Day 49 – Westcliffe to Salida CO

I woke up at 1:00AM this morning to clear skies – looking good for today’s ride. I made the early morning trek to the RV-land restrooms with my eyes upward, enjoying the clarity of the high altitude night sky.

Westcliffe announces itself on it’s “Welcome to” sign as a “dark skies” city, meaning basically that they only allow outdoor lighting that points down and avoid fixtures that leak lighting horizontally or up to the night sky. It’s a great thing for a city to strive towards and I was surprised to see awareness of the issue out here in such a rural area. But of course that’s the best place to take it seriously.

The stop sign in Westcliffe. That’s it. Last night after the town was cleared out around dusk there were teenagers skateboarding down Main Street, enjoying the fresh new smooth pavement.

When I got up for real just after 6:00 it was with a raging headache that I attributed to the altitude. But nothing 2 ibuprofen, water and coffee couldn’t fix. I actually think coffee helps up here – something about opening your blood vessels or some such thing. I’ll have to check when I get to wifi.

Frank Kennicot homestead, 1869.
The Beckwith Ranch. It was settled in 1869 and later expanded. The Beckwith brothers were  one of the influential families in early Colorado, one was a state senator, and the home was described in the 1880s as “one of Colorados mansions in the hills.”
This is why you hire an architect. Lasting design.
Kanasas doesn’t have a monopoly on zephyr mills.
I bet you thought we were done with decorative manure spreaders.

Today’s ride was really wonderful, especially the first 20 miles or so. The country here is beautiful, the weather was perfect and I had some long coasts downhill that let me take in the scenery without passing out. I passed old homesteads, ranches and a few scattered homes as I descended through the Wet Mountain Valley. Then after a short traverse I dropped down to the Arkansas river (yes again) where I turned upriver through the deep canyon that it follows.

Yup, we’re still on the Arkansas for one more day.
Rafting is popular here. Fishing too but it’s too muddy right now for the fish to see your bug.

It’s frustrating taking photos here. I find landscapes really hard to capture – they look so huge in person and then you take a picture and all the detail that excited you is crammed into this little narrow band that looks as flat as a wall. The scenery here is all about vastness to me, and the iPhone doesn’t do vast so well. Or maybe I need to be more creative.

If you zoom in you can see a mountain goat drinking at the river, and several behind. Just by the fence you can barely make out the curled horns of the ram in the group. Odd, I thought they stayed separate.
So many places around here have these kind of cliched, Colorado names; Antler Creek, Piñon Ridge, Bighorn Valley. I’d just decided to name my Colorado spread “Flamingo Grove” when I saw this. It’s been awhile (Illinois maybe) since I’ve seen a “pallet flag” too, this one of the Old Glory variety.
Looking back down the Arkansas.
Sadly, the motorcycle museum was closed. This is the first veteran’s memorial mortocycle sculpture I’ve come upon. Points for uniqueness.  Damn telephone wires get in the way every time.
Western buggies. Back in Westcliffe I saw Amish or Menonites riding in more modern carriages with tires for wheels. I suppose that’s more comfortable.

One thing that I’ve learned on this trip is how much better I feel when I take the time to do things right. This comes up a lot with pictures because I find that if I rush it – don’t get off the bike, just take one shot – it comes out less than I expected. It really matters to get off the bike, slow down and think about it. So often in life I rush too much to try and do more and I’ve really enjoyed the space to allow my life to open up, talk to strangers, and smell the roses (or the bay leaves as fits better here – I forgot to mention all those bays coming up Hardscrabble canyon yesterday – simply overpowering). That not-rushing is something I hope to hold onto after this trip.

I enjoyed the views but I had about 20 miles up the Arkansas that were too trafficked to enjoy. Most of the time people are considerate but this road had a poor shoulder and whenever a truck came from behind and in front of me at the same time I had to move off the road. It makes me angry to cede my right to the road but as a practical matter I need to stay alive to fight that battle. I got a good road shoulder back before reaching Salida so I could enjoy the rest of the ride in.

