The west side of Denver is super hip. It’s crisscrossed with bike paths, shiny architecture, and crowds of distracted tech workers staring at screens. Since I took the west side for my ride south from Boulder, I chose to ride north along the east side of Denver. Over on the flatter side. This Denver is more industrial. At lunchtime, the factory workers cluster in parking lots in clouds of music and marijuana. The Rockies pulled away on my left and the wind pushed on my back and it was an easy ride to Brighton and beyond.
“It’s really dangerous, riding a bike like that. You need to be careful,” a city worker told me, flicking her cigarette and shaking her head.
I ate lunch in a town park at Fort Lupton and kept riding north. I made it nearly all the way to Greeley. The landscape turned into plains. The traffic was pick-up trucks and semi-trucks. I saw a dead peacock on the side of the road. I wanted to go back and take a picture, scavenge some of those beautiful feathers. The bike lane was too skinny and sketchy to turn around in.
This flat landscape makes me nervous because I don’t know where to camp. I don’t want to trespass but I don’t want to be seen from the road. I found a little bump to hide behind the first night. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t terrible. Except for the smell. It smells like cow shit and hydrocarbons around here.
The next morning I rode to a convenience store in Greeley for coffee and hash browns. Greeley has a good bookstore downtown and plenty of bars for the university students. People seem nice.
I did notice a suspicious resemblance between the mascot of University of Northern Colorado and my school’s Golden Bear mascot. What up with the bear, UNC?
As I left town, the wind started to switch. I didn’t mind at first. I was trying to watch my Garmin and stay on route. I was listening to podcasts. But eventually I had to face the windy truth. It’s amazing how a headwind makes the bike feel like an iron sled beneath me. I would rather climb Loveland Pass again than head into winds like that. My thighs were aching and I was barely moving. Is this my new life, riding across these plains? I could see the storm clouds over the laid-out plains and I knew that snow in the face was coming soon. My campsite options were slim pickings. I poked around tufts of trees and creeks on the roadside but rejected them for fences and flatness. Finally I found a little bridge to crawl under. It didn’t quite block out the wind. In fact, my bridge made the wind worse. It’s difficult to set up a tent in a wind tunnel, especially when your fingers are blocks of ice. I still managed, then I climbed in and changed into all my clothes and got inside my two sleeping bags and miraculously went to sleep inside my flapping tent. No dinner, no squirming around trying to read with my headlamp. I just went to sleep and woke up confused by the sunlight in the morning. My tent fly was still whipping around like a windsock, and now there was snow zinging sideways under my bridge.
After a pack up that included a lot of shouted curses and banging my head on the bottom of the bridge, I got back out on Highway 25. Before I even started, a nice couple with dogs pulled over and offered me a lift. I refused but even then I knew that I was not going to last long on that road. The snow and wind were ridiculous. Straight out of the north, and stinging. I gave it a go. I tried channeling Alastair Humphreys and his icicle mustache riding through Siberia in the winter . I decided that I would not be riding through Siberia in the winter. Anyways, it’s not winter, this is Spring so stop it right now. I wasn’t really cold, since I was still wearing all my clothes. And I wasn’t really scared. Mostly just annoyed. Finally I decided to stop pretending that I could ride for ten miles straight into a snow storm. I started hitching. I stuck out my thumb to about 15 trucks before I got a ride. The cowboy who stopped was named Chuck. He had a droopy mustache, a jaunty plaid hat, and a butter caramel leather jacket. Chuck probably doesn’t realize how drop-dead hipster his look would be in a city like, say, Portland. Chuck had kind eyes and a sweet cattle dog named Taz. “Cuz she used to be a little devil when she was young.” Taz gave me one delicate dry lick on the cheek from between the bucket seats. The heater was blasting and I peeled off my layers with ice-chunk fingers. There were boxes of ammo on the dashboard but I decided not to care about that.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so nonchalant about hoping into trucks with gun-owning strangers, but at the moment I was safer inside the truck than out. People I can deal with. Weather doesn’t make deals.
“The weather just gets worse the further north you go,” Chuck told me and we passed white-out plains with wind gusts that we could feel inside the truck. “Wow, that would have set me sailing into that ditch over there,” I said. “Yeah, happens to cars all the time,” said Chuck. He didn’t mind driving me around to a few cheap hotels so I could shop for prices. After helping me carry my bags inside, Chuck gave me his phone number, asked if I needed money and suggested I carry a gun.
Then I hung out for two days waiting for the storm to subside. And who doesn’t love hanging out in cheap hotels in Cheyenne?
I even did a little art. Here are my two bed animals.
From the tourist maps I found in the lobby, I’ve planned out a fun route along the Wyoming Nebraska border up to Black Hills in South Dakota. The Weather Channel forecast is for sunny and cold skies for the next week.