Day 38: Tough road to Westcliffe

by James

Day 38, June 24th; morning light streamed into a bedroom and I sensed nothing but quiet. I rolled around, trying to forget what day it was and what I knew the day would entail.

That day, we’d be leaving Pueblo and entering into the Rocky Mountains. Getting up was difficult and wonderful1 for a variety of reasons.

When I finally did rise, around 10AM, I found Mike downstairs. He’d been up for at least an hour and a half. He’d changed, cleaned Food Bag 2, adjusted my rear derailleur, and did not appear pleased with my late arrival. He told me brusquely that he was going out for food and would be back in a few minutes. I said okay.

I mimed through a morning routine, cleaning my teeth and dropping contacts in. I walked back upstairs to find Patti in the kitchen. She heated the remains of her breakfast burrito for me, which I promptly scarfed down.

Mike returned and we assembled for inspection by the front door. Patti hugged Mike, then held me awhile. We shared a goodbye peck, then she jumped in the Honda and drove off to work, passing us as we pedaled down the street. She blew me a kiss and I tried to ramp my memory up so I could stow the vision for later, when I’d need it more.

We rode through Pueblo, just grazing its nerve center and cutting out west to 78. I asked myself why I was leaving this place, responding in rapid succession that I wanted to finish this trip. The same back-and-forth resurfaced many times.

Outside of Pueblo, civilization dropped off quickly. Before an hour, all I could see was sandblasted desert and orange mesas rising up out of a jagged floor. We pedaled on into the quiet heat and I felt a little creeped out.

Into the desert.

After passing a sign for a federal wildlife office, I realized that I’d forgotten to fill my water-bottles. I yelled over to Mike as much. He dismounted and stood on the shoulder while I hightailed onto the exit, past an archery range, and to a lone structure in the middle of a sandy nothing.

I walked into the office, bottles in tow, and a portly man in a chair spun around and gave me a look that would suggest I was trying to lift 18th-century art. I asked him if I could use his water-fountain, conveniently positioned by the door, and he gave me the big okay.

I filled the bottles and pedaled back to Mike, who was waiting patiently.

The two of us glided further into the desert. Very abruptly and without my full awareness, the scenery became lush2.

We approached a stretch of road that rose steeply in grade, looking like a highway to some lower mezzanine of heaven. I yelled to Mike that it had been nice knowing him. Here come the Rockies.

We started the climb and, shortly into it, spotted a small grocery on the side of the road. Large, white letters on the roof advertised “STORE.” We stopped into the place, which was cute, and munched on gas-station sandwiches and talked about the terrifying climb ahead.

We finished up with lunch, exited store, and resumed the climb. I leaned into the hill, grunting. We kept at it and ended 4000 vertical feet later, our jerseys soaked with sweat in receipt.

Scenery during the climb.

After we’d finished the ascent for the day, I was greeted with an awesome view of the next round of Rockies. I set my bike down to snap a few pictures of the incredible vista, Mike far ahead by that point.

The sky was like nothing I'd ever seen before.
Are those things intimidating or what?
Not Photoshop, just Colorado.

I caught back up with Mike and we snapped some pictures. Afterwards, we ran into a biker who had quit the Washington, DC life to move here. His license plate was “DCGUI.”

He's not really that dark. Yet.
Hey, rockies.

We rolled into Westcliffe, our destination for the night, exhausted but pleased. We locked up next to the first restaurant on the east side of town and walked in. A thick, middle-aged woman seated us and took our orders — beers and pasta. I fell asleep three times during dinner, each time waking up almost immediately with a snap of the head3.

We paid up and left, heading south a few miles to a campground. On the way down, I felt a cold, jittery ache run down my body. Probably just the wind hitting my sweat. Maybe fever.

Through Westcliffe.

We hung a right and pedaled carefully down a dirt road. Dirt roads are tough: you’ve gotta watch your balance and try to let the road guide your bike, otherwise you’ll shift your weight one way and the tires will go another.

Down the dirt road.

The campground was situated at the foot of the mountains; there was no human object between the rectangular patches of grass open to campers and the bases of the rocky inclines. Each patch of grass had its own tree. The campsites were extremely scenic and comfortably out of place in the open expanse.

I sauntered into the front office to find a man, graying and probably in his forties, bumbling around the desk. I asked for a campsite and found out that he and his wife had bought this place recently and were fixing it up.

I gave him plastic and he showed me around to the bathrooms (!), which included showers (!!!), and a laundry facility (!). He then showed us to our plot of grass, which had an area specifically designated for tents by a perimeter of cinderblocks.


I rejoined Mike outside of the front office and found him talking to a Texan couple. John and his other half, both faculty at a high school, were really interested in the trip and asking lots of questions in a slow, sure drawl. We enjoyed talking to the two; John promised to bring us over a few beers and offered us chili, which we declined4 after having had dinner.

I showed Mike to our plot and we set up the tent, which at this point is nearly automatic. John showed up with two cold bottles of Shiner Bock and we about swooned. We said thanks and I, fearing whatever caused the chills from earlier, downed my signature cocktail, which consists of acetaminophen (1000mg) and a men’s multivitamin washed back with dark beer5.

The cocktail worked. I hit the sleeping bag like it owed me.


  1. mostly wonderful

  2. We found that a rapid transition between arid and green was typical around the pueblo area.

  3. flashbacks from high school

  4. stupid, I know

  5. Mike doesn’t believe in painkillers or vitamins, so he didn’t partake. Too bad for him.

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