Western Trip - August, 2007

948 miles on the green bike

 

Thu, 16 Aug 2007 6:10 pm

 

Hello to all,

My little Sony T computer died on me last night and I have been away from home for almost a week without checking in so I am writing a note on Cheryl's computer but I don't have access to my full address book so this note will not get to some I would like to reach. Nonetheless, I make this report.

We are in the dilapidated mining town of Leadville, Colorado at an elevation of 10,200' with hail coming down in this late Thursday afternoon. This will be our fourth night in the mountains and we have much enjoyed the low temperatures and low humidity since arriving in Summit County on Monday afternoon.

Last Friday morning I left Iowa City at 5:45 AM on my bicycle and rode 106 towards Des Moines. I took my usual southerly route through towns like Parnell, Montezuma, Deep River, Sully, Lynnville, Reasoner, and Prairie City before turning north to stop in Colfax along Interstate 80. It was a scorcher of a day with temperatures about 90 and quite high humidity but I truly enjoyed the ride. The wind was pretty calm and I kept a good pace of about 16 mph.

I was a bit foolish about planning lodging for that night. When I got to the Comfort Inn at the Colfax exit I learned that the Iowa State Fair and some other weekend event called "The Nationals" was going on and most motels were booked up. However, just as I was working with a very helpful desk clerk at the Comfort Inn and figuring I would have to ride another 30 miles in the afternoon heat, a cancellation occurred on their computer system and the clerk was able to give me a much welcomed room.

When I left home on Friday it was dark as I rode across Iowa City but since there was little traffic I felt safe and comfortable. On Saturday I had to wait until about 6:15 AM to have enough light to leave Colfax and head through Altoona and the heart of Des Moines as I headed west. Altoona is having a growth spurt and a major road project detoured me south so I lost my intended route and ended up on University Avenue in Des Moines and rode it much of the way across that metropolitan area. It was Saturday morning and traffic was reasonably light and polite so that worked out fine but it is always slower going through a major city and I seemed to be running a good hour behind schedule.

In the West Des Moines area I have found that I can pick up a decent bike trail that leads me to a major trail known as the Raccoon River Trail and gets me 25 miles west of Urbandale without having to get into traffic. I took this route and found it to be pretty busy with weekend cyclists but that was okay by me. It was hotter and more humid than Friday and the wind was against me so I had a tougher day.

The day was made worse because of my own ambition. On Friday night I decided that my Saturday goal would be to make it to a Super 8 at Walnut, Iowa which I estimated at 120 miles out. I made a reservation knowing that Saturday is the one day when it is well advised to have a sure place to stay. I had actually wanted to stop in Atlantic at a Super 8 there but it was booked full for Saturday night. As I neared the little town of Redfield at about 10:30 that morning I knew I had been a bit too ambitious. The heat was slowing me down as was the wind and my mileage estimate was wrong. Walnut would be closer to 130 miles. I decided to go on to Adair, about 90 miles for the day, and try to get a room at a budget motel there knowing that the Super 8 at that exit was booked.

I did make it into Adair at about 1:30 PM quite tired and dehydrated. The lady at the budget motel was Asian Indian and fairly unfriendly telling me that I could have a room if I waited till 6:00 PM. She was short of housekeepers. I decided to have a long lunch at the Happy Chef and think it over while I cooled off. I didn't feel like laying around the Adair City Park for four hours so I thought I would go on to Atlantic and find a room in one of their rundown motels. To be safe I called Cheryl and had her call ahead to one of them to be sure I could get a room and the manager of their Hawkeye Motel agreed to hold a room for me until 5:00 PM. I decided to press onward.

On both of these days I gave thanks to friend, Vicki, who recommended at dinner on Thursday evening that I use my camelback during this trip to ensure a good supply of water. It really did help on both these days because I drained it twice and got into my two additional water bottles as well.

