I woke in Idalia with the sky a hundred times calmer than they were the night before, and I was which meant the wind was just blowing at a mere 13mph (I’m sure the math doesn’t work out there but I’m going to go with it). I cooked up some breakfast in a play house in the playground because of it, and headed to the cafe for some coffee and ask the farmers what they thought my stop for the night should be – a town 55 miles away, or a bigger town 100 miles away, only 40 from Denver.
It was a tough decision with an easy answer – go to the town halfway and reassess. But I’ve really benefitted from anticipating the day in my head as best I can when I get started riding, and not having that right mindset would have been a problem in taking on that long of a day.
But then I got an offer from a farmer to drive me 20 miles down 36, cutting the road to Byers to 80. I was really torn. This guy was a hoot, and I could tell he would have liked it if I accepted. But I’m very, very uneasy about getting rides to cut miles and days short. I have a rule in my head that only over dangerous long bridges or lateral changes that won’t cut the miles short but maybe take me to a more beautiful or safer place are alright. This would have to be a little more dire for me to say yes. It turned out to be a good decision…
…despite the wind, that I tried to take a picture of here, as much as anyone can take a picture of wind.
It was coming out of the southwest and had me swerving all over the empty road. There was just nothing out there and I felt like I was riding on the roof of something.
They were Brian, Jim, and Adam, three members of the University of Delaware Rowing team. They had started in Virginia Beach not many weeks before. They were on 36 headed to Denver on their way to Eureka, CA. The talk instantly turned to snacks – we were all fueling up for the next push further down the road.
But before long we saw another rider out on the road and called him down. This was crazy! We were all blown away by running into each other.
The New guy was Josh, riding solo to raise money for his friend wth breast cancer and to visit as many baseball stadiums as he could. I could instantly tell he was having a very different ride from me.
We all traded stories about the road, realizing that at times we weren’t all that far from each other, which was crazy to think about.
We ended up talking about destinations for the night. Both Josh and the rowers were headed to Byers, the town I had been thinking about over coffee. I really wanted to join them but it was clear that they’d be going faster than me, and I didn’t want them to slow down for me any more than I wanted to speed up for them. I want to ride my own ride. Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes it’s slow. The pressure of adapting to the rhythms of another rider wasn’t something I wanted to worry about. But I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t join them, and I could tell they wanted me to come along. So I climbed on the bike and we were five for a while:
We started off great together, cruising along at a swift pace and talking up a storm, having some fun in the middle of nowhere. I was so happy to have some company, and these were good kids. Funny, easy to talk to, and they had good stories to tell. Josh had ridden the C&O/GAP like I had, but only a few weeks ago. The rowers had ridden through Hoxie and Goodland not long before me to get to where we met.
Like I said before, I generally ride 25 minutes then take 5 off the bike. These guys are more along the lines of ride 25 miles, take 20 minutes off. It was nice to ride at a different pace. The way I ride and constantly checking in to how I’m riding is so ingrained in me at this point that a switch up felt like I was entering whole new experience.
We made it to Anton and fueled up again:
And I had to make a decision. Do I stay there for the night and head into Byers the next day, like I planned, or push on with these guys and make it a day early into Boulder? I hesitantly said yes to pushing on. I liked these guys, and having company for the first time touring since August on my first bike overnight was giving me a renewed energy. In the back of my head I new I could always say goodbye and pitch the tent on the side of the road if I worried about overdoing it.
We finished our snacking, which involved an Oreo-knock off but with vanilla wafers and a lemon cream filling that were ridiculously delicious. And we were off. It would be a long 50 miles of hills overlying a constant rise in elevation. Slowly but surely I was making it from the front of the group to the back so I could draft off my new friends. I like breaking often and could have gone for another just when Mother Nature made us take a break anyway:
There was a pretty serious storm coming in, and after watching it in the distance for the previous hour, realized we were going to ride right into it and that it would be best to just get wet, wait for it to pass, then keep riding. So we posted up off a county road, making sure everything was waterproofed:
Some of us were more concerned than others:
Nothing was going to get in my Ortiebs. I didn’t even think twice.
