Saturday, September 17, 2016

Fort Morgan, Colorado

Unlike three years ago when I was caught by that "once in 500 years" deluge of twenty inches of rain in less than twenty-four hours in my crossing of Colorado, I have not had a drop of rain since I left Telluride a week ago.  But I was pelted by hail twice, both time as I neared the summits of high passes of over 11,000 feet--Fremont and Loveland.

The hail on Loveland was brief and inconsequential, but on Fremont it persisted for fifteen minutes or more, wetting the road and ruining my descent.  I had to brake so steadily that I wore out one of my rear brake pads and was scraping metal on metal.  It sounded much worse than it was, as I still had adequate braking power and only slightly marred the rim.  I didn't stop to replace the pad until I had completed the descent and escaped the hail.  

The excessive braking from my daily steep descent in Telluride and five passes afterwards weakened my front brake cable enough that it snapped a day later shortly after I crested Loveland Pass, the highest of the six passes I crossed this year at just under twelve thousand feet right on the Continental Divide.  It could have been catastrophic, but I was fortunate I was well below peak speed and could halt myself with my rear brake and by putting down my left foot. It happened just before a sharp hairpin turn.  If I had been going much faster when it broke I could have catapulted over the restraining wall and lost my bike and more.  

I had no warning whatsoever that my cable was weakening.  I am always wary on descents, but still push my limits and let it fly.  Only once before have I broken a cable on a steep descent, also on the front, which provides the bulk of the braking power.  It was in France on a wet road as I neared the finish of a long descent in the Alps and was entering a town with a round-about up ahead.  My rear brake hardly slowed me at all. I was lucky on that occasion to have a grassy rise, like a truck run-off lane, to veer off into, stopping just before a wall.  I doubt I would have been able to negotiate that round-about at the speed I was going.

Traveling by bike is an act of faith in many ways, from knowing I'll always find a place to camp at the end of the day to knowing that the truck roaring up behind me isn't going to run me off the road.  My years and thousands of miles of touring have only reinforced that faith.  And I had to cling to the faith that I would find my way down to Denver after Fremont Pass when it ended at Interstate 70 in a tight canyon more than seventy miles from the metropolis that hugs the high mountains.  

I had word that there was a series of bike paths and frontage roads paralleling the Interstate, but I had no map and the route was not as well marked as it could have been. At least cyclists were accommodated in a fashion through this narrow gap in the mountains. There were only a couple of short stretches where cyclists were forced to ride on the shoulder of 70, but even those weren't marked.  One simply had to know.

I repeatedly had to ask the way, sometime after going the wrong way and having to double back. I spent nearly half an hour in the Frisco Tourist Office poring over paper and Google Maps with the young woman on duty trying to find a route from there to Idaho Springs and its Carnegie Library. Two of my options were going via Loveland Pass or a much lower pass that wasn't paved and included a complicated array of dirt roads through the back country.  We finally allowed Google's bike route option to make the decision, which was climbing Loveland Pass.

A frontage road took me the final few miles from Georgetown into the old mining town of Idaho Springs.  It's Carnegie, still in its original state, stood proudly in the middle of the town, looking as gallant as the day it opened in 1904.  It's front door was open, letting in the cool fresh air.  A couple of teen-aged boys were tossing a football in the expanse of grass to its side.  Every table inside was occupied by someone with a computer.  I had to sit on a stool by an outlet to tend to my business.

I asked the librarian if he knew anything about the Carnegies in Denver.  I had made a circuit of eight of them last fall, but since learned that I had missed one, the lone academic library Carnegie had funded in Colorado on the University of Denver campus. Wikipedia had failed to list it.  The librarian didn't have first hand knowledge of it, but was able to find its address and also that it had been replaced by a much larger library and had been converted into the Student Union. The information he found wasn't entirely up to date, as when I made a long detour to the south of Denver to find it, I discovered it had been torn down over a decade ago.  That was a disappointment, but it did enable me to spend some extra time in Denver, following the Platte River part of the way.

