Wednesday, September 8

Trip Report: Medicine Bow Rail Trail

The short version:

Me, Boone, Lily, two bikes, a trailer and all our camping gear traveled 22 miles round trip from Pelton Creek Trailhead near Mountain Home, Wyoming (and the Wyoming-Colorado state line) to the Woods Creek Trailhead. We camped one night and returned to Pelton Creek TH the next day.

The long version:

It took us about three hours to drive from Arvada to the trailhead at Pelton Creek near Mountain Home, Wyoming. We pulled in to the empty lot at 11:20am. There was a wind advisory for the whole region and I was concerned that it would slow us down on the trail. It was definitely cold a we loaded up the trailer. We ate lunch at the car as I transferred all our gear from Forester Gump's hatch to the Family Express. I reluctantly left a small cooler with the remains of our lunch in the passenger side floorboard.

An hour later we were pulling out on the Medicine Bow Rail Trail headed north, hopefully all the way to Lake Owen about 20 miles away. I figured we had all day so we should be able to creep along and make it with time to spare. The Pelton Creek TH is at milepost 67 and the numbers diminish as you head toward Dry Creek to the north.

Boone pedaled along side me and Lily rode cheerfully in the trailer. The camping gear was all loaded in the back of the trailer and on the flat rack I had fashioned to attach to the rear of the trailer. Our clothes and odds and ends were loaded in panniers on my bike and Boone had a backpack with a few toys.

Within the first mile we had to dismount and roll everything over a fallen aspen that spanned the trail. We were only delayed a couple of minutes and I prayed that we would see no more fallen trees across the trail.

At two miles we had to stop for a "rest." The kids were running all over the place, laughing and wrestling. I decided no rest was needed and got the train rolling again. And of course, within a quarter mile we had to stop to pass through a gate near the WY 230 bridge.

We rolled along slow and steady for another mile or so, seeing a lone free range cow and then we passed through the edge of Mountain Home. I want a cabin there.

Boone cranked alongside me and kept pretty good pace. He was in great spirits and was having a great time. Lily was happy as could be in her trailer. The wind was still blowing, but it wasn't a factor. It didn't hinder us, but it didn't seem to help either.

After what seemed like a very long time we reached the Vienna TH. It was 6 miles from Pelton Creek TH and a long way still from Lake Owen.

We enjoyed the views alongside the trail as we continued on, hoping to at least make Woods Creek in time to set up camp and have dinner. After Vienna TH I felt as if I was lagging and soon after Boone began to complain of being tired. The little guy had pedaled about eight miles of a 3-4% grade. He had done fabulous. So around MP 59 I stopped and put him on the tow bar between me and the trailer and then we pedaled on, though noticeably slower.

The scenery is amazing. In places the trees open up and you can see far to the south. The terrain is oddly flat, but very scenic. It reminds me of more northern climes for sure. We had hoped to see some wildlife (from a safe distance) but only saw a few free range cattle.

At the end of our mental endurance we finally rounded a bend and saw Woods Creek Trailhead.

We made a token effort to continue by crossing WY 230, going through the gate and pedaling a couple hundred feet down the trail on the other side toward the Miller Lake TH. I was tired, the trail was more rough and seemingly less traveled as the weeds in and around the trail were thicker than what we had already ridden. I decided we'd camp near Woods Creek TH and call it good.

We went a few hundred feet south of the TH and unloaded the trailer. I popped up the tent, stowed our gear and we set off back down the trail to refill our water bottles.

Boone pulled the trailer behind his bike to the water hole. He said he was giving me a break. He's got a big heart, that kid.

Unfortunately for those with water purifiers the railbed was built up to cross all the valleys so to get to any water you’d have to descend a steep slope. The sun was sinking and I was afeared of evening drinkers at the water's edge along any of the marshy ponds we had passed.

I implored the kids to stick by the bikes and trailer while I tromped down to the first pond we came to. The first bottle filled quickly, but then the filter slowed to a trickle. I'm not sure if it is plugged up or if something else was going on. But I only managed about a liter an a half in addition to what remained of our initial supply (maybe a liter). I hoped it would be enough for dinner and water to drink until the morning. I figured worst case I'd have to refill again in the morning for our trip out.

Back at Woods Creek TH I set up the camp stove and heated water for ramen noodles for the kids. It was cold and windy but they held out until their food was ready and both laid into their cup-o-noodles like their little lives depended on it. While I was heating my can of soup they emptied their cups and wanted more.

Thankfully we had plenty of snacks and such and they both ate til they were full.

I ate quickly, stowed the garbage in a bag and began fretting over what to do with the food, garbage and our tasty smelling clothes. Initially I thought I could stow everything on top of the restroom propped against the vent pipe. But I really couldn't figure out how to get everything on the roof. After we had all changed into clean clothes I decided I'd take a chance and just put the food box and our clothes inside the restroom. We had only seen four people all day and they were all at Woods Creek, but they had been gone for over an hour and no one else had come along. I didn't think anyone else would come along before dark and I planned on being back up at dawn. I propped a medium sized rock against the door as a further deterrent.

The bikes and trailer were cabled to a trail sign out of sight and our clothes and food were in the restroom. We had also left a small cooler with lunch items in it in the car back at Pelton Creek. Those three things and the three of us in the tent kept my mind occupied til well after the kids were sawin' toothpicks.

I tried to get them settled down. I had brought The Hobbit to read to them. Boone was pretty excited, but Lily could care less. She went back and forth between wanting the light off so she could go to sleep to sitting quietly and listening to jumping up and down as her hair generated millions of volts of static electricity.

