Monday, June 27, 2011

To Denver over dirt and pretty paths.

Denver. I rode my bicycle there today.

I woke up from my third night sleeping on the couch on Corona Street. I packed my bags quietly and filled every bottle with fresh water: three bicycle bottles, and two 32oz Gatorade bottles. Enough for 100 miles if I needed it to be. I hefted my loaded bicycle out the door and off the porch. I would txt msg my final thank yous later.

I rolled slowly and automatically along Corona Street and made the right on Bijou.

The suburbs and sprawl are vast in this area. I'm reminded of the Joanna Newsom song about the houses made of ticky-tacky. I rode through this area on wide streets - climbing, descending and undulating through the houses made of ticky-tacky, which all looked just the same. I wasn't sure how to feel about what I was seeing. This homogenized layout is designed by pressing a rubber stamp repeatedly along the gentle curves on a topographic map. Is this what people want, or is this just what we have and know? Identical homes; identical neighborhoods: the antithesis of expression. These homes exist to block the sun, and the wiring brings in many episodes of Law and Order. My hackles were raised, but maybe it's okay.

I spun pedals as my heavy bicycle crept along the streets, cutting a careful path through the earth-toned Domino Rally.

Mountains provided relief to the left as I headed north. 90 miles to Denver.

I planned secret camping and two easy 45 mile days. The camping part evaporated from the itinerary when strong tailwinds picked up. 20 miles outside of Colorado Springs, the closely situated homes ended abruptly. Desert, ranches, and pine-covered hills took over. I found myself on a series of arrow-straight dirt roads which pointed due north. Thirty seconds after turning onto the first packed-dirt road, I found myself cruising at 30mph. This theme continued. I was hitting the brakes to scrub off speed as I raced down a dirt road with no perceptible descent. To call these conditions favorable would be classic understatement. When I stopped to check directions, the wind blew at my back and flapped my disgusting salty shirt like a flag.

Oh, to ride the Hoopty! Touring bicycles typically have wider tires than other road bicycles. My Hoopty has wider tires still. I use wide tires for comfort and traction. I have wide tires because... why not? I have never desired a skinnier tire on tour, but often - and now - I would readily accept wider ones.

Riding these dirt roads would be a test in handling and comfort on most of the touring bicycles I've seen since leaving Philadelphia. Me and the Hoopty? We cruised. Fast.

Note to prospective bicycle travelers: when using Google's Bicycling directions, make sure you have wide tires, or be prepared to alter the route considerably. Since leaving on this trip, I've used Google's Bicycling directions to plan many miles of travel. A surprising percentage of those miles has been across dirt or gravel. For that terrain - the wider the tire the better. Skinny tires will dig in, slip and stop. Most of these roads would be all but impossible to traverse on a modern road bicycle. And you certainly couldn't cruise at 25-30mph for mile after mile carrying a heavy load.

The dirt roads gave way to a bicycle path. The bicycle path made many turns as it cut through beautiful unadulterated desert landscape. It looked like a sidewalk curving through gentle hills on the surface of Mars. Prairie dogs were present in abundance. Small towns appeared and disappeared. I rode on this thin strip of pavement for many miles. I rode past backyard patios and picnic pavilions. I fought with only one quarter mile of traffic until coming into a state park with the Denver skyline on the horizon.

The sun was finally casting real shadows again, and I knew it was past time to finalize a place to lay my head. I checked my phone hopefully, and saw a missed call from Ken. Shelly lived in Denver for a few months a few years ago - Ken was one of her roommates. I checked my notes and clicked some buttons. I was exactly ten miles from his front porch.

I rolled along more beautiful paths, amused that I had assumed the ride into an urban area might be a challenge to be alert for. Ha! I cussed as fat drops of rain fell on me while I checked my phone to follow a series of directions. Fat beautiful raindrops fell, and my reaction was to cuss. After today's beautiful ride? I should have taken it easy and looked for a rainbow, but I was more concerned about getting drops of water on my phone's expensive screen. Life.

Ken is nice, his girlfriend is nice, and his dog karate chopped me as I stepped inside. What a great young dog! Ken cooked dinner, and we all sat around talking and eating. Tucker is the dog. He ran around the backyard and examined everything possible. He tried to uproot a bush and make progress on a hole he had started. He ran around with his tongue flapping as the rest of us discussed trivialities and Denver activities.

I haven't washed my riding socks since Utica, Kentucky. Oops. I showered and slept as my considerably dirty clothing was tossed around in the dryer. Unbelievably clean.

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