Oakland to Chicago – Blanding, UT to Eads, CO
Denis Kertz, ©2001
I got up at my usual time and walked to the family steakhouse place that supposedly opened at 6:30 but it was closed with no sign of life. So I walked back and got cash from an ATM machine in a food mart. There an attendant mentioned another restaurant about a mile back through town. So I rode my unloaded bike back and this place looked closed too. Then I saw a couple of folks from the next door motel walk to the entrance and when I looked closer I could see dim lights on inside.
I ordered pancakes and bacon. The pancakes were fine but not enough so I ordered two more and that was about right. Then I rode across the street to a grocery store for some food for the day.
Back at the motel I packed up and was underway shortly after 9:00. On my way out of town, the steakhouse was now open but too late. It was 21 miles to Monticello with over 1,000’ of climbing and several short initial steep climbs but no big deal. Just a few miles out there was a reservoir with water, the first water I saw since Hanksville other than Lake Powell. The reservoir with the Blue Mountains in the background was a scenic sight.
I pulled into Monticello near 11:30 and found a Subway where I ordered a foot long sub. I was lucky as I just beat the local high school crowd on lunch break. I ate half of the sub and saved the other half for later.
I would have liked to continue north 50 miles to Moab and Canyonlands and Arches National Parks but I was already pushing my luck getting through the Rockies in late September without weather problems. So I dutifully headed back to an intersection where I took 666 east.
Last night I came to the conclusion that a layover day in Monticello would not be as interesting as Telluride, which I could make in two more days. I told myself I would see how I felt in Monticello but I knew I was kidding myself. I was on my way to Telluride unless I really felt bad.
Heading east to Dolores, the terrain was essentially flat with farms and very large fields. I didn’t see any irrigation equipment so I assumed rainfall must have been adequate. Nine miles out I crossed into Colorado. I could tell by a sign and the appearance of wide rumble strips also told the story. Fortunately, the shoulder was 4-5’ wide to the right of the rumbles so they didn’t bother me. In fact, 666 had the best shoulder of the trip so far.
Riding from Monticello started pretty easy with rollers that were more down than up. Eventually the rollers evened out. At Dove Creek, I stopped for refreshments and then the rollers returned. It seemed someone designed the road with rollers in mind as they continued the rest of the way on 666. They didn’t seem to gain or lose elevation and were typically 0.5-1 mile in length, crest-to-crest. This got a bit old after a while as I wore out my shifters.
This area was bean country, known as the bean capital of the world. As I passed through some of the small towns, some advertisements suggested you could get some really good deals on beans.
At Lewis I stopped for a break before the final 11 miles. Then I finally figured out how to get rid of the rollers. I turned off of 666 on to 184 to Dolores. I lost the good shoulder but regained my hearing. I hadn’t realized how noisy the 666 traffic was but as soon as I turned off it was quiet with only occasional traffic.
I pulled into Dolores just before 6:00 and rode through town. There appeared to be only one motel and a couple of RV parks. I stopped at one that wasn’t particularly attractive. It went for $13.50 but the owner offered it for $10 cash so I took the bait. I set up and walked a short ways down the street to a Mexican restaurant, my first real Mexican food of the trip aside from nuked burritos at food marts. I had a real burrito and a couple of beers, my first beer since Nevada.
It was a pretty long day with 3,000’ of climbing but my legs felt great. When I reached Dolores they felt like new. Of course, after sitting down to eat they stiffened up and I could tell I had been riding.
I got up at 7:00, packed, and backtracked to a restaurant in town for breakfast. I had oatmeal and pancakes, which was good. I lingered over breakfast not wanting to ride into the early morning sun.
Today promised to be a fairly hard day, climbing 3,000’ to Lizard Head Pass in 50 miles. Most of the way was gradual climbing in the 7-9 mph range except for about a mile leaving Rico and another mile near the top. It was a perfect fall day with pleasantly cool temperatures and nice cumulous clouds, the first real clouds I had seen in quite some time. The scenery was just spectacular, especially at the pass. The leaves were just past their prime with some trees having already shed their leaves but there was still plenty of fall color remaining.
