Where has the last month gone?
Since starting in Florence, Oregon a month ago, I have now covered almost 3,000 km through five states –Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. Today, the ride into Pueblo was a fairly short one, but by 11 a.m. the temperature was well into the 90s, there was no shade anywhere, and the grasshoppers were jumping up and bouncing off my shoes. Worse yet, one of the the van’s rear tires looked like it was getting heat blisters on its sidewalls. So our first impression of Pueblo was from the inside of a tire shop, where Priscilla got a new pair of shoes and the bank account took a major hit. But I’m getting ahead of myself. . . .
When I left off last week, we were taking a rest day in Rawlins, Wyoming, a city of 10,000 people at the crossroads of no fewer than seven highways AND a railway that goes right through town. Our campground was right next to one of the major highways. After a delicious breakfast of huckleberry pancakes and coffee at our picnic table, I set out to explore the town on my bike. Turns out he biggest attraction in Rawlins is the Wyoming Frontier Prison. And what a fascinating place it was! From the outside, it is a beautiful stone building, very well preserved. Since closing its doors in 1981, the inside has been preserved exactly as it was when it was home to 700 of the most notorious criminals from across the state of Wyoming.
I found myself spellbound by the photos and stories of the prisoners and seeing the conditions they lived (or died under). The prison was home to 14 women, one of them an 18-year-old Mormon women who poisoned her father by feeding him a pie she had baked with strychnine in it.
Another woman’s photograph showed a grossly deformed lower lip. She was in prison because she had murdered the man who gave her syphillis. Over the 80 years the prison was operational, 475 inmates died there — many of them executed by hanging or gas chamber. I even took a seat in the gas chamber!
I don’t mean to be morbid, but the last man executed here was in 1965 — a 22-year-old man by the name of Andrew Pixley who murdered two young girls in Jackson, Wyoming. His crime is considered the worst in the state. They say the prison is haunted by Pixley’s ghost and the ghosts of the two victims, the faces of whom he carved with his fingernails are still very visible on the walls of his death row cell. Creepy!
That evening, we went out to Rose’s Lariat, which is reported to have the best Mexican food on the TransAmerica trail. What can I say? It was best enchiladas I’ve had since San Antonio, Texas.It’s a tiny little, family-run diner, not licensed, and while we ate, we met Jennifer from Las Cruces, New Mexico, who had just taken a job at the resort in Saratoga Springs. She made the 50-mile drive to Rawlins to get a good Mexican dinner. Her verdict? “Nope. You gotta go to Las Cruces!”
Hobo Hot Springs in Saratoga
Back on the bike on Saturday, through the town of Sinclair, which was originally called Parco for the company that designed and built it as the “ideal company town.” At the centre was the elegant Parco Inn, a Spanish Colonial style building that took up a whole city block and featured a pond where diners could order the freshest trout in Wyoming. Parco fell on hard times during the Great Depression, its refinery sold to Sinclair Oil, and the town renamed Sinclair. The elegant Parco Inn still stands.
For the first time, my route took me onto the Interstate (I-80), but it was still early in the day, so not as much truck traffic as there could have been. The shoulder was wide and I felt quite safe. I exited the interstate near the town of Saratoga Springs, and set to find the natural hot springs that have been there, next to the North Platte River for more than 100 years; free and open to the public, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. There are three pools — a hot one, a hotter one, and the “lobster pot,” where temperatures are in the 115- to 120-degree range.
After a few hours on the bike, I thought I could sure use the “natural healing powers” of the water. It was magical! (Dad, another place you would just love!) I hit the road again, refreshed and relaxed.
Up the road a ways, I caught up with Tony Morgan, a 69-year old from Wales, who says he comes to the U.S. every year to ride 1,000 miles over some part of the country and do some bird watching along the way. He asked me what I thought of the American election coming
up, and said he wanted to offer some advice to Hilary Clinton — to take Bernie Sanders on as her VP running mate.
“Don’t ask me,” I said. “I’m just happy I live in Canada.”
He was going slowly, and he didn’t want to ride and talk, so I told him I needed to get moving to make it to the next campsite at Six-Mile Gap, six miles from the Colorado border.
For the next hour I battled a strong headwind, until making the turn south at Riverside, where it became a tailwind, and I fairly flew all the way to camp. It was the weekend (I am starting to lose track of days and dates), so there was a crowd of young people out camping at the Forestry site alongside us. They asked if we would mind if they “shot some clays.” I’m glad they asked because this is America after all and sounds of shots being fired could be pretty scary! The campground was quite a way off the highway and down into the valley of the Platte River. It was peaceful, rugged and beautiful, but you wouldn’t know it if you stayed on the main highway.
Sunday morning I was on the road by 7:05, headed for the Colorado border. Bright blue skies greeted me, the sun was shining and traffic was light. I passed through the sleepy communities of Cowdrey and Walden, “moose watching capital of Colorado” but I have yet to see a moose. Pronghorn antelope are plentiful. Sometimes I see one caught on the wrong side of the barbed-wire fence. They’ll run for miles looking for an opening in the fence so they can rejoin their herd. I have to watch them closely, though, in case they decide to cross the highway and run over me!
I had another pass to climb today — Willow Creek — and at the top I met a guy trying desperately to get his bike, himself and the sign into a photo. So I told him to go pose with his bike and I’d take his picture.
