26-Sep-2008 -- Autumn in the Colorado Rockies. In all of the confluence treks I have embarked upon, this truly was one of the most beautiful. It also turned out to be one of the more difficult, but I was able to do something I had not yet ever done: Bicycle to a confluence. To put it more precisely, mountain bike.
As (1) this confluence has only been visited once, and as (2) it was near the height of the color season for the aspen trees, it only made sense for me to visit it while en route to Grand Junction. I made an attempt here about 16 months ago but ran out of daylight. Now I was running short of daylight again, but this time, I had brought my mountain bike with me. I left Interstate Highway 70 at Wolcott, driving north on State Highway 131. The highway is one of the most magnificent in Colorado, diving down to the Colorado River before climbing and dipping along the east side of the Flattops. I turned west on a county road that runs through a wide open mountain valley, too dry for trees, with the Flattop Mountains off to the west and the yellow aspens everywhere. Unfortunately, numerous thunderstorms were also clearly in sight, and as I have lived in Colorado for most of my life, I respect these mountains and know when to yield to caution. I would definitely turn around if the confluence was in the midst of a thunderstorm.
The well-graded portion of the road ended and the road began a steep incline toward the National Forest boundary. Last year in May, the road was gated once I entered the national forest, but it now was open. I kept driving up the road that I had hiked along last spring, now lined with aspens at their peak of color. I turned at the fork in the road, headed west, and then south, because even though I had no maps with me, I remembered a forest service road that led south toward the confluence. I should have known last year that there was no way I could have hiked to the confluence in just a few hours. From the forest boundary, it would have been an all-day hike. After about 5 minutes on the road, a four-wheel drive truck ahead of me was having trouble negotiating the ruts. I took that as a sign that I should not be driving any further with my 2-wheel drive car. I made a U-turn and parked back in the trees. I then pulled my bicycle out of the back seat, donned my raincoat, hat, gloves, sweatshirt, camera, and GPS, and bicycled southward with about 2 miles (3.2 km) reading to the confluence.
Things went fine, despite some lightning flashes to the south, and a few trucks passed me containing what obviously were hunters. I hadn't thought to wear any orange clothing or anything else that would identify me as human, rather than a target. The road was quite rutty and I had to get out and walk a few times. There was one pine tree lying on the road as well. I had to make a few fork-in-the-road decisions but stayed the course to the south. I was able to experience a thrilling ride through a mountain stream about a half-meter deep. Not long afterward, the road gave out at the top of a hill with a magnificent vista to the south, down to the Colorado River, out of sight.
I walked the bicycle down a steep grade to the stream below where I could see a beaver's dam. I gingerly crossed the dam with the bicycle tires in the water but: Dam Held and Shoes Dry, for the moment. A narrow cattle trail lay on the other side. I'm no mountain biker, and now I was truly out of my league. I much prefer to walk. Nevertheless, I reasoned that biking was faster, and I doggedly gave it a try, bumping along. I had to open a wire gate but couldn't shut it due to high tension on the gate. I left it half open but after seeing cattle, I doubled back and managed to shut it. The cows eyed me curiously, and the next part--cattle playing tag with me--reminded me of the herd at 40 North 102 West last June on the prairie in Kansas.
When I remembered all of those mountain bikers I had read about who had gone over the handlebars, all of a sudden, I went down. Not exactly over the handlebars, but sideways, with such forece that it knocked the batteries out of the GPS unit. Days later, I was pretty sore in the chest. But for now, I got back on and bumped along at a slower pace. I needed my triathalon-trained and expert mountain biking sister-in-law here to tell me why my bicycle tires kept rubbing on the brake pads even when the brakes weren't on. This made for extremely unstable bicycling. I kept descending in elevation until traversing a willow lowland with only 300 meters to go. Skirting a few aspen groves, I hiked uphill and came upon the confluence at the edge of another grove.
I first thought that the point was in the thick part of the stand, where pine and spruce grew, where I knew I would lose GPS signal. After stumbling through there for a bit, I was relieved to find the point just at the edge of the thickest part of the stand. The point therefore lies on ground sloping 5 degrees to the south, with the longest view to the east, a distance of a few hundred meters. Just to the south of the point, though, was a magnificent vista of tens of kilometers--perhaps 50 km--to the south. I saw no animals and wasn't sure if the hunters had either. I saw no birds. The temperature was about 18 C (65 F) under light rain. By this point, because I had been rushing so much, I was pretty tired and it was difficult to get decent photographs without shaking. Victory at 40 North! I now had an unbroken string of confluences along 40 North from 99 West Longitude to 109 West Longitude. This string includes the Great Plains, metro Denver, the Rocky Mountains, and the Colorado Plateau, a varied and fascinating landscape. I had also been to 107 West several times, and was glad to log another confluence here in Colorado.
I spent about 30 minutes at the site before trying a shortcut on the way out on a different cattle trail. That was a mistake, with the result of me hiking over huge logs while carrying the bicycle. Hence, I cut back to the original trail as soon as I cleared the heavy timbers, climbing back out on the original trail toward the end of the road. Once on the four-wheel drive road, I made better progress, biked back through the stream, and arrived at my vehicle. The rain was heavier now but the real downpour never came, thankfully. I wasn't certain how long the trip had taken. However, I did know that it would be better to devote a whole day to this confluence, rather than rushed into a few hours. This is one of the highest confluences in the 48 contiguous United States, but isn't too difficult to reach. It is amazing that mine was only the second successful visit. The trees and mountains were absolutely magnificent, and I was glad I was able to spend at least a few hours in the Rocky Mountains.