- Route (thanks to Google)
- Miles: 625 (official - there were a few wrong turns and whatnot)
- Cycling days: 11
- Rest days: 2
- Lowest miles/day: 34 (mostly uphill with a strong headwind)
- Highest miles/day: 80 (with shower, pizza, milkshakes, and soft bed waiting at the end)
- Lowest elevation: 3450 (Julesburg, CO)
- Highest elevation: 8700 (on 210 leading to highest point of I-80)
Sunday, May 18: Home to Kersey
We left our door at a little after 10:00 - last minute packing and
nerves/excitement kept us awake later than planned the night before.
Enjoying a level of freshness unknown for the rest of the trip, we
cycled straight to Ft. Lupton, where we ate Ben
& Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream and fruit.
A series of country roads (CR-41, ..., CR-53) took us to Kersey.
Along the way, Aaron experienced his first bonk of the trip (a "bonk",
for those who don't know, is when you get terribly hungry, and thus
weak, while exercising; food perks you right back up). We also caused
a small herd of cows to run, something you don't see every day.
(Throughout the trip, our flashy colors, large size, and slow speed
startled a lot of cows.) Other touristy highlights of our route
included a mailbox on top of a 10-foot pole (a sure way of avoiding
junk mail) and a major cattle feedlot.
Sarah, who is currently reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma", acted as
guide for this sensuous experience (we were downwind).
At Kersey, we filled up on water and food at a gas station.
We then headed for some country roads along the Platte River in search
of a place to sleep. Unfortunately, the state wildlife area (SWA) was
pathetic, and a huge swath of the river was occupied by a private
hunting club. After much searching and rapid cycling away from
persistent dogs (twice!), we found a beautiful and unfenced spot
near the river in a grove of trees, cooked
a meal of couscous and beans, and hit the sack.
Monday, May 19: Kersey to Brush
Sleep the first night was somewhat fitful. It turns out that cows are
at their most vocal during the night, probably because they sleep very
little and are afraid of the dark. Dogs added to the cacophony.
We broke camp and left at about 7, heading back to 34. Along the way,
one of the same dawg-gone dogs (the more persistent of the two) chased
Aaron noticed that the front tire was seeming a bit bouncy; then Sarah
noticed that the rear was feeling pretty bouncy, too. Sure enough,
one mile down the 34 saw us on the side of the road with the tandem belly
up. Turns out that we had already entered "thorn country"; each tire
had at least four thorns. Thorns cause such tiny holes that we
couldn't locate the leaks except by lining the tubes up with the tires
and guessing, so rather than resurfacing the tubes with patches, we
replaced them with spares. More on tubes later.
Delayed despite our early start, we cycled down 34 in the heat of the
day. We both felt a bit punchy from not inhaling enough calories the
day before. After gulping a snack and filling our water jugs at a
farmer's house, we headed to Wiggins.
There, Aaron met a 1700 calorie snack at a gas station that he just
couldn't refuse (juice, B & J's Cherry Garcia, extra large Snickers
bar, etc.) and started to feel a bit more solid. Unfortunately, Sarah
wasn't yet accustomed to inhaling food the way Aaron was, so she ended
up with a stomach ache.
In spite of the stomach ache, we made it down road Q to Ft. Morgan and
acquired more food from a Safeway. We then stopped by the last bike
shop on the way to Julesburg to see what we could do about avoiding
further thorn-induced flats. The jolly owner reminisced about his
touring days (which, judging from his belt, were a long time ago), but
we eventually walked out with tire tape, thick tubes, and tube slime.
Our final leg of the day was down 34 to Brush. Brush has a
"campground" next to its city park. While lacking in natural beauty,
it was a safe,
legal place to stay. And it had showers. Before showers,
however, we installed the new tubes. Thorn-proofing tires definitely
adds to the weight of the wheels in the worst possible place, thus
increasing rolling resistance. But a flat tire barely rolls at all.
After pasta and showers, we tucked in.
Tuesday, May 20: Brush to Jumbo Res. (east of Crook)
The next morning, after crossing a bridge over railroad tracks, Sarah
said, "I think that was the last of my breakfast", reflecting a
recurring theme (hunger!) of the trip. Packing in 5K+ calories/day is
pretty much impossible; we both slimmed up a bit.
