Day 1. Bernie and Sue ride along with me to the edge of town. With an already delayed start my now-mind had left me and the slow family pace killed me. Exchanged hugs and took off like a shot. Perfect day. Vail is the destination. Sun is bright. Spinning the pedals is easy. Colorado and the next chapter lay only a few short days away.
Make a few stops in south eastern Minnesota for eats and another time to tighten the spokes. The last bike shop for 1000 miles. Crazy dude. Kept talking about selling high end Trek bikes over the phone. Shop was a real hole in the wall so he claimed that no one could beat his prices on the account of no overhead. Intense dude. Let me borrow his tools without a question so I wasn’t complaining. He actually had the same exact bike I was currently riding, out front of his shop.
A 1987 Trek Elance 400d. Lanny. I picked up one of the nicest road bikes trek produced in that year for $50. Gunnar Berg sold me the bike for peanuts fully aware of the care, love, and punishment I would undoubtedly show it. Metallic blue paint covered the old lugged steel frame which all laid under a thick layer of tar. Tar that was no match for gasoline. Scott down at Martins made it rain on me a little bit providing me with new cables and housing and a set of new-old tires. Lanny was looking hot.
Keeping a high cadence I dipped out of Fairmont, MN and found some very lonely country roads a hair north of the Iowa border. Stole a shower from a county run campground. The hot day was the start of a string of hot days that produced an unruly thick layer of salt over my body. The free.99 shower was key. Ended up putting on ~130 miles despite the late start and family send off.
Camped that night nearing sundown on the corner of a farmer’s mowed property, just out of sight from the farm house. The stresses of homelessness showed themselves again but are gradually becoming more and more discernable, witnessable and therefore more manageable. The worst that would happen is a few rounds from the barrel of some angry farmers shotgun…bah.
It wasn’t stress that made sleeping that night difficult…it was a fucking deer. Some pompous buck kept stamping and snorting around my tent. I would wake up and clap my hands scaring it away only to have it come back shortly after. That fucking deer must have made 5 visits to my tent that night. If only I had that farmer’s shotgun. The sun couldn’t have come early enough. Was packed up and underway before sunrise.
Day 2. Another hot day. Bank clocks showed 97 with later reported heat indexes around 110. Sweated my little nutties off. Crossed into Iowa and skirted small rural towns on even more rural county roads. Kept a steady pace crossing over into South Dakota. So hot. Dried the tent out and filled water bottles in rural now south Dakota towns. Winds were light which allowed for considerable progress. I ended the day in Yankton, South Dakota, around 170 miles from where I had started. Completely exhausted and spent. I couldn’t eat enough salt or drink enough water to keep up with demand. Broke down like a bitch, on day 2 no less, and got a room. Sweet guilt accompanied the cool cool AC, felt like a kid watching porn on the internet for the first time. I was that kid.
Day 3. Crossed the devastatingly flooded Missouri river into Nebraska. If I had done it the day before it would have been 4 states in one day but I will settle for just seeing 4 states in a day. A friend once told me he refrained from doing something because it sounded too much like an accomplishment. I could learn a lot from that friend. Who cares how many states you see in a day. Bah. Riding makes me a headcase.
Rode with a south Dakotan principal out for his daily ride. An exercise nut minus all the spandex. The candidness and honesty with which he spoke was truly remarkable. He would speak about his kids on a first name basis as if I, a total stranger (with long hair mind you), had met them before. “Well, John, who’s 18 already has a baseball game today. He’s been battling pneumonia for a while now….” This guy’s Midwestern spirit was stee-rong. Was a welcome change to the fast pace and solo biking that I had been doing up til then. Maybe knocked off 20 miles with the kind stranger.
Rode past portions of the Missouri River that had flooded entire neighborhoods. The dam holding back the giant Louis and Clark reservoir was releasing 160,000 cfs (cubic feet per second?) which my biking partner explain was up from 70,000 cfs, the most the damn had ever previously released in the history of the dam…ever. Over double. The flooding had actually closed a section of the highway down where I was planning on biking. Instead of staying far north in Nebraska, making my way across the mighty width of the state I rerouted towards the south snaking my way down diagonally across the center.
Towards the end of the day landscape changed from farmland to sand hills. Rolling Nebraska grasslands for days. Stopped in the most divey of ranch bars where the bar-man and another man were well into a heated game of cribbage. Tried to order a chocolate milk and a Budweiser. Barman told me “this is a fucking bar, we ain’t got no chocolate milk.” Fair play barman. Warmed up do the 2 gentleman over my beer and told them I would be back in a year for a “fucking glass of chocolate milk.”