Fifteen miles out-of-town I passed through Stoner. I rode through a valley with patches of aspen on both sides of the valley. A ranch lay in the valley with horses grazing in the field – just like you expect a Colorado ranch to look in the fall. The nice scenery continued up the valley for some ways.
After 38 miles I reached Rico and stopped for a burrito and refreshment. At this point I was ¾ of the way to the pass but had only climbed 1,600 of the 3,000’. Continuing the San Juan Mountains started coming into view. Near the pass, Lizard Head showed itself.
After the pass it was a 6-mile screaming descent. Or it would have been but I was afraid of missing out on the scenery so I kept my speed under control. After the pass, the scenery just exploded into dazzling color. Shortly after the pass a cirque of mountains intermixed with cedars and aspen with the Ophdir Lake at the base. Further on there were more views of surrounding mountains intermixed with cedars and aspen.
After descending for 6 miles from the pass I had to climb fairly steeply for another mile. Then I was rewarded with a wide panoramic view of the hills and mountains in the distance with stunning colors. My only disappointment was that I had planned to camp at Sunset Campground, about 10 miles from Telluride but it was closed for reconstruction. So I continued to Telluride with more breathtaking vistas. First, there was a great view looking down the hill to the mountains on the far side. Then I reached the 145 spur that took me into Telluride on a bike path. The view into the Telluride box canyon, surrounded by 14,000’ mountains was gorgeous.
I rode the 3 miles to Telluride and through town to the east end where there was camping in the Town Park. I set up camp for $12 and cleaned up. Then I walked back into town for dinner. I ended up at another Mexican place where I had another good burrito and a couple of margaritas. Unfortunately, my timing was off as margaritas were 2-for-1 on Tuesday nights and this was a Wednesday. On the other hand if it had been a Tuesday I might not have made it back to my campsite.
When I got up it was pretty chilly, probably mid or upper 30s. Outside the tent it looked like it was snowing but it was only leaves falling in the breeze. I packed up and headed into town for breakfast. The Telluride guide I picked up last night identified places serving breakfast and I stopped at Maggies, a bakery/deli. I ordered oatmeal, pancakes, and coffee and it came to just over $10. The oatmeal was a small serving with only two pancakes and one cup of coffee. That’s when I knew I couldn’t afford to stay long in town with my appetite.
I made breakfast last about as long as I could because the library didn’t open until 10:00. While waiting I rode around and browsed a bookstore. When the library opened I followed two guys racing upstairs, figuring that was the Internet location. There was a sign up page for their 8 PCs and everything was already booked for the first 45-minute session but I was able to get 10:45-11:30. I browsed the library until my time and then took care of email and a couple of bills.
After the library, I checked a couple of bike shops but found nothing special. So around noon I left Telluride, interesting because of its location in a box canyon surrounded by the 14,000’ peaks of the San Juan Mountains and its Victorian architecture. However, inside it was mostly another over-priced yuppie town.
Leaving town the 3 miles back to 145 were surprisingly mildly downhill whereas I thought it was just the opposite. The 13 miles to Placerville were decidedly downhill on a road with a fair amount of traffic and not much of a shoulder or a bailout area. After a few miles on 145 where I could catch glimpses of yesterday’s awesome scenery looking south, the scenery was nothing special. It was interesting that I was heading west and had a headwind but not enough to offset the downhill. Interesting because my trip was west to east with few tailwinds and the one time I turn back west I get a headwind.
I stopped in Placerville at a small grocery store for a sandwich and refreshments. Then I did a V turn onto 62 and started the 1,600’ climb in 13 miles to the Dallas Divide. This was mostly a 6-7 mph steady climb. Not too hard but no great scenery either. There was also quite a bit of traffic that got tiresome. Interestingly, when I reached the top, I was probably only about 10 miles from Telluride but since I couldn’t ride over the San Juan Mountains I had to ride 26 miles to circumvent them.
