Mon Aug 11 11:04:45 MDT 2003
Mile High, Still Climbing -- Denver, CO
From Smith Center on Wednesday the 6th, I biked on west, through Phillipsburg to Norton. In Phillipsburg I met a fellow named Dennis and his son, both riding very nice recumbent bicycles. We talked shop for a while and they told me I was just north of Hays, where Rans recumbents are made.
It was a long, hot day, so much so that when I arrived in Norton at five, I just went to the public library to sit in their air conditioning and read for two hours, before biking out of town to set up camp.
The towns are spaced differently in Kansas than in Nebraska. Where Nebraskan towns occurred every ten or twelve miles, and were rather small, down here there is nothing for thirty miles, in general, and then there's a large town (large for the prairie, anyhow). I find myself gradually increasing my water-carrying capacity. I now have three large bottles for storage, two small ones for drinking, and one small one that I keep hidden away so that I'll forget I have it unless I need it very badly.
I woke up very early on Thursday the 7th from my campsite outside of Norton. The air was cool (quite a blessing!) and even better, there was a slight breeze from the East, which got stiffer as the day progressed. I was making great time and didn't want to stop, but I indulged my curiosity in Oberlin with a visit to the Museum of the Last Indian Raid in Kansas.
The video they showed portrayed the Last Indian Raid as more of a fighting retreat by the Cheyenne than a raid, as such, but there were several settlers killed for their food and money. In the end, U.S. troops caught the Indians and dragged them back to their assigned reservation in the Dakotas, where they resumed their business of dying slowly.
The museum itself, apart from the video, had not much to do with the actual raid, and was more of an antique store grown out of control. There were objects and documents from all eras, tending towards the early days of settlement. They had actually built a sod house using the same techniques used by settlers way back when, but it was constantly being pecked apart by birds so they had to cover it, first with chicken wire, then later with a plaster coat.
I was worried that by the time I left town I would have lost my tailwind, but if anything it picked up even further. I made great time on towards Atwood, where I stopped for lunch at the pool, and then decided to push on to St. Francis for my first century (hundred-mile ride) on this trip.
One of the great things about doing one hundred miles in one day was that I got to watch the landscape change before my eyes. I had been riding through fields of corn and a crop called "milo," surrounded constantly by green. As I rolled West, the cornfields were finally supplanted by honest-to-goodness prairie. This still is not the Kansas of Dorothy; I ride across low, rolling hills into valleys cut by rivers long since dried up, and granite pokes through the ground in places. But now instead of green there is the beige and tan of short-cropped prairie grass, and the occasional herd of cows (sometimes buffalo, too, in cultivation).
I made it to St. Francis with an hour still to go before sunset, and decided to treat myself to a motel and enjoy the air conditioning. Perhaps I'm a hypocrite for enjoying AC so much, but I figure I must have saved at least four or five gallons of gas by riding those hundred miles rather than driving.
St. Francis was having a county fair, which I visited. It was fun, they had carnival rides and games, and a helicopter ride. It reminded me, though, that carnivals are always more fun if you have someone to share them with.
Leaving St. Francis on Friday the 8th, I found myself much more tired than I expected. For all the miles I had ridden the day before, I hadn't felt like I was pushing very hard. I'm sure half of it comes of sleeping in a soft bed, which I've become unaccustomed to. I wonder if I'll take to sleeping on the floor once I settle in California?
I found that the town layout changed once again in Colorado. There was still a town every thirty miles or so, but now they are barely more than a cluster of houses. The chief amenities are the post office and the liquor store. A gas station is common too, but not to be relied upon. I crept through Joes, CO, where the sign at the entrance to the town proclaims "1929 Men's Basketball State Champions, 3rd Place at Nationals," then passed Cope, CO before camping half-hidden in a stand of trees.