Along the same tracks, we waved at two train engineers and received
toots in return. We also saw eight egrets or herons soaring (!) in a
thermal. Aaron had never seen water birds other than seagulls soar in
We startled a few characters on our way through Merino.
We hit Sterling around lunch time (which, for cyclists, is typically
the third of five main meals of the day) and found a cozy patio
next to a supermarket. As it turned out, the patio is where the
employees take their breaks, so we talked to several. In particular,
one young woman (am I too young to call another adult a girl?)
mentioned having wanted to get into bicycling until she got pregnant.
If she ever does get on a bicycle, it will be the smoking that will be
her biggest hurdle, not the kid. Ah, well.
Heading out of Sterling was hot.
Sarah experienced her first bonk on the way to Crook.
She revived after munching down half her weight in fruit and nuts.
Approaching Crook, we experienced some curiously strong headwinds.
After sitting in Crook's park and evaluating, we decided (in fact,
Sarah made the final call) to head another 9 miles down 34 to Jumbo
Reservoir. The headwind was strong, but we made it before sundown
to the gravel road leading to the reservoir. A hard climb - partly
walking - up a 1.5 mile gravel road brought us to our second beautiful
(but unfortunately gnat-filled) camping spot. The 9 mile + 1.5 mile
ride was our first Y.A.C.B.E. of the trip (Yet Another Character
Dinner consisted of baked beans (not quite vegetarian, but what the
hey), bread, and cheese. 3-4 servings each of each item still did not
add up to the number of calories that we needed.
Wednesday, May 21: Jumbo Res. to Chappell, NE
The night was windy and threatened rain. We had put our small tarp
over the three decades-old tent, but we were still worried. In any
case, it never rained, just blew.
The next morning, we packed up in ridiculously
high winds and headed down 34 to Julesburg with the wind in our faces.
The 21 miles took almost four hours. There, we emptied out the local
grocery store (as bicycle tourist Ken Kifer notes, "Anybody can be a
glutton, but only a true cyclist is a bottomless pit.").
We then headed over to the local library to investigate our route
options. Julesburg was our planned turning point: we would either
continue northeast into NE or head northwest. The ridiculous headwind
decided us, particularly when we saw wunderground.com's predictions
for the next few days. So Chappell, NE would be our next destination.
While at the library, we talked/listened to the librarian, who had
grown up around Julesburg and thus was able to give us a sense of the
culture. She had grown up on a family farm not far from Julesburg,
but CO invoked eminent domain on her and her family's heiny in order
to build a new reservoir. Unfortunately, they never built it, but
they're lending her old house and buildings to a young couple for
$1/month just to keep it free from vandalism. So, yeah, yay for CO.
Before retiring and becoming the local librarian, she was a high
school teacher. She taught essentially all subjects throughout her
long career, which earned her a bit of a reputation. Aaron joked that
she had probably never coached the football team; she hadn't, but she
had served as the team's statistician. She also told us about the
closing of the sugar plant in Ovid (which we had seen): an investment
company bought it up and then closed it, putting essentially the whole
region out of work. Fortunately, two brothers tying fishing flies in
their basement started a national business called Cabella's, which now
employs pretty much everyone who stayed through the lean times. The
population in the northeast region of CO is still declining, forcing
school districts to merge high schools and cut classes.
Leaving Julesburg, we were blown northwest along 385 to Chappell, NE.
On the outskirts of town (haha), we found an RV camp and decided to
stay there. The owners, particularly the man, were friendly. He told
Aaron about the grain elevator next door. One year, they stacked the
grain too high and caused the rear wall to collapse. Hundreds of
thousands of the three million bushels fell out and had to be trucked
back around through the RV park to the repaired building. Each of the
many freight trains that come through take about 100K bushels.
