The Last of the Rockies
The first day into Colorado was, as expected, mostly flat. Somehow, Colorado has a reputation as "the" mountain state, even though it's flatter than half the western states. Possibly because it's the easiest mountain state to get to from the east coast, so these are the only mountains a lot of people see.
The day included a memorable descent into Disappointment Valley, then a slow climb out of it. The valley kind of resembled Utah, dry and reddish, but for most of the day, the scenery was noticeably greener, including trees growing naturally, and in random locations.
It seemed like it was going to be a rare day of mostly tailwind until the last 30 km, which were straight into it...and uphill. Just as the air was getting hot. Fun!
As soon as I got to Norwood, I found two churches. Neither one had anyone there, but they both had phone numbers posted outside. My phone showed full bars, but when I tried to make a call, it refused, giving the message, "Not registered on network." One of the churches had open wifi, so I could try making a call through that! But once you connect, you have to sign in through a browser.
What's the point of either of those? Why bother telling someone they're getting a full signal on a network they can't use? Why leave a WiFi network open if you're going to require a sign-in anyway? Is it supposed to be funny?
It was a small enough town that asking around at a central hub might work. At the local grocery store, a friendly guy told me where another church was, then added that if it didn't work, come back and we'd figure something out. He was a long-distance athlete and did some bike trips with his pals back in the day. I wish I'd had more chance to talk to him, because I'd like to know more about how it was done before a few of our modern convenieces.
There were dozens of people at the First Baptist Church, putting on a food drive. Evidently this church is able to help out over 300 families on a near-weekly basis. That's more than the population of the entire town. Much like the homeless shelter I stayed at on a previous tour, which was also run by a church, it's enough to make you wonder if all our services for the poor are helping as much as they should. The hungry need food, not services. The homeless need homes, not services. The unemployed need jobs, not services. Let's give people what they need. Yes, I seriously think we should build homes and give them away for free. It would probably be cheaper than what we're doing now.
I didn't want to take from the food bank, but once all the families had had their pick, Justin, the minister, insisted. And I was invited to the community dinner too, of course. Pasta, salad, kebabs, fruit, and two different apple tart desserts. After two heaping platefuls, I was thoroughly satisfied. There was still enough food left to feed a hockey team.
Justin had graciously offered the floor of the church, but just as folks were leaving, I was taken in by two of the church members, Jim and Nancy (?).
Seriously, I need to be more diligent about writing journals every day. When I'm always writing from behind, I forget everyone's name.
Jim and ?? had a beautiful home just outside of town, on the plains at the foot of the mountains. I could see anyone in my family loving it, but none of them moving there.
They had also taken in Jamie, a guy who looked a few years older than me. He did day laboring, from what I could tell, and frequently stayed at different workers' camps. In between long-term gigs, he sometimes needed a place to stay for the night, and this was one of those nights. Each of us got to take a hot shower and do laundry. Luxury!
Because we had eaten more than our fill the night before, it was natural to have a full breakfast of eggs, French toast, and fresh strawberries. Goodness! Breakfast like that makes you feel good for the entire day to follow.
The entire day of riding boiled down to a long uphill and a long downhill. Nice when it works out that way. As you get tired, it gets easier, and the last several miles fly by.
Shortly after the downhill began, I was in a small town, a little more than halfway through the day. Seemed like a good idea to find a city park, sit down, and have a snack. When I got there, a farmer's market was going on. I found myself an empty picnic table in the shade and pulled out an apple.
After a couple bites, a kid on stilts walked up. He was holding a balloon animal.
"Can I sit here?"
There were two or three other empty picnic tables, but he wanted mine. Well, maybe he was tired of the stilts and simply found the nearest table, where he wanted to sit and take them off.
He sat on the table in front of me. Not on the seat across from me. Not at the other end of the table. If I'd been eating something other than an apple, he would've sat on my food. He then crinkled his balloon animal loudly for the next two minutes, until it popped right in my face. Without saying a word, he got back on his stilts and walked off. My ears were still ringing two minutes later.
When people tell me to "give kids a chance," it's not clear what they want me to do that I'm not forced to do already. Kids, like everyone else, are given a chance to act like domesticated forms of life every day, and whenever they're in earshot, they fail.
I don't use a nearly-silent vehicle and spend every summer disappearing into the woods or the desert because I like loud things. What makes anyone think I'd enjoy having the noisiest pet there is?
On a more positive note, can we give some props to a woodcarver that made something other than a bear? OK, they had bears too, but at least they had something else, and way cooler. I'm guessing bears are the default animal because they're easy to carve; make a few lumpy shapes and you're done. Other animals are sleeker, with more delicate, intricate features, which makes them more awesome, more beautiful, more elegant, but probably more difficult to carve.
Before you knew it, I was in Montrose. Seeing things like Chili's and Home Depot for the first time in weeks is surreal. It's like a memory from another life. But it gave me an idea.
I went into a discount sporting goods store and found an "athletic" (not really) T-shirt on the clearance rack. Bright orange, nice and visible. Soft material, but not cotton, so it feels good to wear on the couch, but could be worn on the bike if necessary. A little loose, which will be nice when it gets warmer. $7. Bingo.
Afterwards, a stop at the post office, where I mailed home a pair of long underwear, a long-sleeve wool baselayer, cold weather gloves, and a beanie. According to the post office's scale, almost exactly a pound. But with the new shirt added, it probably nets 2/3 of a pound lighter. More importantly, the panniers will be less cluttered, and not everything will be black, so things will be easier to pack, and when in the panniers, easier to find.