Salida’s a cool town – very hip and left oriented. I feel right at home, like I could be in, say, Grass Valley? One of the first things I saw coming into town was a retail marijuana store with solar panels on the roof. What struck me was that it’s the 1st weed store I’ve come upon in CO though I have to admit I wasn’t looking for them. I cruised through town and it has lots of older homes all fixed up prettily with multicolor trim to highlight the various architectural details – shingled walls, scrollwork, window trim and the like. Very cute but I think there’s a correlation between the cuteness of the homes and the downtown businesses and the fact this is the most I’ve had to pay for a hotel room the whole trip. Well I’m splurging because I’m meeting my buddy Chuck here tonight.

Cool old building

I’m a little nervous about tomorrow’s climb. It’s the highest elevation on this trip by far. I feel much better today after a good night’s rest and an easy day, but the air’s going to be pretty thin up there. I may need another day in Salida to acclimate, especially if Chuck keeps me up late. Yeah, it’ll be your fault Chuck. Nice thing about writing your own blog – the historian wins all arguments.

Day 48 – Pueblo to Westcliffe CO

It says something about today’s ride that when I proofed my first draft of this post, I used the phrase “kicked my butt” 4 times. I’ve tried to trim it down but at this altitude I don’t trust my brain as much as usual so who knows how many are left.

Well I wanted mountains and mountains I got. Today’s ride was pretty easy for the first 30 miles and then it turned uphill for the next 15, all the way to a 9000+ ft summit. But I’m jumping ahead.

The road out of Pueblo rose slowly and I had to skirt around the Pueblo reservoir to get to the real objective of the day. I enjoyed the slow transition from old Pueblo out to the edge of town and I was happy to see little canyons and creeks as I rose. I crossed a high plain up above the reservoir and all was good up to Wetmore.

A hue that doesn’t normall exist in nature, only El Caminos.
Above the reservoir, little canyons begin to open.
Facing the sun that was slow arriving. I wondered about showers as I left town but one thing I’ve learned is to not be faked out by the weather.
More stories to ponder.
Starting to see cascading creeks.

Then the road started a steady climb that my ACA map told me to expect. That would have been fine but I was not prepared for leaving all the oxygen behind in the valley. It was just as slow and gradual as the climb but I found my heart rate climbing and I had to go slower and slower. My legs were fine but I started to feel all the classic symptoms of altitude sickness – fatigue, nausea, and by the time I reached the top, a head ache. I had to take frequent stops just to be safe but the thin air was clearly kicking my butt. I can’t remember the last time I had to stop at the top of a climb and just catch my breath before descending. But I knew I had to get down soon. All that and the Colorado DOT didn’t even see fit to put an elevation sign at the top. I guess 9000 foot passes are a dime a dozen here.

Don’t be fooled by the false summits. I approached this climb as if its where I would always be. Which, for today was largely right.
If you zoom in you can find the climber in the green shirt on the cliff face.
Ummm I should know this.
Indian paintbrush? Allison, your turn.

I coasted down the other side of the mountain and my head started to clear. The nausea abated but I had to even take rests on the 5 mile descent to be safe. A beautiful valley opened up where I’m staying tonight, with huge peaks on the other side that I’ll need to cross soon. In two days my route takes me over an 11,000 foot pass. That pass was present in my mind when I made it to the top – “what if you were 2000 ft higher? Fortunately I have a couple of days at this altitude to acclimate, but I’ll take more if I need it.

Descending into the valley with the Sanger de Cristo range rising behind for another day.

When I made it down to Silver Cliff I stopped at the local museum to learn a little about it. Like a lot of former mining towns, Silver Cliff used to be relatively big – over 5,000 but that was for a short time until the silver thinned out. You can easily see the scars from the mines and the tailings that they left behind. It’s worth learning to recognize mine tailings because it’s an easy way to spot mine entrances that often have cool relics and buildings around. All the mining tools in the museum just make me glad I was never a miner. They used a crazy combination of hard labor, explosives, and chemicals to extract and separate the silver from the ore. Combine that with a crazy map showing the hundreds of claims in the area, the riches brought by the silver and you have the stage set well for trouble.