Atlantic is southwest of Adair 21 miles and there was a strong southwest wind as I made my way there. It took longer than usual but after a short rest along the way I made it into town about 4:00 PM after 111 miles and decided to stay in a smoky, seedy room rather than go another 20 miles to Walnut. It worked out fine but it did remind me that I have become accustomed to the high life accorded by the usual Super 8 or Comfort Inn.

It had been planned that I would pedal three days and Cheryl would leave Iowa City at 1:00 PM on Sunday to catch up with me. I had to decide whether I wanted to cross the Missouri River and head towards Lincoln, Nebraska or simply pull up in Council Bluffs and take a motel room there for a Sunday evening rendezvous. I decided to set no alarm for Sunday morning and do what felt good that morning.

At 5:00 Sunday morning I woke up and decided to be easy on myself and choose the Council Bluffs option. It would take me just 60 miles of riding to reach the Missouri River in Council Bluffs so I laid around the Hawkeye Motel until 8:00 AM and headed west on Highway 6 which I followed all the way to the river. It seemed hotter and more humid than the previous two days but it actually wasn't hotter. The road was one that I had never ridden and I feared that traffic would be a problem but Sunday morning traffic is always lighter than usual and I didn't have a problem at all.

However, the hills in this area of Iowa are steep and endless. It seemed that every mile I would plunge down to cross a creek and then climb up to a long ridge line just to plunge downward again. In the heat of the morning I had to work hard.

I worked my way through Council Bluffs with no problems and found a nice Comfort Suite motel near the casinos that this city now sports. I took my time and had a long lunch hoping that a room would be available in the early afternoon and again I was lucky. They gave me a room and I spent the afternoon watching the PGA golf tournament.

During this last summer I have resumed my interest in golf and during the previous week I played several times with my brother, Jerry. We both got excited enough to buy new clubs since I had been using an old set he gave me 38 years ago and he was using the replacement set he bought at that time. Every once in a while I can hit the "Perfect Drive" and that motivates me to keep on playing. I even brought the clubs on this trip.

Cheryl joined me late Sunday afternoon and we spent Monday high-tailing it for the Rocky Mountains selecting a Comfort Inn in Dillon, Colorado as our base for the next three nights. It is one of our favorite places to stay because of the proximity to Frisco and Breckenridge. We have had three fine days here and I will write more about them, just not at this time.

As you all know I write for fun and I write to keep some memories alive as time goes by. I include friends and family knowing that you may have time and interest in what I have to say but I am sure that many of you are way too busy to deal with this. Nonetheless, I like to stay attached and I wish you all well. I may write some more after dinner.

Best wishes,

John

Fri, 17 Aug 2007 9:55 am

Hello to all,

Last night after the hail and rain diminished we had dinner at the Golden Burrow in the heart of Leadville. It is an old saloon/restaurant that claims to be the oldest continually operated restaurant in Colorado. A local lady was giving a talk on the history of the town and we listened to most of it because these mining towns have some fascinating pasts.

Earlier in the day after I arrived on my bicycle we took a historical trolley tour of the area and learned a lot. This mining town once held about 80,000 residents but now is down to 3,000. Gold, silver and lead were the first harvests and the real reason for the boom town was silver. During the 20th century a huge molybdenum mine was developed up near Fremont Pass and it was a large part of the local economy until the 1980's when it was shut down because of price declines. Phelps Dodge owns and maintains the mine to this date and they have announced a plan to reopen the mine in 2009. Molybdenum is an alloy used to make steel, among other things.

Summit County and Vail are the ritzy places in these mountains along with Aspen. Leadville is the kind of place where us later, poorer immigrants feel more in tune with our surroundings. This must be a historical district where nothing is torn down. The dilapidated houses remain whether used or not and the town is full of old miner cabins sitting here and there just as they were first built a hundred years ago. I like the place but wouldn't want to spend the full year at this 10,200' altitude.

