I’d have been disappointed if the end of my trek down Colorado’s front range was anything but violent, exhausting, and exhilarating. Skip to “The Crash” to read about a crash.
Mike and I set off east out of Colorado Springs. He asked me to navigate, and I warned him how infamously terrible I was at navigating, but he just responded that he “had all day.” To my own shock, we managed to get out of the city in no time with a stop at a grocery store for supplies. I might’ve said “left” when I meant “right” almost every time, but I did know where I was going, and we found our route without any trouble at all.
Rt. 94 turned to flat, slightly rolling open highway in no time at all. With Pike’s Peak directly behind us, the wind event blew down the rockies at full force, giving us a ferocious tailwind that gusted around 60mph. We covered 40 miles in 2 hours. I’m not sure if I can properly translate how ridiculously quick that is for flat ground and 60+lb touring bikes- we literally flew across the plains, a majestic skyscape off our starboard side. After ten miles, we saw a sign: 95 miles with no automobile services.
Sounds like a challenge.
The high winds blew nearly every tumbleweed out of the ground. These thorny bushes are evolutionarily prone to rip up and disperse seeds, and despite their heavy use in the american lexicon of all things Western, they’re actually an invasive species called Russian Thistle. These were out in droves; thousands of them piled against property fences, spilled across the roadway, became lodged in the bumpers and brushguards of passing vehicles, and kamikaze’d into our spokes. We had to stop frequently to dislodge them.
A few miles outside of Rush, Colorado, a huge field of tumblers blew across the road. A huge gust of wind swirled up tons of dust and shifted hundreds of them in one flat mass across the highway. We saw it up ahead of us, but we’d been narrowly avoiding tumbleweeds for the past two hours. I was feeling cocky.
The mass was shifting off of our shoulder, so I forged ahead without touching my brakes. The weeds cleared. Once they emptied the shoulder, I saw a lift in the asphalt about two feet high, like a volcanic Hawaiian island. I had to hug the shoulder to avoid it, but scattered around its base was several feet of asphalt chunks, most of them as thick as a Webster’s dictionary.
I locked in. I probably yelled “Oh, Shit!” I don’t remember. It wasn’t that the weeds had covered the mass; it was much too large for that. The tumbleweeds were a distraction. I spent so much time avoiding one peril, I landed in another. I gripped both my handlebars like death, not even touching my brakes (which was probably correct, Mike would later inform me). I hit the chunks, asphalt ricocheting through my spokes, and the bike lost control. I fishtailed for a solid 6 seconds before crashing down at 25mph, slamming my head on the pavement and grinding my body to a halt with a crunching I can still hear.
My first words were “Let me recuperate for a second.” I sat up and my shirt and wind jacket were shredded. Nothing hurt yet, but there was a lot of blood. Mike pulled up to block traffic (there wasn’t any, thank god) and then informed me I’d bent my front wheel. I looked around at the vast expanse of staggering emptiness and felt utterly dejected. I cursed a lot, confessed that I felt embarrassed, and thought a lot about crashing in Montreal. While I was sitting on the ground, my front tire shattered the silence by spontaneously bursting.
Mike replaced my front tire while I picked pebbles out of my flesh. I had a massive scrape on my hip that extended down my thigh, and my fingers and elbow were similarly shredded. My upper torso got scraped, too. Remarkably, my bike shorts survived with a tiny nick, so I wasn’t left naked on the side of the road, but my wool shirt was a shredded, bloody mess. My helmet had a big dent and a scrape in it, so I was keen on throwing it out for a new one as soon as possible.
We hobbled to a Cafe 3 miles down the road. They had no phones that reached a non-local line, so we couldn’t even call Denver. My folks didn’t even know I was headed east because of how quickly everything happened. There was no bail option outside of begging for charity. I cleaned and dressed my wounds in the bathroom, scaring a few farmers with my tight shorts and a bloody sink.
We slept that night behind the local church. I felt okay. I wasn’t upset. Roll with it, Max, roll with it.
The next morning, Mike trued my front wheel as best he could. “You’re gonna get maybe 400 miles, and then you’ll start popping spokes,” he told me. The bike was sluggish but operational, so we filled up on water and took off. We were headed for La Junta’s amtrak station, since we both were getting depressed at the prospect of Kansas.
We had originally intended to break up 75 miles over two days, but Mike had three coffees in the morning and I had the testosterone boost only bleeding wounds can provide. We rode the first 50 miles by 2PM, seeing a few houses and yelling off two farm dogs. After breaking for a few minutes, we decided to just get to La Junta; by mile 65 or so we had reached the junction between 71 and 50. La Junta was, supposedly, some 20 miles further, so we pushed again. I was feeling masochistic, so I didn’t mind; Mike was exhausted and dejected at the distance, but we pushed on. I’d tell myself “Just 19 more” and then realize it was 26, and then count down some more. It felt like days passed. I was leaking blood into my wool shirt and pants; the cuts on my fingers closed, cracked, and reopened in the dry air. We fought a headwind all the way south. 75 miles turned out to be 89, so it was a long day.
Finally, we landed in La Junta. The hotel room Mike insisted on (who was I to protest?) felt like an oasis. The continental breakfast was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had. By the next day, I had the bike packed and I was on a train home for the holidays. I gave my helmet to Mike, who had none.
So, how do I feel?
Happy. Enormously so. I keep planning 2-month epics that turn into 1-2 week excursions, and that’s ok. I toured one of the emptiest, hilliest, driest, highest areas of the United States in the worst possible season and survived, with stories, and I had overcome every single touring nightmare imaginable. A new rim was only putting me back $100, so the bike was going to be fine. I’m so glad I went, so glad I pushed myself, so glad I ignored the warning signs and learned about the worst stuff the hard way.
Time to plan the next one…