However, there was a reward for the climbing as it opened up to great vistas at the top. On my right I could see the back of the San Juan Mountains that boxed in Telluride. Straight ahead and to my left I could see other mountains and the wide-open Uncompahgre Valley below.
I had a 2,000’ descent in 11 miles to Ridgway. Much of it was quite steep but I had to keep it under control as I had to ride the shoulder because of traffic and the shoulder wasn’t all that great. But I did pass a large semi as it was doing an even more controlled descent than I was.
In Ridgway I stopped for refreshments again. It was approaching 4:00 and I still had 26 miles to Montrose that was my destination. However, even though it was downhill to Montrose I now had a good headwind as I headed north and it definitely affected progress. It was also pretty dicey when I picked up 550 north to Montrose. There was a lot of traffic, probably rush hour for this area, and essentially no shoulder. The first 4-5 miles were easily the most dangerous of the trip so far.
Deciding not to push myself all the way to Montrose I picked a campground about 8 miles north of Ridgway in the Ridgway State Park. There were other campgrounds closer to Montrose but all of the RV type that I wanted to avoid. I pulled into the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk (Ute for Cow Creek) at the north end of the Ridgway Reservoir formed by damming the Uncompahgre River. I wasn’t too impressed when I could see RVs and little cover but the check-in ranger told me there was a walk-in tent site area on the other side of the river with trees.
So I paid my $10 camp fee and no vehicle fee since I was on a bicycle and found a nice site in the trees next to the river. I also appeared to be the only tenter in the area. There was also a nice shower facility as well. I put together a makeshift meal from the food I was carrying but had no beer or margaritas this night. Still it was nice to be camping in a “real” site. I just hoped that the dam that was just up stream held since it was an earthen dam. If it didn’t hold, I would be history.
I got up at 7:00 and packed. It was going to be a 20 mile downhill to Montrose for breakfast but I ate a couple of cups of cereal for good measure.
It was a bit chilly riding at first because the sun wasn’t high enough yet to reach ground level everywhere. It was an easy ride as I rode 17-19 mph with easy pedaling through ranching territory. The road looked flat but there was obviously a little downhill to enable me to set that pace.
Coming into Montrose at 9:00 I stopped at a Wal-Mart hoping to find some Fuji 400 film since I was on my last roll but no luck. I continued into town and turned right on US 50 that was the downtown main street. It took a little hunting but I found a bakery/deli that served a real breakfast. This place was an order at the counter and help yourself. I ordered multi-grain pancakes, bacon, and coffee. There were only two pancakes in a stack but they were big and dense and filling.
Satisfied with breakfast I found one roll of Fuji 400 film at a camera store and stopped at a grocery store to pick up a few things and I was off just after 11:00. Now the table was turned. The road looked flat but I was climbing modestly. Originally, my plan was to make Gunnison but the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was just off route 5 miles so it was an obvious detour. It was a grueling detour as the 5 miles climbed 1,600’ and I was in my lowest gear most of the way, chugging along at 4 mph.
When I reached the park, I was on top of a mesa but it wasn’t obvious anything significant was around to justify a national park. Nevertheless, I paid $4 for a bicycle entry fee and got advice from the ranger. There was a 7-mile rim tour and she advised going at least 4 miles to the Chasm View.
Riding a little further I came to the first view where you could get close enough to see the bottom of the canyon which dipped as much as 2,700’. I rode on to the visitor center and a couple of other lookout points. The canyon was very scenic with close walls and a rushing Gunnison River way down below. The canyon was so steep I had to use my camera in vertical mode to get decent pictures. I’m sure it would have been really impressive down at the river level.
In the end I spent a couple of hours in the park for views that was well worth the strenuous climb. I also saw a couple of deer grazing along the road.
The descent back to US 50 was a delight as I never pedaled a revolution but it was too winding to really let out. At the bottom I stopped at a shop for refreshments before undertaking the climb on the way to Cimarron. The woman in the shop warned me that the upcoming climb was pretty similar to the park climb I had just completed. Normally you have to discount what most people say about cycling because their cycling knowledge is lacking. This woman, however, pointed out the climb was about 1,600’ in 7 miles with the steepest part the last 4 miles so she knew what she was talking about.