Camped in the sandhills that night. Real estate doesn’t seem to be a limited resource in Nebraska. Went without a shower dealing with the thick layer of salt a dirt as I had no other options.
Waking up still feeling like a salt lick. Slept well, no hastles where there’s no people and no pesky bucks. Pedaled the few miles into town. Felt so soft when I mentally commited to treated myself to a cooked breakfast. The breakfast stop turned into absurd high value when the sweet lady running the place offered me a shower while they cooked my breakfast. So clutch.
Another day of silly high temperatures turned me very quickly back into a hot salty mess. 90 miles was all I had in the tank. Stopped a few times for naps. Head winds were expected traveling in the westerly direction but are never easy to deal with. A strong incessant force that forever impedes progress, robbing energy and morale that can never be recovered. Dark questions about why I was doing this, or do I really enjoy riding bike creeped into my head.
These questions all quickly dissapreared when I reached that nights camping.
First thing; found a shower. Can’t explian how key it is after around 10 hours of straight sweating. It was a state rec area in the fucking middle of nowhere, Nebraska. Not even a large river around. There were a few campers about. One lent me some soap…so key.
Set up my tent in the vasinity of a few others tenters. A little chatter yeilded an invite to a campfire. It turned out to be quite the sizable family outing. Made an offer to trade a $1000 IOU and an old grenola bar for a beer and was rewarded with many-a-beer and a couple burgers, chips, tater salad, apple pie, etc. Such remarkable kindness that seems to be a theme in the Middlewest.
Breakfast was served from my new friends. Just doesn’t get any better. Hit the road at a decent hour. The 90 miles into north platte was broken up by only 1 town and a lot of grass. Headwinds continued to decay my spirit but the good fortune that I received the night before was a great weapon in the mental battle of a full day of pedaling against a swiftly moving atmosphere. Had a close call where I was certain I had sharted on the way into town…didn’t…shocker, pleasantly surprised. Destroyed a Wendy’s in N. Platte. Rode out of town west on a now familiar highway with skies growing darker.
I rode hard as the inclement weather was accompanied by freak winds from the east. Make hay while the sun shines?…or whenever it doesn’t?
Almost buckled for a room again but paying more that $40 is a steep price for being a giant pussy, so I decided to make more hay.
Pedaled a few more hard miles to the next town of Paxton as the sun set and rain started falling. Made it to a park and an overhang before I got nailed. Rain let up, decided to grab a beer in one of the two dining establishments in Paxton, NE.
Ended up dining with a dude from Vail and his brother who seemed to be oddly connected with the scene in Paxton. He called the barman by name and even the butcher who cut the steak sitting in front of him stopped over to say hello.
Turns out the dude runs a restaurant in the rockies and makes a run to Paxton once every three weeks to buy his beef. “Some of the most tender in the world.” The butcher turned out to be quite a special man as well. Mr. Henke ran the oldest family run grocery store in the state and had quite a reputation for his steaks. After 1 beer turned into 3 Henke told me to stop by the gorcery store the next morning. What a night.
Woke up in the city park. Killed an hour waiting for the oldest grocer in the state to open for bussiness. Not really sure what to expect I was pretty certain it wasn’t going to be bad. Mr. Henke came out from behind the deli with a bloody apron and proceeded to make it rain harder than one can imagine after only some smart words were exchanged in the bar from last night. Fruit, suasage, cheese, chips, gatorade. I made him stop when I was certain I had exceeded carrying capacity on the bike. After our super market sweep he sent me out the door and wished me luck. A seriously beautiful and wonderful man. Nebraska is now known to me not only for there amazing beef but people as well.
I had big goals for day 6. I rode in to colorado before in the AM which renewed my energy. The headwinds remained at a breeze and I passed the old haunts of Ovid, sedgewich, Julesburg. My third time through this area.
I weirded out another couple I encountered touring on their bikes. Crossed the road and inniciated conversation. This was the second encounter with touring cyclists in almost three thousand miles of riding. The first will never be forgotten as the homeless man on a walmart schwinn was all too epic three years ago.
These two seemed quite dry, riding from salt lake to chicago. They kept mentioning how they were either ahead or behind their schedule. I felt bad for them. Not that bad because they were getting it done on bikes and headed with the day’s wind but trying to keep a schedule is a terrible place to be. After we parted ways I sprinted back after them and requested a couple patches as I had run out and had no way to repair a flat tire.
100 miles in for the day, Sterling, Colorado’s dollar store and taco bell were raped as dark clouds moved in. The westerly gales that kicked up where too much to resist so I set out into the most desolate portion of the ride, the Pawnee Grasslands that stretched over much or north eastern colorado. A lot of wheat and then just nothing.