Soon enough the storm was coming our way, and the winds were fast enough to make us stumble because of the force.
And then the rain came, smacking our nylon rain shells with the sound of a snare drum repeatedly. Thunder was heavy in the clouds coming at us, and we saw the first lightening strike. This caused a bit of concern, but not for me. Just wait it out, you’re almost certainly not going to be hit. A few minutes later the hail came; little gravel like pops in the chest as if they were shot from a weak bb gun. The storm was overwhelming us, and we all sat down on the edge of the road in balls braving it. We all couldn’t help but laugh at the situation, and Josh and I were thankful we weren’t out there in the middle of nowhere braving this monster storm alone.
It eventually passed – I’d say we were forced into a 45-minute break. But then we had to reassess what we were going to do. The rowers were happy to stop short of Byers given the concern over losing daylight to camp on the side of the road. Josh, on the other hand, was firmly committed to making the town and getting a hotel room.
The miles leading up to the storm made it very clear Josh was of a different mindset. He would routinely rack up days well over 100 miles, going as fast as he could, to make it to hotels and “say he rode that much”. While riding he would constantly push the pace faster than we all would have liked. It was beginning to be an irritant for me, and a bit less so for the rowers. They liked the grind. It drove home how different all our experiences are out here. That feeling would only increase over the next 24 hours.
We started hitting hills on the road into Byers. I had known they were coming from talking to people at pit stops in Kirk and Joes. I knew I’d be very slow compared to my new younger, lighter companions and their lighter loads, but I wanted to stick with them. I wanted to make a 100-mile day and ride into Denver with them the next day, something I hadn’t planned but thought would be fun and provide for an easy 30 miles into Boulder the day after, right on time.
Sure enough, I got dropped. But Brian always came back to ride with me and let me draft off of him, easing the effect of the heavy evening winds. I was part of the crew, and it felt as comforting as it did foreign. I’m really not used to riding with others and thinking of riding as a group while on the bike.
When the hills came, the guys would stand up on the pedals and grind through. I’m more of a downshift-and-go-slow guy. I stuck with them but was getting a little cranky on the inside. I was also self conscious about holding them back. I told them as much and they just brushed it off and told me we were in this day together.
But you get a handful of guys together and there’s going to be elements of macho creeping through, which I never welcome. That manifested itself in Josh making it very clear to us that he was going to have a 138 mile day and making us all ride faster. For the rowers it meant not speaking up when they wanted to take a food break. Well, not me. I said I needed to stop to eat and the guys all thanked me for saying so. Josh would just say “are we ready?” And try to get us moving. I tried to find nonconfrontational ways to say I didn’t really understand why he was riding the way he was, barely stopping, not learning about where he was riding through, always getting “safe”, innoculated, expensive hotels, racking up massive days for no real reason. He didn’t seem to be enjoying the ride for what it was; he was after macho bragging rights. Being sucked into this touring style was gradually bothering me more and more. I like stopping to take pictures, going slow to take it all in. There were so many pictures I wanted to take, so many beautiful views I wanted to stop at, stretch, and appreciate. But I kept going. I thought about stopping for the night several times and mentioned it to the group but they insisted I stick with them.
The sun wore thin right around the time the hills did. We saw the lights of Byers in the distance and rode into town spent and ready to be off the bike.
We got to the hotel at just the right time. I was just done. I was done riding and I was done putting up with Josh and his hyper competitiveness. I not only don’t understand competition, I don’t like it. I don’t understand why someone has to win something when the reward is nonexistent, and I don’t like the way pursuing a win feels. The rowers were a little worn from him as well, although not as much.
The hotel owner wouldn’t allow more than two people in the room (despite it having two queen beds?) and while we all cursed this the rowers were happy to pitch their tents at a picnic table under some trees with the blessing of the local cop we asked as he was driving by. I took the room with Josh, and started to feel guilty for not liking him so much. He gave me a place to sleep and shower, and he didn’t have to. Gotta give credit where it’s due.
