Since I last posted, I have ridden six times, traversed all of Colorado (with help, of course), and slept very little. If weather dominated the conversation during the first few days (everyone talks about it, but no one can do anything about it), then sleep has replaced weather talk. Because the weather forced us to fall so miserably behind in terms of time, which waits for no man (the plan was to cover 400 plus miles each day), we moved to an insane Riding schedule that called for four of us riding two hours over the course of an eight hour shift. Our team, Rt. Reverend Mark Hollingsworth, Carl Petterson, Dan Orr, and I, started our first climb in the Rockies around 7 in the evening on Monday just west of Dolores, Colorado. Our plan was to travel from Delores to Montrose, passing through Stoner, Rico, Telluride, Sawpit, Ridgeway, and Colona. The first ascent (from 7,000 to 10,020 feet) was gradual but noticeable, as each one of us took an hour, climbing in the twilight and then complete dark. We had two ascents, both to over 10,000 feet. We dropped down after each one, and then started anew the next climb. Each time my shift started, I was rewarded with a nice long, challenging, gradual climb. The cycling in Utah steeled me for this task, and I came to expect and enjoy climbs every time I positioned myself in my saddle.
Now, envy, as we know, is a deadly sin, and I started to become envious of the Bishop, for every time that I seemed to climb for a full hour, he would reap the benefits with a long descent. While in the car with Carl and Dan, I expressed my envy plaintively! At one point, I wasn’t as envious of his having such a luxurious downhill, as he wiped out crossing onto smoother pavement. Luckily he was okay—able to continue riding—but watching from the Prius, we were unsettled to see him fall and hit his head on the pavement—he cracked his helmet. There were also light moments as we watched him descend: a badger or a porcupine crossed his path, and Carl, Dan, and I spent the better part of an hour arguing whether it was one or the other—we still don’t know! Each evening ride provided us with the opportunity to see such interesting animals, which appeared from the brush. One of our most favorites has been the deer, which prance and hop like mountain goats when they cover the rocky terrain in Colorado. It is as if they have adapted to the mountainous terrain with their unique and arresting jumping. They also seem to like bicyclists, as they often follow alongside us—from a safe distance—before crossing the road.
When Mark returned to the vehicle and was informed of my obvious envy, he commented, “The best cure for a case of envy is a surfeit of the coveted thing.” Well, the next time I jumped on for my shift, at 2 or so in the morning, I climbed after Daniel had started a good, steep climb (soon after we had passed Telluride) for six miles. I climbed for five full miles before reaching the summit and then flying downhill into Ridgeway, losing almost two thousand feet of elevation in seven frightening miles. Traveling down a mountain at 35-40 miles an hour can exhilarate and intimidate, but it takes on a new level of fear at 3 in the morning. I rode down with my hands positioned on the break, fearful of hitting uneven pavement, road debris, or even a jackrabbit, deer, or any wildlife not expecting a cyclist at that time in the morning. I did make it safely to Ridgeway and handed over the cycling duties to Carl, who road like the wind through town, averaging 23 miles per hour through the dark streets. Mark finished our turn, as we waited for the RV to pick us up. We finished our shift around 4:30 and turned in for a couple of hours.
Our next shift started precisely six hours after the last one, so we were up and climbing by 10 the next morning. Carl was eager to climb Monarch Pass, 11,312 feet and the site of the Continental Divide. Dan started us out on the climb, and then passed the baton to Mark, who climbed the first three miles of the nine-mile ascent to Monarch Pass. Carl jumped on his bicycle, as eager and as excited as anyone could possible be for the torture ahead—ah, youth. His climb was spectacular from every possible perspective: the vistas were dramatic, the elevation changes were steep, the hairpin turns were fierce, and the work was arduous. Carl and I had been joking about my holding the coveted Pokka-dotted climbing jersey (awarded during the Tour de France to the best hill climber), but I told him that were he to ascend Monarch Pass, I would happily relinquish the jersey. He climbed Monarch Pass like a mountain goat, maneuvering the steep switchback with relish and confidence. He summited the Pass just after noon, and we stopped to take in the accomplishment: 6 miles in 45 minutes! On his way up, he was greeted with great gusto by cyclists descending the Pass. He later told me that there were a number of inspirational and comical messages on the road as he climbed: “The Pain in your legs, is really in your head,” “Dude, don’t hurl on the shell; I just waxed it!” At the top, we met a group of cross-country cyclists who were spending 72 days crisscrossing the country: 60 days riding and 12 days building houses. They were a group called Bike N Build, and they were enjoying the view from Monarch Pass after their climb from the opposite direction. Starting in Providence, they are traveling to San Francisco, stopping along the way to help build housing. The group inspired us, and I was envious of the long time that they had to cross the country: 72 days to our 10!
