Pueblo !

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I’m done with the Rockies this time ! And had a first taste of the plains of the middle west – not as flat and straight as could be expected.

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Leaving Westcliffe was an average climb to the edge of the plateau. Still quite a bit of cattle around, a few ranches, including many available to buy πŸ™‚

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After reaching the edge, it felt like being in the mountains again ! A long and steep downhill which was the real exit of the Rockies. This is where I started seeing the immense flat plains to the east.

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I had been leaving early to get to Pueblo around noon. It was supposed to get very hot in the city. And I’m not used to high temperatures anymore πŸ™‚ The plain itself, before Pueblo, was a long road with some ups and downs. I was starting to get tired, after three days of long and tough rides.

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But the city appeared quickly enough, and I stopped at the first gas station for a drink πŸ™‚ Almost everything was closed for Sunday, but it feels good to be in a big city again.

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I’m halfway there now ! But I’ll talk about it tomorrow as it’ll be a day of rest.
Still, it’s another map down, and another flag up !

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Westcliffe

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I wasn’t done with slopes in Colorado ! But this was a standard day’s ride, about 45mi/75kms, to reach the small city of Westcliffe.

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I kept on going further from the Rockies, now in the distance. They are even more impressive from this side, on the east. I didn’t realize how high the summits around here are. Grays peak, a bit north of here, goes higher than 14,000 feet / 4.300 m ! Not the Mont Blanc yet, but very impressive πŸ˜‰ Monarch pass is really pretty low along the line.

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Leaving Salida, the road goes along the Arkansas river. Its source is only 100kms/60mi north of Salida. Then it goes through Kansas, Oklahoma, and, of course, Arkansas, to then join with the Mississippi. I should see this river again πŸ™‚ As usual now, the valley going down is an impressive kind of canyon, going wider or narrower along the way.

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The road then turns south to climb a plateau – this is were I got up a noticeable slope again, but a mere joke compared to the previous day of course. Another ridge of moutains was keeping to the west, down to large fields, with the occasional cattle. I came across another German cyclist there, Ferdinand, coming all the way from Boston !

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Up and up I continued to go, until I saw the city on the horizon finally. It’s always better when I have the objective in sight, I’m much more relaxed.
Tomorrow, back to a big city ! Biggest one since Vegas !

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Oh and yesterday I exploded my speed record : 38mi/60km/h. This was involuntary, as going beyond 25mi/40km/h is unsafe with the trailer. Still, new record πŸ™‚

Salida

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I have passed the continental divide ! And reached Salida from Montrose in two days instead of four πŸ™‚ I’m not exactly halfway through my trip but it feels like I passed a really big milestone.

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Really big is the word : at 11,300 feet / 3.400m, Monarch pass is the highest point of the whole journey. It’s not the biggest climb though, as it’s “only” 2,500 feet / 750m from the bottom at Sargents. Still, it’s a mighty climb.

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I initially planned to stop over at Sargents, but the wind was still in my favor. I went through the valley and reached the place in 2,5 hours, which was very good. I made a quick stop to drink and eat a chocolate bar and have a chat with a guy from Dallas πŸ™‚ And then I started the climb.

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The road is in good shape all the way, wide enough, and although there was a lot of clouds and a bit of wind, it wasn’t too cold. The whole area is a huge pine forest in all directions. I was making good time, and reached the top in just over 2 hours, which was also very good. It was not even 2pm. There is a small shop / restaurant where I had a quick lunch. I was at the highest point !

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The way down was of course much faster πŸ™‚ And also kinda more dangerous, with more wind, one lane instead of two, and a lot colder ! I knew the temperature would increase going down, still, I was shaking a lot. I was in Salida in only one hour. On the other side of the continent !

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And an unexpected bonus ! After two months in the US, I finally met met a real, honest to god knucklehead ! Here’s what happened. I was getting close to the shop and stopped to talk to a woman there. After less than two minutes, a woman comes from the shop and says bikes are not allowed near the entrance.
– Sure, I saw the sign. I’m looking for a place to lock my bike, where can I do that ?
– Not on the walkway.
– Thank you. You ought to install some guard rails to lock bikes around, there’s nothing around.
– Sure, we see hundreds of bikes every day.
– You’re on the western express, maybe you don’t know that. Bikes get through here often.

