Day 17 - Two Worlds

Estes Park Travel Blog

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My shadow and I, leaving Boulder for Lyons at 7 am. -Boulder, CO

Miles: 55.5
Departure from Boulder: 6:50 am
Arrival in Estes Park: 3:12 pm
Saddle/Total Time: 6:31:52/8:22
Average Speed: 8.4 mph
Wrong Turns: 1
Temperature: 81*F
Money Spent: $18.65

Today, I rode up a mountain on my bike.

A man pedals up alongside me halfway to Lyons today on Hwy 36. He asks where I'm going, so I tell him. "Which way you going up there?"

"Saint Vrain," I say.


"What's it like?"

"It's steeper, but prettier. And there is less traffic. Much better than taking Highway 36 all the way.

Where Highway 36 splits the difference. -Lyons, CO
.. You stopping in Lyons? Check out the Barking Dog café. Great pastries." The man looks old, he and an older woman accelerate past me.

When I stop in Lyons at 8:15 am, just beneath the mountains, I find the Barking Dog and have a cherry pastry. It is great, especially since I know I will need it. A young woman with black hair and a black dress and a blackish dog at the café is sitting at an adjacent table outside. "Is that your bike?" she asks. She tells me she bikes quite a bit herself, and asks me the usual questions: where you going, where you from... "I used to date a guy from Wisconsin. He grew up in this small town... the name escapes me at the moment. We called him a 'dirty sconnie.' He didn't mind it, though. There are lots of Wisconsinites out here.

Fifteen or twenty miles up the mountain from Lyons. -Lyons, CO
" I think about how many people I knew in Wisconsin who moved to Colorado. I can't count them on my fingers anymore. She, too asks me which route I'm taking up to Estes. "Highway 7?"

"Saint Vrain."

"Highway 7," she says again. "That's the best way. Even just a few miles outside the town, it's already gorgeous."

Filling my water in a nearby park, a woman that looks deadly serious about biking stops notices my setup and talks to me. She also tells me to take Highway 7. I learn the both Highways, 7 and 36, are Saint Vrain; one is South and one is North, respectively. The woman tells me Highway 7 is a little bit longer. "It's probably... 37 miles once you leave Lyons. I came down that way this morning. There's less traffic, it's been recently repaved, and there's a shoulder.

Nearing Allenspark. -Allenspark, CO
" As I'm about to leave, she tells me one more thing: "There's a spring about 20 miles up, close after the turn-off for Highway 72. You will descend a long hill. Before you start going back up the next hill, there's a quick left and it will be in there a little ways." I thank her for the advice.

Now, this I have to seriously consider. With the amalgamated information I've gathered from the locals, each route has pros and cons that balance them just about even. While Highway 7 has been suggested by everyone, it is a whopping 20 miles longer than Highway 36, and its steeper, prettier; it's the scenic route. Highway 36, on the other hand, is far more direct, with a gentler grade, is still rather scenic (it, too, goes into the mountains), but it has no shoulder and is clogged with tourists on Friday through Sunday afternoons.

Just down from Allenspark. -Allenspark, CO
I get the impression that once tourists start coming up to Estes Park, Highway 36 would be a miserable, miserable time.

I recall on my Clif Bar packages how Gary, the owner, lives his life by the little "white lines" on the map instead of the big "red" lines. You're going to laugh, but I followed Gary's advice; it's not about the destination, it's about the journey. On a practical level, I realize I won't be able to make it all the way to Estes until tourists hit.

At the T-intersection, left is Highway 7 and right is Highway 36. I go left.

I feel like I've been learning at least one thing big everyday. Today, it was the value of a pound. With mostly 5-7% inclines all the way up, all of my gear was dreadful to me. I stopped often and rode my lowest gear all the way up, amidst the pines and streams and switchbacks. Yet, even my lowest gear was not low enough in some spots. On a few occasions, I had to get off and walk my bike. I walked it probably a total of 2.5 miles, and at 3 mph walking, it took time. Sometimes, it came as a relief to my saddle soarness, though. The glass is half full. The glass is half full.

