What To Expect When You’re Expecting The Unexpected

If you told me at 2:ooPM on Friday that four hours later, I’d be panicking and desperate, I would have been offended. Everything was going perfect, so how could I possibly lose my cool?

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I left the beautiful campgrounds south of Denver at Chatfield State Park and headed south towards the ever-threatening Interstate 85, since that was the only way to access anything southward in Colorado. The staff at REI told me to expect road work that I could use to my advantage to avoid traffic, and I did; only about 300 yards of my trek were actually beside bustling mid-day traffic.

From there, it turned into the best touring of my life.

Route 105 is a gem in Colorado. You gain about 2,500 feet of elevation heading for Palmer Lake, but the climbs are slow and steady with rolling downhills breaking the monotony. All of the properties are the ranches and winter cottages for the Colorado area mega-rich, making for manicured fields and fences, stunningly preserved natural topography, breathtaking views of the front range, and a perfect road. I had a close encounter with more mule deer, including a stag. The mesa that had been on my horizon all week in Denver was brought into sharp relief as I circled it on my way to Palmer Lake.

Palmer Lake was a delightful town on the way to Monument. I stopped and had lunch and did a bit of work, then headed for Colorado Springs. Just before Colorado Springs, however, Google Maps put me on a bike trail — and what a trail.

Mile after mile of sand and gravel. How exciting! I could barely control the bike; I was skidding and fishtailing like crazy. Twice I had to bail to plant my feet to keep from biting it, and three times a sharp incline forced me to dismount rather than shift under pressure. I had the time of my life. By 2:00pm, I was mid-way through Colorado Springs.

Here’s where it gets bad:

South of Colorado Springs, I expected there to be plenty of stealth camping sites alongside the trail, which ran much further past Fountain, CO. I was dead wrong. The urban jungle of Colorado Springs, replete with 6-lane superhighways and 4-way intersections, transformed into mile after mile of heavy industry. Truck traffic, silos, smoke, fencing, power lines, and highway were everywhere. The trail fell to bits; I had to balance my way on foot trails that detoured around huge sections of the rushing Platte river where the trail had fallen away, leaving 15-foot escarpments. It was terrifying. I fell several times.

As night fell, I was still riding. 50 miles turned to 60, then 70. The homeless and impoverished had camps set up alongside the trail, pushing shopping carts laden with couch cushions into the forest. People were walking when there wasn’t a residence within ten miles. Nobody looked friendly.

I felt unsafe. I felt panicky. I rode in the dark with my lights on for two hours. Finally, I decided on a small flat area of ground next to the river underneath towering power line towers, about 300 feet from the Ronald Reagan highway. It was better than nothing. I used my bivy instead of my tent and hid my bike behind some bushes, and went to sleep. When I woke up, the temperature was 20 degrees and everything I owned was caked in frost; my water bottles were frozen solid.

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This was the lowest point of the tour for me. I wasn’t happy with southern Colorado. The positives of Denver and Palmer Lake and Highway 105 seemed to disappear with the hardship. It’s moments like this when solo travel becomes the biggest challenge. My plans fail, i’m backed into a corner, and there’s nobody there to shrug it off with you. You’re completely alone.

To be continued…

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