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I’m so happy I finally met a bossy, stupid, self-centered person ! I was starting to develop a massive humility complex. All the Americans I’ve met up to now were so nice, friendly, welcoming, and also calm, open, engaging. And in business, really professional ! Even in post offices. In France this is where optimism goes to die. Here they take all the time to process my special requests, everyone waits patiently in line, and the whole process goes fast. All of this is in stark contrast to the arrogant, selfish, cold, sarcastic, aggressive French I’m used to (and no, this is not limited to Paris). It’s also true in the rest of Europe, but to a lesser degree : we French really get the gold medal. Go France !

All in all, a really good day for achievements ! πŸ™‚

Gunnison

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I’ve gone much further than planned today, and arrived much later than usual – after 4pm. But the second part of the ride was much easier than the first part and I decided to continue.

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Initially I wanted to stop at Sapinero, by the Blue Mesa Reservoir, at one of the campgrounds. That seemed to be enough distance for one day, especially as that meant going up two summits back to back. I thought maybe the slopes would continue to be gentle, but not anymore ! It was going up right after Montrose, and what the slope was lacking, the headwind really made up for it. So the Cerro summit took me a long time already.

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Then a downhill into another nice valley, and immediately the next uphill, plus road works along the way. The guy regulating the traffic told me something I assumed was “wait for next wave”, but I waited and waited and he didn’t ordered me through. So I started walking again, and tried to stay away from the traffic. But there was only one lane left, the other was gravel and pretty soon I was blocked by the construction engines. At that point a pickup from the roadworks team stopped by me and I got (gently) admonished for going through. A cyclist almost got killed last week for doing exactly what I did. They picked me up and got me at the end of the road works less than a mile further. I suppose I was meant to wait for them by the first guy.

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I finished going up, and bumped into a couple attaching a platform trailer to their car. The guy offered to switch our trailers to help, and after I explained my bike trip, called me a “badass son of a bitch” πŸ˜‰ With this confidence boost I went downhill, through a nice but short canyon, up a surprise slope and there I finally got to see the Reservoir.

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Here I started having some flashbacks of the “Hite experience” that were not welcomed. Sure, the place was way more populated (at least many more campgrounds), it was much greener, and the elevation was much flatter from here on. Still, I didn’t feel like staying around πŸ™‚ So I stopped at the Sapinero store, drank the maximum possible amount of coke, had a cup of noodles, and decided to move on. It was already 2pm, with 25mi/40kms to go, but a critical element had changed πŸ™‚ The wind had switched from east to west. Having a tailwind is almost as great as having a headwind is painful (actually no, I’d relish all tailwinds for not having any headwind).

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So I went around the Reservoir, seeing on the way that the campgrounds had little to no shade, and reached Gunnison in about one and a half hour, with a great speed all along. Incidentally, that meant that the half burrito I had left from dinner might be the burrito that traveled the most in Colorado history. It was a huge burrito. Maybe I’ll get it through Monarch pass and release it into the wild over there.

Home

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I’ve been on the road for almost two months now, and seen a lot of different places. Places people living here call home. Some of them were really isolated.

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Still, they were homes for them, and little by little I’m starting to understand that. Home is where the heart is, goes the saying. Another one says that home is where the wifi connects automatically πŸ™‚ In any case, home is a choice, sometimes not a completely conscious one, if you live close to your parents, for instance.

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Being away from home for so long is quite difficult. That’s one of the tough part of my trip. When you go on vacation, it’s usually for a few weeks. You don’t have time to be homesick. But leaving for a month or more, and with no clear date of return, is something else entirely. In my case the date of return is even set by the physical effort I put into moving forward, which is both an appeal and a daunting situation. I even added to the challenge by selling my home before leaving πŸ™‚ The operation will actually be completed within a few weeks. It’ll probably be a shock by itself.

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From my experience it takes about three months to settle into a new place. At least when moving from a place to another, in the same country. I’ve lived one year in England but never quite settled there and called the student room “home” πŸ™‚

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During my trip I’m going from place to place, staying a couple days maximum, usually only for a night. Hardly enough to settle or call them home. This is physically swinging from liana to liana, or even grasping at straws. Some places I like, some I don’t. When they’re very far from civilization, empty and desolate, and when the climate is hot and dry, I feel even farther from home, and that is a logical source of stress πŸ™‚ I speculate this is the source of my coughing (I had some asthma as a child). When it’s a more relaxing place and I feel at ease, it’s closer to home in some way. But never comfortable enough for me to be wanting to stay much longer though (and far enough to want to establish myself, apart from San Francisco πŸ™‚ ).