From there, I made my way to my hosts', John and Emily, who have a three-year-old daughter named Jemma. She was initially silent, and about 15 seconds later, was excited to show me nearly everything she owns, including two bikes, dozens of stuffed animals, and she changed into three different outfits just so I could see them. She was better behaved than the 10-year-old in the park earlier the same day.
John and Emily had bike toured in Australia and Southeast Asia, two places that are definitely on my bike touring bucket list, and which I'd even been considering for this summer. They de-romanticized it, for sure, but that's a good thing; you want to know the reality of the situation rather than thinking it's a trip to Disneyland. They also suggested going in the winter. With a teacher's work schedule, that'll be hard. Might have to wait for retirement. That's only 33 years away...longer than I've been alive. But it's a big world out there. Plenty to do in the meantime.
I wish I'd had longer to hear about their adventures, but it was their anniversary, and they were going out to dinner! I was tickled that they left together on their touring bikes. Bikes aren't just a hobby, folks; they're for all occasions.
They had a babysitter, of course, so I spent most of the evening on the back porch trying to catch up on journals. Camped in the backyard, with the rainfly off for the first time this summer. The cool air felt great all throughout the night. Nice to be able to do that. Unlike the eastern states, where you have to leave your rainfly on every night, because it rains all the #&%! time.
Getting to Gunnison involved two big climbs early on, then flat from there on out. A lot of elevation gain, but almost no loss. The nice part is that means some day later, there'll be a lot of downhill and almost no climbing.
The wind was strong and against me in the morning, but did a 180 right about as the second climb was finished. Pushed me all the way into Gunnison on mostly flat ground for the entire second half of the day. Salida was only 105 km further on...could I make it in one giant day of riding? With this tailwind, maybe...
I checked the time. It was about 1:00 PM. Earliest I'd get to Gunnison would be 2:00, and only if I put the hammer down and the tailwind kept up. Then I'd have to count on the tailwind holding steady all the way to Salida, and even then, I'd probably arrive at 8:00 PM. That would give me an hour to eat, shower, and go to bed by 9:00, which is what I aim for on tour. And that's assuming one of the biggest climbs of the entire tour didn't slow me down. Gunnison it is.
It was a Saturday, so I visited six churches and found no one at any of them. I tried asking a couple bike shops if they knew of a church, fire station, school, or anything else that took touring cyclists in, or if a city park allowed camping. They mentioned a hostel. Hey, not a bad option! Certainly better than the $120 Mountain Lodge Inn Hotels that dominate Colorado. Kind of a high price for the luxury of lying still for a few hours. You have equally pleasant dreams at a $35 Motel 6.
Just as I was thinking of heading over to the hostel, two friendly cops saw me and asked what was with the bike, where was I going, the normal routine. After answering a few questions, I indicated I was looking for a place to stay, do they know anywhere that could help out, or anywhere I'd be allowed to set up a tent? They recommended asking the bike shops, which I already had, and also mentioned a brewery, where the owners were avid cyclists. It was on the way to the hostel anyway. Worth a shot.
When I arrived, the first person I saw was a waitress. I explained the situation again, is there anyone here who knows a place that takes in cyclists?
"How many nights do you plan to stay?"
"You can stay at my house."
Ana first contacted her housemates so they'd know what was going on when a stranger showed up, then told me how to get there, where the shower was, etc.
"I've traveled by bike too, so I know how it is. And at about 4:30 or 5:00, if you want, come back here. That's when I get off; I'll buy you a beer."
Sometimes things have a way of working out. As she alluded to, Ana had done a long tour in Mexico.
Like always, a hot shower made me feel right as rain again. Spied a Carl Sagan book on the coffee table and read a couple chapters. That man had an incredible amount of great things to say. 4:30 rolled around, so I headed down to the brewery, joined Ana for a pint, and we rode back home through the local college campus, which included a totally unnecessary hill. Worth it though. Quiet evening after that, including some blueberries, ice cream, and bocce ball.
Salida, the last day fully in the Rockies, was a nearly flat day, with the exception of one large pass. Less than 900 m of climbing, making it maybe the 4th largest climb this far. It took a little over an hour, but was thankfully near-perfect weather. No shoulder, but at least there were two lanes on the way up. The top was the Continental Divide. The joke is always that it's all downhill from there, but in this case, it basically is! At least until St. Louis.
In Salida, a rafting featival was wrapping up, which included a street fair with rides and bounce castles, for some reason. I found a bike shop and stopped in just to check it out. As it happened, a rep from Santa Cruz bikes was there, and they were demo-ing bikes, or in other words, renting them for free. Sold.
I don't mountain bike, and on the occasion I have, I don't know what I'm doing, especially in the technical stuff. Even on road bikes, I'm gun-shy on downhills. So riding up and down a technical trail, with a sharp drop-off on one side, was more than I'd bargained for. Still fun though. Cool to be on a bike that can shift down so far you'll never have to get off and walk. Cool to see a bump, shrug, and keep going. It'd be even more fun if I knew what I was doing and had more confidence. It successfully made me want a mountain bike. Especially one with big honkin' tires like this one.
Checked into a hostel, worth the $22 bucks just this once. Hills will now be a thing of the past, but summer heat is about to rear its ugly head...
from Western States