I did the climb and she was right on. The first 3 miles were moderately hard and the last 4 miles required my 2nd lowest gear most of the time and my lowest gear for most of the last mile. Near the top I spotted what I had decided was my favorite road sign – a diamond shape sign depicting a truck on a downhill. At the top there was a nice view of the curving descent. Initially, I had to keep the descent under control because the shoulder was a little rough and the rumble strips prevented me from moving into the lane when traffic permitted. Later, the road narrowed and the rumble strips disappeared. Then I moved out into the lane and let loose, getting into the 40 mph range. I must have looked pretty good in my tuck as a trucker headed in the other direction honked his horn.
At the bottom of the great 5-mile descent I stopped at a small store in Cimarron for refreshments and some food. The campground was just beyond the store and I pulled in and paid $10 for a site. It was virtually deserted with only a campground host, an RV, and myself. In fact, they had already shut off the water for the season in the campground but the adjoining Curecanti National Recreation Area Visitor Center had restrooms that were open.
The visitor center was closed at 6:00 but there was an outside railroad exhibit illustrating how the narrow gauge railroad linked Gunnison and Cimarron with the rest of the world in the 1880s. The narrow gauge track, at 3’ wide versus 4’ 8.5” for standard gauge, was much easier to lay in the difficult mountainous areas and played a key role in the growth of these mountain towns.
I got up at 7:00 and packed leisurely. Supposedly there was a restaurant just down the road but I couldn’t be certain it was open this time of year or open before 8:00 so I didn’t rush. I got to the restaurant just after 8:00 and saw a For Sale sign in the window. There were no lights on but there was a car near the entrance so I tried the door and it opened. There was a guy at the counter and a waitress behind it so that looked encouraging. When I sat down at the counter the waitress took my order and then turned on the lights. I had pancakes and ham that was fine except not enough quantity.
The guy at the counter started asking about my trip. He warned me about the upcoming Monarch Pass but seemed more concerned about my ability to descend the pass safely. I had no doubt I could descend it if I could climb it. He also claimed it was downhill from the pass all the way to Pueblo although my planned route detoured off of US 50 before Pueblo.
When I left to leave, the guy handled the cash register so he wasn’t just killing time drinking coffee on a Saturday morning as I thought. There were also two other apparent workers, one who had to be the cook. That seemed like a lot of overhead to fix breakfast for one cyclist and another guy who stopped for a cup of coffee. Maybe that was the reason for the For Sale sign.
I left just before 9:30. The day started with a climb very similar to the one at the end of yesterday. It was 9 miles to the top with the last 4 miles the hardest. I spent most of the time in my 2nd low gear but some in my lowest gear. Except when there was a passing lane, the shoulder was virtually non-existent at 6” wide. At first the traffic was light enough that two-way traffic was rare but later the traffic increased. Fortunately, motorists were pretty good about slowing for two-way traffic.
When I reached the top I saw my favorite road sign again. I had a 2-mile descent that was not that steep so I didn’t have to control it. The descent was into a canyon and that was followed by a fair climb out of maybe 2 miles. Then I descended to the Curecanti National Recreation Area and the Blue Mesa Reservoir formed by damming the Gunnison River. A couple of bridge crossings got me to the north shore where the road was called the West Elk Scenic Byway.
The ride along the Blue Mesa Reservoir was a nice, scenic ride as I pedaled easily on the gentle downgrade. I stopped at the Elk Creek Visitor Center that was closed despite the sign claiming it was open. However, I did get to see a prairie dog town and 5 prairie dogs right next to the visitor center.