I found lunch and headed on down the hill to Westcliffe where I knew there was a campground. I found it and set up camp quickly, just in time for a thunderstorm to roll in. I curled up in my tent and went right to sleep for an hour, feeling absolutely spent.

I think I’ll sleep well tonight and I hope it doesn’t storm too much. My tent is pretty comfy but the gusts were ferocious this afternoon and I need a good rest. Tomorrow’s an easy, relatively level pedal and sure glad that I built in time to get used to this air. So far, the thin air is kicking my butt.

Tonight’s abode, with storms rolling in.


Day 47 – Rest Day in Pueblo CO

What is it about rest days that seem to turn my brain and body to mush? I suppose it’s all those miles across the plains catching up with me but it’s odd to feel more tired on the rest days than the ones I ride. There’s something there too that I remember talking with Richard and Tash about back in MO. Exercise doesn’t tap you out, it gives you more energy. I know I need the rest too because today, just toodling around Pueblo, when I stand quickly in the pedals my legs scream for mercy. OK, mercy today legs for tomorrow we climb and perhaps contemplate ”what is pain.”

The folks from Springs Mountain Sangha have been so great to me. Kerry and Linda have hosted me to meals, given me rides, and a place to stay and it has been lovely to be welcomed into their community.

I attended the Koan study with the Sangha last night where we read and discussed this short story: (BTW for those of you not familiar with Koan work, read 3 or 4 definitions on the web and you’ll have an idea of it. I didn’t really like any of the ones I found but then, its kind of the nature of koans to not be nailed down. At least that’s my incomplete understanding, having had little experience with koan work.)

When Dongshan was dying, someone asked him, “you’re unwell. Is there someone, after all, who isn’t sick?”

Dongshan said, “There is”

“Does the one who isn’t sick take care of you?”

“I’m actually taking care of that one.”

“What is it like when you take care of that one?”

“Then I don’t see that there is any illness.”

That may bring up lots of thoughts and feelings as one reads it and the really interesting thing about discussing it with a group is to see how it was received by different people. At first, I had a very definite idea of what it meant to me (engineer brain, kicking in to solve problem. Ha!) Sarah, the Sangha’s Roshi (congrats on becoming Roshi, Sarah!) had us take it apart one line at a time, which really opens it up. As people discussed it I felt my own reading of the lines changed and the meaning broadened. It was a very interesting experience and many thanks to Sarah and the group for sharing it with me.

Today I explored Pueblo, just following my nose as I did a few errands around town. It’s a really interesting place, having been a crossroads for a long time. Did you know Pueblo was known as “Steel City”? Apperently it used to be a big industry here. Now the town has a definite vibe to it – western, green chiles, bolo ties, boots, desert, art, sun. I see solar panels on many buildings, and they even have a coffee shop that roasts their beans using the sun.

I focused downtown as that’s where I’m staying and I didn’t want to spend much time on my bike seat. So here’s a few pictures from my meandering.

Linda treated me to this wonderful breakfast. I also got some pastries from Hopscotch, a local legend in the baking world. Brioche with orange zest, yum.
There are lots of murals in downtown Pueblo – I’m assuming a modern reflection of the Mexican American history.
Pueblo has a Riverwalk downtown with cafes and restaurants. So nice to see a thriving downtown with culture, good food, good music, good beer 🙂
Mural detail. Wish I could do that.
Same mural, different section. Hmmm there’s a story there but I don’t know it.
I found myself at the train museum, downtown in Central Pueblo. The wheels on this one are almost as tall as me. This thing is no small engineering marvel and the engineers that drove them must have been smart and gutsy or they’d be dead. Imagine this thing, full of boiling water, hurtling through the mountains with a full load behind it. Amazing, really.
Detail. When in doubt, use more rivets.
Nearby I watched another one of these go by from the Union Street bridge. Over 100 cars each time, maybe double?
On the Colorado Center for Metal Arts building.
Downtown has lots of cool building from the late 1800s. On Union street, many are antique shops.


There are also many grand old homes here.
Obviously haunted.
Kerry and Chuck. Kerry has been such a gracious host – she’s one of those folks who seems to be always taking care of others.

