COLORADO TRIP DIARY

MAY 8, 2002 THRU MAY 18, 2002

 

Subj:

Colorado trip 

Date:

5/9/2002 5:59:37 AM Central Daylight Time

   
   

  Friends and family:

I'm on another long sojourn by bike, this time to Colorado and back. It is now 5:00 Am on Thursday and I'm writing this note at the Perkins Restaurant near the Des Moines Airport.

I left Iowa City at 8:00 AM yesterday with the plan to ride 95 miles to Pella, IA. The day began with a stiff SE wind and I had a pleasant 60-mile ride to Montezuma where I had lunch at one of my favorite cafes and met a half dozen people.

The wind turned due south and it was blowing 20-25 mph so my plans changed. I decided to head to Des Moines. It was a good decision but very hard to execute. As I headed west the wind became a hard SW wind and I struggled mightily to drag myself into the City. I ended up riding 124 miles. Well, I actually walked the last half-mile because I blew my front tire just a half mile from the motel. I haven't been so tired for a long time.

I don't know where I will land today. I have to change my tires yet and will rotate them to put the new rubber on the rear. The flat tire is ruined and I need to get another spare soon or I could be in trouble later in the ride.

Tornados zipped by south of Des Moines late yesterday but the worst storms missed me. Today it is cool and very, very windy. I intend to take it much easier. I will ride from County seat towns to County seat towns. I will first head to Winterset and then down to Creston. I would like to end up in Clarinda but I won't likely make it that far. I plan to stay within reach of a cozy motel room.

Well, it's still dark so I'm going back to the motel for a short nap while this big breakfast settles.

Best wishes.

John

 

Subj:

Day 2 on the way to Colorado 

Date:

5/10/2002 5:42:30 AM Central Daylight Time

From:

JohnCruise

   

Good morning,

I'm sitting by the window early this Friday morning watching for some sunlight and seeing which way the flag is blowing. Yesterday I took it easy and just moseyed on down the road 46 miles to Osceola. I'm at the AMERICINN just west of I-35. My goal for the day is to head west to Shenandoah, IA. I realized yesterday morning that I was going to have to back off on my goal of riding 100 miles each day. It is just too early in the season for my body to handle that much work, especially with these hard winds and this hilly country.

Yesterday's ride was pleasant with smooth quiet roads but it is very hilly south of Des Moines and the wind was a good strong 25-mph from the west. Today it is supposed to be 5-10 mph from the southwest.

I am getting into a decent groove and am enjoying the experience. I am anxious to get further west to see what the farmers are doing now in Nebraska and Kansas.

More later.

John

 

Subj:

Shenandoah 

Date:

5/11/2002 8:16:18 AM Central Daylight Time

From:

JohnCruise

   

I'm in the small town of Shenandoah, IA waiting for the storm front to move east. Yesterday I rode 102 miles. It was a hard ride because of endless hills but a pleasant day in most respects.

The people here are friendly and helpful. As I left Osceola I found that I could only shift through two gears. I made it to a McDonalds restaurant in Creston, 30 miles away. First I tried solving the problem by blowing out the chain at a car wash but finally found that the shift cable had split apart. I got very lucky.

A couple people at the restaurant told me that a man who ran a furniture store down the street also did bike repair work. I found him and in less than an hour was back on the road. He wanted to charge me just $3.00. We had a nice visit.

Bicycle shops are rare out here. There is one in Shenandoah, an operator in a garage near the downtown, but he had a sign posted that he was closed May 10 and 11. I still need a tire but hope I can find one in Nebraska City.

I'm looking for a gap in the storms and then will ride just 30 miles to Nebraska City. Unless things change, I will find the bike shop and then stay there for the night. The stormy weather should have cleared out by tomorrow and then I can move west in a well-rested condition.

I feel great and am looking forward to some new scenery. The Loess Hills will be the treat for today.

Have a good day,

John

 

Subj:

Nebraska, finally 

Date:

5/11/2002 7:50:56 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

JohnCruise

   

Finally I am in Nebraska. I rode 33 miles through the rain and landed in a very nice old motel in downtown Nebraska City. It was 48 degrees and I was very wet when I got here but it was still a pleasant ride. The wind was from the East and the traffic was light.