There are some high mountains nearby including Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive. Under the shadow of Mt. Massive is a nine hole golf course that is the highest course in North America. I had planned to play nine holes but the trolley tour, fatigue and afternoon storms ended that idea.

Yesterday's exercise for me was the ride from Dillon up over Fremont Pass to Leadville, 35 miles. The first part of the ride is on the bike path westerly to Copper Mountain. From Copper Mountain up to Fremont Pass the climb seemed steeper than usual at times but I was probably just a little fatigued and out of shape. I really love riding in Colorado and usually don't mind the long, slow treks up the mountain roads. Traffic is quite reasonable.

In Summit County Cheryl had time to visit most of her favorite spots including second hand shops, the Alpine Natural Food Store once owned by Harvey Wehde and his girlfriend from Iowa, and the Frisco Library. On Tuesday I rode up over Vail Pass and down into the heart of Vail where I met Cheryl for lunch. We thought we ought to see how Vail was looking now. I have memories of being there in a rusty old Buick Electra about 30 years ago with Ken and Marlys Peterson. I really felt out of place then and I'm still not comfortable thinking about how pricey everything is there and how rich folks have to be to live or play in that exclusive community.

Wednesday I decided to ride up and over Loveland Pass reaching an altitude of almost 12,000' and then going down to the Loveland ski area. Again it was a nice, quiet, hard ride. It took some extra courage to go down over the pass knowing that I had to turn around and climb over it again on the way back to Dillon. For the normal tourist the Eisenhower Tunnel is the route to pass through by car but bicycles can't use the tunnel so we go over the top.

We are really enjoying the cool mountain air and the sunshine during the days. Each evening we have a nice dinner out and just take it pretty easy. Our plan is to head to Steamboat Springs today and I will cycle the first portion of the 125 miles to the north. Cheryl will drive around Turquoise Lake, a recommended scenic route. Since we have the weekend ahead of us we made a reservation at the Super 8 in Steamboat and I'm thinking that for Saturday night I will cycle north from Steamboat and we can stay near Laramie, Wyoming. From there, I'm not sure where we will head. This tour will develop on its own.

Best wishes,

John
 

Sun, 19 Aug 2007 6:23 pm

Hello,
 
It is Sunday evening and we are back in Summit County in the town of Frisco. We left Leadville on Friday morning and I decided to go in the van. First we went out to see the golf course. It was on a plateau in what I would call high desert and I wished I could have played nine holes. Golf courses in deserts look out of place. We drove around Turquoise Lake and then headed slowly north to Steamboat Springs.
 
There has been good snowfall and a fair amount of rain here so things look green and the mountains are beautiful. Highway 24 north of Leadville is quite secluded. During WWII a huge portion of the valley and surrounding mountains was used by the army to train troops for mountain warfare in Italy, France and southern Germany. The post was called Camp Hale and there are just remnants of buildings there now as well as a memorial to the 900 troopers who died in combat. All the names are listed.
 
There is a neat and quiet state road, Route 131, that runs up a dry valley to Steamboat. It is a good bicycle route and I will ride it some time in the future. It passes over the Colorado River and the land is used mostly for grazing cattle but it is too dry to allow for very intense ranching.
 
In Steamboat we took a long walk to stretch our legs and see how things were looking now. Steamboat Springs has a permanent population of about 8,000 and they generally have another 10,000-20,000 tourist visitors. It is an isolated town that is just not easy to get to so it has its own personality. It has become another pricey resort community but feels like a very nice place to be, if you can afford it.
 
We had dinner Friday night with an acquaintance, Jill Lindstrom, who left the Quad Cities three years ago to begin a new life in Steamboat. Jill is 53 and a teacher by profession but in Steamboat she has had a difficult time finding a good paying teaching job. She has been working in the Sheriff’s department for a while but next week she begins teaching first grade students at a Christian School. She seemed excited for the change. We ate outdoors at a nice restaurant with views of the mountains and the river that flows through the center of town.
 