We got through one chapter and then it was dark, I was tired and Lily was wearing on my nerves.

As I said, both kids were out, snoring softly and the wind had died down to nothing. The night was still except the occasional car passing a few hundred yards away on 230. I had a really hard time falling asleep. I prayed that a) we'd be safe from roving animals through the night, b) the bike trailer would not be ravaged by animals (years of cookie crumbs had soaked into the nylon), c) no one would mess with our stuff in the restroom and d) no bear would wreck our car 11 miles away.

I slept, fitfully at first, but then soundly after 1:30 when Boone woke me complaining of being uncomfortable. I asked if he was cold and checked Lily to find her sung-a-rug in her blankets. He assured me he was warm so I fell quickly back to sleep. I woke again after the sky had started to lighten. I let myself snooze for a while after that and woke to a much lighter sky. I checked my cell phone and saw it was 7:43. I needed to get up. Prayer "A" had been favorably answered.

As I was piling our gear outside the tent I heard my phone power off. I knew the battery would die. We were in a black hole. Luckily I could use the time stamp on my digital photos to keep track of the time.

I dressed and exited the tent without waking the kids. It was cold, but not frigid. I walked over to the restroom, noted that the bike trailer had not been ravaged by wolverines and was thankful that prayer "B" had been answered.

I continued on to the restroom and to my horror saw that the rock had been moved aside. I yanked to door open and saw our things placed exactly as I had left them. Prayer "C" answered positively. The answer to prayer "D" was still 11 miles away to the south.

Boone was awake when I got back to the tent. Lily was awake but playing possum.

We got busy emptying the tent, getting everyone dressed and loading up the trailer. It was 8:36 when we were ready to head out but that was with re-packing everything and taking down and packing the tent. We were doing pretty good.

The decision had been made in my mind without much internal debate to put Boone on the towbar first thing and try to cover the distance as quickly as possible. We needed to be back relatively early as Mandy had no car for two days.

Boone was ok with that and it was good. He was bundled up in his fleece and wearing my gloves as we took off. I was worried he would get cold despite the warm clothes. Fortunately he did fine with what he had on.

We had enough water left over from dinner for two water bottles. I was pretty sure that would be enough to get us back to the car especially since I hoped we would be making better time on the return trip.

As I stepped on the pedal getting the whole train going Boone called out: "All ABOARD! Whooo…WHOOOOOOO!" He is a good conductor.

And we did. We cruised, ticking off the miles one by one with no rests until we had gone about five miles. It was cold, but after the first couple of miles I stripped off my wool shirt and rode in just my t-shirt.

Cruising along, mile after mile as Boone announced the distance to our lone passenger we rode steadily, if a little slowly. I kept reminding myself that the distance was the same as my morning commute. Of course I don't take the kids and all of our camping gear to work with me.

The ride back was enjoyable and smooth. Boone was in great spirits but I kept him behind me so we could keep up a good steady pace.

We stopped just east of Mountain Home for a solid rest. We had three miles left and a snack was in order. We also picked up a railroad spike as a souvenir.

Back on the bikes we quickly reached the gate under the 230 bridge.

"We're so close Boone!" I exclaimed. He opened and closed the gate as I chugged through.

Mileposts 65 and 66 were a blur and we were on the home stretch. The last obstacle was the downed aspen and when we reached it I unhooked Boone's bike and told him he would ride the last little bit. It took us longer to cross the tree the second day, but mostly because Lily insisted on getting out and "helping" and then I couldn't get her back in the trailer.

Boone took off like a rocket
and I was following behind when near disaster struck.

We were crossing some nasty ruts, bouncing like crazy. I was glancing back to see if anything had bounced out of the trailer when I hit a particularly nasty one and I heard a weird whump, a ding and a whine. I stopped the bike and looked back to see my right side pannier dangling by one clip. I examined further it to find the bottom pannier bungee broke and wrapped around my rear cassette, the hook caught up in the spokes.

Boone had continued down the trail and was out of sight as I stepped around the bike to get the pannier loose. I had to call a few times before he heard me and came back.

It turns out the hook and bungee had broken one of the spokes. With Boone's help I removed the pannier, stowed it in the front of the trailer with Lily and laboriously unwrapped the bungee from the wheel.

I knew to get the broken spoke off (a necessity to go on) I would have to remove the tire and tube, remove the spoke and replace the tube and tire. The tools were all at the bottom of one of the panniers.

I made a quick decision to snap off the spoke and go on.

I endured the out-of-true rear wheel as it rubbed on the rear rack for the remaining half mile to the car. We were back and the car was whole…no bear attack. Prayer "D" was thankfully answered.

It was 10am. It had only taken us an hour and 24 minutes to return the 11 miles.

By 11:20am, exactly 24 hours after we arrived, we were pulling out of Pelton Creek Trailhead on our way home.

We called Mandy just north of Cowdrey, Colorado when we finally got service again and let her know we were on our way home. A quick gas stop in Walden and we turned east instead of south. We had made the initial trip over Berthoud Pass and up the Grand Valley and I wanted to return by a different route. We took the North Park-Cache La Poudre Scenic Byway east out of Walden, over Cameron Pass between the Never Summer Range and the Medicine Bow Mountains and then down the Cache La Poudre Canyon to Fort Collins.

It was a fantastic trip. The only thing lacking, to quote my adorable daughter, was mom. We missed Mandy and wished she could have experienced the trip with us. But reportedly she had a great two days of quiet and clean without us.

Next time…

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