Well, after my last correspondence, the day generally turned to shit. Before leaving Pueblo, I stopped at the Chamber of Commerce to pick up a new state road map. I guess I left my other one at the shelter. The woman that provided the map was incredibly friendly. She was older, probably in her sixties or seventies, and had obviously traveled quite a bit. She was curious about my trip, and we talked about traveling, living in small towns and big cities, and places of interest in the southwest. I would have loved to talk with her all afternoon, but I needed to be scooting along.
While on the internet earlier, I had looked into frontage roads along I-25 to avoid being on the interstate as long as possible. I had found a decent route that would keep me on side roads for at least a few miles, and I thought I had memorized the route fairly well. As I approached the end of town, however, I came to a T in the road, and I chose the wrong way. I went about a mile and a half before I realized my error, but I decided to stop at a Family Dollar and get a can of soup before turning back around. As I locked up my bike outside the dollar store, I noticed a thorn sticking out of my rear tire. The tire was still inflated, so the thorn was obviously plugging its own hole. I had two choices: take the thorn out and have the tire go flat right then, or wait and let the road take its coarse and work the thorn out down the raod, maybe 100 yards, maybe 2 miles. No telling. So I removed the thorn, thinking this was a decent spot to patch the tube. I let the air drain out then went and purchased my food. I ate the can of soup in about 20 seconds, and decided to pull my bike to the side of the building to do the work, out of the way.
After I had patched the hole and was beginning to put everything back together, I realized that I did not have my waist pack on me. It wasn’t around my waist, and it didn’t seem to be in my pile of bags on the ground. It had been sitting on top of my rear rack when I rolled my bike through the parking lot, and it must have fallen off then. I started getting terribly worried. It had been about 15 minutes since I left the storefront. My heart sank at the prospect of losing my wallet and camera. Just as I was about to frantically round the corner of the building, a car pulled up next to me with a family inside. A girl in the back asked my name. I had seen them in line in front of me in the store. When I told her the name on my IDs, she produced my pack from the floor at her feet. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Washed with relief. After they drove off, I checked to make sure everything was still there, although I knew it would be. I can’t imagine they would have sought me out if they were going to take anything. I only had about three dollars in my wallet.
So with my tire inflated, I set back down the road in the correct direction. The day had become hot. A sign I passed said the temperature was 77. Riding down the frontage road was relaxing, but it didn’t last long. Soon I had to get back on the freeway and join the traffic. I was tired, but I pedalled away. There was nothing along the way except farms for miles and miles. I reached a rest stop at Colorado City around five, and took a water and bathroom break. My destination of Lathrop State Park was still another 25 miles, and the sun was just about to retire behind the mountains. I took a look at a map, and the nearest camp ground seemed to be more than ten miles to the west. I weighed my options. Going west would be a shorter distance, and I might have a chance of reaching the camp before dark, but then I would be ten or more miles out of the way, and I would probably have a lot of uphill. Continuing south to my initial destination would take quite a while, at least two more hours, but probably more. That would mean riding in the dark on interstate 25. But I would be keeping my course, heading in the right direction.
I’m not sure why I felt it was the best choice, but I decided to continue on to the south, to aim for Lathrop State Park. I knew there was nothing in between where I was and the park, save the town of Walsenburg, which is just a few miles from the park. So it was all or nothing. I went for it with gusto! Somehow I found some reserves of energy and strength to push myself along down the highway, up some big hills. The sky grew dark within about a half hour and a starry and moonless sky watched over me for two hours. My bike light does not throw adequate light to safely navigate the debris-littered shoulders of an interstate, so I had to hold another flashlight in my hand to light the way. Passing cars and trucks also helped in my endeavor. Throughout the darkness, I was only snagged by one road gator, and I noticed it just before I hit it, so I was able to swerve and only catch a small tail of it.
By the time I reached Walsenburg, I was utterly exhausted and starving. My energy was waning quickly. I debated stopping in at a restaurant and getting a hot, cooked meal. In the end, I figured it would be faster and I could get to bed more quickly if I just rode the rest of the way to camp and cooked while I set up my hammock. So I passed through town, passed the bar-b-que place, passed the family restaurant, passed the old-style tavern. I thought to myself at one point that if I were to come across a mexican restaurant still open, I might change my mind about stopping. Everything was closed.
I passed out of town, and the streetlights ended. I pulled my flashlight out again and began climbing uphill toward the campground. About a mile out of town, I heard a strange noise as I weaved over the while line on the road. I stopped to check things out and noticed that my rear tire was losing air. Another flat. I was in complete darkness, save my flashlight and a slight glow from the stars above. I had no idea what was around me, and there were big trucks coming through, even at this time of night on this smaller highway. I decided quickly that there was no way in hell that I was going to deal with fixing my flat there on the side of the road. I had noticed a motel just before the edge of town that had rooms for 40 bucks. I figured that was probably the cheapest around, and I turned myself around and began walking my bike back toward town.