Benjamin is a fine arts student from Leipzig, Germany
who is currently between degrees. He is spending his summer riding from New York to Astoria, Oregon; then Vancouver to San Francisco. When I caught up with him he was eight weeks into his trip, and had 8 weeks worth of beard on his face.
The other side of the pass was a terrific downhill ride, with a meandering river to round out the experience. Beautiful!
We camped at another US Forestry Service site in Denver Creek. I had just enough time to wash my clothes and myself in the river before a monstrous thunderstorm crashed immediately overhead. It didn’t last long, though, and managed to cool everything down. Camped next to us was a young couple from Denver. Jon is an engineer and his wife Shelby is a school nurse. They were taking eight days to ride the Rocky Mountain Trail and were heading to Walden (remember, the moose-watching capital?).
Overnight, the rain on my bike had turned to ice and it was very cold on my fingers and legs as I started out, so I pedalled fast for five miles or so to warn up. It was a fantastic ride into the big ski resort communities of Silverthorne, Frisco and Breckenridge. Now that it’s summer, the mountain bikers are everywhere, and rafting on the Blue River is serious business. The mountain peaks form a spectacular backdrop to the multi-million-dollar log “cabins” that dot the hills.There is a terrific bike trail joining the three communities that takes cyclists right away from the traffic. The “Ride the Rockies” bike race was starting on Wednesday, so there were a lot of people out training on the trails.
Myrna thinks I’m not eating enough, so she suggested we get some fettuccine alfredo to go from one of the pasta restaurants in Breckenridge. Together with our barbecued lamb chops by candlelight in our little van made for a terrific dinner while yet another thunderstorm crashed above us. We stayed at the USFS campground in Frisco, right on the Dillon reservoir. It was our third night without access to electricity and all our electronics were in desperate need of charging. The next morning Willy Gruber, my colleague from our Denver office was going to meet me in Breck and help me get over the Hoosier Pass, the highest pass on the TransAmerica Trail. Trying to confirm last-minute plans was frustrating. My texts were not going through and the phone was running out of juice. When all else fails, send e-mail!
Here comes the Hoosier!
The night was another cold one but the morning of the Hoosier climb was sunny and clear. I was to ride the 15 miles from Frisco; Willy the 23 miles over the pass from Fairplay, and we were to meet in Breckenridge so Willy could do the pass again! My bike was covered in ice, and — what’s this? Some critter, not sure what, had, unzipped my handlebar bag, pulled out and eaten the three energy bars I had in there. All that remained were the wrappers and big muddy paw prints on my white handlebars!
Despite all our plans, Willy and I still somehow managed to miss each other at the appointed time, but we did eventually connect and he pulled me up the last four miles to the top of the pass at 11,539 feet and down the 10 or so miles to Fairplay. While I’m gasping for air and trying to hang on, Willy (the Rocket) is naming all the peaks to the left and right of us and pointing out the running and hiking trails accessed from there. It was so great to see a familiar face and to have some company on yet another climb up and over the Divide.When we got to Fairplay, Willy had prepared a “care package” — with enough cookies, gummy bears and energy bars to get me all the way to Missouri! I am very grateful for his support and for taking the time to do this ride with me. I had a blast!
All Downhill from Here!
While Willy headed back to the office, I continued my ride, practically downhill all the way to Royal Gorge — a drop of about 6,000 feet of elevation. At 153 km, it was my highest-mileage ride of the trip, but the downhill and the tailwind made it that much easier.
On a side note, Willy had recommended we try the world-famous tamales in the town of Hartsell, just down the road from the Hoosier Pass. Willy, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry to report that Hartsell’s tamale-making lady has sadly retired. No more tamales in Hartsell.
I’m starting to see more TransAm riders as the weeks go by, but if they’re going the opposite way, we usually just wave and “thumbs-up” each other. Here was a guy standing on the shoulder, taking a picture of . . . me! I crossed the road to say hello and he asked me if I was a TransAm racer.It must have been the Golder jersey that gave him that impression. John is from Sweden, riding the same route as me, except from east to west. After a day of headwinds and uphill, he was feeling a little demotivated. “The best is yet to come,” I told him. “Hang in there!”
We pulled in to a KOA campground in Royal Gorge with electricity, water, hot showers and a pool. Wahoo!
This morning, I pedalled the three miles from our campsite up to the Royal Gorge Bridge. At 965 feet above the Arkansas River, it is the highest suspension bridge in North America. I got there before the park opened, and learned that to walk across the bridge cost $18, and that on any given day, between 500 and 1000 visitors will do that. I looked at the bridge, took a picture, got on my bike and saved myself $18. Gerrick and Karin, you would no doubt have bungee jumped off the bridge. I didn’t even check how much that cost.
Farewell, Rockies. Kansas, Here We Come!
Colorado is a beautiful, rugged state, perfect for adventurers. I really liked it here, and would love to come back and explore more. I am now three full days ahead of plan, and would like to check out the Riverwalk and the art galleries in Pueblo before heading east into Kansas, where I understand the wind is always blowing — and usually in your face!
A special shout-out to my dad for Father’s Day; to my brothers Pete and Tom and my brother-in law, John; to Gerrick and to Curtis. You are all great Dads.
Til next week,