We headed into town for pizza and milkshakes as it was too windy to
contemplate lighting the stove (and we were in need of massive amounts
of calories after the morning's battle with the wind). Over
milkshakes, we talked/listened to an older couple who farm about 2K
acres; he has owned and farmed the land for 53 years. They are
"self-proclaimed Goldwater conservatives", yet they complained (and
were impressed that we knew) about the small shares that farmers
receive from the Farm Bill. He kept encouraging us to vote for McCain
("not to get political or anything"). I'm not quite sure how being
conservative and being on the Fed's bankroll go together, but I guess
it makes the world go round.
Upon our return to camp, the wind had increased (if possible), and a
thunderstorm was starting. On the owner's invitation, we decided to
bed down in the bathroom.
Thursday, May 22: Chappell, NE to Oliver Res. State Recreation Area (west of Kimball, NE)
The next morning, the two rambling fools packed up and headed west
down 30. We couldn't stop because the wind would knock our bike over,
so we blew into Sidney and managed to brake before heading out the
other side. A wet fog accompanied the wind.
In Sidney, we discovered that the ingredients in Power
Bars agree with Aaron, while the ingredients in Clif
and Luna bars agree with Sarah. Thus started many days of gulping
energy bars, which provide all the calories and protein that a hungry
cyclist needs, when combined with, say, 4K more calories. A group of
kids thought our rig and the idea of a "road trip" was cool. As we
were leaving town, a kind woman slowed down next to us and asked if
we'd like a warm
place to stay. The rambling fools declined.
With the wind too strong to use the topsails, we nonetheless blew
another 40+ miles to Kimball, braking again only in Potter and then
Kimball for food and water. The second Y.A.C.B.E. of the trip came up
as we approached Oliver Reservoir west of Kimball. As with many
things, roads and signs are meant for fast-moving cars, not bicycles,
so we entered the park at the wrong entrance and person-handled the
bike through a mile of windy, wet, muddy, gravel roads before
realizing our error. After backtracking, making a few educated
guesses based on the available signage, and pedaling down 30 some
more, we found the right entrance.
After setting up our tent with our big tarp on top for full rain
protection, we ate a dinner of pasta with tomato and sardines (in
olive oil) sauce (darn tasty) and cheese. We then prepared to
Friday, May 23: Rest day
Seriously, we emerged from the tent a time or two to cook. While we
cooked couscous and lentils, a tornado touched down 10 miles west of
us. The local weather wasn't bad, just windy (are you getting tired
of this word yet?), wet, and gray.
Also, the early morning was clear, so we managed to dry
(mostly) our clothes, thermarests, and one sleeping bag before the
storm came in.
Saturday, May 24: Oliver to Pawnee National Grasslands, CO (71 & CR 112)
Morning broke clear
and calm, so we packed up. The groundskeeper drove by to talk
with us; he said that he had worried about us during the storm
yesterday, as he worries about all "kids and young people". It turned
out that one of his daughters had just died of lung cancer on Monday
The wind picked up fairly early, now from the southwest. It made the
trip back to Kimball easy; we prepared there for the vast and empty
grasslands ahead. Leaving town to head south, we knew we were once
again in for a tough ride. The southwest wind combined with rollers
to ask the most from our legs. Also, we hadn't managed to cram down
enough food on Friday, so I think we were both still a bit hungry.
In any case, we decided to stop early
midway (north-south) through the Pawnee National Grasslands.
Ironically, the wind died down, leaving us baking in the heat (no
trees - that's why they call it the grasslands) and wondering if we
should have biked farther. But the awesome sunset over the rolling
and grassy plains compensated for any regrets.
With an hour or so before dinner, we injested a massive appetizer in
an attempt to re-energize ourselves for the next day.
The wind picked up again around 6:00 as we were preparing a dinner of
pasta a la Aaron (tomatoes & sardines in oil). After the main course,
Aaron eyed the pot of pasta water and thought "what the heck". Pasta
water (at least from whole wheat pasta) is actually a sweet and warm
Sunday, May 25: 71 & CR 112 to western end of Pawnee
The night was windy. What's new.
We got an early start, but Sarah was exhausted. Aaron encouraged her
to try the electrolyte powder again, which she had sworn off earlier
in the trip because it can be a bit sickening, and that rejuvenated
her. Good stuff (thanks Andrew).