I returned to the bicycle shop that I visited last year. It is just one block away. I was able to buy a tire and two tubes. I visited with the same owner.

I have spent the balance of the day drying everything, cleaning the bike, lubing the drive chain and watching NBA basketball. I now have plotted my route for tomorrow and hope that takes me somewhere to Beatrice, NE and beyond. I should do a minimum of 72 miles but hope to go as far as 125 miles. I'll decide as I go along.

I'm turning in early and will ride out as soon as the sun is up. I think all the storms will get through this area overnight. Those of you in Iowa will have another day or two of stormy weather.

As they say in Italy "Ciao",

John

 

Subj:

Kansas 

Date:

5/13/2002 6:26:08 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

JohnCruise

   

Hello Folks,

During the last two days I have journeyed from Nebraska City to Mankato, Kansas, 180 miles southwest. My legs are tired. It has been hilly, windy and yesterday it was still rainy and gloomy. Today was full of sunshine.

The main purpose of this trip is to get in shape and I do feel that I am getting stronger but I really would enjoy some easier conditions. I may get my wish tomorrow.

I am entering a part of Kansas that is pretty poor and unpopulated. The counties are the same size as our Iowa counties but there are only about 4,000 people in each. This town is a county seat but it has only 900 residents and as I rode around in it I can see that about half the commercial businesses are closed. The farm economy has changed so much in the last 40 years that people haven't yet adjusted and relocated. It has to be a painful process.

The roads have been generally great. There is so little traffic and the pavement has been wide and smooth. If I catch a tailwind I'm going for some fast, long mileage.

As I went through a couple towns I had a young woman and later a young boy holler at me "I like your bike." It must seem unusual to them. I'll have to take better care of it.

I haven't seen any other cyclists. This is such a great place to cycle. I'm pleasantly surprised.

I have found a couple nice $30 motel rooms. It's just sad to see so much vacancy and so many businesses suffering.

Well, I'm doing well. I have covered almost 500 miles and have about 400 to go to get to Colorado Springs. The weather ahead looks good.

Take care,

John

 

Subj:

A hard day to Norton, KS 

Date:

5/14/2002 5:53:50 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

JohnCruise

   

I got up at 5:00 this morning with some sense of urgency. The weather report said that we were going to have strong south winds at 25-30 mph throughout the day so I wanted to get an early start.

Breakfast was peanut butter, crackers and a banana. The sun doesn't rise here until 6:30. I turned on my taillight and headed out in the morning twilight at 6:15.

Boy was it cold! The temperature kept going down until it bottomed out at 37 degrees. The sun rose over my right shoulder and it finally started to warm up about 7:00.

My strategy worked well. The wind remained quiet and I got 1/3 of the way through my route. As I approached Smith Center, Kansas I rode by the geographical center of the 48 states. I made it to Smith Center by 8:00 and had a nice breakfast at a small cafe there. I wanted to make it quick because of the wind but I did visit with a couple local farmers. Rain and drought are the big worries here.

As I left Smith Center and headed to Phillipsburg the wind picked up but it was still manageable. So I kept hustling and made it into Phillipsburg at about 10:30. I was relieved to have made it 60 miles without any serious trouble.

My goal was Norton, Kansas abut 35 miles away so I took a short break In Phillipsburg while I made a motel reservation and then headed out in a hurry. By then the wind was reaching 20+mph.

When I got out of town it hit hard and I had an adventurous ride to Norton. The wind did reach its predicted 25-30 mph velocity and it blew me all over the road. Fortunately, traffic was light and this Route 36 continues to be great for cycling. One sign on the road advertises it as the shortest route between Indianapolis and Denver.

I didn't want to rest along the way because the wind just kept getting worse but I did have to take one of my mini-naps about 24 miles out. I had to really fight and crawl to make it into Norton and during the last 5 miles it was like riding through a dust bowl. The drought and the wind are raising havoc with this country.