Continuing I rode along the Iola Basin and the now tamed Gunnison River. Along the river were large oak trees that probably were really something a week ago but were now well past their foliage prime. I continued a few more miles and rolled into Gunnison around 2:30. Now I had a decision to make whether to stay in Gunnison or continue another 12 miles to Parlin. Ideally, I wanted to eat in Gunnison and stay in Parlin and be 12 miles closer to Monarch Pass but Parlin had only some cabins for lodging and there was no camping along the way. At this time of the year I couldn’t be sure the cabins were open so I called ahead and got no answer.
Not needing to make an immediate decision, I stopped at the library to check email. Then I shopped for camera film but discovered the photo store was closed for the month of September. I discovered there was a Wal-Mart and got one roll of Fuji 400 film but only a 24-exposure roll.
In the meantime the weather was looking bad to the northeast and the wind picked up. I tried calling ahead again to Parlin twice and got a useless answering machine. So I gave up and picked what looked like the least expensive motel in Gunnison ($38). After settling in, I walked to an Italian place serving pizza since I wanted to load up for tomorrow’s climb of Monarch Pass. I got there at 5:30 and the place was almost full, a good sign. I had an 11” barbeque chicken pizza with wheat crust that was very good except the crust was slightly burnt.
Then I returned to my motel to rest up for what promised to be a long day tomorrow. Watching my favorite TV stations, The Weather Channel, I learned the weather forecast was isolated thunderstorms the next several days.
I got up at 7:00 and walked to the café next door. I ordered oatmeal and pancakes with pecans. The pancakes were good and the sprinkled pecans were a nice variation. The locals frequented this place. You could tell because everybody knew at least somebody in the room.
After breakfast, I packed up and was off by 8:30, earlier than normal to get a quicker start on the day’s ride. The first 33 miles were a gradual uphill climb of 500’ but barely noticeable. The road was through a valley of ranches with bare hills fencing in the valley. After 12 miles I reached Parlin where I had considered ending yesterday. Two cars were parked in front of cabins so I presume the cabins were open. After 27 miles the hills started closing in on the road, squeezing out the ranches, and cedar trees started populating the bare hills.
At 33 miles I stopped at Sargents for refreshments and a break before assaulting the pass. Just before leaving, a couple of rumbles of thunder came from a cloud off to my right, an ominous start. The pass was 10 miles and 3,000’ of climbing to 11,312’. I prepared to do a mileage countdown, 10,9,8,…1, but it would be a slow countdown as I estimated the climb would take about 2.5 hours.
The climb got serious almost immediately and I was in my lowest gear. There was almost no shoulder and a fair amount of traffic but after a few miles there was a passing lane all the way to the pass and everybody had plenty of space, a relief. The first 5 miles were the hardest but they went by fast. Weather continued to be a factor as the thundercloud kept menacingly close on my right and some clouds were closing in on my left.
After 5 miles the grade eased a bit occasionally and I boosted my speed from 4 mph to 4.5 mph and even broke the 5 mph barrier. The road snaked its way up the mountain. Every time the road curved left I was staring at threatening clouds and every time it curved right I saw sunshine. The weather looked the worst when I stopped and looked back down the mountain where it looked like it could be raining.
My legs proved to be real troopers on this climb and carried me all the way to the top in just over two hours without complaint and just a few quick breaks along the way. The temperature helped out too, being just cool enough that I didn’t sweat in my tights and short sleeve jersey.
I stopped at the top of the pass and the Continental Divide where there was a gift shop with food. Looking over the pass the weather looked a little grim and I got fairly chilled once I stopped riding. Another cyclist arrived at the pass just before I did from Poncha Springs with a planned return trip. He was in shorts and jersey and was shivering as he put on some arm warmers for his return. I was in no hurry to start my downhill so I ducked in the gift shop to warm up and hope the weather would clear up.
I waited about 45 minutes before deciding to press on. The weather was improved some but still chilly at this altitude. I put on my windbreaker jacket and started a controlled descent. Usually I control the descent for safety reasons but now I also did it to minimize the wind chill.
After a couple miles of descent, I noticed it was noticeably warmer and I let loose. I managed the descent for the next 8 miles mostly in the 30s and often the upper 30s. There was a nice view of the mountains at the start of the descent but then that vanished.
