I would rate the first week out as an 8/10. Things went mostly to plan, except the first couple days, where I really noticed I was in terrible shape. I had to quit early a couple days to rest. But the bike and new motor performed well and even exceeded my expectations. It took me four days to cover the 65 miles and 5000 feet elevation from Fort Collins to the town of Walden, over the 10,200 foot Cameron pass.
As I looked at this route it amazed me to realize that in 2007 I crossed a major pass in the Andes, in Peru, after a 6000 foot elevation gain IN ONE DAY. It was an incredibly tough day, and I was a lot younger but it shows how gentle the Rocky Mountains are. The Andes and Alps are much steeper. The average gradient from Ft Collins to Cameron pass is only about 2%, whereas in the Alps gradients of 10-15% are not uncommon. In fact, on a recent Tour de France route this year the riders had to finish a race on a killer 24% gradient.
I could never have done it without the ebike. I tried turning off the motor from time to time and found I got winded in seconds. Even so, I had to pedal to keep the motor turning so I did get a workout, but if the road became too steep and I slowed down, the motor would kick in and help push me up. It really is a great invention. Without it, I would have been walking my bike a lot, becoming completely exhausted to the point of probably giving up. So the ebike allows me to keep touring in the mountains, which are great.
I rode along the Cache la Poudre river for most of those four days. It is a wild, beautiful river with lots of rafters and kayakers floating down. The name of the river (French for ‘”Hide the Powder”‘) is a corruption of the original Cache à la Poudre, or “cache of powder”. It refers to an incident in the 1820s when French trappers, caught by a snowstorm, were forced to bury part of their gunpowder along the banks of the river.
The last thing I expected in the Rocky mountains was a beach. but at the Columbine Lodge I got a tent campsite right next to the river—on a sandy beach!
A few people in kayaks stopped by and gave me a beer.
Here is the Cache la Poudre river from my campsite.
Some video of the river and rafters.
The road up through the Cache la Poudre canyon.
Finally made it to Cameron Pass.
The Art of Stealth Camping
After descending from the mountains on terrible rock-filled roads I stayed in Steamboat Springs one night checking out my gear and making sure nothing was broken. The bike survived the bouncy roads, thankfully. Then I headed out west and took more back roads to get away from the traffic.
Stealth camping, free camping, wild camping…these are all terms bike tourists use to mean finding a camping spot off the road in a field, forest or somewhere you don’t have to pay. Being a generally parsimonious lot, we prefer to camp for free if possible. There are many advantages to this: first, it’s free. Second, if you can find the right spot, it is much more enjoyable. Official campgrounds are crowded, noisy and small. In a nice free camping spot you are alone, which means it is quieter, more remote and generally more peaceful. You have a greater chance to see wildlife, and did I mention this? It costs nothing.
The problem is, it’s tough to find great spots like that. You would think that out here, in the west, there would be plenty of free camping spots, but you would be wrong. There is little public land, and all the private land is jealousy guarded. Fences and NO TRESPASSING signs abound. So I have had to climb over or under fences to get into fields, sleep in ditches, sleep in cow pastures among piles of dried up cow dung and even had to fight my way into corn fields to find a small camping spot.
The other day i was riding in a valley with a steep rock face on one side and and sloping drop on the other which led to a flat pasture. Fences on both sides of course.
There were zero camping options, so I pushed on. I considered stopping at a farm house and asking permission to camp, but I am reluctant to do this for some reason, even though I would be allowed probably 99% of the time. I also considered passing through gates with NO TRESPASSING signs, but this becomes awkward the next morning when the rancher comes by and asks what the hell are you doing on his property.
So I continued for several miles and eventually came upon a road that led up to a wonderful flat spot filled with farm implements. Some storage yard I guess. I quickly decided this was my stopping place. I located a farm implement near the rear of the space and set up my tent there. It was a great stealth spot: close to the road but not visible, quiet, flat, plenty of space, and pretty hidden if someone drove up into the space:
If someone drove up this is what they would see:
So I was immensely pleased that I found this great spot where I was least expecting it. After a ramen dinner I enjoyed a nice sunset.
I had a quiet evening, tranquil night and left in the morning with no one bothering me.
So that’s it for now. I have biked about 270 miles so far. A pretty slow pace for me but I have to take it easy until I get into shape. Plus I just crossed the Rocky mountains. The plan is to continue west into Utah. I am currently in the town of Craig, CO.