Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Hospitality and Functionality
I love saying this: the descent into Colorado was one of the better long, steady downhills of the ride so far. Almost 1,000 meters of down spread out over 30 km, little enough that you still have to pedal, but enough that it's easy. Found myself in Fort Collins in no time, had a sack lunch on the Colorado State campus, then made my way south.
At one point, I had to ride through a construction zone. They were re-paving the surface (with buttery-smooth black asphalt, I might add!), and a flagger was set up at either end. This was hardly a busy road, so they waved me on through.
The construction zone went on for at least a couple km, with twists and turns in the road, so you couldn't see ahead. At two of the curves, there was a construction worker in a bright vest standing in the middle of the road, holding a walkie-talkie.
"Orange pumper one," said the first one into his walkie-talkie. I figured he was talking about some kind of construction equipment I knew nothing about. I ignored him and kept riding.
"Single pumper, orange," said the second one as I went by.
Oh. I'm the "pumper." I was wearing an orange shirt that day.
I wound up meeting my hosts, Mark and Katie, at a public library in the town north of theirs. They showed up on their recumbent trikes and we rode the last 15 km home together, stopping for farm-fresh eggs on the way. These were the hosts I just happened to bump into in Wyoming only a few days ago. They'd been so welcoming and giving when I randomly met them, I was excited to be their guest!
As it turned out, Katie used to be a school teacher, and now she teaches at her church. The two of them whipped up some pancakes as I stood there eating fruit, and we shared a beer over dinner together. I believe that's the first time I've had beer and pancakes together, and I gotta say, it's a winning combo. One thing beer and pancakes have in common: they make people happy!
Breakfast the next morning was...pancakes (no beer this time), with eggs on the side. My stomach satisfied, I had two stops on the day: World Bicycle Relief in Golden and my aunt in Aurora. They could hardly be farther apart and still in the Denver area. I would have to completely bisect the city of Denver in the second half of the day.
Getting to Golden was the hard part. The roads here go straight, even if they shouldn't, since it's a populated area and everything is laid out like a grid. The result is a boatload of pointless ups and downs.
By the time I got to Golden just before lunchtime, only halfway through a relatively short day, I felt wiped out. Claire, an outreach coordinator with WBR, found me outside and showed me into the office. It was smaller than I expected: only three people work there, and one was out of town! The main office is in Chicago, clearly not on my route. In any case, Claire treated me to a killer lunch at her favorite sandwich place as we talked about my ride and World Bicycle Relief.
By the way, pastrami and guacamole isn't the most traditional combination, but trust me, you're missing out!
Didn't stop at the Coors brewery in Golden, but I saw lines to get on a tour bus to take you there. Riding past, it didn't look that appealing anyway.
Also, why does Coors always advertise their location in Colorado as somehow superior? Shouldn't everyone want their grain-based product to come from Kansas or something?
With Claire's help, I managed to find a quiet road that got me halfway through Denver, then latched onto a bike path that took me all the way to Aurora! The bike path was almost perfect, it gets confusing in places, turning into a sidewalk and switching sides of the creek frequently. It's not always clear which way to go if you want to keep going straight. But it looked like they were working on that.
Once I got to Aurora, there was still just enough time to catch the end of the USA vs. Belgium World Cup game. The result was disappointing, but I was impressed at how the team never, ever quit. They had a lot of fight in 'em, but we still lack a world-class team. USA has been steadily improving for the last 20 years though, and shows no sign of stopping. I'm excited to see where we go in the next World Cup or two. And what the hell, bold prediction: USA will win the World Cup in my lifetime.
In only the last 10 km to my aunt's, I received the very first driver heckle I have this whole time. Ten minutes later, my second. Both involved the word "fuck," one of them using it twice, and the first one threw in "faggot" for good measure. It doesn’t make me think highly of the locals when no one had said a word for six weeks until now, and here, I get it twice in one day.