After 11 miles I had to do some occasional pedaling but nothing serious. In short time I made the 18 miles to Poncha Springs. There was a private campground between Poncha Springs and Salida but there were some more threatening clouds off to my right and it looked like it was raining in the mountains. Then it started drizzling and I pushed the pace to get to Salida and out run the rain.
I caught just a modest amount of drizzle and rolled into Salida where I found a motel for $30 as the wind picked up and was gusting. I had some Mexican food and called it a night. Overall, certainly a hard day but by no means the killer I thought it might be. Monarch Pass was the last major climb of the trip although some more climbing remained before Pueblo.
I packed up and rode the mile to the breakfast place recommended by the motel. I recognized the place from about four years before when I passed through Salida on a backpacking trip to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I had pecan pancakes and bacon that was good.
I lingered over breakfast until about 9:00. When I left it was still a bit chilly in tights and windbreaker. After a couple miles the shoulder on US 50 varied from 1’ to nothing with a fair amount of traffic. Starting out I considered taking US 50 all the way to Pueblo but a few miles with a practically non-existent shoulder convinced me of the folly of that idea. US 50 followed the Arkansas River and gave some nice views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the right.
After 23 miles US 50 entered a canyon. My route exited US 50 in this area at Cotopaxi on 1A but I never saw a sign as I rode through town. Then I checked my directions and learned 1A was unsigned. So I reversed directions and found the only gap in the canyon walls and found 1A – the only place it could be. After I turned on to 1A a sign confirmed it was the right road.
I was immediately glad to be off US 50 as there was silence and very little traffic. Nothing comes for free, however, and the price was a pretty steep 1,000’ climb over a few miles. Once on top the view opened up to show rolling grassland ranches with mountains in the distance.
After 7 miles 1A T’d at SR 69 and I didn’t miss that turn. The vista opened into an ever-widening valley called the Wet Mountain Valley. The view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was really nice as the valley of ranches gradually edged up the mountainsides, changing to evergreen forest. The tops of the mountains were lightly dusted with snow, probably from the rain I saw yesterday riding into Salida. Unfortunately, you could see the Sangre de Cristo Mountains dying off in the distance, a reminder that I would soon leave the Rockies behind.
Up ahead I pulled into the small town of Westcliffe and turned left on SR 96 that would take me into Pueblo after one more 1,000’+ climb. However, Pueblo was still 55 miles away and too far for the day but there was no camping or motels after Westcliffe/Silver Cliff. So although I had just traveled a little over 50 miles and it was early afternoon, I stopped at an RV park in Silver Cliff. Most of the RVs in the park were permanent and there was really no place to camp. However, the proprietor offered to let me set up my tent behind the Laundromat for no charge and I figured I wouldn’t beat that deal.
After setting up camp, I used the shower in the Laundromat and then took the opportunity to do my laundry. As I finished up my laundry, I noticed clouds had developed over the mountains and were now over the area. I walked down the road a short distance to a café and got there just as a brief shower ensued. I had an unsatisfying, bland BBQ sandwich and wrote my notes.
I retired to the RV Park and took advantage of the lighting and chairs in the Laundromat to read. When I looked outside towards the mountains there was a divided weather system, with dark covering of clouds on the left with what looked like rain and blue sky on the right. This division remained stationary and intact for some time.
After reading for a while I decided to take a short walk and check out the Silver Dome Saloon & Music Hall that was, as its name suggest, a geodesic dome. Inside half of the ground floor was apparently for dancing and the other half had two pool tables and a bar. I walked up to the bar for a draft and was surprised it was only $1 but it was happy hour. The bar was filled so I picked a chair at a table and watched Monday Night football and the natives playing pool. At the $1 price I figured I needed to sneak in a 2nd beer just before the end of happy hour but it cost me $1.25. The bartender claimed she wasn’t part of happy hour and I chose not to argue the $0.25 on principle.