Fifteen easy miles in a northwest wind brought us to Stoneham, where
the cafe was closed due to the owner's death. Nine less easy miles
west on 14 brought us to New Raymer, where the cafe
was closed due to - who the h*** knows. Twenty-six more miles west
brought us to Briggsdale, where the market
was closed due to its being Sunday. Aaron had just bonked hard
outside of town, so he was a bit disappointed.
There was a working soda machine in New Raymer (and a couple of broken
ones), so we got a hit of calories there. Unfortunately, the water
from the spigot tasted awful, thus tainting most of our remaining
supply of water. But a friendly rancher just down the road provided
us with some fresh water. Briggsdale also had a soda
machine, so we had an afternoon meal of two cans of soda each and
half a giant can of baked beans each. We took two more cans of soda
for the road.
Leaving Briggsdale, we stopped at Crow Valley Recreation Area and
talked with a family from Cheyenne. The three kids thought our mode
of transportation was pretty cool, so we showed them the bells and
whistles. The father was proud of his hammocks.
Because the wind had turned southeast, we decided to head ten more
miles down 14 to be closer to Ault the next morning. After searching
for an opening in the fence (everything has a d***ed fence around it
in CO, even if it's public land), we found a sweet
spot on public land to camp. The wind increased as we set up camp.
Monday, May 26: Pawnee to south of Wyoming border
The night was windy and wet, but our tent was dry in the morning even
though we hadn't used the tarp. We think the dry air made the rain
water evaporate as quickly as it came down, as the tent certainly
We cycled twelve miles in the early cloudy light to Ault (A Unique
Little Town, according to their sign). Gray's Cafe was open even
though it was Memorial Day, so after our jaunt through the wastelands
of Pawnee, we prepared to feast.
Aaron ate two complete breakfasts: OJ, huge omelet with ham & cheese
(we had ordered cheese omelets, but I think the waitress must've
assumed we meant ham & cheese, and I wasn't about to return the
plate), gigantic portion of hashbrowns, two slices of toast, three
slices of French toast, and all three gobs of butter. Sarah ordered
the same and got through about two-thirds of it, packing the rest for
later. I don't think the staff had ever seen two skinny people eat so
We left the cafe and headed over to the convenience store (the market
was closed, of course), where Aaron, still hungry, downed a pint of
chocolate milk. We also bought a map of Wyoming and more energy bars
and other goods. Then we decided whether we wanted to head to Wyoming
or head home.
I should say at this point that home sounded pretty good. The beating
we had taken from the storm followed by the hot and hungry crossing of
the grasslands (couscous, pasta, beans, and sardines are not adequate
for too many days in a row) was leaving us feeling pretty exhausted,
and the skies were turning gray again. So Aaron was pretty impressed
when Sarah made the call to head north.
Four miles north (at Pierce), we biked right into a friendly couple's
garage to get out of a downpour.
Nineteen miles north, completely soaked and cold, we hit Rockport and
almost missed it. Rockport, the only town for almost twenty miles in
any direction, consists of a (closed that day and possibly
permanently) roadside snack bar with a fence blocking the lee-side
(the side that would offer protection from the rain) of the building.
We stopped to eat from our supplies, but Aaron began to fear
hypothermia, a risk in cool weather when wet, so we moved on. A
passing motorist offered us a towel. We biked four more miles, but I
think we were too cold for our muscles to work well. The nineteen
miles to Rockport and the next four comprised a Y.A.C.B.E., and we
began to consider career options as cartoon characters.
Thus, at the first ranch house, we pulled in and asked if we could
pitch a tent in a grove of trees. Chuck and Deb turned out to be
quite hospitable. Chuck offered us a shed instead, but we said our
tent was fine (the large tarp makes it water-proof). He then said
that once we had set up and changed into dry clothes, we should join
them for dinner. They and their family were having friends over for a
barbecue. Chuck is a petroleum engineer turned rancher; Deb is a
rancher and works at a window factory and The Wrangler (more on that
later) in Cheyenne. Their son, David, is 22 and rides bulls in rodeos
with some success. He is also a welder for Union Pacific. Their
daughter, Jess, is in a teaching programing at U. of Wyoming ("U
Dub"). The friends were Beth (who also works at The Wrangler), David's
fiancee, and her brother and parents. The mother inspects
mortgage companies for the state; the father is a former navy medic.