I'm always surprised at people that choose to do this. Here we have one guy who can't leave the house without the help of 2,000 pounds of machinery, and has to be air-conditioned while he sits on his behind every time he goes anywhere. This guy decides to pick a fight with the one who is most publically demonstrating that he’s a good athlete. Where is the logic here?
I guess when you sit inside one of those machines, it makes you feel like a tough guy, the same way the Internet's barrier of anonymity does. But cars never made me feel powerful. Valeria makes me feel powerful. You know why? Because riding a bike does make you more powerful.
My aunt, uncle, cousin, and other cousin's granddaughter were waiting for me when I arrived (odd combo, but it works, I guess). They'd already fired up the grill for chicken, potatoes, corn, and baked beans. They said something about a "disaster" regarding the potatoes leaking through the foil and causing a flare-up. It looked like they already had it under control to me, so I had a beer and helped my cousin Peter switch the wheels on his new mountain bikes.
Apparently a friend of his had given him two cheapo mountain bikes and Peter liked one more than the other, except for the wheels. In the interest of having one bike he likes a lot, rather than two bikes he likes OK, he wanted them switched. I thought the "bad" bike was at least as good, but hey, whatever he wants. The drivetrain was all messed up, but after a WD-40 bath during dinner, it was working just fine.
I might add that Peter had repainted one of the bikes already. He can do this camo design that almost looks like tie-dye, where the colors run together. He showed me his phone cover, previously clear, and I was impressed! You would definitely call it camo, but at the same time, it looks different from anything you've ever seen before. He had done that with one of the bikes, only using two colors: black and a slate teal. It looked sharp.
My other two cousins came over for dessert, and one of them brought her newborn. I spend a lot of time alone on this tour, and when I meet people, it's usually only one or two at a time. A large, extroverted group that included a five-year-old and a baby was overwhelming. Still, it was obvious that they had gone out of their way to make me feel welcome and comfortable. They bought beer and yogurt even though no one in the house eats or drinks either of those. They cooked up a huge dinner and made a homemade dessert, probably just because I was coming. They dragged a heavy futon mattress upstairs to make me a bedroom without even asking for my help. They did my laundry for me. And they sent me off with granola bars and a huge bag of trail mix, again, things they went to the store and got just for me.
My family's pretty gosh darn awesome; even some of the ones that have less in common with me still clearly care about me a lot.
My parents were now planning to meet me in Austin on July 13th, not 11th. With 12 days to make it there, I was going to try to get a few big days in right away and cruise the last six days or so. I basically had two choices today: Colorado Springs or Pueblo. 120 km or 200. Take a guess what I aimed for.
Early on, terrible headwind. Only Haines Junction had been worse. I started resolving to quitting early and staying in Colorado Springs. But I just kept going as best as I could. Whether I stopped early or not, I'd have to do this part either way. Might as well get it done.
Once I got into Colorado Springs, the wind started backing off, and just as I made it to the south side of town an hour later, the wind seemed like it was gone completely. The day had turned around. It was still only 3:00 PM, enough time to get in that last 80 km, and I was feeling good! Let's go for it!
I twisted my shifter and felt something funny. It didn't shift. I tried again. Nothing. It acted like it was stuck one way, and had no resistance the other way. Oh no...
A shifter cable will generally last at least 8,000 km, usually more like 10,000 km, if not more. The Rohloff hub, which uses two cables, is supposed to put less stress on them and make them last even longer. I'd gone only about 6,000 km when my first cable snapped.
I pulled over and had a look. Maybe I could just figure this out; replacing a cable on a normal bike isn't that hard, it's merely a time-consuming hassle. After 20 minutes of prodding, which included using my phone to look up two different instructional videos on Rohloff's site, I still couldn't even figure out how to pull the old cable out, much less set and adjust the new one perfectly. I'd have to get a bike shop to do this. I stuck my thumb out off and on as I tried calling people on WarmShowers, hoping someone would save me.
An hour later, someone did. A middle-aged friendly guy named Kevin pulled over in his 50s-era pickup truck.
