Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Touring Series: A Day At Sylvan Lake

A Guitar Ted productions series

 Thanks for joining me again on another adventure in "The Touring Series". This tour was dubbed the "Race Against Death Tour". This tour occurred in August of 1995. The three participants, Ryan, Troy, and your's truly, left from Cedar Falls, Iowa to try and get to Winter Park, Colorado in two weeks. Here I am reproducing the tale, mostly as it was posted on the blog in 2009. There are some new edits and additions. I also will add new remarks and memories where appropriate at the end of each post. 

 Once again, there were no cell phones, internet, social media platforms, or digital cameras in use by we tourers in 1995. I will post images where I can, but this tour wasn't well documented in images, so there probably will be very few sprinkled throughout. A modern image will be used only where it depicts things I want to clarify, like where we were in that part of the tour via a map image, or the like.

The "Touring Series" will appear every Sunday until it ends. There will be two more weeks. Look for past entries by scrolling back to a previous Sunday's post, or type in "Touring Series" in the search box to find more. 

"The Race Against Death Tour" is camped out at the Rafter J-Bar Ranch.........

August 15, 1995: After doing a measly 27.6 miles the day before, and hanging out the rest of the day, we were all pretty refreshed and rested considering all the brutal riding and weather we'd seen so far on this trip. The weather here in the Black Hills was optimum. Cooler than we'd had, sunny, and not at all windy. In fact, you could say it was about perfect. We decided to hit up Hill City for breakfast and we rolled the short way into town to find a decent place to eat. We seemed to be oddballs, outcasts, and drifters to the local populace. I suppose "touristas" were all treated this way, but as we were from a non-tourist destination, we didn't quite "get it", and we were a bit put off by the attitudes we seemed to be attracting.

We eventually settled on a place and ate. It was nice to not be in a hurry, but after so may days of hustling, it felt weird too. We ate our breakfasts and the we went and ambled about the town a bit. I recall walking in one place that was kind of a tourist trap joint. I don't remeber much about it other than that they had a Fender Bandmaster amplifier head for sale. I always wished later that I would have found a way to buy that......

After taking our leisure we had decided that the Sylvan Lake option was our best bet . Especially in regards to Troy's knee. It was feeling better, but he didn't want to stress it out climbing all the hills around here and we really didn't have a lot of time. Especially since we goofed off all morning. So off we went in search of the Needles Highway and Sylvan Lake.
Ryan using the rock climbing shoes he had packed for over a week from Iowa at Sylvan lake.

The climb up started not far from where we had camped. It was sort of gradual for about a half mile, then we saw them. Switch backs! Real, honest to goodness switch backs! It was pretty amazing to climb up this road. It went on for six miles like this, and then we saw the turn off to Sylvan Lake right as things leveled out a bit.

The turn off was lined with cars waiting to get in, so we three just fell in line. Waiting our turns, we chatted and laughed. It was a relaxing, fun time with no pressure. Not like we normally had on the bikes up to this point. When we got within eyesight of the Ranger's hut, we were waved up. We looked around like, "Who? Us?!", and we went around the cars of scowling faces. We were told by the Ranger at the hut that bicycles get in for free. No need to wait in line to pay! Yes! Bicycle benefits! Me likey!

Once we entered the park, the awe inspiring landscape of Sylvan Lake took us in, and we began to cruise around checking out the place. We saw rock climbers and hikers everywhere. The spires of rock jutting straight up out of the lake were like something out of a sci-fi movie set. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before, nor since then.

Ryan had his rock climbing shoes in his pannier, just in case he saw a place in the Rocky Mountains where he could spend time trying them out. Well, we weren't going to make it out there now, but this would certainly do! Troy tried a little bit, but I was content to watch. After Ryan had his fill of that, we relaxed a bit, got some photos, and decided to head back down the mountain for the campground and supper.

The six mile screaming downhill of switch backs was pretty hairy. Ryan almost rolled a tire, and my bike was skipping across the pavement on the skinny roadie tires. I was used to fat mountain bike treads, not these 35mm Avocets! I went as fast as I could, but Troy and Ryan had better handling bikes and left me in their dust. Oh well! It only took 13 minutes to descend that 6 miles, so it wasn't long until I caught back on at the bottom.
The three "Race Against Death" tourists- (L-R) Ryan, GT, Troy

Back at the campground, we hit up another game of hacky-sack, then cooked up our last meal on the road. The next day, Ryan's Dad was heading out to meet us at 9am in Hill City to pick us up with a trailer for our bikes to ride in. The end started to settle in on our minds. This trip would be over soon, and we all retreated into silence as the night time advanced.

I suppose it is hard to explain what one feels after such an ordeal. Especially when you sense a bond with your fellow travelers that goes beyond your comfort level to express. Silence becomes your only option at that point, I suppose, because you know you are heading down a different path once the fellowship is broken.

At any rate, we hit the tent for the last time on "The Race Against Death Tour".

I look back at this now after so many years and realize how precious that day was. I think I had an inkling of the importance of it even then. I didn't want the day to end, as I recall. It was so heavy a feeling that, for all intents and purposes, I don't really remember anything after running down that mountain on our bicycles. That is something that seems fresh in my mind yet. Perhaps that was the defacto "end" of the trip in my mind. I don't know.

Another practical way to look at this was that it would have been the "end" no matter what. Troy's knee issues notwithstanding, we were all out of cash. Without money, we weren't going anywhere much beyond where we had made it. Those times were different. We had a couple of credit cards, but the reality of those days was that cash was king. Small, out of the way places, weren't always up on accepting credit cards, especially from three young vagrants on bicycles.

It was not sinking in yet at the end of this day that I had a very different reality coming to slap me in the face in about 24 hours time. My world was about to change back to reality, and fast.

Next Week: The Load Out

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