The land here is best used for grazing cattle. There are fields where crops were planted last year but it looks as if the farmers have wisely given up this year. Cultivating the ground now would only result in more dirt being blown away.

Norton is another depressed town. However I have decided to not be depressed but to consider that the people who live here must be hardy stock, the kind of folks like DDE who end up leading our country.

People continue to be incredibly nice. I go around worrying about their economic prosperity and they just act like good, happy citizens. There has to be a lesson here. Still, I know that the younger generation is leaving in droves and I could only encourage them to do so.

My proposal is to tear down and salvage 75% of our human "improvements" and let the land just be used for a reasonable level of grazing cattle or other livestock. The homesteaders who settled here made a mistake. Let's acknowledge it and change directions.

I did ride by an oil or natural gas plant so they must have oil or gas wells near here. The land continues to roll but the hills are really gone. The trees are only in towns and the towns are generally 30 miles apart. It is unusual to find a real town or any commercial services between the county seats.

The flag outside is still flying up, not just straight out. The wind in the morning is supposed to be 10-15 mph from the southwest, the direction I'm headed but by mid-day it is supposed to reverse and be from the northeast. How should I play that hand? Well, I'll decide in the morning.

Now that I have rested some I feel great. On with the adventure.

Best wishes,

John

 

Subj:

Colby, Kansas 

Date:

5/15/2002 5:19:33 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

JohnCruise

   

Hi everyone,

I made it to Colby, Kansas and took a motel room right out by Interstate 70. This will be my last night in Kansas since Colorado is just 55 miles away.

I slept in till 6:30 this morning and left Norton riding into a bad headwind. I just stuck it out until I got to a tiny town called Jennings, 27 miles out. There a tavern was open so I had a 7-up and a nice rest.

Then I got lucky because as predicted the wind died down to 10 mph or less and I had a fine ride the rest of the way. I stopped at noon for lunch at the only cafe in the area of Selden, KS. All the locals seemed to congregate there and all the talk was of winds and hope for rain. There was a motel too, just three rooms.

The road was great again and the terrain leveled out a lot. Without a negative wind this would have been a dream ride.

It continued to be very dry as I left Norton. Everything was brown and there seemed little hope-no crops were planted even in fields that had been farmed in the past. Most of the land was used for livestock and this time of year it is a pleasure to see so many young calves romping in the pastures not far from their mommas.

About 30 miles southwest from Norton things started to green up considerably. The land had obviously gotten more rain but the fields were also being irrigated with pivot units.

I made 80 miles today and now am 660 miles from home. Colby has about 5,000 residents and seems to have some vitality to it. That is quite a change. I think that I haven't seen a chain store, restaurant or motel for the last three days. I don't know if being back in the land of "civilization" is a blessing or not but there is some comfort to being able to get Gatorade at Wal-Mart prices.

I have three days to get to Colorado Springs or wherever I decide to head. Colorado Springs is just 225 miles from here. I may take it easy or I may do something different. I just need to think about it and watch the weather.

I hope Iowa and Missouri get some nice sunshine for a little while. It's too bad that we can't transport some of that Mississippi River water to western Kansas and Colorado.

Take care,

John

 

Subj:

Burlington, Colorado 

Date:

5/16/2002 3:47:01 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

JohnCruise

   

Today was easy and pleasant. I woke up at 5:30 and left Colby, Kansas about 7:15. It is cool and cloudy here. The wind began lightly from the northwest but it slowly moved around to the northeast and picked up some speed. It would have been a good day for a longer ride but I really needed to stop here in Burlington or I might have ended up sleeping under the stars.

When you drive through this country you probably don't realize that you are at an elevation quite a bit higher than Iowa City. Downtown Iowa City the elevation is about 675' above sea level. Right now I am at about 4,150' above sea level.

The terrain here is considered to be "high prairie" with gentle slopes and a very gradual rise until the plains end and the Rocky Mountains begin. Colorado Springs is about 145 miles away and the elevation there is just over 6,000'. When I get to Limon tomorrow afternoon I might be able to see Pikes Peak in the distance if it is a clear day.