*** *** ***
The next morning we all took our time getting ready. Josh riding 138 and the rest of us riding 100 left a toll, but all four others were anxious to get to Denver. They were all meeting friends there and were ready to take the 40 miles into the city head on. We went to breakfast, taking over the walls of Country Burger in Byers:
But then we started ridin on 36 to Denver. We started slow enough but eventually the guys were well ahead of me. I didn’t like the constant push. I decided that I would ride my own ride. If they dropped me, fine. I didn’t come out here to play by anyone else’s rules. This ride is too precious and the experience too incredible to sacrifice for others. But I still wanted to ride in with the guys and get some pizza once we hit Denver before saying our goodbyes.
I would catch up with the guys on downhills (my added weight made me catch them easily), only to have them pull ahead on the flats and hills. I was still riding faster than I wanted to, especially given my muscle pain from the 100 mile push the day before. The terrain was getting more and more interesting coming into Denver, and the ride through Aurora was fascinating…from what I could tell. Trying to keep up with the group made me miss the details I usually like to observe. I have not one picture from the ride other than what Josh took of me on the bike:
I had been dreaming of when I would first see the Rockies outside of Denver or Boulder since I started the tour, and coming through Aurora I got to just make them out through the haze. I was thrilled, but no pictures.
Once we were near downtown I was getting ready to call it. I was so happy to have been able to keep up with these kids and that we made it in together, but I wished I could have come in the way I wanted. It seemed like the group was naturally ready to split up anyway – one of the rowers was getting very homesick, wanting to cut the break in Denver short. This gave the other two frustration, and you could feel the tension in the trio. Josh was fixated on getting a picture in front of Coors Field and meeting his friends who were flying in that afternoon. But we all wanted to part the right way and went to a pizza/gelato place:
After Philly I didn’t really want another hostel but this one seemed different. It was last minute, so I didn’t want to go the Warmshowers route. It ended up being perfect:
I decompressed at the bar and started chatting it up over a Shirley Temple (I don’t like drinking too much alcohol when I ride this much, and I like paying for it even less), and eventually the guy who maintains the blog for the hostel asked me if I’d share my story for it.
Once it got dark I went for a stroll and happened upon a place I couldn’t help but stop:
It was the Inventing Room, where they took an unusual approach to ice cream. I was greeted with cinnamon chocolate popcorn that was pulled out of dry ice, and the experience of eating beyond cold popcorn was wild. I got a simple s’mores ice cream sandwich that was incredible, unlike any ice cream I’ve eaten before.
I headed back to the hosts and hung out with the other travelers for a while. It was fantastic heating everyone’s stories, from the Australian physical therapist who has almost unlimited frequent flyer miles from work to the nurse bases in Fargo and travels to new cities to see where he wants to live next. I even met a man living in Cincinnati in Clifton, my old neighborhood. It was the third Cincinnati connection I’ve come across since the tour began and it never ceases to surprise me.
Eventually a guy came out on the patio to play his hand drum:
And I knew I was in the west. Hippies all around with hand drums and enjoying Colorado’s marijuana laws was a stark contrast from the conservative plains I’d been through for weeks. I felt very happy to have come as far as I did.
I woke this morning rested and without much of an idea what my next move is. This hostel is fantastic and I don’t want to leave. But I need to figure out my next move in Boulder. Everything I’ve worked so hard for is all going to come together tomorrow night when Dead & Company walk out on stage to start blowing us away. I just need to find a place to stay.
I’m also reflecting on how different my ride is from the guys I rode in with. I’ve resolved that I want to slow down even more now that I’m out here. I want to take it all in, be more serendipitous, less a slave to the scheduled stops. It’s something I’ll be thinking about on the 30 rainy miles into Boulder today, and even more over the next couple days in the town for the shows. But nothing will stop me from enjoying my time at and around the concerts. I can’t wait to be caught up in the scene! I’ve thought about it every day since the middle of May, and I’m finally here and ready to relax and get consumed by the joy and fun of the world of the Grateful Dead for a couple days. Onward!