Monday, 1 July 2013

Colorado and the Rockies

I'm writing this post in is the patio of a KOA campground in Estes Park, Colorado. So far, my mobile office setup is one of the few things that hasn't broken or gone wrong. That this little Linux 7 inch laptop is still working is impressive- It's survived desert the heat of Utah, torrential rain and freezing nights in Oregon, as well as 3,700 miles of road vibration including some pretty serious beating on dirt and rock trails. Not bad for an £80 laptop from 2007!

My office - 2007 Acer Aspire 7 inch notebook, USB drive and card reader.  
I did worry a bit about the weight of carrying a laptop; when researching the trip I knew how many grams it weighs, as well as the weight of all of my other gear. I haven't got a clue now - I stopped caring about weight a while back. This is why I bought a 3 litre bag of wine yesterday, so I can have a glass or five on each of my remaining nights out here. What difference does 3kg extra weight make when I've already ridden 3700 miles?

My wine bag does weigh a little less now after drinking some (a lot actually) yesterday while watching a spectacular lightning storm in the distance out over the Rockies.

This is the second lightning storm I've seen. The first was a lot closer and scarier- almost over my head- when I was camped wild in national forest land up high in the mountains. After fretting where to put my tent, I nervously waited for the storm to end before getting off to sleep.

I wanted to be away from trees as their height attracts bolts, meaning tree limbs could fall on you, and potential wildfires. But my instinct was to get under them as I didn't want my tent to be the only thing out in a field to attract a bolt, so I felt a bit torn. Also my metal bike worried me, and my tent poles are aluminium. I pushed my bike well away from my tent, and ended up putting my tent quite near the trees and so not completely out in the open in the valley. I hoped the trees and metal bike would attract any bolts if they fell nearby and keep them away from me. I crouched down low and cooked my dinner outside my tent, making sure I wasn't higher than the nearby bushes.

The storm passed on without incident and I slept well. It had been extremely hot the previous day leading up to the storm, but when I woke there was ice in my water bottle because I was camped up at 10,000 feet. Crazy weather!

Lightning is one danger, dogs off leashes are another. The first thing I had to do in Colorado was dodge a Doberman on the loose. It took me by surprise by running fast at me without barking, as if it’d been lying in wait. I was going uphill and it kept up with me at 15mph, the speed which I usually out-pace chasing dogs. I cranked up to 20mph and left it behind, I could see it sulkily dropping back to the side of the road to wait for it’s next victim.

This isn't the dog that chased me. 
Dog and lightning attacks aside, I've met with some fantastic hospitality in Colorado. After Utah, I was keen to get my rear wheel trued before hitting the Rockies. I called in to Lizardhead Cyclery in Dolores and met Nicholas, who runs the place. He's an artist and ex-pro rider as well as supremely talented bike mechanic, and an all round great guy. He has a very cool belt he made out of old bike chains, which you might be able to just about see in the picture below.

I got my wheel trued for ten bucks, and then mentioned my saddle had been riding kind of rough. Before spotting that my saddle was 2mm out of alignment (by sight!), Nicholas did some fun tricks with a blowtorch(!), mink oil and Brooks proofide. My saddle has been way more comfortable since. Nicholas did this for free.

I mentioned my gears had been grinding a bit and suspected my derailleur was bent - Nicholas proceeded to bend my rear mech hanger back into shape and adjust the back gear cable tension - for free. I wanted to buy another cycling cap as I'd lost mine along the way - Nicholas gave me one. I wanted to replace my old 80s Carradice panniers which were literally falling apart at the seams - Nicholas sold me his, used only once, for an absolute bargain.

I went back to the shop later in the day with a couple of beers and we sat out on the porch and talked retro bike conversions in the sunshine, it was a great afternoon. Needless to say, I'm glad I called in to the shop and had the chance to meet Nicholas, who perhaps in a few hundred years will be made patron saint of bicycle tourists.

Nicholas with one of his conversions

Me with my serviced bike - like a child at Christmas
Dolores is a cool little town, with a brewery and decent food market as well as a great bike shop and access to great cycling country. One incident that demonstrated its small town charm was when an escaped cow trotted down the main road. One of the local kids who'd been hanging out with us at the bike shop gave chase on his scooter, which is the well-practised standard procedure for incidents of cows on the run.

From Dolores I went to Telluride ('To Hell You Ride'), which is another great mountain town, and not at all like hell (I assume). I camped in the town park for free, in the site of a Bluegrass Festival, which was fun. I wondered round the camp all evening listening to musicians playing in little groups to small audiences of campers, sharing various varieties of booze with each other. A nice moment was when a collection of musicians did a cover of Townes Van Zandt's White Freightliner Blues, which I know the words to, so could proudly join in singing with everyone else. I met more great people interested in my trip, including April - who rightly pointed out that while I have a lot of things mounted on my bike, I don't have a unicorn:

From Telluride I rode to one of my all time favourite places on earth, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. As well as having an amazing name, this park boasts less tourists than some of the other big parks, as it is slightly off the radar. It's another huge canyon cut into the landscape, but the canyon walls are much, much steeper than the Grand Canyon or Yosemite valley. It gets its name from the fact that its walls are so steep - almost vertical - that sunlight can barely penetrate to the bottom. Nobody has ever lived at the bottom of the canyon, not settlers of native people. It's a wild place.

I spent a day wondering around the trails, hanging out with the flowers, butterflies, deers, birds and grasshoppers. I cycled to most of the viewpoints at sunset, and spent a magical half hour sitting with my legs dangling over cliffs twice the height of the Empire State Building. Swifts and swallows cut shapes into the air above my head, snatching up insects, while the faint roar of the river echoed up the canyon walls from below.

Painted Wall, with two leaping dragon shapes on the right cliff
It was a full moon that night, so I got my camera and cycled back to one of the canyon's overlooks and took some photos by moonlight.

The canyon lit by moonlight

Pretty desert flowers
Noisy little bastards, these.
And so I've wound my way North through the Rockies, up to the town of Estes Park at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park. The mountain scenery has been amazing, and the riding has been strenuous but rewarding. One of the hardest days I've had was riding over 2 mountain passes in one day - Hoosier Pass (11,542 ft) followed by Loveland Pass (11,990). These climbs were long, and high, but some of the shorter sharper climbs have been harder, hitting 8 and 9% grades in places. It's only occurred to me recently that I've spent the last few weeks riding long days at elevations greater than about 7 or 8 thousand feet, meaning I should be super fit when I get back to the UK!

One of Colorado's many awesome bike trails

I'll soon be home - I've reached as far North as I'll go. I'm heading off into the mountains tonight for one more night of wild camping, then I'm riding to Boulder where I'll box up the bike and catch a shuttle for the flight home from Denver. But I've decided the trip isn't over until I reassemble the bike at Heathrow and cycle to Winchester, where I'll be based until I can reinstate myself in London. I want to complete the trip in the spirit which I've been doing things so far - cycling everything that I can.

Getting the bike back is a bit of logistical headache, but the plan is coming together and I'm glad I've reached the Rockies with enough time to sort this stuff out. I'm already finding it strange adjusting to a new routine where I have to plan and think about things other than eating, sleeping and riding. But I'm excited to be heading back to the UK, and looking forward to what comes next. But I'll save that sort of sentiment for the final post - watch this space!

No comments:

Post a Comment