It's redundant to tell you that rain is always the primary topic in the cafes. A small rainstorm rolled through late yesterday. To look at the sky and to listen to the wind you would have expected a big downpour or even a tornado yet it hardly wet the ground as it passed by.

Most of the land is being farmed here in huge, flat, open fields. The farmsteads are few and off the road. These are large operations and they are all sustained by irrigation. Even if you don't see the pivot in the field you will always see the electrical lines taken off from the main lines to a meter post and then underground to the well head. Though I have gone by some wells that used gas or diesel engines to pump the water.

I'm riding US Highway 24 and the remains of the old highway 24. In other words, when Interstate 70 went through here they abandoned portions of US 24 and it simply became a farm service road under the control of each county. My route runs parallel with I-70 but is usually about one mile to the north. The counties don't put any resources into maintaining the road surface that they were given so the ride is rougher than usual, very similar to the surface of the Alaska Highway. It slows me down several miles per hour and gets a bit tiring especially in its roughest spots.

I rode 70 miles and arrived at a nice Comfort Inn before noon. The time zones changed during the ride. I am now in the Mountain Time Zone.

Finally, I have been able to get a Denver paper. For the past 4 days I haven't been able to find any major city newspaper. Today I am wide awake and rested so I will shop for some necessities and then enjoy reading all the paper except depressing bad news.

Tomorrow will be another modest ride of 76 miles to Limon. I can't go beyond that point unless I decide to do the full distance to Colorado Springs. The 71 miles from Limon to Colorado Springs is pretty remote with no motels or services. I'll need to remember to carry some extra water.

I have worked hard and am now about 730 miles from the start. I feel better now than the when I started so this must be a healthy thing to do.

Best wishes to all,

John

 

Subj:

Limon, Colorado 

Date:

5/17/2002 8:42:37 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

JohnCruise

   

Tonight I feel wearier than I would expect. I ended up having a fairly easy 80-mile ride. I spent the first 33 miles on US 24 but it was very rough and merged into I-70. I had planned to ride the old abandoned road the rest of the way to Limon but it was so rough that I went back to the Interstate and rode it the last 45 miles.

Actually I should have ridden the Interstate all day. It really is quite safe and some of the pavement is fantastic for speed. The downside is that it is not peaceful. The noise from trucks, cars and motorcycles makes it a whole different riding experience.

Limon is at an elevation of about 5,366 ' so I may be a bit more tired from the higher altitude. It could take a few days to get used to increasing elevations.

Limon is the county seat for Lincoln County. It is a large area of ranch and irrigated farmland. It really is so dry here that this land wouldn't be worth anything without irrigation. Now Colorado is having a huge water crisis almost statewide. In some places the cities are paying the farmers to not farm and to not irrigate.

Well Cheryl just arrived so I will wrap this up. Tomorrow I will have a very interesting ride to Colorado Springs. I hope it is clear so I can watch the mountains in the distance.

Best wishes,

John

 

Subj:

Denver 

Date:

5/19/2002 9:19:08 AM Central Daylight Time

From:

JohnCruise

   

Hello Friends and Family,

Yesterday morning I looked at the weather conditions and changed plans. In Limon the wind was blowing 20-25 mph from the South with gusts up to 35 mph. Since Colorado Springs was in the Southwest I decided to change directions and head northwest up to the Denver area. So, I got back on Interstate 70 and road 45 miles with the wind behind me up to Byers, Colorado where Cheryl picked me up. We then headed to the Southeast Denver area to a motel suite so I could "hole up" for a couple days and catch up on business.

Naturally the ride was easy as pie. I reached an altitude of about 5,800' and then it was downhill with the wind pushing me along at about 25 mph, sometimes without pedaling. I just had to hold on.

Our motel room has a nice suite and kitchenette and I have set up office and have finished some of my routine business. I'm procrastinating about a couple more complicated jobs.

Last night we were able to meet our friend, Aimee, for a nice visit and dinner. Today she and I will ride together and we are all going to tour some real estate projects in this general area. The weather is great, blue sky, dry air and about 65 degrees right now.

Best wishes,

John