I did some review today of all the miles that I have to go. I was getting concerned that I wouldn’t make it home by mid August – my original plan. But I was suprised that, if I follow the ACA “Western Express” route from here, I’ve only got about 1,575 miles to go to get home. Only. So that’s about 24 days of pedaling if I can keep to an average of 65 miles a day. Seems doable which is good because I miss Megan and Jonah. All the other pains can be overcome, but that one is persistent and the only way I can ease it is to get home. That provides the constant tension these days between wanting to hurry on home, and slowing down and soaking up all that this trip offers while I have the chance.

Tomorrow I start into the Rockies for real and we’ll see if my legs are up for my first pass. I may wish I was back in Kansas again.

Day 46 – Ordway to Pueblo CO

And just like that, I see mountains! From my new vantage point in Pueblo, there, to the west, the Rockies rise. Still murky forms in the monsoon July air but I can clearly make them out, even see snow on the north sides here and there. I’ve been elated all morning, just seeing them slowly emerge and grow.

And as if there was any doubt about it, we are truly in the West. I had huevos rancheros for breakfast with an amazing green chile sauce, and I saw my first roadrunner. as I was poking around railroad cars near the river (again I fail as a wildlife photographer). We still follow the Arkansas, which oddly is bigger here than farther down. Tom, who runs the Ordway Hotel said that a lot of the water disappears into a rift not far from here. Apparently much of it goes down into the Ogallala aquifer, the massive water supply that sits below Kansas and Nebraska.

I got a late start today but still reached Pueblo by 1:00 or so. Today was only a 50 mile leg and it’s gotten much cooler so no need to beat the afternoon heat.

This storm rose last night and I opted indoors again. Glad I did, it dumped buckets again with fierce winds to boot.
I stayed here at the Ordway, run by Tom and Carol. Tom grew up here and knows a lot about the area. He worked “in the city” as a line cook for many years – Phoenix, LA, SF – but settled back here to escape the BS. They often host cyclists and have a great deal for hostel rooms. This picture looks right out of Poltergeist. Boomers next door has some mean huevos rancheros too.
I had to take this photo because it was my first glimpse of the mountains. Don’t even know if you can see them in it but they’re there, right above the road where it meets the horizon.
Wild sunflowers by the road. Some rolling hills beginning to emerge too.
Grasshoppers are everywhere and have been for that last few days. When you walk in the sage they all jump along out in front of you with each step.
Some of the same I saw earlier, though they’re more pink here.
I just love old storefronts, what can I say. They have character.
Speaking of character, their neighbors will not be outdone. These are from a little burg called Olney Springs. Don’t miss the face in the tree. Not sure what we’re shhh-ing about. Shhhh, don’t tell them, but the neighbors have a purple bottle-tree.
Why the sign? And why put it 20 feet from the port-a-potty? Not sure if it translates to the photo but I laughed out loud when I saw that sign.
Approaching Pueblo I saw tons of wild watermelon? Squash? They seem to prefer the roadside for dropping their fruit.
We’re in coal country again, although I suspect this came from Wyoming. If you zoom in you can see the coal cars stretching to the horizon.
Burning the coal in this railcar will release about 200 US tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
As I was standing by the railroad contemplating emissions, I was passed by two big Vestas trucks – giant nacelles, the hubs of zephyr turbines. Renewable power passing coal – there’s progress afoot!
It’s been so long since I’ve taken a picture of a decorative manure spreader. I’m sure that you’re missing them. At some point in US history, there sure was a lot of manure spreading going on in the Midwest whereas nowadays it’s focused in Washington.
Custom low rider bike built by a local mechanic from junk parts. (Pueblo outskirts)
Fountain creek as I cross it on the way into downtown Pueblo. This flows into the Arkansas so it must be even bigger than this. No doubt high due to rains the last couple of days.

Tonight I’m headed to spend some time with the local zen sangha. One of their members has graciously given me a cushy pad to crash in for a couple of days. Thanks, Kerry! Rest day tomorrow to explore Pueblo and rest up for the coming climbs. Big slopes a comin’!