Later, I also discovered my camera had a smudge on its lens that was very disturbing. It looked like the smudge might have been caused by sweat and I had no idea how long the smudge was there. This naturally made me wonder what my photos were like.
I packed up at my usual time and rode uphill to a café just off the road that the cashier in the grocery store recommended. One sign said Open and another sign said Closed and it was in fact closed. I wish I could have gotten a $1 every time one of these places had a sign that said open when a place was closed.
So I rode a short ways down the hill and stopped at the Silver Dome Saloon that claimed to have a restaurant, where I had my beers last night. The stairs to the upper part of the dome that I had noticed last night took me to the restaurant. When I asked the cook how big the pancakes in the pancake/bacon combo were she responded that she could make them big. I liked that answer and ordered the package with 3 pancakes. The breakfast was good and the best value of the trip so far at $5.
Leaving town the road climbed about 1,300’ over the first 12 miles. The first 8 miles or so were pretty modest climbing and the last miles were pretty steep. I stopped periodically to glance back at the view of the Wet Mountain Valley and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains because this was likely the last great mountain view of the trip.
Once on top I started a nice descent with speeds in the 20s where I didn’t have to worry about controlling my speed. Then I hit a steeper descent where I was quickly in the 30s and peaked at 48.3 mph in one steep section. Had I been prepared for this section I think I could have broken 50 mph. Later, a sign warned about another steep section and I prepared for my assault on the 50 mph barrier. Unfortunately, the descent started around a curve and I couldn’t build up my speed quickly enough and I topped out at 48.7 mph. This was almost certainly my last shot at breaking 50 on this trip so that just meant I would have to plan a future trip for this assault.
I descended for about 10 miles before I had to do any pedaling. Then the road broke out into the wide open with nothing but yellow grasslands in the distance – the end of the Rockies. Most of the rest of the way to Pueblo was easy with a couple of minor hills. I rolled into Pueblo around 1:00 and took the side streets through town.
When I was on Abriendo Avenue and ready to turn on to Main, I decided to stop at a Subway for a sandwich. While there I checked a phone book for the library, a camera store, and the post office. As luck would have it the library was a couple of blocks away on Abriendo and the camera store on Main. This was too good to be true and I discovered a demolition in progress where the library used to be so I had to go back to the Subway for directions. Conveniently, the temporary library wasn’t that far from the camera store.
So I headed down Main and found the film I was looking for at the camera store. A half dozen blocks away I stopped at the library for my email check. Then I wandered through town to Santa Fe Avenue (Business 50) and found a motel for $27. It was conveniently located for my getaway tomorrow.
Since I had time I decided to clean my bike chain. Then I noticed my front tire was soft. After almost 7,800 miles it looked like I might have a flat – an incredible streak that almost had me wondering if I needed to carry tubes and repair kit.
I removed the tube from the front tire, pumped it up, and put it in the washbasin filled with water. I found a very slow leak that I would not have found without water. After I patched it, I did the final check and found a slight protrusion inside my tire at the point of the flat. After I picked at it with my fingernail I discovered a small piece of wire. I could see nothing on the outside of the tire so I guessed it was from a wire bead in the tire. I wasn’t exactly sure how to handle this but when I used a fingernail clipper to trim it the wire pulled out. Hopefully that takes care of the problem and I can travel another 7,800 miles until my next flat.
After taking care of the bike and cleaning up, I walked down Santa Fe Avenue looking for food. Signs proclaimed this to be the downtown, which meant downtown left a lot to be desired. There were only a few cafes and fast food places so I made my second trip of the day to another Subway and scouted breakfast possibilities on my way back to the motel.
I didn’t get up until 7:30 since I was taking the morning off. I ate at the diner next door and had the ham and cheese omelet special with pancakes – another value meal at $5.25. Afterwards I packed up and headed down 6th street to the post office where I mailed a collection of maps and national park brochures from Utah and Colorado home. Then I headed to the library for some relaxed reading and browsing.
