We wake to frost-covered tents and steam rising from the slow-moving Sweetwater River.
Tammy starts a fire, Molly makes oatmeal, and I reorganize some gear on my bike to better distribute weight. Between using food and oil, leaving food with the Peruvian shepherd, and wearing more layers in the cold, my saddlebag weight is off balance. We have 130+ miles to ride today to Rawlins, and it’s all through the Great Divide Basin with no services between here and Rawlins.
The sun warms the land and I watch as frost crystals dissolve into droplets on my tent fly. We drape our belongings over the shrubs and trees to catch more sun and dry them out before packing up.
I enjoy another batch of Molly’s oatmeal, and am sad to think this will likely be the final time I get to do so on this trip. It’s Saturday and I’ve planned to turn toward home from wherever we are today. The way back will be through the Basin ahead.
We get a fairly decent start to the day and make good time, despite having to lace our way through several road choices. This place is barren, but it’s not entirely empty. Several campers are parked across the land and we stumble across a scattering of ranch buildings and oil wells here and there. We happen upon a pair of cyclists, a Québécois woman and a German man, making their way south. Hard to believe this long day-crossing of ours will take more like two or three days for them.
At one turning, a black truck races up and a man hops out with a hand-held antennae and asks if we have seen a falcon. We haven’t. It’s windy and has been for more than an hour, and blowing hard enough that the bird may have landed to save energy. Off they go.
We find monstrously large piles of horse shit every few miles and joke at one stop that we’ve never seen a horse big enough to make them. But it occurs to me later as I ride that these are where horse trailers get cleaned out after they’re unloaded. The whole center of Wyoming has been marked with “open range” signs, so maybe these are from gatherings.
It’s not the most scenic place, but I still find it very interesting and almost meditative. Hard to believe this big flat basin is at a high enough altitude to be part of the Continental Divide, but it is.
We finally reach the far eastern edge and come out at the black top and turn south toward our next fuel stop. According to the map there should be one only a mile or two ahead but it’s closed. So I will have to carry on to Rawlins to get fuel before turning for South Dakota. As we hit town, we are all hungry and stop for an early afternoon lunch, and wind up chatting with two couples on big bikes. The wives comment that they feel silly about having complained about long pillion rides or bad hotel rooms after seeing what we are up to. They’re all really nice.
All during lunch I debate about carrying on. I check my phone and find (incorrectly as I later find out) that I still have 80+ miles to ride to Aspen Alley on the Wyoming/Colorado border, which was where I had hoped to get this week. It’s been on my Apocolist to see it some day. A burger and a soda have revived me enough to want to carry on to there, if I can. Molly and Tammy say they plan to ride another 50 miles or so before they call it a day, and I decide to tag along. Maybe I will ride the last thirty miles to Aspen Alley in the morning before I turn for home. Tomorrow is Sunday. The further I carry on from here, the further I will be going from my home, and the more riding I will have to do to get back there. Oh well, I will worry about that tomorrow. So I announce to the girls that I’m “in for a penny, in for a pound” and I will try for Aspen Alley. Besides, I’m not ready to say goodbye yet. Something feels unfinished.
We ride over to a gas station and fuel up and buy water before I lead us out of town on the trail. The paved highway dissolves into a wide gravel road a dozen or more miles out of town.
I stop a few times to recheck the map, because we are covering more miles than I had expected to. We are getting close to the mountains on the southern border of Wyoming and can’t be far from Aspen Alley.
I turn over the map to Tammy and let her and Molly decide where they want to camp tonight. I have wanted to be careful not to influence their pace in this ride just because of my short timeline, and I’m afraid I may be doing that today.
Tammy scouts a couple of campsites and leads us through 10-15 miles of Medicine Bow National Forest towards one that might work for us. But she announces at one stop that we’ve already passed most of them and are nearly to Aspen Alley. So now she aims for a campsite just past it.
As we ride a few more miles I rethink my use of Pocket Earth at lunch to find out how far it was from Rawlins to here. I think it must have routed me on paved roads which incorrectly exaggerated the distance. I can’t believe it, we’ve almost reached my finish line.
With dwindling daylight we ride on for a few more miles until we see the road narrow from a standard gravel road to a single wooded lane…and perched on both sides are tall shimmering Aspen trees. We have arrived at Aspen Alley.
We make a few runs back and forth through the trees. They aren’t at peak color, but it’s still a beautiful place. Traffic actually backs up in either end as couples in side-by-sides race up and down the alley, kicking up dust and gravel until the tunnel between the trees is filled with a choking cloud. That’s it for me then, I prefer to leave and remember it as I first saw it.
We carry on less than a mile up the road to a camp site just off the road. The small clearing has a stone fire circle and trees on three sides for protection from the wind. But it’s apparent this isn’t used much for tent camping because the ground is rough and full of undergrowth.
As I unpack my gear bag to set up my tent, I find one of my gas cans has sprung a leak and my tent bag looks saturated. Thankfully, even though it is, only a little bit of my tent floor has fuel on it. I hang it and my other gear up to air out for a while.
The girls start a fire and we hang out for a while before calling it an early night. There’s a bright moon overhead and a gentle breeze rustles the Aspen leaves, lulling us to sleep. I’m so grateful for this one extra day with Molly and Tammy.