At one point, even though I was walking the bike, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy. I was going up the side of a mountain... and with all this stuff! without the help of any motorized vehicle. I resolved to, no matter what, refrain from hitching a ride with anyone.

Nearing the end of my water supply, I pass the turn-off for Highway 72 and start down the hill. I'm looking for the "quick left," see it, then take it. It takes me back into the woods a little ways. It appears to be a private drive. I see the spring and the pump, in the middle of the woods, back behind a barbed fence that has a No Trespassing sign on it, down and back up from a 15-foot gully. There's a house nearby it. The only way to get to it is through the house's backdoor and through their yard. I'm wondering if this is the place; I don't know why the park woman back in Lyons would tell me to get water from a private reservoir. I decide to forgo it and see if I can't find water up the ways a bit.

After walking to the top of one of the first peaks, in Allenspark, CO, I can see that I would get to coast for a little ways. It was a little past noon and so I pulled off for some lunch. Stopping at gate, the house was being built and a man was riding out on a motorcycle. He introduced himself as Dan. "Grab a bottled water from the fridge, if you want." I later find out from the construction workers that Dan is the owner of the house. It must be a multi-million dollar property, overlooking valleys and other grandiosities. One of the workers lends me a folding chair so I can sit and eat. Another, older worker comes, kneels by me and we start a conversation. He is impressed by what I'm doing. "I did someting like this when I was your age. Watch out for the drivers out here. It's not the locals you have to worry about, it's the tourists distracted by the mountains, not paying any attention, and suddenly they'll wack you. Also, watch yourself from here to Estes Park; the weather is unpredictable." The man points to a peak behind and to the right of the largest mountain-system that can be seen. "That's Estes Cone," he says. "If that disappears, you're in trouble." He warns me that yesterday, bikers were seeking refuge from here to Estes from huge hailstones. "That stuff'll beat you up quick."

I am invited inside to fill my water containers before I leave. To be honest, these next 17 miles into Estes Park seem shorter; uneventful. No hailing. Seven or eight miles of it is downhill. In fact, in several instances, I have to get off my bike because I can smell my brakes, as I ride them, trying to remain in control while decending a few thousand feet. I touch the disc-brake rotor and it burns a mark into my finger.

In Estes, I call Biz and let her know I'm there. I'm going to be staying with her a few nights at the YMCA. As I'm heading there - it's 3 miles outside town - a rainstorm and heavy headwinds hit, so I pull into a gas station to wait it out for forty minutes. People walking in and out of the gas station past me, I feel, and probably look, like a bum. I wash my face in the bathroom, then sit on the filthy ground next to my bike and close my eyes. It gets down to 63 degrees in the rain. I can't believe I did what I just did today.

The next several hours are comprised of going to bars, out to eat, and meeting Biz's friends; doing what college-age folks do. By the time the dark sets in, I feel like it's been two separate days because of how different the two parts of it were. Overhearing conversations, I understand that the camp counsilors at the Y have their own eco-system, again, like any group of folks this age. There are alliances, enemies, apathies, drinks...

At 10:30, I'm exhausted, but want to see the stars. We make our way up to a wind-swept ridge opposite the YMCA campus with a few cases of local beer. A large house overlooking the valley, a few hundred feet above us, is apparently Sylvester Stallone's Colorado home. We joke about him maybe coming out on the balcony, gracing us with his presence, and screaming "Adrieeennnnne!" at the top of his lungs, sending the name echoing through the mountainside and getting lost somewhere in the amazing star-show. I've never seen so many at one time in my life. You can see the center of the Milky Way; the cloud of stars at more extreme distances than a 20/20 eye could pick out individual celestial bodies. Each one is a sun.

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My shadow and I, leaving Boulder f…
My shadow and I, leaving Boulder …
Where Highway 36 splits the differ…
Where Highway 36 splits the diffe…
Fifteen or twenty miles up the mou…
Fifteen or twenty miles up the mo…
Nearing Allenspark.
-Allenspark, …
Nearing Allenspark. -Allenspark,…
Just down from Allenspark.
Just down from Allenspark. -Alle…
Estes Park
photo by: kchrist454