Chuck told us a bit about ranching (the property is actually owned by
an association of 18 ranchers with a total of 3K head of cattle), and
we listened in on conversations about taking care of cattle and
horses, a family burro, the merits/demerits of the local vet, and life
in general out on the plains. David received for his birthday a new
hunting outfit and new boots from his future in-laws, about which he
was a bit embarrassed (but "he could get used to it").
After dinner and conversation, we headed out to our tent.
Tuesday, May 27: Rest day in Cheyenne, WY
We woke up early, waited for the rain to stop, and then packed up and
cycled the last 10-12 miles into Cheyenne. We took the first motel
(Round Up) we found, which was next to a Safeway, checked in at 9:00
(they had one room available), took a bath (the shower head was
our clothes line from corner to corner, hung our clothes, etc., to
dry, and collapsed. Recovered enough to lift the phone, we ordered a
large Domino's pizza, which was delivered precisely 29 minutes after
disconnecting and consumed not much later. Naked for the bath, Aaron
noted that he had "lost all of [his] butt fat on the trip". So it
By noon, our hiking boots had dried enough to allow a venture into
town. We walked to the train museum in Cheyenne's old (restored) train
station, which proved to be immensely interesting, particularly
with 70+ freight trains rolling through per day right next to it.
Cheyenne is the place to be if you're interested in trains (ahem,
Ken), as it was a main supply point for Union Pacific for their thrust
through the Rockies (indeed, like many towns along the line, such as
Kimball, it was founded just before the railroad arrived to support
its construction). We then walked by the capitol
building and met a couple from Ft. Worth, TX, who are making a
tour of every capitol building. Before exiting downtown, we visited
Wrangler to see if Beth or Deb were working that day; but all we
found were boots, jeans, and other western gear. Around 6:30 we
headed back to the motel, passing by Safeway to get dinner and goods
for the next day. Dinner was mac & cheese (the room had a microwave),
bagels & cream cheese, cottage cheese, and a donut. We had of course
eaten throughout the day as well.
We were at another decision point in our trip. Having gotten drenched
on our trip north on 85, we had the option of shooting back down the
85 to Ault and getting home Thursday night; or of going west on 210 to
Medicine Bow National Forest and taking 287 home. Going west meant a
pretty good climb. We left the decision for the morning.
We slept from 9:30 to 7:00.
Wednesday, May 28: Cheyenne to Medicine Bow National Forest
Sarah decided that she was up for more, so we packed and headed west
on 210 ("Happy
Jack Road"). Dense fog delayed our departure, but as the
afternoon progressed, the clouds parted and we saw blue sky once
again. The clearing
sky offset the annoyance of another strong headwind.
After some pretty good rollers, we hit "raincoat"
hill, a nice climb up to Curt
Gowdy State Park. There, we talked with state ranger Bill
Conners, who informed us that the road we had been planning to take to
287 is unpaved. Earlier ventures on unpaved road had made the captain
of the expedition (Aaron) foreswear any further truck with gravel, and
Rear Admiral Sarah agreed. Hence, our destination was now the summit
of the I-80 (at 8640', its highest point, though 210 had a slightly
higher summit) in the Sherman range, and then Laramie. Laramie lies
between the main Rockies and the Sherman mountains.
With that ahead of us, we decided to grind out a few more miles into
Bow National Forest, where we'd be able to camp anywhere
when our legs gave out. We will have to return to MBNF on a future
trip; I'll leave its beauty to the photos.
When cycling was done for the day, we found a breathtaking
corner of the mountains to camp. After a quick (rain) shower, we
cooked up some couscous and beans, ate, and hit the hay.
