Monday, September 19, 2016

Exploring southeastern Colorado on a bike

                                                               Bikers at Bent's Fort

It takes a while, like about four hours, to drive from Fort Collins to Ordway in the southeastern part of Colorado, population 1,038, center of business, school and government activities for Crowley County. It’s also the home of two correctional facilities and close to the midpoint of the Transamerica Bicycle Trail. That’s where the 2016 Pedal the Plains bicycle tour started September 16.

We grabbed a quick sandwich at a tiny, friendly restaurant filled with locals, parked our car, then set off for a quick 24-mile ride into Fowler. Now this is a bigger place, taking pride in 1,164 residents. We set up our tent on the grounds of Fowler Elementary School and had plenty of time to walk into town where there was music, a performance by some extremely intelligent hogs, a community dinner served in the park, drawings for prizes, a band and dancing from 6 to 10 p.m.

Saturday morning we set off on a 58-mile ride south and east to La Junta pausing for lunch at mile 42, location of Arkansas Valley CSU Research Center. That may seem like a long way to go for lunch, but hunger is never an issue on this trip. Every 10-15 miles there’s an aid station with water, sports drink, porta potties, and food—Kind bars, red licorice, fruit chews, and animal crackers. The challenge is to keep from gaining a quick five pounds in three days.

It could seem lonely pedaling the sparsely populated high plains except for the fact that PTP, sponsored by the state of Colorado and The Denver Post, does a fantastic job of making sure everyone is safe and happy. Tired? Signal for a sag wagon. Bike problems? Wait five minutes and some help will come along.

The final day, from La Junta back to Ordway, was the longest at 71 miles but the first 17 were a delightful cruise with a little help from the breeze and a smooth, wide shoulder on the highway. What a kick to average 18 miles an hour. While that magic patch of road did not last, the rest of the day had its own charm. A visit to Bent’s Fort added eight miles to the ride but was well worth it.  An 1840’s reconstructed adobe fur trading post is a site not to be missed. I’m not sure the fort had ever had so many visitors on bikes.

I found myself grateful for the chance to explore a little known part of the state, concerned by the evidence of poverty I saw and awed by the endless vistas, enormity and vivid blueness of the sky. Thank goodness there are still places where there is so much nothing and so much beauty.

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