prairies to peaks
Cycling in America: biking through Colorado and Utah
11 August 2009
Total kilometers cycled: 60,290
Specific country info available here.
Boone (population 323) isn't a place many would choose as home. Main Street boasts a decrepit General Store, the Post Office and the VFW post--a favorite haunt of vets looking for cold beer and company. Pick-up trucks kick up gravel as they cruise down the side streets and invariably there's a big dog in the back howling at passers-by. Most Boone residents live in battered trailers, few homes are well looked after and the town appears to be dying, like so many others on Colorado's arid Eastern Plains. The only thing remarkable about Boone are the nearby hazardous waste storage units. Authorities are working to treat and destroy the mustard agent contained within them. In the local park, where we had pitched our tent, a large siren was on visible display. It would be sounded in case of emergency. The park itself was shabby. Paint peeling on the picnic tables, a water spigot that had long dried up and weeds sprouting up through the basketball court. We didn't mind. After an epic 196 kilometer ride, all we wanted was a place to lay our heads.
"I hope ya got 'er tied down real good, there's a storm blowin' in." The raspy voice was that of Larry, the owner of the local biker's hostel who was out walking his dog, Pearl. "We'll be alright," I hollered across the park.
"And I hope them trains don't bother you too much. Bout eight of 'em coming through tonight. I wouldn't git a wink of sleep without my ear plugs."
"We'll be okay," I insisted.
Eric glanced up at the darkening sky, "Do you really think there's a storm coming?"
"Nah, he just wants us to spend the night at his hostel and make some money," I replied and turned back to my cooking.
Within minutes hurricane-strength winds were scattering our possessions. A freezing rain was pelting down on us. We hastily gathered up our bags and dove for cover in our flimsy tent. Heavy rains battered our bivouac for what seemed like hours and we watched impassively as puddles started to form and water started trickling in. Miraculously, we didn't blow away. It was a soggy sleep, made worse by those eight trains sounding their horns full-throttle just across the road.
"Guess you guys survived the night," it was Larry out with Pearl for her morning walk.
"Yeah. You were right about those trains...and the storm."
Larry chuckled. "Come on over to my place and have some coffee. Looks like you could use a cup. And check out the morning paper...that storm was a doozy-- made the front page."
Larry was genuinely a nice guy, like so many others we've met in small town America. He wasn't trying to make money out of two tired cyclists, he only wanted to be helpful. Larry took pity on us, hooked us up on the internet, sent us off with new maps and filled us in on some of the local history--we really had no reason to be so cynical.
reaching the rockies
With a cup of Larry's reviving coffee in our systems, we pushed on past Pueblo and finally caught sight of the mighty Rockies rising up in the distance. We had left the sedate farmlands of the East and rolling prairies of the Central States behind and were out West at last. I felt my pulse quicken in anticipation of what lay ahead: Hoosier Pass--at 11,539 feet (3,400 meters)-- would be the highest point of our three+ years of cycling. We're always up for the challenge and exhilaration of a good climb. The previous day we had again been caught in a powerful summer storm, with loud claps of thunder and bolts of lightening landing dangerously close to the bikes. In a matter of minutes the temperature had dropped from the comfortable seventies to the low fifties as we were lashed by the unrelenting rain. In times like that, it takes much resolve not to just call it quits and trade in the bikes for motorized transport. Fortunately, the cycling gods were in a benevolent mood the day we conquered Hoosier Pass. Not a cloud in the sky and a gentle wind pushing us from behind. By the time we reached Alma at 10,578 feet, the snow-capped peaks were in sight and breathing had started to become difficult. But Hoosier is not a dramatic pass with hair-pin bends and steep drop offs. The grade is gentle and you don't really feel the climb until the next morning when your calves start to burn and your thighs ache. We rode steadily, taking time to wave at the motorcycles and RVs that honked as they passed. At the summit, we queued up with the other tourist to have our photo taken and loitered a while, basking in triumph.
From the top of the pass, we coasted practically all the way down to the resort town of Breckenridge, at the heart of the outdoor tourism frenzy. We saw more mountain bikes on Breckenridge's streets than we had in the entire eleven previous states. Everybody was decked out in the latest high tech sportswear and there wasn't an ounce of wobbly Wal-Mart flesh in sight. Just the finely sculpted bodies of the fitness snobs. Nobody paid us much attention for a change.
on to utah
In Colorado, we experienced the best cycling so far in the US. There were even bike lanes, special trails for cyclists and best of all, we were surrounded by sparkling lakes and craggy mountains everywhere we turned and some very picturesque camping spots. After climbing up Rabbit Ears Pass (9,400 feet) near Steamboat Springs we cruised down to the Colorado plateau and continued west into Utah, crossing the state line just outside of a place called Dinosaur, at the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers. Dinosaur gets its name from the fossils of the Jurassic period which were found buried in the nearby sandstone canyons. The landscape turned arid, the winds started to howl and the only things keeping us company were grasshoppers and tumbleweed. Settlements were few and far between and we were reminded of our days spent struggling through the deserts of Africa. A taste of adventure at last after suffering through strip malls, congested highways and too much civilization. In Utah we were in our element, lonely roads and wide open skies without a Wal Mart in sight. Utah is an amazingly diverse state with rugged mountains, high plateaus and spectacular sunsets. Spinning through its broad river valleys, lush basins and wind-scoured canyons has been a high point of our US bike tour.
We're in high spirits now, inspired by the scenery, no longer day dreaming about settling down and leading a conventional life. I write to you now from Pocatello, Idaho. My hometown of Missoula, Montana lies just 600 kilometers due north. It's been five years since I last laid foot in the Big Sky Country. Time to turn it up a notch, get back home and say hello to my folks.
check out more photos from our trip
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