Colorado

Well I knew I shouldn’t have sat down there in the first place. We were at the Denver Public Library the day after the Fourth of July, and Grant and Lauren were still inside. I had seen a couple legitimately insane people sit on the bench I was walking to sit on from the window in the café where I had been working for the last three hours. It took two minutes for a homeless man to fill up the rest of the bench next to me.

 

He said something about his leather jacket being his only possession and put it securely between his right hip and the arm rest on the end. He did ask, as it was, if I minded his company and I really didn’t mind. My problem is that I always think homeless people know the rules of conversation, brevity being the main component in this situation. But he not only told me wild, interesting stories, he spoke with the stuttered urgency of a person who has far too much to tell and far too few people to talk to. It was as if all he’d seen needed to be shared with a sane person (me?), and the game was to get it all out, transitions spared, in 15 minutes.

 

So he told me about his previous life in West Palm Beach and his job in geology through his speckled, fractured yellow teeth in a mouth resting on a face above a body clothed in a dirty white t-shirt and cut black jeans. His skin was unnaturally pink.

 

He told me about his journey to the center of the earth to mine gold 5,000 feet under the Rockies. He told me about seeing Bigfoot jump 300 feet across canyons. He told me about being chased by ball lightning in Yosemite and just being able to duck out of the way in time. He told me about blowing smoke into the nostrils of a bison when it snuck up on him in Yellowstone. And I listened, occasionally throwing in acknowledgements of my attention, hoping his stories would crazier and crazier. And they really did until Grant and Lauren came out, brought me back to reality and we left for dinner downtown.

 

Colorado, however, started unspectacularly enough. We left Kansas in the morning and we found ourselves in the middle of a desert by the afternoon. Cacti, tumbleweed, mosquitoes, I mean a real desert. We stopped in the “cowboy” town of Eads, where the only restaurant was occupied by spurs and big-brimmed hats, a stark and overwhelmingly apparent change from our garb of tight, bright cycling spandex. We slept in the park, next to a bustling train station and got out before the sprinklers turned on in the morning. The town of Eads was rather like Kansas. It was run through by a “main” road and maybe 20 houses occupied the side streets. The large white farming structure next to the train station stood out, of course.

 

We then cycled to Ordway about 80 miles west. The whole ride was through the desert, but it really wasn’t that much of a change from looking out at burnt crops and flat fields through all of Kansas. We passed a few penitentiaries, three more than I’d ever seen, and came into view of the Rocky Mountains, or rather, they gradually appeared. We were still too far to make out the geometry, but they were there alright, and they looked terrifying. Because of a tornado threat we took ourselves, after a particularly greasy meal at a gas station which was not coincidentally the only restaurant, to the Hotel Ordway for a night of overpriced, poorly accommodated, but well-sheltered sleep.

 

We rode to Florence the next day and finally ended the flat rides thereto. It was a bit of a shock to our bodies to have to endure climbs again, but it was just unfortunate that the steepest climb, short as it was, happened on our first day entering the Rockies. We met up with Lauren 20 miles from Florence for a break as a terrific storm passed through. It was a melodramatic view of the towering, snow-capped mountains and if television were to produce this scene, the only thing they would need to add is some chilling orchestral tunes. The storm worked in our favor though, because after it passed by in 20 minutes or so, the wind changed dramatically and we had some strong gusts propel us to Florence in exceptional time.

 

Then we entered the Rockies. As we climbed to nearly 7,000 feet, the air became thinner and cooler. The snow was much closer to us, but still confined the highest peaks on the horizon. As we began our final ascent into Hartsel, where we would then get in a car and drive to Colorado Springs, the derailer on Grant’s bike snapped again. Just like the first time it happened in Blacksburg, though, timing was fortuitous and we were able to bring the bike into town without any real delay. This scene does however bring in a great case in an abundant point. The particular section of the mountain where we were so unfortunate to break down did not offer exceptional phone service. We decided to travel back down the mountain to get to a place where we knew we might have a chance at getting a connection. Lo, our phones had decent service about 4 miles down the mountain, but of course, Lauren, waiting for us up in the mountains, probably 3 meters from the stratosphere, had none. Baking in the high altitude sun, at the entrance of a deserted ranch, with no shade options besides a bushy cactus swarming with hungry mosquitoes, we waited 2 hours for Lauren to come to our rescue and deliver us from that evil. If you’re wondering, no one asked for if we needed help even though our bikes looked like they had been ditched in a gully and Grant looked possibly dead as he was taking a nap with a bandana covering his head. So is the case with cross-country adventures, it appears.

