Friday, July 31, 2009
I hate the days when we have to pedal for more than 10 hours, especially when the day includes rain, headwinds, and darkness, not to mention a lack of bathrooms, a flat tire, and a frostbite scare.
The day started out well enough. Ten miles into the ride we reached Fort Collins, a pleasant town with nice parks and architecture. In keeping with the rest of Colorado, the town went above and beyond for cyclists: we got our own lane and our own crossing button.
I don't really have an explanation for the bee hive shed, but it was cool too.
Unfortunately, Fort Collins was the last bastion of civilization for a very long time. The open land was calming but lonely, and we were fighting a headwind that periodically threw handfuls of cold rain into our faces. The weather continued to worsen as we toiled along, miles away from shelter, and eventually the wet, the cold, and the need for a bathroom drove me into one of the tunnels under the highway meant for cows. I had to jump over barbed wire and scramble down a steep, rocky hill just to get to it, and then I discovered how awkward it can be to go to the bathroom outdoors for the first time (remember, I'm not a camper) but at least it was dry under there. Kyle and I talked about staying in the tunnel until the storm passed, but it wasn't clear when that would happen. Instead we reluctantly kept riding, but we always kept track of the distance from the last cow tunnel in case the rain was joined by lightning.
Between Fort Collins and our final destination we saw one open business. One. That's one open business, of any kind, the entire day. I was there and I still find it hard to comprehend. It was a gas station and convenience store that was known as Ted's Place when it opened in 1922, and it still thrives as a last stop for tourists on their way to do outdoorsy wilderness activities of one kind or another.
We bid Ted's Place adieu and returned to the rolling, rocky hills, unblotted by anything but the occasional antelope. The land was as empty as the plains of Kansas, but at least the scenery held more variety.
In my current contemplative state that solitary cow worried me for hours. How had it gotten to those empty hills all on its own? Where was its herd and its owner, and would they ever be reunited?
Regardless of their aesthetics, wide open spaces are frustrating when all you want are a roof, a bathroom, and lunch. But then we discovered something even worse: buildings that advertise all of those things but are closed. First we saw a giant restaurant and general store, but when we made our way to its doors we discovered that it had recently closed down, and the only things stirring in the area were a horse and its owner, who informed us that the only open business for miles around was the ski resort restaurant, miles and miles out of our way straight up a mountain, which we decided to skip.
Our next disappointment was a combination Post Office and Cafe. Well, that's what the signs said, but it had clearly not been operational for a while.
Further down the road was our favorite sign in the world, but below it was our least favorite sign in the world, so we were forced to ride on once again.
I did not, however, have to go to the bathroom in a tunnel or out in the elements again. Instead I took advantage of (what I hoped was) an honest-to-goodness working outhouse.
It belongs to a small church that serves what I assume is a small and widespread group of believers. Services are held just once a month, and in lieu of a parking lot there is a field that includes places to tie up horses. I really wish our visit had coincided with a service or just someone being there (unless they had a problem with me using the outhouse). I'd love to learn more about the few people who live out here, but I doubt we'll get the chance.
We already felt like we were in wild, western, wide open Wyoming, but we didn't actually cross over until early evening.
The last thing Colorado left us with was a group of wild horses:
And the first thing Wyoming greeted us with was a violent storm. It had been raining on and off all day, but just after we passed the border it started to really and truly downpour, and the horizon was lit up by lightning strikes. We circled back and took cover in a highway maintenance shed.
We clearly weren't the first to do so, since there was a fire pit, a few cans, and a glowstick.
We waited, and watched the storm, and called home, and took random photos, and waited some more.
Forty minutes later the sun was setting and the rain had begun to abate, so we ventured out of our shelter and onto the downhill that we'd earned with a grueling climb earlier. Soon the land flattened out again, and we watched the sunset reflecting off the wet road as we weaved around construction cones on our way to Larime.
It ended up being a much longer ride to Larime than we'd ever anticipated. The rain began again, combining with the night to chill us to the bone. Then a hunk of metal caught our tire and ripped a hole in it. Instead of screaming and throwing ourselves to the ground, which was our first inclination, Kyle wrestled with the tire and tube as I struggled to retrieve tools and a spare tube without being able to see well or stop my hands from shaking. With more difficulty than usual Kyle managed to get the new tube on, then rigged up a patch on the tire using a dollar bill. We climbed back on the bike and rode on (and on and on and on), even more freezing, stressed, and miserable than we were before. When we finally spotted lights on the horizon we celebrated, but they became the most depressing aspect of the trip yet. They never seemed to get any closer, as if the headwind was pushing us backwards and we would be pedaling fruitlessly all night long.
Somewhere along the way I lost feeling in my toes, and then the numbness spread upwards until it reached my ankles and I felt like I was pedaling with blocks. All of the mental tricks I'd used during other miserable rides were insufficient for this. I don't think I cried, though I wanted to; I think I just went blank and kept pedaling because there was nothing else to do.
A century later when we reached town our ordeal still wasn't over. We stopped at the first hotel we saw, a Ramada; the guy behind the desk was great (though I don't know what a fabulous NYC artist type was doing in middle of nowhere Wyoming) but didn't have any first floor rooms available. We wanted to avoid carrying the bike up any stairs if possible, so we decided to check with the Motel 6 right behind the Ramada, not realizing that we'd have to ride a long loop around both of them because the parking lots were separated by open land that had turned into a swamp. The only room left at the Motel 6 hadn't been cleared for habitation, and when the receptionist let us check it we could smell why. She was nice enough to call the Ramada back for us and secure a room, however; at this point I would have carried the bike up seven floors to get to a warm shower. We decided to walk the bike through the muddy shortcut this time, and arrived in the Ramada lobby looking like we needed a drink, according to our friend behind the desk who gave us two complimentary tickets for the hotel bar.
We carried the bike upstairs and ordered pizza from whatever restaurant happened to advertise on the room key. Kyle was eager to use the drink tickets so he headed back downstairs, but I was more interested in showering and crawling under a pile of blankets until the food arrived. The hot water felt unbelievably wonderful everywhere but my feet, which stung painfully as they came back to life. I looked down at them and had to choke back a scream: my feet were completely blue. It looked like the day after a sprained ankle, when all the blood collects. I started to panic, wondering if it meant that I was close to frostbite. I finished my shower and ran to the bed, piling on every blanket in the room and trying to massage my feet back to their normal color. When Kyle came in I showed him my feet, now a mixture of pink and purple, but he looked fairly unconcerned and just laughed when I regarded them with panic. Apparently Kyle was very familiar with blue feet -- and the fact that they return to normal after 20 minutes or so -- thanks to all his winters in upstate New York. I felt rather sheepish, but I'm still pretty sure colorful feet are a bad sign.
We got to sleep somewhere around midnight, stuffed with pizza, back to our normal color, and finally something close to warm. I don't really want to think about what awaits us tomorrow. Wyoming hasn't exactly been welcoming so far, and I have a feeling it won't get any easier.
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