Day 45 – Eads to Ordway CO

Tomorrow, I will see the Rockies.

Well, I think I will. It’s possible in Pueblo and even though I knew that today that I wouldn’t see them, it’s hard to not scan the distant horizon looking for their first appearance. I’ve taken dozens of trips by car across the plains, following I-70 across Kansas to Denver and beyond, and I can’t help but start looking for majestic, Coors-can worthy, peaks high above the horizon. And though I know it doesn’t work that way, I look anyway because I love these mountains.

My love for the peaks of Colorado started in the 5th grade when I was lucky enough to have a chance to go there as part of an Environmental Education Program offered through my school. A bunch of us piled into a big orange school bus with sleeping bags and outdoor gear and made the 2 day trek from Rolla MO to Brekenridge CO. All that week we went for hikes, learned about the local species, and soaked up the pine-scented clean air. It was the first time I heard that Colorado had a water crisis (yes, even in 1975) and it sparked my interest in trying to protect the environment. Well that and Frankie, one of our camp counselors who I, and every other boy on the trip (and probably some of the girls) developed a huge crush on. The point of the trip for my teachers was to engender concern for the environment and it worked. I came back home with my only souvenir, an image of a mountain climber silhouetted against the setting sun with the slogan “Get high on mountains” on the front. I wore the hell out of that shirt. So this little story is, in part, why I feel connected to this state, and why I’m looking forward to getting into the mountains soon.

Today’s Trip

I “slept in” today until 5:00. Luxury. I’ve planned out my next couple of days to stay with some friends, or friends of friends, in Pueblo, so no need to rush the last couple of days to get there. It felt good reach today’s destination early in the day, have a chance to nap, and catch up on a couple of biz items for home.

Sweet Mariah smiled upon me again today and I had a lovely breeze at my back all morning.* There’s also been little traffic since Leoti KS, which has been great. But it also means I need to keep vigilant because it’s easier without the traffic to get careless and complacent about the cars and trucks that remain. But usually I hear them coming from about a half mile behind me so it’s not that much of an issue. Just don’t get too lost in my thoughts.

I’m already at about 4500 feet elevation having climbed almost 1800 feet on my way to Eads yesterday. I didn’t really realize it, it was so gradual but check out this elevation profile from yesterday’s ride:

Pretty steady climb

Yesterday I finally perfected my aero-tuck too which helped some. I salvaged a swimming noodle from the side of the road and made some pads so I can rest my forearms on the bars. This makes a huge difference in how hard you have to work against the prarie gusts. Plus it gave this engineer something to tinker with geek out on while otherwise bored by the scenery.

The swimming noodle aero bar (TM). Just hold on to the handlebar bag for stability and you’re tucked in.
Sometimes it’s the little things that catch your eye. Do you think I’d notice this from a car?  He’s about an inch and a half long & the photo doesn’t do it justice.
I passed through Haswell which looks kind of ghost-townish. It still has a post office and a few homes though.
Haswell is apparently home to the smallest jail – quite a distinction.
I met Scott and Louise who are traveling fro Portland OR to Portland ME.

Some riders want to stop and chat and some just go on their way. I had a nice chat with Scott and Louise (you can follow them here), and also with Richard, who’s retired and from Eastern Oklahoma.

Richard’s retired and is a serious cycle-tourist. He’s done a TransAm and a lot of other loops around various parts of the US (including Alaska).
Wish I had this in my park as a kid. Sugar City CO
The coupling was beautifully worn and textured.
You could do a pretty great photo book of nothing but roadside memorials. It’s disturbing how many of them there are – rarely do I go a day without seeing one.
Roadside memorial detail

Tonight there are thunderstorms due in shortly so I opted for the local hostel. It’s in an old Hotel in downtown Ordway. I’ve got some more exploring of Ordway to do this evening.


*For those of you tuning in late, we do not say the four letter word that starts with “W” here. It’s working for me so I’m not ready to put my superstitions down yet.


"If I had my druthers, I'd ride a bike" Jim's low CO2 trans-am cycling trip