Why Did We Camp So High?
Full darkness finally descended a little after nine o'clock, and I was asleep not long after that. Unfortunately, I didn't stay asleep for long. About an hour later, I awoke, cold as a carp. I put my jacket over my feet, snuggled down into my bag, and tried to doze off again. Eventually, I nodded off, only to awake, again, freezing. This was the pattern for the night.
My bedroll consists of a waxed cotton tarp, folded in half, with snaps to hold it on bag shape. Inside that, I have a flannel sleeping bag liner. The bag is comfortable down to about 55 degrees, or a bit lower if I wear long underwear to sleep in. This particular night, I had on long underwear, two shirts, a wool sweater, skull cap, and socks. Still, I froze my butt off.
Finally, dawn arrived. Soon after, I got up, only to find Tom drinking a cup of coffee.
"Man, I was freezing last night!" I said.
"Me, too!" Tom replied. He had slept in a hammock, with a real sleeping bag. His bag was rated to 30 degrees, and he was still cold. Oddly, I felt a little better about my bedroll, since Tom was cold, too. If he had been warm, I would have been embarrassed by my misstep with the bag.
Eventually, we warmed up in the sun, and broke camp. As we left the campground, we headed uphill toward the summit of Georgia Pass. The road was mostly clear of snow, which was a good sign since it had been still snowed-in when Tom had taken his 4-wheeler up it a month earlier.
We got to the top of the pass, took some celebratory photos, and headed down the other side, toward Breckenridge. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Not far from the top of the pass, we hit a large snow drift. Tom rode around it on his XR and took a look. The trail had 5 to 6 feet of snow on it for long stretches.
Disappointed, we decided to turn back, and cross the highway to head a bit west and try to cross the divide, elsewhere. The ride back out to 285 was a hoot. Without the setting sun in my eyes, as it had been the previous evening, I was able to relax and enjoy the relatively high-speed shot down the dirt.
I found it odd that it was so foggy in the valley, though. The wind was gusting pretty high (65 mph, at times, I later learned), and that usually clears the fog out.
At the intersection with 285, Tom pulled over and I pulled up beside him.
"This is really getting to my eyes and nose," he shouted, from inside his helmet.
"What...the cold?" I shouted back.
He gave me a look, as if I was just a bit slow, and said, "No. The smoke."
At that point, the smell of smoke finally made it past my stopped-up nose.
"There must be a big fire, somewhere," I said, stating the obvious. (The smoke was from a huge fire in New Mexico, but we had no way of knowing that.)
Tom, looked around, then turned to me. "Would you hate me if I said we should bag it and head home?"
I looked around at the smoke. The wind was howling, and I was just beginning to thaw out from the cold bivouac.
"You know," I replied, "the best thing about not having a set destination is that you don't know that you never got there. It's been fun, so far. let's go home before it stops being fun."
So, we turned toward Denver and gunned it down the road, with the intention of stopping for a good breakfast. As we rode down 285, the wind never let up. Huge gusts blew across the road and nearly ran us off the pavement.
Eventually, we did get the big breakfast, then headed home. Tom split off at Evergreen, and I continued on into Denver. It had not been the three-day ride I had dreamed of, but I was fully satisfied with the trip. I got to work on my dirt-road technique, and camp out in a beautiful place. That's not too bad, in my opinion.
Later this summer, we will try again to do a big dirt trip. I can't wait.
A little mud and a lot of dust...