Day 60: Climbing 4,000 feet to the best $15 I ever spent in my life with Bill at Guffey Garage

I woke up early and ready to start climbing into the Rockies…or at least as ready as I could be. I knew it would be up up up all day with precious air decreasing with every pedal stroke, and I knew there was one town between where I was and Hartsel, my intended stop for the night. I headed out of the campground and joined Highway 9:

There was a big dip down, and then I started going up. I already was feeling tired a mile in. 

I pushed on, going very slow. I was using the granny gear much of the day. Going slow made it easier to not hit this guy, who scared the living hell out of me:

And then the grind continued:

Long and gradual – I knew this was how it would be but grinding it out was so much more difficult than I anticipated, and true to form since hitting Denver, I blame the elevation. What little air there was was screaming at me in the form of wind as well. 

I try to never take pictures of what’s behind me, but it’s easier to see the incline:

And then it finally happened – I saw a ton of tourists on the road whizzing by me with a friendly wave as they rocketed down the road I was fervently pedaling up. I’m on the TransAm trail now; the bulk of cross-country cyclists this summer (and any summer) are on this route. For months I thought I wouldn’t like seeing other riders on the trail, making me feel like a bike touring sheep, but it was pretty cool, I’m not ashamed to say at all. I’m part of this community of two-wheeled adventurers and I’m loving it. 

And then someone came up behind me! Henrich started the day in Cañon City and was making me look bad with how effortless his climbing was. He told me he had been riding with a South African since somewhere in Kansas who was behind him. I knew then I’d have company soon enough and felt a pang of relief. It’s nice to suffer together.

Sure enough, within a half hour Dave came rolling up behind me with his flagpole sporting the American and South African flags. I knew right away he was the jovial sort and was happy to ride with him as much as I could. His stop for the night was going to be in Guffey, the town I was going to take a pit stop in. I immediately started thinking this would be the perfect way to ease into the mountains and started to convince myself it was just fine to have a 25-mile day. 

After talking we pushed off:

And we rode together pretty well. Dave was about 30 seconds ahead of me as we pedaled up the mountains, and whenever he breaked I’d join him within a minute or so and we’d chat about what we just rode through. I heard more about the place he was going to stop; apparently the guy that puts up cyclists in Guffey is a character and not to be missed. I was exhausted and gasping for air, and officially decided to join Dave for an early stop and recharge. 

Last picture before Guffey. The mountain landscape was unreal but I had to focus on the ride with everything in me. Even stopping to take pictures dinged my head game. 

We made it to the turn-off to Guffey, and the mile to the town was brutal. The steepest of the day, which is saying something. Dave even had to get off the bike to push towards the end of the incline. I kept pedaling. It hurts but it’s easier than pushing a 100-pound bike uphill on foot. I had no idea how much it would be worth it though…

Right away it was clear this was no ordinary small mountain town:

Lots of junk, but it seemed to be curated. Oh, was it. 

Guffey is a town at 8600 feet with a population of 36. One of those 36 is Bill, who runs an antique shop and garage in town. He’s been putting up cyclists since the first “modern” cross-country tour in 1976, the Bikecentennial, which crossed the same stretch of road I’ll be on for a while. He maintains a bunch of bunk houses – $15, all the beer you want is included (among other things…). We rolled up, shook hands, then went into Bill’s garage to share a cold one and chat. 

The legend himself, holding court in his shop. 

Dave was eating it all up. As was I:

But I couldn’t take my eyes off Bill’s collection:

Bill mentioned that people come in the garage all the time to make offers on various pieces in his collection, but the garage is off limits. He said everything in the garage was given to him and there’s no way anything would leave it till the “big auction” when he died. I kept that in mind…

Bill showed us where we’d sleep for the night, complete with this out front:

Oh hell yeah. Only in Guffey. Only with Bill.

And then the bunks:

Dave was on the left, I was on the right. Does it get any cooler than this? Uhhh… No.  

Dave and I headed to one of the three restaurants in town (three? Remember, this is a town of 36) for a late lunch. We chose the one with live music, the Bull Moose:

The lights were flashing, so in we went. 

We each went for a beer and a bison burger and were a couple of very happy tourists. It became clear that even though it was such a miniscule town, people from all over the county were coming in for their social time. Good stuff. 

And then it was back to Bill’s to shoot the breeze with booze. Like I’ve said before, I don’t like drinking too much out here. I just feel sluggish and gross, even after only a couple. But Bill was a pusher for his icebox literally full of Milwaukee’s Premium Best, and I wanted to make my host happy. 

We sat out front and I absorbed as much of Bill’s stories as I could, from the first tourist he hosted in 1976 who rolled up with a whole pannier full of weed to the Grateful Dead cover band whose concerts he would set up around town. 

It didn’t take long to realize Bill is one of the sweetest men in the world, and I say that without irony or my tongue in my cheek. He’s an original hippie that just wants everyone to get along. He moved up here in 1973 to get away from people but has done everything he can to make his corner of the country high up in the Rockies a truly fun place. It seems he’s had some grief with that – newer residents to Guffey have given him trouble with his collection of memorabilia that seems to span the entire town (he mentioned he owned 80% of the property in town…a town that is essentially two streets), but he made it clear many times that he’s always loved the “bicycle people” he’s hosted for 40 years. Of course I had to sign his book:

Not a guest book, a “bike folks sign in book”.

Bill said he really wanted me to check out the museum in city hall. He gave me the key and I just had to go in:

It just kept getting better. Basically, this was a museum Bill created to memorialize all the parties and fundraisers he’s put on in town over the years, from the school a couple doors down from him to the electrician’s union he would bring together for a reunion every few years, one of which included this as the highlight:

Apparently fireworks shot out of this during the party. Only in Guffey, only with Bill. 

We kept talking for awhile, I was all laughs and smiles. But it was time to go to bed for all of us. I headed to my bunk house:

And then saw two deer mozy on by (this was at least the fifth sighting since we rode into Guffey earlier that day):

And I was out for the count. 

The next morning around 5:45 Dave and I were ready for the 50-mile ride to Fairplay, and I decided to give Bill a gift:

When I sold my car just before leaving for New York I kept my “share the road” license plate to make a sign out of to hang off the back of my bike with my blog address. Well, that never happened, and the plate has been hidden in my pannier for 2500 miles or so. Bill has a lot of license plates, and I figured he could use one more. 

And then Dave and I were on the road, headed higher up and further north…

-J

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