July 14th – The Calm

Birdsong filled the air, rousing me from my sleep. As usual, once I was good and awake, the birds migrated on, no doubt to wake up the rest of the camp. I put on my jacket, and walked the 80ish feet down to the river, and took a seat on the shore. There’s really almost nothing I like more than staring at moving water. Aside from simply doing beautiful things to light, and being calming, streams have a lot to teach us. Though a stream exerts no energy of it’s own, relying on gravity, it carves mighty canyons, and nourishes whole ecosystems. I sat and meditated on the river as the sun finished coming up. I was starting to get hungry, so I wandered back to camp, pulled our kitchen bags down from the tree, and set a pot of water to boil on our little one burner stove. Ducking back into the tent, I nudged Gianna awake. “5 more minutes” came the predictable plea. “OK,” I replied.

After oatmeal and coffee, we packed our camelbacks full of snacks, and the bike’s tail bag full of clothes to change into throughout the day. After tidying up after breakfast, we saddled up for the ride to Piedra Falls, where we failed to arrive the day before. As we wound up the mountain towards the end of the pavement, I mentally prepared myself for what would be easily an hour of unpaved trails through the wilderness, following some loose directions, and hoping for signs.

As the asphalt ends, dumping us onto the narrow loose gravel path, I again have to appreciate what a large bike this is. Most of the trail was so windy that we couldn’t manage more than about 20 miles per hour, though there were some long cuts through valleys that allowed me to twist the throttle up to 45 or so. Despite the rapidly warming day, we decided to keep the jackets on today. Bikes really don’t enjoy loose gravel too much, especially with the road touring tires I had. There was really no telling when the bike might decide to just upend itself, loosing traction at a critical moment. So, we rode slow, and we wore all our protective gear. That way, even if the bike did take a fall, we would be extremely unlikely to sustain injuries.

Perhaps forty minutes into the wilderness, there appeared a pullover with picnic tables, and we decided to stop for a breather. Our butts had been vibrated by the rough road into a state of complete numbness, and it was getting on time for second breakfast. This usually consisted of granola with nuts and dried fruit. Maybe some jerky if we had it. By this point in the trip, it had become abundantly clear that 3 meals a day was not providing us with nearly the amount of food we needed to continue adventuring at this pace, and so second breakfast became a tradition. We also found snacking nearly continuously to be more or less necessary.

Feeling refreshed, we got back on the trail, which quickly took us back into the woods from the valley we’d been riding through. Have I mentioned I love the woods? The trail wound around considerably, taking us gradually higher up the mountain, and presumably closer to the falls. It was fun watching the reactions of what few cars passed us going the other way. You see, Gianna had opted to carry her hula hoops with her, and had them slung over her shoulder as we maneuvered this big heavy touring bike through these windy dirt trails. Ridiculous? Yes. Worth it? You bet.

Right as I was starting to get concerned we might be lost, there appeared a hunting and fishing supply store on the side of the road. I parked the bike, and hopped off to ask directions. The shack was manned by a very short, mostly bald man of very odd proportions. He wore extremely thick-rimmed circular glasses, and had a fairly long upturned nose. He was exactly the sort of mole-like person you’d expect to find running a bait shop in the middle of woods in southern Colorado, or perhaps a rare book store hidden down an alley, behind the closed Vietnamese food place. I asked him how to get to Piedra falls, and he instructed me to take the next right, and then the next right, and it would be about another 10 miles. As I walked out of the shop, I had to shake my head at what an odd little place that had been.

The rest of the ride consisted mostly of switchbacks taking us further up this mountain. Finally, we arrived in a clearing, somewhat surprisingly rather full of vehicles. Though we’d seen very few people on the ride in, it appeared that was mostly because they were all already here. As we dismounted, an older man asked of Gianna, “What are those plastic circles you’ve got there?” “They’re hula hoops!” she proclaimed. “What are they for?” “For hula hooping!” came the incredulous reply. Sheesh. Some people.

The trail was only about a mile, though it was quite scenic, and did involve shimmying along some narrow ledges. This was admittedly very beautiful, and arguably well worth the ride out here. The trail followed the river up to it’s local source at the waterfall. As we walked, we began to hear the roar of the fall up ahead. Finally, we rounded a corner to see the rather spectacular flow of water down from the high cliffs above. Probably a dozen or more people milled about, taking pictures, and enjoying the cool mist that floated in the air. We climbed up to a nice perch and enjoyed a bowl. It was then that we remembered climbing down is frequently much harder than climbing up. Thankfully, though we had ridden down here in boots, we had brought our fivefingers to change into, and the scurry down the steep incline went relatively smoothly. We spent perhaps another hour there climbing around on rocks, and enjoying nature’s splendor, snacking along the way.

Feeling pretty good, we began the slow journey back down the mountain, winding whimsically through the woods. I’ve noticed the return trip is almost always shorter seeming than the ride out. I think this is because the ride out, I don’t really know where I’m going, or what the destination looks like, and so the anticipation makes time seem slower. The ride out is all ground I’ve covered before, though in this situation, it did look quite different in reverse. Regardless of the sensation of time, it still took us a bit over an hour to make it back to civilization, and wouldn’t you know it, we ended up at the same gas station as the day before, buying our 4pm Dr. Pepper. Mmmmm….Caffeinated sugar water. I normally don’t indulge in a twice a day caffeine habit, but while traveling it’s virtually a necessity. Camp sleep just isn’t restful enough to give me enough energy to do as much stuff as I want to do.

By the time we got back to camp, the saddle bag had arrived, and the camp host had been kind enough to drop it off at our campsite for us. Like I said, overnight delivery to a tent. Not too shabby, modern world. I opened it, affixed the reflectors that came with it, and walked up to the office to fax the receipt to Allstate for reimbursement. After a brief chat with the camp hosts about bikes, I headed back down to camp to help Gianna start the dinner process.

I honestly think this part of the story happened the day before, but I can’t really remember, and when it happened isn’t particularly relevant to anything else, so I’m including it here. We were sitting at our picnic table, smoking a bowl, when a man with a pony tail and his son came up. The kid was probably 10 or 12, so we made a modest effort at hiding the bowl, but that not much of one. Colorado was a medical state, so ideally nobody should care anyways. They’d seen our license plate was from Texas, and being from Texas themselves they thought they’d come talk to us and see what part we were from. Turns out they were from Kerrville, and spent a lot of time in Austin. They’d been hitchhiking, it seemed. Mom lived in a hippie commune called Greenbriar outside of Austin, and Dad apparently lives on the road. Interesting family. Eventually the dad commented on our poorly hidden pipe, asking if there was a hit left in there. I chuckled, saying the only reason I hadn’t offered already is I didn’t know anything about his relationship with his son. The three of us passed the pipe around for a little bit, trading traveling stories. I really enjoy running into other travelers on the road, and it was nice to find someone from our neck of the woods.

It had been a good day, and I was looking forward to getting back on the road the next day. Our plan was to head to Durango for a night, and then north up the Million Dollar Highway before circling back around to boulder. Pagosa Springs had been a pretty nice place to be stuck for a few days, but it was time to move on. As we lay down for the night, there was no way I could have known what the next day would bring.

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