I made it 20 miles before the ominous skies condensed and released rain. Heavy rain. Day turned to night with the super heavy dark clouds blotting out the sun and blue skies. Spotted a ranch in the distance and pedaled my ass off.
Made it to the ranch without getting struck down by lightning. Rested underneath the overhang of a machine shed. Made my way over to the farm house to make my presence known to the proprietors. Figured it would be the least awkward move at that point. Wasn’t really expecting to be invited in but gladly accepted when I was. I refused dinner as taco bell still sat heavy in my stomach and felt I was really the definition of imposition at this point.
The storm didn’t let up until dark and the elderly man and women that had taken me in insisted that I take a shower and sleep there for the night. Didn’t decline that offer.
Ended up repairing two flat tires that evening that I had picked up in the driveway of their place. Had just enough patches to get it done!
For the third day in a row I was treated to a royal breakfast and sent on my way. Luckiest kid alive? Maybe.
Kept a decent pace across the grasslands until the Rockies finally came into view. Cha-ching. Feels like home, looks like home…
Eastern Colorado was long yet amazing, just the way I left it. Made it to Ft. Collins early in the day which was nice. Any time that 100 miles goes by and the sun is still high it gets me all jacked up. My string of inexplicable good fortune continued in Fort Collins. Met with a bike builder there and was presented with a most unbelievable opportunity.
The climb from Fort Collins was formidable but barely noticeable under the circumstances. My high brought me all the way to Estes Park. Sitting at the base of Rocky Mtn. National Park, Estes park is a full blown shit show, crawling with midwestern gaper tourists, tooling around in Ford tauruses and mini van’s galore. Keep your eyes out for bicycles dad.
Killed the last little bit of daylight in front of a safeway feeling very homeless. Camped on what seemed to be the tallest hill in town setting up my tent in the dark as a serious lightning storm hit. The hill had only a few short trees on it. My mind went wild with thoughts of being struck as the inside of my tent became illuminated many times a minute. Was taken away with a rush of insanity and got out of my tent in the pouring rain and ran for lower ground. Talked myself out of the foolish antics halfway to the grocery store and returned to the tent. No lightning strikes. A week alone on the bike makes me a real headcase.
160 miles lay between camp and Vail. A huge day in the Rockies but home may be an even huger motivator. Started the long climb into the national park early.
The park is known for the most gnarly of highway that climbs from 7500 ft at estes park to over 12000’. It’s not a normal highway in the fact that it climbs up into the mountains for no real purpose other than to expose tourists to the highcountry. As a result, the road climbs like crazy and stays at a high elevation for some time before descending.
Stopped and had a couple tourists snap a photo of me. My camera had gone temporarily defunct so these would be the only photos of the trip. But if you’re gonna have just one picture this one would do.
On one of the longest decents I have ever ridden I passed a few bikes and a few cars. One lady on a bike yelled at me, “You’re mad!.” After spending the entire morning pushing around the tall gears of an old steel bike, fully loaded, up the county’s tallest highway there was no way I was hitting the brakes. No speedometer but I would venture a guess that I rarely dipped under 40 mph, probably better than 45 for many many miles back down to sane elevations.
Willed the pedals around with thoughts of being home by nightfall. Saw more cyclists on those Colorado highways than I would have ever thought possible. There was a yuppie group out of Boulder that were doing some ultra long 5 day ride. All I noticed was there lack of gear and poorly tuned shiny bikes. In the 40 desolate miles from Kremmling to Dillon I encountered triple the number of touring cyclists (not counting the yuppies) than I had seen in the last 3000 miles of riding this route. Moved over to the opposite shoulder to converse with all of them. Turns out I had found my way onto an Adventure Cycling Association (authority on touring in the USA) official trans-america route. The most memorable of these were three gorgeous ladies who had riden from seattle. I can’t be certain but these were real live knockouts, wasn’t just seeing them through my tired bike goggles.
Once I made it to Dillon I knew there would be no way I would be denied Vail by dusk. Was actually going to arrive well before dark. In Frisco I called a few friends and invited them to the top of Vail Pass to join me in drinking down some celebratory champagne. Bought a bottle and started climbing the last pass of the day.
Was met at the top by the Liberty Skis Van/bus blasting some dubstep from it’s stupid soundsystem. My best buds hadn’t forgotten me in the last year. A perfect reception.
Max Temp: Balls
Min: Cold as shit at 12000’
Most wonderful man: Mr. Henke
Flat Tires: 2 (same time)
Largest Cities Visited: Albert Lea, Yankton, Ft Collins, North Platte
Good trip. Glad to be home.