We heard from our Colorado friend, Aimee in Castle Rock, that she and a friend were planning a ride up to Vail Pass on Sunday so we decided to backtrack to Summit County so I could join the two of them. Saturday morning I left Steamboat on the bike with the intention of riding about 90 miles to Frisco. I rode up over Rabbit Ears Pass and then south 50 miles to Kremmling where I had lunch. It was a difficult day in the saddle and by the time I got to Kremmling I was feeling tired and hungry. My legs felt heavy and fatigued. Cheryl had passed me on the road and gone down to Frisco where she was at a Senior’s rummage sale. I called her and let her know about my depleted condition. She came back north and picked me up 10 miles south of Kremmling. I rarely quit on such a planned ride but I was glad to do so on Saturday. The mountains just wore me down and I must have been exhausted from climbing passes during the week.
 
All the communities in Summit County are busy with various events on the weekend. Bicycle races have been held in Dillon and Copper Mountain. Art fairs and music festivals are in just about every community. Today, Sunday, Aimee, friend Sue, and I rode up to Vail Pass and returned to Frisco in the rain. There I joined Cheryl for time at a music festival but Aimee and Sue headed back to Denver because of the rain. It was a typical mountain storm that passed through and we ended up having a very nice afternoon listening to music of the 50’s and 60’s and visiting with a couple very interesting folks who now reside in Surprise, Arizona. The husband describes himself as a gypsy from eastern Oregon, and the wife as a Native American. They now travel and entertain. They were each about 70 years old. We will go out for a nice dinner but as of this moment we have no planned destination for tomorrow. It’s time to think about it.
 
All is well.
 
John

 

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 8:32 pm

Hello from Wyoming,
 
We are in the small town of Torrington, WY near the border of Wyoming and Nebraska. It is a place that few tourists ever see. Out here you have to go at least 50-75 miles to get to a town with any services. Torrington is the county seat of Goshen County so it has about 5,000 inhabitants as well as shopping and motels. It is a “cow town” that popped up on the Oregon Trail back in the l800’s. There are still plenty of saloons and the housing looks pretty beat up by hard living and high winds across this dry desert.
 
This corner of Wyoming is gets very little rainfall. You might think that it is desolate but I really like the beauty and the solitude. We have dropped down out of mountain elevations of 9,000’ to 4,200’. It gets hot but it is so dry that the heat is not very bothersome to me. When I quit cycling yesterday it was 97 degrees but I wouldn’t have guessed the temperature was that high.
 
This is part of the country that probably should have been left unsettled and unspoiled but the Homestead Acts that Congress passed in the 1800’s encouraged settlement and now the descendants of those early pioneers have a lot invested in their lives here and are not likely to give it up even though these rural towns will continue to decline.
 
On Monday we pulled out of Frisco and drove north back through Kremmling and then NNE to the small, isolated town of Walden, Colorado.  Walden has a population of 500-1,000 and it is the only town for many, many miles around. It does have two or three small motels and several cafes. We had a great lunch there and met some Colorado folks from the area.
 
After lunch we drove north a few miles and I got out of the van and on my bike near the town of Cowdrey, population about 10. There I had a great ride over a small mountain pass into Wyoming and north to Laramie. As I came down the pass the land flattened out and I had a strong tailwind so I zipped along this lonely state highway at about 30 mph looking at the sparse cattle herds grazing on this fairly barren soil wondering how anyone could make a living here. Then I got some first-hand information.
 
As I was racing down the road a ranch lady ran across the highway in front of me and stopped me. I thought there must have been some sort of an accident or medical emergency but it turned out that she and her ranch hand were trying to get a tractor started and wanted to borrow a cell phone to call a mechanic. Their cell phone battery was dead.
 