Thursday, May 29: Medicine Bow National Forest to Virginia Dale, CO
After breaking our fast and packing in the glorious morning, we set
out to finish
the climb. The wind was unrelenting: still in our face, still strong
enough to make steering a challenge. To give an idea of the wind's
ferocity, at one point we were cycling downhill (downhill!) hard and
in second (second!) gear. Usually, one uses such low gears for going
uphill. After seven rolling miles (we called the downhills
"demoralizing downhills" because we knew we'd have to make up the lost
elevation and because the wind killed any chance of momentum), we
reached the summit. We had to stay away from the miniscule shoulder
to avoid being blown off the road. Despite the captain's
attentiveness to his rear view mirrors, which he looks at every few
seconds, one fat a**h*** in a d***ed Ford Explorer snuck up rather
quickly and veered off the road in a clearly p***ed off way of
avoiding hitting us (whereas there was sufficient visibility to have
braked hundreds of yards away). Why the f****** nut was going so fast
was beyond us, but Aaron felt pretty bad about not being 100%
vigilant. Anyhow, it was the only close encounter of the trip. And
reaching the summit not long after put Aaron back in a better mood.
The summit consists of the junction with the I-80 and a famous rest
stop (the one with the Lincoln
Memorial/Monument, since I-80 is the "Lincoln Highway"). After
resting there, we took I-80 to the Grand Ave. exit into Laramie; I-80
was the only option. Unfortunately, the rumblestrips loosened the
load on our trailer, and we discovered after exiting I-80 that we had
lost one of our thermarests somewhere along the six miles. Going back
for it was impossible.
Laramie is basically an annoying town. While it is home to U. of
Wyoming, I get the feeling that most students get around in pickup
trucks instead of bicycles.
The wind veered south in time for our departure south along 287. The
winds exhausted Aaron: not only was pedaling hard to make a mere 4-5
mph frustrating, but keeping the bicycle in the shoulder was a
constant battle. But we slugged on for 17-18 miles with frequent
stops. Towards late afternoon, we reached Tie Siding, which is at the
base of a short pass leading into CO, and the winds veered to
northwest, which is apparently their normal direction. After the
climb, we blasted down into CO all the way to Virginia Dale, once
again passing through breathtaking scenery. Unfortunately, we didn't
stop for photos since we were finally making good time.
We cycled 'til sunset, then slipped behind a tiny church,
ate a quick cold meal, and collapsed into sleeping bags without
a tent. Without the thermarest (note the "therma" in thermarest),
Aaron was a bit chilly from the hard ground, which was fortunate: he
woke to get his one and only glimpse for the trip of the Milky Way
Friday, May 30: Virginia Dale to Home
We woke early and left $10 under the church's door.
We headed south in the still, perfectly blue morning through stunning
scenery, on our rolling descent from ~7100' to ~5100' in Ft. Collins.
Leaving Livermore, our timing chain (which connects the front and back
pedals) fell off; Aaron clumsily put it back on without synchronizing
the pedals, so we headed back down the beginning of the small pass
into Livermore (which consists of a post office, gas station and
market/cafe). There, Aaron removed the chain and reattached it with
synchronized pedals. We also decided to grab some food (freshly baked
apple turnover and bagel and cream cheese) and water.
We reached Ft. Collins at 10:45 (30 miles south of Virginia Dale!),
ate, rested, and prepared for what we knew would be a long haul home.
Rollers took us to Loveland, where we turned into a church to rest.
There we met Chris and Sonia, who had cycled the '76 route across the
country in 1987 before having kids. We asked one or two questions,
and then they reminisced for about an hour. Just as in this log, much
of what they told us about were the hard times (cold & wet, headwinds,
hungry, hot, hard climbs); and yet, they both said towards the end of
the conversation that maybe they should start touring again once their
youngest is in college. Aaron is certainly excited to go on more
tours, and Sarah probably will be once she recovers a bit more.
"Character building" is not part of Y.A.C.B.E. for nothing. And,
really, traveling on a tandem with someone you love makes every climb
sweet and takes the punch out of a headwind.
We stopped for A&W root beer floats in Longmont and then headed down
Diagonal Highway (119) for a direct route home. Along the way, we
stopped to give a cyclist with a flat some air (never rely on CO2
cartridges); and then we reached our door at about 7:00, showered, and
went for pizza and a milkshake.
© 2008, Aaron R. Bradley.