I woke up much refreshed on Saturday the 9th and kept going West. There is a town seventy-seven miles outside of Denver called Last Chance, formerly the last chance for water and supplies before Denver. Now there are other towns along the way, but it is still a long haul to the next one. The one store in town, Dairy King, was closed up with a sign saying "Out of Water," and the drinking-water hydrant in the center of town was dry. Fortunately I met some motorcycle travellers who were almost home and gave me plenty of water to last until Byers.
In the middle of the afternoon, a huge thunderstorm started brewing up to my South and moving Northeast. I considered whether to try and race past it or settle down and wait it out. When the chips were down, I decided it was foolhardy to ride an aluminum-frame bike across the prairie in the middle of a thunderstorm, so I took shelter in the lee of some idle highway construction equipment.
Naturally, the storm passed by without so much as a drop hitting me, but it took its good time. By the time I was sure it was gone, the sun was low enough to set up camp, so I just started cooking up dinner. As I sat there, I heard a noise behind me. I turned and saw that a herd of at least fifty cows had suddenly materialized in the pasture behind me, and they were all staring intensely at me and my beans and rice. One of them gave a demanding mooo, which set off a few of the others. Suddenly the little barbed wire fence that separated us seemed hopelessly flimsy. It had never occurred to me before to be afraid of cows, but the stares from that herd were so intense I realized that with a little initiative, they could probably push through the fence, trampling me and my meager dinner into the ground in a feeding frenzy.
I am fortunate, then, that cows have long since been bred into stupidity and docility, because instead of charging the fence, one of them started to chew on a piece of Tyvek the construction workers had left too close to the fence. The others stood by quietly salivating. When I couldn't stand their stares anymore, I took my dinner and hid on the other side of my tent until they got bored and wandered off.
Around sunset a state patrolman pulled up and asked for my ID. When I explained my circumstances, he was very understanding about my choosing that spot to camp. He told me that he had only been concerned because I was hanging around the highway construction equipment. After a clean check on my ID and a reassurance I wouldn't try and play on the backhoe, he left me to my rest.
Sunday the 10th I woke up knowing I would make it to Denver by afternoon, and that gave me lots of energy. Route 36, which I had been following, ran into Interstate 70 and disappeared, but fortunately I-70 is one of those rare interstates that allows bicycles, at least in parts. And Yes, Mom, there was a very broad shoulder so I was quite safe.
As I rolled into town on Colfax Avenue, I saw only franchises and pawn shops for miles, until suddenly I crested a hill or turned a corner or something, and I could see the Rockies. Even though they were somewhat fuzzy from distance and haze, the effect was amazing. I went slack on my bike, and all I could do was stare and say "Wow." It's a good thing that riding has become second nature by now, or I probably would have fallen off of my bike. I can't believe I've finally arrived at the mountains, after all this riding.
I set out about town, finding the library and a bike shop for some supplies. I've decided to spend a day of rest in town, so I looked up a hostel called the Inkeepers of the Rocky Mountains. It seems like a very hip little place, there are folks from all over staying there, and they are generally quite friendly. There are actually quite a few folks who are living there on a semi-long-term basis, due to difficulties with apartments or plans to leave town soon.
I took a shower and rode back downtown, hoping to check out the park and get some food. I locked up my bike in the park and a very unfortunate thing happened: my lock jammed, and now I'm unable to unlock it. This is a clear case of false economy. I bought a cheap, low-end lock to save money, but now it will probably cost me in the vicinity of forty dollars in locksmith's fees.
My spirits were lifted on the way back to the hostel, though. I was walking along wearing my "Ithaca is Gorges" t-shirt when a fellow on a payphone stopped me and said "Hey, are you from Ithaca? I'm from Utica!" We chatted a bit, then he invited me to go with him to a bar where he was celebrating his friend Todd's birthday with some other friends. They were all great folks, and we hung out the rest of the night. Or rather, until 11 PM, when I felt so exhausted I had to go back to the hostel and crash.
This morning I found myself waking at 6 AM despite myself, my accustomed rising time now that I'm on MDT. Now it's off to do some errands and sightseeing.