Night was chilly but not really cold, validating our move to a lower elevation camp site the evening before, and the sun quickly warmed camp in the morning as it rose over the Agnes Mountains.
Happy to be a band of four again, and excited to get underway, we all set about our normal morning tasks, Mike @Digiratus now in what he'd call "good company," since Brett @Squeaky Penguin was also a coffee drinker. We also took the opportunity to add five gallons of fuel to our trucks - or at least, Monte @Blackdawg, Mike and I did - so we'd have enough to make it to our next fuel stop in Steamboat Springs. Then, in what was perhaps the earliest morning departure of the trip, we were off! It was just before 9:30am.
With Brett in the caravan it was like having our own living Colorado almanac and guide, and we took full advantage of it. While Monte's planned track had us making a roundabout loop on the way to Steamboat Springs, Brett instead suggested that we skip that altogether and instead spend our time on a little offshoot that he knew about. That it led down to a stream he wanted to cast a line into was just a bonus, I'm sure.
It was of course fine with us - we had nowhere to be but out here in the woods - and we made our way through the beginnings of fall as we headed out FS-471 toward Big Creek.
Most of the road was reasonably tame, but as we descended from the ridge down into the valley, we got a little taste of some fun terrain. We'd get plenty more of this as the days progressed, but for now it was one of our first stretches of rockier road, and I think we all appreciated it as we stepped our way down toward the river.
At the bottom, the road once again flattened out - a few whoops doing little to slow our progress, everyone either running reasonably good suspension or liking speed so much that they didn't really care if they got into their bump stops.
A mile or two of higher speed travel and we'd arrived at Brett's secret fishing hole. As he pulled out a rod and line, I set about extracting the Blue 242 Loctite from my kit so I could secure a troublesome bolt on my mid-skid plate that had been working itself loose the last couple of days. Ultimately, this wouldn't be a successful trail fix - I think because the threads on the frame were a little too loose for the Loctite to grab - but I figured it was worth a shot.
My repair taken care of for the moment, Brett too was sort-of successful. While he didn't land anything large, he did pull in a smaller trout - and I'd call that a success!
Note: Not the actual trout, but a twin in length.
Our fishing detour complete, we headed back the way we'd come, the road that had been fun on the way down, just as fun on the way back up. We also got some nice Aspen color as we made our way back, each day seemingly turning the leaves a little more golden as summer's grasp on the landscape slowly slipped away.
It was noon - or thereabouts - when we reached the end of the dirt road and were ready to pound pavement to Steamboat Springs. We'd planned to take the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route (COBDR) at this point in order to keep ourselves on dirt, but our local guide insisted that we'd just be wasting our time - time that would be better spent at a taco joint in town. That was hard to argue with - even for three expert arguers - and so we proceeded to air up for the 30 mile jaunt into town.
Steamboat Springs it turns out is a nice little tourist town with a population of 15,000 residents or so. At an elevation of 6,700', it's clear that there's lots of year-round recreation, and there's a bustle in the a historic downtown that makes the place feel fun. Not to mention - driving through town it's impossible to miss the olympic ski jump on the hillside overlooking the community - something that's got to be a lot of fun during the winter and is part of an 80-year Olympian tradition. All with the free-flowing Yampa River running right through the heart of the town makes for a seriously cool place to live. It's probably going to be hard to pull Brett out of this place.
Our destination was a hip joint named Taco Cabo, and while the food was tasty, it was clear to me that the hipness of the town had influenced the prices just a tad - my carne asada burrito setting me back right around $14! Next time - and for anyone who finds themselves here - I'd recommend the carne asada torta, a Mexican sandwich that looked amazing (and at the same price, like a bit better deal) when I saw it on the table next to us.
Unfortunately, while we were enjoying our lunch, Brett wasn't feeling well and bid us farewell for a few hours so he could head home and catch a short nap. That actually worked out quite well for the rest of us - we needed to fill up on fuel, and do some restocking at the grocery store. After all, we needed to stay flush with avocados - and the guacamole we'd become addicted to at night. Oh, and we had to make one more pit stop - Advance Auto Parts for some power steering fluid - after Monte discovered that he was over a quart low when his steering started acting up!
Everything taken care of and Brett feeling well enough to re-join us, we headed south out of town, the highway weaving its way through the foothills, our four 1st gen Tacomas, their usual bad-ass selves, eyes turning as we drove by.
With the 30 miles or so we'd done before lunch, and the 30 or so we had to do here, airing up had been a good call. But, as always, we were happy when we hit dirt once again on FS-100 - the joy of slower travel and new sights always winning over the opportunity for better mpgs. Having spent much of the afternoon in town, it was already 4:00pm in the afternoon, and so the discussion as we aired down was about how far we wanted to make it for the evening. Of course, our original destination - whatever that was - had long been cast aside, and ultimately we decided that we'd just start looking for something that seemed reasonable as the afternoon turned to evening. And with that, we were on our way!
One of the great things about this group is that the trip really is the destination. We never care all that much if we're on time or on track; it's no problem if at the end of the day we've traveled twice - ok, that's never happened - or half the distance we planned just a few hours earlier. And so it was this afternoon. The miles ticked away, but we stopped frequently to get out and enjoy the surroundings. After all, to speed through them would be to miss exactly what we'd come to enjoy - the time together in a beautiful place.
Even Mike seemed to be in a great mood as we snapped photo after photo.
I've never seen Mike so happy.
In and out of the trucks, we ultimately covered some 27 miles in just under two hours. All on reasonably graded gravel roads, we eventually saw Eagles Nest and Mt. Powell in the distance before we decided at about 6:00pm that we'd found a reasonable camp site and were going to call it a day, Brett - ever looking for the poser shot as evidenced by the #overlanding stickers on his #GFC - flexing his way the last few feet into camp.
To camp well before sunset, each positioned our trucks and got ready for the evening. For the second night in a row - and therefore, in what is now a new tradition - we gathered a trees worth of free firewood and I split it into a nice pile while Monte set about constructing and lighting the fire. Brett, thrilled that we'd chosen a camp site near a creek, headed that way to see if he could catch dinner - not for himself, but for Monte. And Mike whipped up another bowl of his champion guacamole. Then, not really knowing what to do with ourselves in camp so early, we plonked down around the campfire and continued the conversations of the day.
Eventually the sun found itself low on the horizon with some cloud buddies and called to Monte and to get on over and take it's photo. With no right to refuse, we obliged - a nice hillside overlooking Brett as he fished, also providing us with a nice break in the trees to get just the right shot.
As Brett returned from fishing, Monte pressed him for dinner. While that unfortunately didn't work out, a couple slices of bacon from Mike, a burger and cheese on the grill, a toasted bun, and a big dollop of guacamole made for what I'd consider a reasonable substitute. He called it, as I recall, "the best burger ever." The rest of our dinners were similarly tasty, and our tree-size fire helped to keep us all toasty into the night.
It'd been a short day than most as far as miles traveled, and we hadn't tackled any gnarly trails, but it'd been a great day nonetheless. And, none of us had any idea at this point, but we would make up for both the distance and difficulty in the days to come.