I was glad I had chosen a Friday to leave, as the morning commuter traffic is lightest, and the road I was riding on had very narrow shoulders, when it had any at all. I had also decided not to ride at night unless it was an emergency, as nobody ever sees bicyclists at night. This I was semi-prepared for as well. I went to the local farm supply store and bought a SMV sign, the bright orange triangle for “Slow Moving Vehicles.” It was fastened to my tent and sleeping bag/bedroll.
My friends and I read everything we could find on bicycle touring, wearing out current copies of Bicycling! Magazine in weeks. There had been six of us planning the ride, though we became four after our first long ride to Pinewood Springs. All of us made it, but two of our group decided this really was more than they had expected. By the end of the summer, we were three, as the fourth decided college was really in his best interest.
Of the three of us, Eric bought a car to commute to his job, expecting to sell the car right before we left, so he would have his share of the money. A drunk driver, without insurance, hit Eric’s parked car. Eric dropped out. Roughly two months before we were to leave, the last one dropped out. Rodd had just enough equipment, but he didn’t and wouldn’t have the funds by our departure date. He felt really bad about it, but once I made the decision to go anyway, he continued the training rides we were doing almost daily.
Someone had called the local newspaper about my trip; they interviewed me for an hour or so. My story and face graced the front of the Saturday paper the week before I left. I had been camping at Carter Lake, riding there with all of my gear, making sure I was really up to the ride I had planned. On my way home, I saw a newspaper sticking out of a mailbox in the country, and found I was staring back at myself!
I dodged commuter traffic on highway 287 ok, and highway 52 was in much better shape. US 287 was still a two-lane highway back then. As I headed eastward, it struck me that I was leaving the mountains of Colorado behind. I literally had my back to them, though they had shaped me as a person and outdoorsman.
It was important for me to stop in every town and refill my water supply. I could carry three or four days worth of dried and canned food, but I couldn’t carry much more than a day to two days water at the most. A human in the heat needs one to two gallons of water a day, and at shy of nine pounds to the gallon, it literally weighed me down.
One of my many stops along the way from Longmont was Fort Lupton, where I now call home. By the time I got to Prospect Valley, it was close to lunch time. I opened my packs for the first time since I had left home, and found a pear that had been packed in my clothing had settled and ended up next to an internal support in my rear bags [panniers]. I had ticky pear juice everywhere in my pack. It was yummy though!
The cross winds on highway 79 were fierce and colder. I wrapped my poncho around myself, prepared to ride in the rain, but I got lucky. The poncho also held in precious body heat as the winds tried to rob my body of all its warmth. I noticed the farms we no longer farms, but now arid ranches, with cattle searching for anything edible. The ranches all had rows of trees and bushes around them as wind breaks, and these were the only trees I saw anywhere outside of the small towns I was riding through.
When I got to the visitor’s center near Bennett, I asked the woman at the information desk where I could pitch my tent nearby. She told me it would be ok to use their lawn, after they closed up. While waiting for the closing of the center, one of my high school buddies, Tracey, and another friend of his, stopped and visited me.
All of my close friends had the route I would take to the border of Colorado and Kansas. This way they could find me the first could days out, since it was the weekend. I was seventy miles from home, almost eight hours of riding for me, and slightly over an hour for my friends. I sat with Tracey and Jim in Tracey’s car, and watched the afternoon rain come down by the bucket load. Once the sky had cleared an hour later, I said goodbye to my friends, hoping I would see someone else over the weekend, as I was already starting to miss home.
I cooked my dinner at one of the picnic tables, glad the bad weather was gone for now. The wind was cold, biting through my pants even though they were still dry. The sky started turning black as I pitched my tent. Again the heavens broke loose with torrents of rain. After arranging all of my gear, I went to sleep. While the raindrops pounded away on my rooftop, I drifted off into a much-needed sleep.
There were no drops of rain pelting my tent when a male voice awoke me, inquiring “Is there anyone in this tent?” My reply was that I was sleeping here. The state patrolman identified himself and asked me to get out of the tent. After a quick discussion, I packed my tent and bedroll up, jumped on my bicycle, and rode off. It is illegal in Colorado to sleep overnight in a rest area, and though well meaning, the employees have no say in the matter.
Going to the next town was a true nightmare. The roads were soaked from the recent downpour, so my tires got wet. This kept the generator from getting much traction, generating only a little bit of light. Rain soaked pavement just reflected the light away, leaving the roadbed invisible. The full moon peeking through the clouds was my only savior, giving me enough light to ride to the next town.
I lurched down the slippery, dark highway, dodging rocks, and potholes with mayhem and havoc following close behind, hoping I would crash into something in the invisible night. After forty-five hair raising minutes, I pulled into Strasburg looking for a place to stay. The first building was a Church, which was letting out as I pulled up. After the crowd departed, I approached the minister, and asked him where I could pitch a tent. Reverend Miller pointed me towards Lyons Park, and asked me to come back if I had any trouble. From his directions, I had no problem finding the park, but there was a six foot tall sign saying "No Camping" So I backtracked to the church. Reverend Miller and I talked for a while, as sleep was far away. I was still pretty wound up from the hair-raising ride in the dark. He did explain to me a little bit of the history of why people are not encouraged to stay over night in the rest areas, and it went back to the hippies of the 1960s, camping and literally living in rest areas. I fell asleep with visions of psychedelic VW vans driving through my head.