If there was one state we were looking forward to the most, it was Colorado. And not just because it was a long slog across Kansas to get there. It was at the end of the yellow brick road for us. Filled with dreams of mountains and canyons we pedalled towards the border, where we were greeted with a sign that described Colorado as ‘colourful’. As we stood and ate a banana and looked beyond the sign, it seemed to be the same colour as Kansas. And just as flat. At our feet were empty bullet shells. Welcome to the Wild West!
We had been told that Colorado doesn’t get interesting until you are halfway across, so weren’t expecting an instant change, but wow, this place is empty. The farm buildings we had been seeing in Kansas dried up, and the landscape was now barely dotted with ranches. Only the entrances were visible from the road, so all we could see was lots and lots of nothing. More nothing than I had ever seen. And despite the promises at the border, it was even less colourful than Kansas as the green and yellow fields were replaced with lots and lots of greeny brown. I’m not sure brown counts as a colour. At least the sky was blue.
The only thing of note when towns (a loose term here, more a collection of buildings) approached was how the huge old grain stores dominated the view. From a distance they look like castles or cathedrals, reminiscent of the approach to European cities. Then you get closer and they are just huge concrete structures. We took to measuring things by the side of the road, and passed an old train on a disused line that was over 3 miles long. Things are big out here to match the landscape.
The first night in Colorado we camped in a town park, a little fearful of the storm clouds gathering overhead. Just as we were about to go to sleep the lightening started, and I have never seen anything like it before. The sky was lighting up in all directions, it was like watching a firework show. When the rain started and the thunder sounded closer we abandoned the tent to get under a shelter at the front of a disused building. British wimps. Eventually it looked like the storms had moved away so we ventured back to the tent only for the wind to pick up. The wimps then felt the need to go and check that there were no tornado warnings. There weren’t. Finally we got to sleep about midnight. Not ideal for our 5am start routine.
After 100 miles of Colorado emptiness (that felt like 1000), mountains started to appear on the horizon. Finally! The road started to roll a bit. It was still another day before we reached a town of any size. Pueblo felt like a big city to us. There were fast food restaurants and everything. Unsurprising given the name, this was the place with the most Hispanic influence we have seen so far. Many Mexican restaurants, and public health signs in Spanish (drink less juice, more water – our Spanish is really coming on). It seemed like a pretty nice town to explore, and we arrived around 3pm, but we were so tired that the only thing we wanted to do with our spare few hours was sleep. So we did. Maybe next time, Pueblo.
Since we left St Louis we have been focussing on reaching Evergreen, a town just West of Denver and the home of two people we had never met before but were expecting us to pay a visit. As we got closer to this magical, mythical place where we could take a day off, the tiredness became overwhelming. The penultimate day took us to Colorado Springs, a town full of cyclists where no less than 5 people came up to us to ask if we had a place to stay that night (and a sixth offered to buy some margheritas). It pained us to turn down all offers. The friendliness of folk is quite overwhelming sometimes. It is also home to Garden of the Gods, a huge area of giant red rock formations that you can drive or ride a loop around. Despite almost falling asleep whilst having a late lunch in an air-conditioned taco place we wanted to pay the rocks a visit so reluctantly got back on the bikes and rode uphill for 6 miles into a strong wind to get there. Grey clouds loomed ahead and we hoped to get to the visitor centre before they decided to empty themselves. We made it with minutes to spare and sat undercover enjoying a tuna sandwich and the view of the rocks knowing there was no chance of us being able to ride around. But at least they looked nice, especially with the 14000ft Pikes Peak behind. During a break in the rain we pedalled madly back to town whilst lightening cracked all around us. The storms out here are crazy. And scary from a bike seat.
Day 15 of riding in a row was the most testing. I thought if I closed my eyes I could actually fall asleep while cycling. Luckily, riding with mountains all around was exciting enough to keep my eyes open. But it got us to Evergreen and our vacation destination with people we had never met before but in traditional American style treated us like long lost friends. Three days off in an amazing house up in the mountains was just what we needed. Even if we got up at 6am on the first of these to go white water rafting. This was incredible, rafting through a beautiful canyon with snowy mountains all around. The Arkansas river is pretty high right now so some of the rapids were a little sketchy and the 5 degrees Celsius water was refreshing to say the least. Colorado is beautiful. We also got driven through a stretch of the state that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise – including South Park (yes where the tv show is set).
From here things are going to get interesting. We are into bear territory. There is a huge mountain range to cross. The plan is to ride through Rocky Mountain National Park on the highest paved through road in the USA. I’m sure weeks of flat riding through Kansas (actually I don’t think we have ridden up a hill since Vermont) is perfect preparation for this….
Big thanks to Gillian in Ordway; Martha in Colorado Springs (and everyone else who offered help); and of course Sue and Lesli (and the Austin crew) for an amazing break at the high altitude mountain getaway.