The peak(s) of my trip
Colorado has been glorious. I knew immediately after crossing the state line that Colorado would literally and figuratively be the peak of my Bike and Build trip. As much as I was dreading leaving the lovely predictable flatlands of Nebraska, my excitement burgeoned as we rode closer to the mountains. The terrain changed noticeably from green and yellow pastures to red and purple mesas. When we entered Loveland, the day before entering the Rocky Mountains, we did a leisurely hike to Devil's Backbone, a really incredible formation of rocks jutting up like a spine, with the Rockies in the distance. As we watched the sun set over the mountains, the wispy clouds above bathed in pink and orange, I nearly cried of joy in anticipation of the beautiful days we had ahead of us.
I've found it hard to describe how beautiful Colorado's landscapes are, and the feeling I get as we glide through them. Mostly, I'm filled with awe, pride, and appreciation -- emotions that far overpower my exhaustion and mental struggle from the physical challenge of climbing up a mountain on a bike.
Let me attempt first to describe our epic ascents. We're very often on the edge of the mountain. Looking on one side, the mountainside is like a wall and we're aware of how much more mountain we have; on the other, the edge drops off and we see how much we've already accomplished. As we pedal up at a slow 5-6 mile per hour pace, the achievement is very visible; the tops of trees gradually become lower until we're above them, and the wall of mountain becomes shorter until we can see the top. The valleys become deeper and more jaw-dropping, and it gets harder and harder to breathe. When we finally reach the summit and are flooded with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and relief, we can take a few seconds (or hours) to take in the incredible view under the clouds that now feel so close.
The clouds. Indulge me in a brief tangent. I'm not sure what it is, but Colorado's clouds are the most majestic I've seen. Big, fluffy white cumulus clouds against the bluest sky. The kind that you want to jump on, like a big pile of warm laundry. Perhaps I appreciate them so much because I feel so close to them; at such high elevations, I sometimes think the flat bottoms are only several hundred feet higher than I am. And in the early mornings and late evenings, the sky is also covered in wispy clouds, like cotton candy strewn across the now purple and pink sky. I thought Kansas and Nebraska had epic sunrises and sunsets, but the clouds here make them even more breathtaking.
Anyway, I can't decide if the descents down the mountain passes are more or less satisfying than the climbs. I mean, it's obviously great to not have to do any work really, even though I do find it a bit nerve-racking to go down switchbacks. My favorite descents fall into two categories I've created: the canyons, and the vast landscapes. I am not skilled enough to describe how incredible the canyon descents are. We sail down the road that winds between the tall walls of red rock that enclose us. With the breeze and sense of freedom, I definitely feel like I embody the water flowing in the river beside us. By the time I reach the bottom, I'm left feeling exhilarated, serene, and empowered. As for the descents down vast landscapes, I hardly feel like I'm moving at all. Looking up from the road, I'm surrounded by mountains and hills and sky so expansive that everything seems to stay still as I descend. It makes the earth feel so grand, and makes me feel so minute.
Leaving the Rockies and heading towards Utah, the landscape noticeably began to change from pine tree covered mountains to red rock mesas and canyons, which I may have enjoyed even more! Due to a lucky reroute, we ended up biking to the top of the Colorado National Monument for our first night of camping. The road, as with most of our beautiful climbs in Colorado, weaved along the edges, which meant every turn had a spectacular view. I decided to ride alone for this part of the ride, so that I could bask in the all of the amazingness. I must have stopped at least 20 times to take pictures, and every turn was an even better view. It's hard to believe that such deep canyons and standalone rock formations were created naturally by erosion (and other geological processes I don't remember).
I've really loved Colorado. We've stayed in a lot of mountain/ski towns, which have all been absolutely adorable and quaint. I could definitely see myself living in Colorado, although I'm sure I'd soon feel a bit unsatisfied by the small town life. I do think I'd be great at acclimating to the high elevation; I seem to be the only one on this trip without any altitude sickness!
In my extracycling life, I've been pretty diligent about hitting up the local brewery in each of the towns we've stayed. Loveland Ale, Amicas (in Salida), Gunnison Brewing Company, and Horsefly Brewing Co (in Montrose) have all successfully quenched my thirst. My stamp of approval doesn't mean much when it comes to beer, but maybe I'll be a connoisseur by the time I return home. I haven't had a Coors Light in Colorado yet; I do think I need to do that as a symbolic gesture to my beer-pong college drinking days.
On a separate note, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has sent me mail! I love love LOVE hearing from people and have decided to totally take up letter writing when I return to San Francisco funemployed. However, PLEASE do let me know if you did send something and I haven't posted a picture of it! Sometimes mail can arrive late or get lost, and in the case of one mail drop (Montrose, CO), the zip code on our website was wrong and may cause some mail to get lost! So just shoot me a text or email if you did send something!
Finally, I'll let my pictures describe the rest of the colorful Colorado experience I've had! I couldn't narrow down all of the pictures I wanted to share. They don't nearly depict how amazing it is to see it with your own eyes, but just imagine them to be 1000x more beautiful and awesome.
Happy August everyone!