So I had a nice 15-minute visit with the ranch lady while her ranch hand used my phone. She said that she ranches 8,000+ acres and raises just 250 head of cattle on that land. She is raising the breed that is used as roping cattle in rodeos and is marketing some of them as extra lean beef. I was actually “taken” by the ranch lady and if I were a single cowboy looking for work I would have offered to stay on and “help her run the ranch.”
 
I rode 55 miles into Laramie and I figured that we would stay there for the night but Cheryl had already explored that town of 25,000 and wanted to drive over to Cheyenne. It turned out to be a good choice.
 
We have never explored Cheyenne even though we have spent some nights lodging at the Interstate Motels in the area. It is really a very nice city of about 59,000. It is a place that I could happily live. The city is the state capital but its roots are in the railroad and cattle days. Grenville Dodge platted the city in 1867 as the transcontinental railroad was built. Then the cattle barons used their millions of dollars to build it up and make it into a very attractive place to live. There are fine parks, great museums, many historical and well-maintained buildings and a stable economy. Of course Cheyenne’s Frontier Days at the end of each July draws in a half million visitors every year. We must come back.
 
On Tuesday morning we took an hour and a half trolley tour of the city. The tour guide was top notch and he entertained and educated us very well. I highly recommend these simple trolley tours as a way to get intimately acquainted with a new place. You learn so many interesting things that you would never have known otherwise. A dead body cemented into a church tower, underground tunnels to bordellos, and tales of murder are just some of the interesting things presented to us.
 
After the trolley tour I rode out of Cheyenne to the northeast on my way to Torrington. I began at 1:00 PM and rode 55 miles in just three hours. Cheryl spent a couple hours hitting the second hand stores in town finding a lion costume for Zach and a hat for Olivia. She caught me on the road and I loaded the bike in the van so we could get into Torrington in good time to get a motel room and have a nice meal at a local Mexican restaurant.
 
Today we are heading up to the Black Hills. I’ll let you know how that may turn out.
 
Best wishes,
 
John

Fri, 24 Aug 2007 9:55 am

 

Hello to friends and family,
 
Cheryl and I are in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and will soon be back in the state of Iowa. We left Torrington, Wyoming in the van on Thursday morning and drove up to Newcastle, Wyoming, a small town on the western edge of the Black Hills. As we went north the landscape went from high desert to irrigated valley to the forested Black Hills. It was pleasant and scenic.
 
At about 1:00 PM I got out of the van in Newcastle and rode across the state line to South Dakota and up over O’Neil Pass into the Black Hills National Forest and then on to Deadwood, SD. It was a rigorous 54-mile ride because there was 4,500’ of climbing but at the same time it was quite enjoyable. The Black Hills is filled with deer. I assume there is no hunting allowed in the national forest. They dash across the road in front of my bike just as if I am not there. I usually yell at them to get them moving before I get too close.
 
There is still a fair amount of tourist activity in the area. A classic car show was taking over the town beginning Friday. We took another good, historic trolley tour of the town on Friday morning and then went to see Kevin Costner’s exhibits and interpretive center just north of town. The purpose of Costner’s project is to let all of us non-natives appreciate what our predecessors did to the land, animals and natives of the great plains during the last two centuries. It would have been nice if we could have had a more enlightened approach to our western expansion but things happen for many different reasons and who can really say that they would have done a better job if in charge at the applicable moment in history.
 
Deadwood is now a gambling town but they have preserved the old west history of the area and they draw in thousands of tourists each year. “Wild Bill” Hickok was murdered in a saloon in August of 1876 during the gold rush days and he and Calamity Jane are buried in the Mt. Moriah cemetery above the town.  It seems that these two characters get way too much attention but dime novels about characters of the old west have made them much larger than life.
 
We spent the balance of yesterday driving 400 miles across SD to Sioux Falls. In the early afternoon we had a pleasant lunch stop at Wall Drug. It was a busy oasis right in the middle of the Badlands. Most tour buses stop here as then pass through on I-90.
 