Knowing the degree of ascent and descent and tiring of my whining, Carl deferred to me and let me have the descent. I flew down from Monarch Pass and the Continental Divide, averaging well over 35 miles an hour for the eight miles. Having sunlight this time, I enjoyed the descent, until a truck passed too closely and caught me momentarily in its wind, shaking me as it passed. Once at Ponca Springs, I passed the riding back to Dan and then he to Mark and then he to Carl, as we followed along the Arkansas River and watched with great envy from the bicycle seat or the car seat the white water rafters enjoying the River. I finished another shift, before Dan and Mark pedaled along a bit, waiting for the RV.
The RV had shot ahead of us because we had an accident while backing out: the bicycles on the back were bumped, and Kelly O’Connell and Steve Sedgwick’s bicycles were slightly damaged. The RV rushed ahead to Pueblo to have the bicycles repaired and to purchase a helmet for the Bishop after his fall. They met us west of Pueblo, and we started a new cycle of shifts, because we realized the one that we had—four of us riding for eight hours and three of us for six hours—was absolutely killing us all—I think that I had 4 hours of deep sleep over 48 hours. On a trip like this one, however, it is the small rewards that mean so much. Isaac spotted a Chipotle in Pueblo and encouraged the RV denizens to purchase us dinner. Nothing tasted so good as last night’s Burrito Bowl. After four or five days of every kind of cycling snack, something warm with rice, beans, and corn tasted so good; our first warm meal in days! Every thing has been turkey sandwiches, goo, granola bars, Cliff Bars, peanuts, and trail mix since Saturday. Chipotle could not have tasted better if it had been filet mignon.
Since we started a new riding pattern, with each two-person team responsible for five hours of riding, I watched as Isaac took off for his first real ride—and was he excited to discover this sweet, but dangerous descent for the first part of his ride. He took us 20 miles closer to Pueblo before Kelly and Steve took over, and I took a shower and went to bed at 9 PM PDT. Dan and I were scheduled to ride at 6 am, and we were delirious to take advantage of the potential rest. Of course, we both awoke three hours later ready to ride, but forced ourselves back to sleep and arose at 5:30, ready for our shift. Kelly and Steve took us to within two miles of Kansas, a state that had gained Eden-like stature in our minds, for we deeply desired to ride on flat terrain. Dan took off, and I followed alone in the Prius, grateful for the time alone to collect my thoughts and to call my wife and wish her a Happy Anniversary—our 14th! Dan rode 20 miles in the warm Kansas morning, and then allowed me to ride. I rode 22 miles, passing the Central Time Zone sign, something that I had never seen posted before—a sign denoting a change in time. Kansas is flat, but it does roll a bit beneath one’s wheels, and it always looks as if there is a rise ahead, but rarely does it materialize (we actually dropped in elevation from Pueblo, 4,700 feet to Alexander, Kansas 2,050 feet). I enjoyed the undulating molehills this morning and the warming day—stated around 60 this morning and Dan and I finished after 11 at around 80 degrees. In Kansas, one can literally see for miles: when I first hopped on my bicycle, I saw a grain elevator in the distance. I thought that it was nearby, but it was actually more than two miles away. It dominated the landscape as the only signpost of life in the vicinity. As I rode, I would spot these elevators and ride toward them—there was almost nothing else to mark my passing, save cattle, corn, wheat, and billboards: “Are you on the Road to me?—God,” read one of the billboards. Considering what we are doing, raising over 100K to help stamp out Malaria, I was tempted to nod my head, “yes,” but we still have a long way to go. Route 96 stretched out before Dan and me, almost as straight as an arrow, as we passed through Tribune (named after Horace Greeley’s paper, for this native New Hampshirian stood up for the people of the plains and advocated for them), Selkirk, Leoti, and Scott City, eventually turning over our riding reigns to Mark and Isaac in Dighton, Kansas, some 90 miles into the Sunflower State. Along the way, I passed a rider on his bicycle between Scott City and Dighton, and he was cycling all the way to Virginia. I wish him safe passage.
Again, the simple pleasures take on more meaning in an RV with 11 people trying to find space: a place to sit; a place to eat; a shower; a clean, well-lighted stationary bathroom; cold drinks; chewing gum; jellybeans. We arrived in Dighton, sent Mark and Isaac, and then raided a convenience store, where I purchased Gatorade, Arizona Iced Tea—drank two of them in five minutes!—Smartfood, Trident, Beef Jerky, and jelly beans. My lunch time meal of turkey and cheese seemed like a feast, knowing that I had the Hutchinson News to read—did you read about the 842 mile golf course in Australia set to open west of Sydney or the tractor that was stolen from a worksite, which will cause delays in building a bridge here in Kansas?—iced tea, cold iced tea, to drink, and jelly beans to consume.
This trip has been rewarding on so many levels, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. The good news is that everyone is doing his or her best to step up to the challenges that living in an RV built for six people (Did I see someone sleeping on the floor last night?) provide and that we are doing what we can to better this world one mosquito net at a time—sleep be damned!