Days 57 & 58: Flying down to Colorado Springs through the US Air Force Academy (I just won the corny title game) 

I was already a bit sour on Jellystone, but the next morning I was cursing myself for staying there – the only way out of it was to backtrack miles and miles the way I came in to take a different road south towards Palmer Lake. I should have known this, but oh well. Things get overlooked. But just like so many times before, there’s always a way out:

In this case an old dirt road sandwiched between I-25 and some railroad tracks. There was a sign that said “Dead End”, but pssh. I know better than to believe that. Sure enough, the road took me right into Larkspur from the park a few miles north. And then it was time to cruise!

Whatever elevation gains I cranked through the day before, it was time to lose them all. I was in for one big decent the whole day, and it was incredible. I mean just look at this peice of road and the scenery in front of me and imagine rolling down the road, probably somewhere between 20-25mph at this point:

And then cows! I get really excited when I see cows because they’re always super standoffish with me (which I find funny even though it probably means they’re scared to death), and they liven up the barren road surrounding them. 

And soon enough I went through Palmer Lake, only notable to me because of the elevation: 7225ft.

 This blew me away and kind of solidified my new obsession with elevation. It’s such a completely different experience riding this high compared to what I’m used to. Wind is incredibly erratic and can blow from opposing directions within a few seconds. It’s very dry, which makes me always overestimate my hydration, and then of course the thinner air. I think it’s having such an impact on me because I’ve spent plenty of time in Colorado skiing in my life and never really had an issue with the air. But just like anywhere else in the world, experiencing the landscape on a bike accentuates the feeling and makes you really understand the environment you’re in…and I’m painfully aware I’m not getting the usual amount of air in me. 

Palmer Lake will also be memorable to me for another reason – it’s where I caught the New Santa Fe Trail. Oh, how much fun this was!

You can just make out the downgrade on the path in that picture. I loved, loved, loved flying down that trail. No cars, a clear trail ahead of me, with views like this:

And this, where a sand company had mounds of different kinds of sand that mimicked the Rockies behind them

I took a breather at a picnic table, and eventually this guy came up and sat down for a chat. 

He used to live in Hawaii working on fishing operations but had some health trouble and moved in with his parents up the hill a bit. Good chat.

Not much further down the trail I got some signage:

Whoa! Riding through military land!

And a reminder that I’d be on camera:

This has been pretty typical since Denver. There are cameras everywhere out here. Very noticeable difference to other places and I don’t really have much of an explanation of it. 

But there sure wasn’t a loss for things to marvel at:

And gliders! Check it out:

So many planes and jets taking off and landing. It stands to reason… You know, it’s an Air Force installation and all. 

More Coloradoness:

I made it to the outskirts of Colorado Springs, and the trail lead right to Criterium Cycles, where I got an energy bar. This shop used to be owned by a guy that taught me how to work on bikes, so it was a nice connection. 


It’s so incredibly beautiful down here. You really can’t get enough of it.

 

I didn’t have a place to stay for the night but I knew I could get a cheesy hotel on Colorado Avenue, which I was happy to do. Cheesy hotels are a true road gift. But to get there I had to go down:

Yes! That’s Garden of the Gods in the foreground. But just breathtaking. I can’t gush enough about it. And look at that trail I got to ride down!

But before the hotel I wanted to make a stop by the place I was sent for training a year before, Barnett Bicycle Institute. 

I spent two weeks in that building learning about bicycle mechanics with a bunch of other great guys and I wanted to say hi to the instructors because they were great. They recognized me but didn’t remember my name, which was fine. It was good to see them. I add my name to the in-house job search network of sorts with availability anywhere west of Denver. We’ll see if anything comes from it…

And then I made my way to the worst hotel experience of my life. 

Google Colorado Springs and you’ll see that Pike’s Peak is in town. Combined with the Red Rocks and Garden of the Gods, a lot of people come here. So rooms are booked. I was stuck with Swiss Chalet.


And I checked in with this woman, who was wearing a shirt that said “California” with sequin and had the Eiffel Tower and French postage stamps on it:

It was the most disgusting room I’ve been in in my life and I’m generally not squeamish about these things. Stains on the sheets and walls, mould, carpet thick with gunk and burns from cigarettes, and the worst smell of sweat, smoke, and a building falling apart. 

I wheeled the bike into the room and immediately started looking for bed bugs. Just then I heard the woman behind shouting to make sure no one else was staying in my room. She had the nastiest tone, and I just pointed to my bike and said very, very bluntly, “Ma’am, do you really think someone is riding on the back of this bike?” She walked away. I don’t think she even understood me. 

I felt itchy and disgusting as soon as the front door to the “chalet” closed. I opted to turn on the AC unit and wait outside for some of the dankness to go away. 

No dice. I decided that I’d try to get my money back the following morning and find another hotel to stay at. I still desperately needed to do laundry and if I was going to pay for a hotel I wanted to be comfortable. 

*** *** ***

I checked out the next morning and just as I thought, she wouldn’t give me my money back for the next night even though I left at 9am. I told her I was going to stop payment on the charge (which I am) and fled the scene, headed for downtown Manitou Springs. I saw a buck off the road…

 

And then I really saw it!

Crazy how close he got. 

I found one of the springs and got some spring water, which was refreshing and delicious. Then it was back towards Garden of the Gods.

I wanted to ride through the park but it seemed like there were an awful lot of cars and it was very hilly. I decided to give it a go anyway:

Of course there was a photo op:

But that was the last of it. I turned around after not too long. I didn’t feel the need to struggle through the park and the drivers were not being safe with all the gawking at the rock formations. 

I headed back into town and got some lunch and met another tourist. He told me he did the TransAm with an ACA group a few years back. Hearing how he had required times to do “chores”, predetermined daily milages, and a lot more regimentation than I’m used to. It made me glad I’m doing this ride alone. 

I hit the bank in town, then off to the new hotel which was much, much better. I got some good sleep and laid low, getting my head ready for riding around the other side of the Rockies.

-J

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