Today we are relaxing and resting. We will visit the falls on the Sioux River for which the town is named. Tonight we will be in Spencer and tomorrow I will begin a ride back to Iowa City while Cheryl drives on home ahead of me.
 
The ground here is saturated with all the rain that has fallen. I expect some flooded roads as I cross Iowa.
 
Hope all is well with everyone.

 
John

 

Tue, 28 Aug 2007 10:21 am

Hello,

Just a quick report to let you know that I have returned to Iowa City. It ended up being a 303 mile ride from Spencer and I am happy to have had the chance to do it.

I didn't get into Iowa City until 4:30 yesterday afternoon and I was unusually tired and a bit dehydrated. All three days I had to ride into a headwind. The first day it was a mild 5-10 mph, the second day a more serious 15-25 mph and yesterday it was 20-30 mph. Like grandson Jake tells me, perseverance is the key to success and I just kept smiling and pedaling and most of the time I was a very happy cyclist.

I'll bet that Spencer is a good place to live and raise a family. The town is a county seat and has a population of about 11,000. It is far from any large city so local shopping is the norm and businesses seem to be doing well. People were friendly as is the usual case in Iowa. They take pride in their community.

Despite the mild headwind the ride to Fort Dodge on Saturday, 99 miles, was a "breeze." This part of Iowa is very flat so I made 17 mph throughout the day.

Iowa has its own "divide" and the divide line is in this area. The Little Sioux River passes just east of Spencer and meanders over to the Missouri River. The Des Moines River begins with several tributaries further east and passes through Fort Dodge, Des Moines and the extreme SE corner of the state before entering the Mississippi. Why do I pay attention to these things? I don't know for sure. It's just the kind of thing you explore and contemplate while riding.

The recent heavy rainfall has swelled all the rivers in the state and some of them were out of their banks as I rode by. Roads were closed in places and I had to think ahead about roads that were likely to be in trouble so as to avoid them. I was pretty lucky until yesterday when I had to detour 10 miles because the Iowa River had flooded out Highway 212 west of Marengo. That detour was a bummer because I knew I had a hard day ahead of me anyway.

Many ditches are full of water and corn fields are inundated. If the water stands too long in these fields I expect that the crops will be damaged but I don't know how bad it may get to be. About all the farmers can do is to keep drainage ways open and hope for the best, i.e., no more rain.

On Saturday I had a late lunch in Pocahontas at a family restaurant. Quite a few people there wanted to find out where I came from and where I was headed. I enjoyed visiting and it is always fun to gauge the reactions of strangers.  Some are just dumbfounded.  Some  are genuinely encouraging. Some think I'm crazy.

Fort Dodge  has about  25,000 people and  seemed less interesting. I did enjoy my restful night there but headed out fairly early Sunday morning in an attempt to get ahead of the winds. Early morning breezes are usually mild and winds pick up in speed as the day heats up.

I rode through Webster City and a handful of very small towns as I headed southeasterly to Marshalltown. It was a harder day of another 99 miles with stronger winds and an average speed of 15 mph but I had a good time.

Yesterday I knew I would have more of a battle on my hands so I left Marshalltown at 7:30 AM and headed east on the shoulder of Highway 30 for about 10 miles before moving onto county roads to get to Tama. The Iowa River is really well out of its banks in much of this area and I had to go through Belle Plaine twice because of the road detour.

The second half of the ride seemed long and slow. Often times I could go only 8-10 mph so I stopped in Norway for a rest and again in North Liberty. I had a goal of reaching Jake's school south of North Liberty about the time that it let out so I could say hello to him but the wind just beat me down so I got there a half hour too late to see him. I was unusually tired when I got home. It had been a 13 mph day.

Now it's time to do about 30 minutes of business paperwork and then I plan to get the golf clubs out. After reading the golfing "how-to" books I can't wait to hit the next "perfect drive." Yes, I am spoiled but at least I know it.

Best wishes and thanks for listening,

John