"Did you have your thumb out earlier?"
"I saw you, I was goin' the other way. So what's up?"
I explained the situation and he called up a couple bike shops to see if they could get to it today. One of them could. Kevin gave me a ride, but first we went by his place to check on his dad. While we were there, Kevin fed me a sandwich, along with pickles, chips, and a beer. Then we went to the bike shop.
We got there around 5:30 PM and the shop closed at 8:00. I finally left the place at 10:00, knowing they weren't finishing it within the hour. Kevin paid for a room in a hotel right across the street to I could walk over and pick up Valeria in the morning.
The shop thankfully opened at 8:00 AM, not a much more typical 10:00 AM. Valeria was already done and good as new. Apparently the mechanic had kept working on it until 11:00 the night before so he would finish and I could get back on my tour. Big thanks to Jon at Criterium in Colorado Springs. And big thanks to Kevin, too! Without his help, I might've had to walk there...
Criterium was on the north end of town. I was leaving the south side when the cable had broken. I had to do at least 25 km all over again, starting the day a little late at 8:30 AM. I was already 80 km behind schedule just by not making it to Pueblo. There was no way I could make it all up today.
In Pueblo, I met a dedicated backpacker named Gary, and he wound up buying me a sandwich! Hit the spot. I'd always thought that green chiles were more of a Santa Fe thing, but apparently they're big around Pueblo, too. He was more than happy to provide "Trail Magic," even though I wasn't backpacking. Apparently he used to do some biking too, but now it bothers his joints and he just hikes. I didn't quite catch the details, but he was doing some kind of virtual hike of the lower 48.
Heroically, I managed to get 170 km in. I might've gone another 30 km into Trinidad, a much bigger town, only it was nearly dark when I made it to Aguilar, and my taillight is once again not working. Once I get to Austin, I'm ditching the dynamo system for good.
Had I pressed on to Trinidad, I would've finished at 10:00 PM at the earliest and would almost certainly have to pay for a hotel. Stopping in Aguilar just before 8:00 PM sounded like a better idea. And small towns are great; everyone is always willing to help.
But not all small towns are created equal, and by the time I even made it within city limits, Aguilar reminded me of that. The first sign of trouble was an ATV constantly revving, not even running, just revving, followed by at least five different dogs barking.
Oh, so it's that kinda town...
Only two places of business were open: a liquor store and a bar. The bar had two people standing outside smoking. Neither one of them had all of their teeth. When I asked about a floor to sleep on or a safe place to set up a tent, they both shook their heads. I guess this city has a shortage of floors.
The sheriff drove by and I flagged him down, asking the same question.
"There's a Catholic church, but I don't know who runs it, and they keep it locked."
"How about a city park where I could set up a tent?"
"Well there are two city parks, but I don't know if camping is allowed."
He's the only guy in town that's going to get me in trouble for that, so I don't know why he acted like that wasn't his call. Finally, I think understanding there was nowhere else I could go, he told me to camp in the park.
The sheriff had a guarded demeanor as I was talking to him. Small town sheriffs are often warm and friendly, but I'm guessing this guy's job is less "take care of my community" and a little more "bust meth heads," and maybe that's had an effect.
A few passersby made suggestions, but they all involved leaving town and biking at least 25 km away. The sun was already on the horizon. Not happening.
I camped in the small city park, which was a couple picnic tables and that's about it. Pulled everything but Valeria into the tent with me and double-locked her up. The guy with the ATV continued revving it sporadically until at least 10:00 PM. Slept off and on to the tune of dogs that never stopped barking. And by "never," I'm not exaggerating.
Who would own such a dog? Who would want a constant noisemaker 10 meters away from them whenever they're at home? Who wouldn't train it to be quiet, and if that fails, give it away? I like both dogs and cats, but one of the biggest factors making me prefer cats is their volume. Cats are naturally quiet, while dogs have to be trained to shut up, and sometimes even that doesn't work.
Too bad I couldn't make it to Trinidad, but hey, it was free.