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Yet in almost all of these places, small towns, larger cities, remote campgrounds, minuscule hamlets, people live there. Sometimes for just six months, like park rangers, some forever. This is their home. I can easily understand when the place is close to my own experience of home, but I find it more difficult when it’s very remote. In some villages, you need to ride a solid 100 miles to find a decent store where you can do all your shopping. There’s no theater for even farther away. That’s a real culture shock.

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But over the last few days I’m starting to accept that more easily. That’s been in my head as the thought appeared after Hite. Seeing places so different in such a short span is really striking. And everywhere (well almost everywhere), people live and have their homes ! We need different things and we can settle in different places. Probably as, after two months, my universe is limited to a large bag (and internet !), I’m needing less and less things to feel comfortable. Or it simply comes from seeing such varied places at once.

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When you live somewhere, as most people do :), you visit friends, perhaps take breaks in the same area, or the same country, or a neighboring one, you remain in the same cultural mold. In Europe we have very close cultures. The US is also very close to us. However, I feel there is a lot more variety here – at least in the states I’ve seen up to now. You get to see much more in a very short time. I’d probably have that thought much earlier in another part of the planet, like China.

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Well to conclude, I suppose home is where you are the most comfortable. It’s always difficult to change home, especially to go and live in another country. It’s just so much easier to remain in the same place πŸ™‚

Montrose

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A great ride today ! More than 60mi/100kms, the longest stretch since… Kanab. But more than half was downhill, and another quarter was flat, so all in all it was very fast (less than 5 hours).

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Even if I still didn’t sleep very well, I enjoyed going down, and even going up. The slopes in Colorado are much more gentle than in Utah. I could have done everything on the bike. The roads are also in a decent shape around here… except the bike lane to Telluride. I avoided it this morning, and everything was better.

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Leaving Telluride is a long downhill following the river, in another great canyon covered by pine trees. It felt a bit strange seeing these trees cling onto the red barren slopes. Not a lot of any other vegetation around them.

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After Placerville, the downhill turns into an uphill until the Dallas divide. Here it really felt like riding in the middle of the Alps : the snow covered summits were all lining up in the south. I encountered a couple of cyclists doing a 5-day tour of the region, with a van support. Luxurious way to visit πŸ™‚

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And then another downhill until Ridgway and the valley opening to Montrose. The landscape changes again to a more arid environment. On the downhill I also confirmed that I can now recognize the smell of carcasses – like half deers – long before seeing them 😦

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Montrose is the first relatively large city since Cedar city, 10k+ people. Still, as always it is excessively spread out. The main street is at least 4 or 5 miles long / 7 or 8 kms, and “downtown” is where the little shops are the closer together. Still no tall buildings, no one walking around, and I haven’t found a historic district. But there is a movie theater πŸ™‚ and I went to see… Edge of tomorrow again πŸ™‚ I enjoyed it even more than the second time, the scenario is great of course, but mostly everything is near perfect, scripting, directing, acting etc.

Telluride

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I made a stop at a ski resort ! “To hell you ride” is the nickname of the place, when it was a very isolated mining camp. Now people come here willingly !

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Initially I wanted to go a bit further, but the only options were with Warm Showers hosts in minuscule places, and they weren’t available. I could also have gone wild camping, but thunderstorms may happen later or during the night. So Telluride was the only viable option, even if it makes a very short ride all in all. That will also make a long ride tomorrow, but mostly downhill.

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Coming here felt like riding in the alps ! Summits, a moutain pass, lots of forests, and then ski slopes. Plus lots more traffic than previously, and infinitely more than in Utah ! Going through the lizard head pass was quick enough, surprisingly. There was another uphill before going down to Telluride, and then a badly damaged bike lane. I’ll probably stay on the road to leave.

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I think I see what was meant when I was told I would prefer Colorado over Utah. Except this kind of landscape is very familiar to me πŸ™‚ Still, the views here are spectacular, even if the whole day was overcast.