I made my final 1,600 foot plunge into Denver down Lookout Mountain Road, which took me past the grave and museum of Buffalo Bill.  A steady stream of cyclists were climbing the road, more than I had seen since leaving Telluride.  Only one passed me on the descent, just as I was finishing it off.  We were caught my the same traffic light in Golden, northwest of Denver.  I asked the way from there to downtown Denver.  He led me for a mile to 32nd Street, which had a bike lane that would take me to the heart of the city.  It passed the sprawling Coors brewery.  A large crowd was awaiting a tour.

If I had known the University Carnegie had been torn down, I would have skipped Denver and headed directly to Fort Morgan to the north for my next Carnegie, saving me about four hours and quite a few miles of horrid urban traffic.  But I was in no rush, so didn't lament much.  

My route to Fort Morgan took me through the small town of Keenesburg.  A fellow touring cyclist I met last November at the School of Americas Vigil at Fort Benning in Georgia emailed with the news that he knew a cyclist who travels on a trike pulling a trailer who lived there.  He gave me his contact information including his Facebook page--Michaelonacycle.  When I arrived at his home, his garage door was open revealing his fabulously ornate trike adorned with all sorts of talismans and a huge solar panel forming a canopy over the cockpit that was packed with so many devices it might have been a 747.  

Michael is a tinkerer extraordinaire.  His bike has a music and lighting system worthy of a Rolling Stones concert.  His bike won the most creative award at the 2014 Recumbent Bike Rally in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.  He dropped in on it on during a six-month ride from his home in the Upper Peninsula to visit his mother in Keenesburg.  He had recently ended his marriage of twenty years and decided to divest himself of all he owned other than what he could carry on his bike.  He started out with over 300 pounds of gear lashed to his bike and on his trailer.  Even with a motor on his bike, that was a bit much and he pared down.  He eliminated one of his guitars, but not a mini that is made from a coffee can.  He also carries a harmonica.

Living on his bike he found that a small two-man tent was a bit confining, so he now carries a six-person tent he can stand up in.  He also carries a toilet he designed--an actual toilet seat attached to a bucket that has kitty litter in it.

It's not so easy to wildcamp with such a large contraption.  He often stays in Walmart parking lots.  He can drop curtains down around his cockpit and sleep there.  He is still fairly new to the touring life, but he is a full-fledged convert and wishes to make it his life, promoting solar energy and the simple life.  I couldn't get a photo of him in his cockpit as he'd recently taken a fall into his firepit and was too incapacitated to contort himself into that position, so I had to do it.  A tube dangles at his head to blow into for his horn.

It was a sunny, but cool day without a hint of a wind, ideal for cycling.  Unfortunately, Michael was several days away from being able to ride his bike, so he couldn't accompany me out into the wide open terrain.  But he did send me off with a bag of cherry tomatoes from his garden and some of his home-made beef jerky and a box of triscruits and some nuts and raisins.  I left him with a black pillow case I'd found along the road adorned with guitars, a perfect sack he said for some of his gear.

I didn't make it to Fort Morgan, over fifty miles away, until the next day.  The streets around the library were closed off and filled with old cars and old tractors.

The Carnegie though had been swallowed up by a huge addition.  It's original walls were indistinguishable from the new.  No remnants remained, not even in the museum that adjoined the library, just a photo of a gala celebration around the library.

It was a disappointing finish to this year's Colorado Carnegie quest of four libraries, two of which were still in fine shape.  I have now visited 29 of the 30 still standing Carnegies in the state.  There were 36.  The only one I have yet to get to is in Trinidad in the southeast corner of the state.  I will make it my first destination next year after Telluride.  Colorado will then become the first state that I will have have visited all its Carnegies. 


T.C. O'Rourke said...

Hail, egads man!

Michael Saari said...

You and your travels are very inspirational. So glad to have met you. Sorry about all the goat heads.

Bill Burns said...

George, make sure you've got the brakes to ride those mountain passes, man! I mean whatta way to go, but y'know...once you've gone...

I don't know, but you don't seem very keen on gambling. Why tempt fate? As many mountain passes as you ride each year, both here in the states and every summer in France, you should be sure to carry some spare cables and pads. Maybe you already do. If so, great. Safe travels!

Bill in KC