At 11:00, I decided I had relaxed enough and I headed out on 4th street that was 96. There was a little climbing through East Pueblo, which probably wasn’t the greatest neighborhood given there were bars over the liquor store windows. 96 was a four-lane road and after a few miles US 50 merged with it. So there was a lot of high-speed traffic and riding wasn’t very good with regular cracks in the shoulder.
After 14 miles 96 split off from US 50 and riding improved considerably. The shoulder was only 3’ wide but it didn’t have any rumble strips and there weren’t road cracks every 20’. The road was asphalt chip sealed but it was pretty good except for one stretch of relatively new seal that was a bit rough.
But the scenery was lacking. I kept looking for mountains and valleys but none appeared. There were a string of trees off to my right but that was apparently due to the Arkansas River that 96 paralleled.
At Olney Springs, I stopped for refreshments and a short break. Immediately after I noticed this was flat farm territory whereas before the farms were sporadic. In another 11 miles I stopped at Ordway, my destination for the day. My AC map said Ordway had a hostel so I took the turnoff to the business district and located Hotel Ordway that was the address of the hostel. At first I thought it was another small town hotel that had shutdown but I saw a couple of cars parked on the side street. I cased the rest of town and then called the hostel and found it was open. I got a private room on the 2nd floor for $10, a pretty good deal with the only issue that I had to unpack and carry by bike and panniers up to the 2nd floor.
After cleaning up, I ate at the Mexican place next door. I had a burrito with hot green chile sauce that the woman warned was hot. She wasn’t lying and I used that as an excuse to get ice cream afterwards. Then I walked down the main street and stopped at a bar for a beer and wrote my notes.
Walking back from the bar I stopped and picked up some food. While there I saw a sunglasses display and started checking them out. I liked the tint of the sunglasses I found in Utah but the left temple didn’t fit quite right and they were greatly oversized. I had checked a couple of bike stores but they only had the $80-100 variety that is a bit ridiculous. Now I found a pair of driver’s sunglasses for $12 that looked like the trick so I picked them up.
The day was an easy day as I climbed only 80’. It would have been even easier had my friend the headwind not shown up. Also I had been having some minor pain under my right kneecap but today I had none of that. I had worried that the knee was going to become chronic or worse. Hopefully, the almost day of rest and the lack of climbing has taken care of this.
I got up, packed, and walked downtown to the Bits & Spurs café. Marty, the hotel clerk, commented that it was hard to mess up breakfast when he was explaining the breakfast options. Well, this place sure couldn’t make pancakes. Their pancakes were cracked and breaking apart. At least they were sizeable so breakfast wasn’t a loss.
Back at the hotel I hauled everything downstairs and outside and packed the bike and was off at 9:00. My destination for the day was Eads, 60 miles away. Not that far but the next reasonable stop was over 100 miles. So I picked Eads wishing it was farther but later I would wish it were closer.
When I left I immediately had my friend the headwind with me and it would stay all day. Sometimes the wind would subside but most of the day it was probably 10-15 mph. The road was gently rolling and would have been easy without the wind.
A few miles outside Ordway I passed Sugar City and started seeing the eastern Colorado I expected – wide-open prairie grassland as far as I could see. And with the headwind I would see a lot of this.
After 40 slow, interminable miles, I stopped at Haswell for food that I would need for the remaining 20 miles. Leaving Haswell, the scenery started changing from prairie grassland to huge farm fields. Ten miles from Eads, I locked on my target, the grain tower in Eads. After a long ride I pulled into Eads and stared looking for a place to stay. The motel was too much at $39 but the operator pointed out I could camp in the park at the rest area right in town.
So I set up in the park and cleaned up. I walked to the restaurant by the motel and had a pretty good meal. Then I retired to a nearby bar to write my notes. There the bartender gave me the good news that tomorrow was supposed to be nasty with rain and freezing overnight.
Today was a hard day even though it was only 60 miles. I would have rather done one of my hard climbs. Then you usually get rewarded with good scenery and a good descent. But a headwind can be merciless as it was today and the scenery got old quickly.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2001. All rights reserved.