CO/NE/WY Tandem Bicycle Tour: May 18, 2008 to May 30, 2008

Vital Statistics

Trip Log

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 us again.

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 thermals.

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 Building Experience).

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'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 hibernate.

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 or Tuesday.

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 after-dinner treat.

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 leaked elsewhere.

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 much.

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 broken), strung 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 goes.

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 The 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 Medicine 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 around midnight.

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.