked my bag and set off. I knew it might still rain, but overcast skies would also make for a cooler ascent.

The climb from Radium is grueling. The road is as wide as a highway and almost like pavement, but you can see ahead of your for a long while and know you’ll be cranking in your granny gear for the next half hour just to reach that bend in the road. The surroundings are impressive: from Inspiration Point you can see the Colorado way below and the RR line snaking along the wall of Gore Canyon. I was passed by tons of buses and vans from rafting companies that operate out of Kremmling and was surprised by how heavy the recreational use was on a Wednesday.
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After cresting a watershed divide, the last 8 miles to Kremmling were mostly–but not totally–downhill. The prospect of a shower and some non-camping food had succeeded in motivating me to do more than 40 miles through the toughest terrain I’ve seen yet.

I found a cheap hotel/hostel here in town and put away a heroic amount of food at the saloon across the street: 1/2 pound cheese burger with bacon, plus fries, salad, a chocolate sundae dessert, and a couple beers. I really needed that. While riding/camping it can be a challenge to consume enough food.

I’m now in the Moose Cafe in Kremmling, finishing up breakfast and getting ready to head off. Tonight I’ll be camping and tomorrow I’ll roll into Silverthorne, where I’ll stay in a motel Friday night and meet Ginette on Saturday morning. I’m definitely feeling full after that breakfast: the pancakes had the circumference of a volley ball.