It took me about 20 minutes to walk back to the motel. I stopped in and requested a room. The owner there noticed my flashing rear bike light and said he had seen me going down the interstate. He and his wife were very friendly, but they did not offer a discount. Damn. I didn’t really expect it, but one can always hope. I put the room on my credit card. The room was decent: two beds, a tv, fridge, and shower. That was all I needed. I cooked some food on my stove in the room and ate a big meal. Then I took a long, hot shower. By the time I got to bed, it was nearly midnight.
I slept fantastically, woke up around 7:30, had some free breakfast, courtesy of the hotel, and fixed my flat. By the time I packed up and set out on the road, it was a little after ten. I left town and headed up the hill again. I thought about how I was pretty glad I had stopped where I did, that I had avoided climbing this hill the night before. It turned out to be quite a bit further to the campground than I had thought, and it would have taken me at least another half hour to hour to reach the place from where I got my flat. Best to keep the positives in mind.
The rest of the day was incredibly tough, but I was fairly relaxed throughout, after my night of great sleep. The day took me into the mountains, reaching a summit of 9413 feet, my highest point of biking yet. Reaching that point was grueling. I had to take it one stroke at a time, stopping at least every half hour for a short break. The sun was hot and the wind was in my face, making the climbing even more exhausting. I reached the summit of the pass just before three, and I felt that was fairly good time to have climbed the 3000 feet up some steep grades. At the top, as I was setting up to take a picture of my bike next to the sign proclaiming the elevation, a guy in a passing truck flipped me off. He was a young guy, around my age, sitting in the passenger seat of a pickup truck. Such a stupid and meaningless gesture, given the context, but it’s funny how something like that stays with you. It’s not that it made me mad. I didn’t take it personally. But the incident constantly reentered my mind throughout the day. I kept wondering to myself why someone would do that and why those kinds of people have to be dealt with. Oh well, it’s not worth dwelling upon now.
With the summit reached, I was looking forward to some sweet downhills. And there were. Unfortunately, the wind did not allow me to enjoy them. The fruits of my labor were bitter, and I had to pedal all the way down the other side of the mountain. I stopped at the entrance of a park at the bottom of a big hill to enjoy a snack. As I was just about to head back onto the road, a man in a pickup truck pulling out of the park road stopped and asked if I was headed up the pass. I told him I had just come over it, was heading toward Fort Garland, and asked how far it was. He said it was ten miles and asked if I wanted a ride. I debated in my mind for a minute whether I wanted a ride. I was surely tired, but I knew I was capable of making that ten miles and the fifteen more to San Luis, my destination for the day. Still, this man seemed friendly, I was exhausted, and I was a bit worried about making my destination before nightfall. I did not want to ride in the dark again. So I took the man up on the offer, and we threw my bike in the back of his truck.
He was a friendly man, a real estate agent in the area. We talked about homes and land prices in the area. He dropped me off in the heart of Fort Garland and handed me ten bucks before he left. He suggested I try to find a ride down to San Luis, but I opted to ride. I figured it was going to be fairly flat, and I was right. The last sixteen miles of the day went along nicely, with the sun beginning it’s tired descent toward the low-lying mountains to the west. I was very glad to have taken that ride, as I would not have made it to town before dusk.
In San Luis, I had a place lined up, courtesy of my aunt Karen. Getting a hold of the man, Thomas , however, was very difficult, as his cell phone does not work at his house. I had made contact with Thomas earlier in the day, but I had no idea where he lived. I asked around in town, and the two people I asked knew the general location of his place, but not exactly. They knew he lived several miles down a side road, out towards the mountains. I still couldn’t get a hold of him, so I had no choice but to just set out in that direction and hope for the best. It would be dark very soon. Luckily Thomas knew I coming and met me only a mile or so down the road. We threw my bike in the back of his truck, and he drove the last six miles or so to his house.
Thomas owns a ranch with plenty of acreage. His house is a work in progress, but very beautiful, with some fantastic art inside. When we got there, his friend (whose name escapes me at the moment, and I feel terrible about that) was preparing dinner, incuding homemade tortillas, chili, and a corn and pork stew. (The name of the dish also escapes me; I must be tired.) It was all delicious. Afterwards, we watched a movie then went to bed. This morning, his friend cooked a fantastic breakfast. Thomas insisted on giving me a ride that day to Taos. I felt fit to ride, but I thought it might be alright to just take the ride. I probably needed the day off from riding after crossing the mountains, and Thomas and his friend were so kind to offer.
So we drove down to Taos, stopping at a hot spring next to the Rio Grande along the way. Now I am in Taos, at the library. I have had some decent tacos and some good chili. Now I am heading down to Rancho de Taos to stay with a friend of Brother Sebastians. I should get going. I think the library is closing. Tomorrow I am heading further south to Santa Fe. Hopefully I will be couchsurfing there.