 

Colorado Springs, when we arrived, was not as exciting as we had originally dreamt. There were two streets downtown with only two real options for affordable dining. We did spend the night there and saw some impressive fireworks throughout the town as we rode through very slow traffic, having absolutely no place to park. So we decided to up and go to Denver in the morning.

 

Our three days in Denver was a whole summer of activities packed together, without the lethargic flopping about the house in between events that characterizes summer living. We went to a Colorado Rockies game the first night in town (after the library visit), and because the Rockies scored 7 runs, and won, we were able to enjoy 12 free tacos at Taco Bell the next day; an offer we fully took advantage of and enjoyed. We stayed in neighboring Boulder with a friend, Theresa, who prepared for us some Chai tea and a continental breakfast in the morning. Our second day we ran some errands in the morning and went to Super Fun Zone (probably not the name of the place) all afternoon for mini-golf, batting cages, air hockey, a really easy human maze and ice cream.

 

We went to a water park on the third day: a dreary, drizzly and cold day. We’d been excited for it, so the weather didn’t stop us. It did, however, stop us from putting suntan lotion on, so when the very bright, very hot sun came out around noon and none of us wanted to go back to the car to get the lotion, repercussions were sure to be had.

 

And had they were, Grant’s back blistered from shoulder to shoulder and he agonized over the state of and pain in his back for the next week. Lauren and I had luckier pigmentation.

 

Boulder was the coolest place we’d encountered on the trip. It’s a college town and the center of the city is a brick sidewalked set of streets with the main road dividing downtown between shopping and dining. There are also more bikes than people in Boulder and it’s very evident in the town’s bike friendly transportation system. It was a very laid back place, the people were quite friendly and the mile high climate was ideal. Needless to say, we’d all like to go back.

 

But we instead had to go back into the Rockies and onto our bikes. We rode to Hartsel after our hiatus; a town where the elevation is literally 200 times greater than the population. We caught the one restaurant, Tamale’s, just before it closed at 7pm, where we saw a fellow patron get charged 20 cents extra for onions. There was no place in town to camp so we planned on camping out by the bison and the river over on the side of the road. The owner of Tamale’s, though, let us camp in the side yard of the restaurant. We welcomed this invitation especially given our other offer from a rather inebriated local who offered us his camper as he did not want us “to sleep out in the cold”. We moved over to the bar and stayed there until we blasted “Black Water” by the Doobie Brothers on the jukebox and retired to our tent on a night where we could see our breath for the first time since New Jersey in February.

 

The next day we rode over Hoosier Pass, which peaking just under 12,000 feet was our highest point of the trip. It took a while to ride up there, but the Rockies are much better than the Appalachians for cycling. Where in the Appalachians we had to climb steep mountains in three miles, the Rockies allowed us to ride 3 times higher, but because the grades were much lower, the climbs were manageable and, at times, enjoyable. From then on, we wouldn’t reach lower than a mile high until Idaho, which kept the weather very cool during the day and downright cold at night. The clouds became more of a canopy than a sky at that altitude and the scenery of colossal, snowy mountains, roaring blue rivers and lush green forests was no more beautiful than when juxtaposed with the mundane eyesores of the Kansas and eastern Colorado deserts that preceded them.

 

We then passed through the ski town of Breckenridge, got lost on a ride further north to Kremmling and camped in the middle of a high, windy desert. We’d been going north from Pueblo and the trail continues straight up to Missoula, MT, about a thousand miles pedaled not towards the coast. Our last stop in Colorado was a town called Walden, where Lauren was still nursing Grant’s wounds as we camped in a perfectly sized pavilion, wondering how we’d biked to the border of Wyoming already.

 

Colorado is a wonderful state and served as an even better gateway to the impressive and unique sites of the west we would soon encounter.

 

And I suppose the Fourth of July offers the opportunity to synopsize our country from this very intimate view point, but I just don’t feel very qualified to do that. I will say, though, that we, Americans, are very different. Much different than I ever could have thought. And I guess we kind of assume we know the people and perspectives from all around the country because we see them everyday in truck commercials and news breaks. Who knows, we could be much more similar than I’ve come to know. Or could it really just be that we are a bunch of endless groups of very different people, united only by a flag, some TV stations and the NFL?

 

 

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