I crawled out of my tent, hands and knees, icy dew flaking off the rainfly, a rocky climb in my near future. We made our oatmeal and peanut butter breakfast, warmed our soup, packed all of our gear onto our bikes and waved my mom away, hoping she would be able to find her own way around the mountain to Steamboat. We inched along up the divide, breath becoming shallower, loose rocks barring our way to an easy climb. We knew we would be following Joe's tire tracks that day, but further up, we noticed a few others as well, the sand holding the patterns enough to tell the others had been through that morning. The map claimed the last two miles would be "a pusher" meaning I would end up either walking my bike up the hill, or crumpled underneath it. I chose the former, unable to concede to the gritty scabs I would likely find myself with if I fought my way up the hill on my pedals. At the top, thinking it a false summit due to the inaccuracy of our Garmin's elevation chart, we rode a little farther, looking around each corner expecting more uphill until we started the even rougher downhill.
Usually I am ecstatic once we reach the summit, knowing I'll be able to let gravity do the work for me. Most of the time I end up laughing maniacally as if I alone own the mountain, the wind causing my eyes to water and my calves burning from holding the pedals at equal distances to the ground so they won't hit any wayward rocks. However, this downhill hurt. Hurt more than the uphill I couldn't wait to escape. I swear we were riding down a dried up riverbed, the jarring we endured for the six miles down the divide had me riding with my mouth open, believing if I closed my jaw, my teeth would knock my other teeth out. Thinking of it now makes me laugh, wishing I could trade places with my dad so I could have seen the face I had been making. Really, the only thing I can picture is being at the dentist during a routine cleaning when they tell you to open your mouth, and then they expect you to also lift your gums from your teeth like a snarling dog.
Anyways, when we finally made it down, we came to the Clark General Store. We pulled in, seeing other loaded bikes, saw Joe up on the deck and waved. He came down, commenting on the food inside, asking how the ride down had been and after he joined the other cyclists again, we pedaled off, towards twenty miles of pavement.
Sometimes after a morning of jolting trail, pavement can be such a lovely reprieve, especially if you are following someone who makes a great windbreak. It can also be monotonous, dull to the point that you play games with yourself. One of the games I play is to see how close I can get to my dad's back tire without getting pelted in the chest by small pebbles. Another is to mimic my dad's gear changes and if I'm able to coast while he's still pedaling, he loses and I win. With him hitting most of the wind, I usually won, while he would be unaware of any of this taking place.
After finding my mom in Steamboat, our tents set up in the local KOA next to the creek just outside of town, I checked my phone to find a message from Joe inviting us to a brewpub that night with a group of other cyclists. I found myself on the city bus at 6:45 that evening, not completely sure where I was heading, and there on the outside of downtown Steamboat, I got off the bus, looked around and saw only a gas station and a closed grocery store. After a ten minute confusion on the side of the road, I realized I had put in the wrong address on my phone and figured out I was only a mile from the restaurant. I walked in, sweating and breathing harder than I should have been. I walked up next to Joe, excitedly waved at him and in that moment every person at the table turned towards me and stared, wondering what this girl, panting and red-cheeked was doing at the corner of their table. Joe pulled me up a chair, introducing me to everyone, giving first name and nationality. At the table were a few Australians, New Zealanders, a couple Canadians, Joe...and then me, the only American. Everyone smiled at me common-placely, asking me if I was riding the trail as well. I made a somewhat affirmative noise and said, "Yeah, I mean pretty much..." They looked at me, and one of the Australians said, "You should just say yes. You're either one of us, or not. Unshowered, or showered." I definitely found myself in the first category most of the time and thanks to the hurried mile I just semi-ran, I discovered myself being patched in to this arbitrarily exclusive club of fuzzy, smell-ridden travelers. I suppose this wasn't necessarily a new club to me, thinking of the state in which I live with my best friend in the summers and the baths I do receive taking place in lakes and rivers. We played pool, all claiming different rules throughout the games and killed time before going to a club playing jazz that night.
I've figured out something very interesting hanging out with that group of bikepackers that night. People love to give things to young people who look like they live out of their bike. Being included in this group meant I got into the club half off, the bouncer thinking it incredible anyone could travel by bike. I also found out that Australian money apparently can't rip in half, but Canadian money does if you try hard enough. Who knew. We stayed in Steamboat for a couple nights, exploring the town the next day, riding to the breweries, navigating our way away from the thunderstorms and traffic, knowing the days that followed would be high elevation, rugged terrain.