/ The Route / FAQs
/ Stupid signs / Aphorisms
/ Packing list / Links
<-- previous state / next state -->
We rode out of the high plains of Kansas and into the high plains of Colorado. On our third day in the state and an hour or so past Pueblo, we entered the Rockies. From there we turned north and continued for four days in mountains west of Denver and Boulder, over the continental divide, through the resort town of Breckenridge, into North Park and beyond. We left the state just north of Walden.
Eastern Colorado is a bit more textured and varied than Kansas but not much. There's too little rain to make farming worthwhile, and so the land is open and untended. For two days we rode over broadly rolling terrain, through sagebrush and past abandoned farms, scanning the horizon for a glimpse of the mountains. There was no traffic, there were no cross streets, and the view didn't change for hours. I could literally put my head down and look at nothing but my pedals and the white shoulder line for eight or nine miles at a stretch. Towns -- indeed any kind of food or water stop -- were 30, sometimes 40, miles apart. We discovered whole new levels of emptiness and isolation.
We were eager to reach the Rockies, figuring that at the very least the views would improve and that the climbs would force us up out of our saddles from time to time. (Ten days in the flats takes its toll on the nether regions.) We were a little apprehensive, too -- the massive, jagged, snowy peaks in front of us seemed a lot more substantial than the assurances we'd heard from other cyclists that these mountains were easy compared to those in the east.
It turns out that the Rocky Mountains really are easier than the Appalachians, at least as far as pure climbing goes. The roads are nowhere as steep or as merciless, and it was not unusual to climb for six or seven miles and gain 2,500 feet without ever dropping into the smallest chainring. But the Rockies presented their own challenges. We'd anticipated shortness of breath or headaches in the higher altitudes (flatlanders begin to notice effects at 7,000 feet or so), but not the way in which the thin air would leech energy out of us. We covered only 47 miles on our first full day in the mountains but it may it have been the single most draining day on the trip -- from nearly the first pedal stroke we were listless and lethargic, and became tired all out of proportion to the long but otherwise unintimidating ascents. We rode that entire overcast day into a frigid, stiff north wind, and when we arrived for the night at our destination we were utterly spent. (In a fitting end to the day, a resident dog greeted me by peeing on one of my panniers.)
Every other day we seemed to ride into a new Colorado. We'd ridden out of vacant plains into Pueblo, which with a population of about 100,000, was the largest city I'd seen since leaving Washington, D.C. It was funny being in a place where people took no notice of us at all. Two days later we were in the mountains, nowhere again, getting ready to settle down for the night in a tiny solar-powered, stove-heated cabin offered by one Walter Schacter. Walter -- perhaps best described as a marginally reconstructed hippie -- treated us to beers in his kitchen and told stories. Before settling down in Colorado, Walter had hitchhiked around the world, working to support himself as he went. He'd been a stevedore in Thailand and had helped rebuild ships in Singapore; he'd even been to Woodstock. His exploits made our grand cross-country adventure seem a bit feeble by comparison, but we appreciated the beers.
From the simplicity of Schacter's we rode up over the continental divide and then down into toney Breckenridge. It was the first place we'd been that actually attracted tourists. Everyone there was beautiful and well dressed. Stores, selling sporting goods and souvenirs, ice cream and casualwear, sat three and four blocks deep. We ate at a restaurant featuring cloth napkins and a waiting list; I had two martinis!
Angel hair pasta was a nice change of pace but it took just an evening for the novelty of Breckenridge to wear off. We'd been living so simply -- sleeping in tents or cheap hotels, subsisting on diner food and fig newtons, rotating through the same three shirts day after day -- that the town felt cluttered and excessive. (It's kind of overdone anyhow and I suspect it would have seemed that way even if we'd arrived by plane.) By the next night, though, things were back to normal and in Kremmling I had dinner in the Quarter Circle Saloon, where the men wore black hats and string ties, and the women flared denim skirts and cowboy boots.
Colorado provided some truly glorious moments. Bicycling up past 11,000 feet and into standing snow to cross the continental divide was exhilarating and unforgettable. In Colorado, long climbs might be rewarded by extended effortless descents -- on the way into Breckenridge down from Hoosier Pass, we coasted for half an hour beside a clear coursing mountain stream that gained volume and speed with every mile. The mountain and valley views could be breathtaking; nothing before on the trip had had such power and grandeur. And, as in every state, we met wonderful people.
But having said all that, Colorado was strangely disappointing. There was an unexpected monotony to the place, even -- indeed especially -- in the mountains. Days with particularly long stretches between towns (as much as 59 miles) just dragged. (I assign John Denver and "Rocky Mountain High" a significant share of the blame -- I couldn't get the damn song out of my head. Recalling Monty Python's nasty takeoff on him helped me through the hardest hours.) If there was ever a time on the trip when the riding just got to me, it was in Colorado; and I wasn't sure things were going to improve in Wyoming.
Some other notes from Colorado:
Main page / The
Route / FAQs
Stupid signs / Aphorisms / Packing list / Links
Page posted April 23, 1999