Day 82: Eads, CO to Ordway, CO - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

July 3, 2011

Day 82: Eads, CO to Ordway, CO

The rush of cool air helps wake me up on the ride out of town. The slow, steady climb across Kansas took me up to 4,200 feet, and on this windless and cloudless morning it's 63 degrees. I can't get enough.

Now that it's broken in, the bike's Brooks saddle makes everything better. Even after 131 miles and almost nine hours sitting on it yesterday I don't feel the slightest hind of pain as I pedal out of Eads. My ass has always looked like a million dollars, but now it feels that way, too.

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The road in front of me looks flat, but it actually rises very subtly and steadily. Greenish-yellow grass runs on both sides of the road, and then beyond it as far as the eye can see stretch thousands and thousands of acres of wheat and absolutely nothing else. Further west, groups of a dozen trees rise periodically from the sea of gold, marking the location of small homes. The surface of the highway is covered with three-inch-wide black lines that snake in all directions and patch the cracks in the road that come from the blazing hot summers and terribly cold winters. Every 50 feet I pass over one of the patches and it shakes the bike and quietly rattles the panniers and fenders. The world around me turns still and peaceful when I stop—I hear only the sounds of crickets, a few birds, and a single propeller plane off to the southwest.

Different state, same highway.
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In the early morning I reach the town of Haswell, population 70-something. A tall white grain elevator stands watch over a run-down gas station, dilapidated metal and brick buildings, and a few small homes. I look out on six giant green and yellow John Deere combines sitting next to the grain elevator and figure they're worth more than everything else in Haswell put together. A couple of guys lean on the bed of a white pickup truck, but otherwise the town is empty on this Sunday morning. As I get ready to climb back on the bike, the school bell rings out just once, seemingly at random, at 8:51 a.m.

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Back out in the prairie I ride in the company of barbed wire fencing, telephone poles, one pair of railroad tracks, and a long, rough stretch of chip-sealed highway. When I reach the town of Arlington I count seven houses still being lived in. Off to the side of the road, at what used to be the center of the town, in the shade of a group of trees and near a couple of red metal picnic benches, I come across a little slice of bike touring goodness: a wooden shack with a pit toilet, a battery-operated light that turns on with the pull of a cord, a few maps, and a guest book. There aren't many greater things in life than taking a dump in the middle of the vast, open plains of Eastern Colorado while flipping through at least five years worth of clever entries made by the TransAm travelers that came before me.

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The road rises and falls gradually, and a light breeze and low humidity keep me cool. An antelope hops, skips, and runs side by side with me on the other side of the railroad tracks for more than a mile, a dozen hawks slowly circle above a herd of cattle in the distance, and the grass at the road's edge rustles not from the wind but from thousands of moving grasshoppers. The hugeness and emptiness of the country that surrounds me are unexpectedly beautiful, and as the miles fly past I feel better and better. It turns out to be one of the greatest riding days of the trip.

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Considering the kind of food that makes up my cross-country diet, it's only logical to stop in Sugar City. The town's only cafe is a small place, with three booths and four tables in the main room, one extra table crammed into a corner, and almost a hundred cookie jars placed in evenly spaced rows on shelves that run just below the ceiling. It's the kind of restaurant where the waitresses are permanently angry, drop full plates of food on the table with a slam, and have no patience for sorry customers with the nerve to ask questions. Al quickly learns this when he tries to find out what kind of soda the place serves.

"I'm not gonna tell ya," the older woman with the apron and the order pad says with a bit of a scowl. "Just say something and I'll say if we have it."

Al and Keith and I eat among guys with checkered shirts and cowboy boots and John Deere hats, and signs like "In God we trust, all others pay cash."

A Chris sighting at the cafe in Sugar City.
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The TransAm maps created by the Adventure Cycling Association usually offer simple but helpful information about how to find city parks, campgrounds, libraries, and the other kinds of places that bike tourists most need. But when I look at the "Cyclists-only lodging" item listed for Ordway I find an unusual set of instructions: "Ask for Gillian when you get to town." There's no address, no phone number, nothing. Just go ask someone.

I stop at a combination gas station, mini-mart, and restaurant at the edge of town on the highway. The woman behind the counter is small, in her 70s, and wears a bright yellow Tweety Bird t-shirt. In my mind she seems local enough, so I ask her if she can tell me how to find Gillian's place.

A few seconds pass. Nothing. It's as if I asked her for the square root of 751. All I get is a blank stare, a half shake of the head, and a mumbled answer I can't understand.

Off to a good start!

I pedal into the five-block downtown area of Ordway and pull up in front of the grocery store. It's the biggest thing in town—someone there must know about Gillian's place. When I walk up to the counter to pay for my soda and this thing called an apple I notice that the cashier is pregnant.

"Perfect," I think. "She's putting down roots. She'll know how to find Gillian."

Nothing.

She asks another checker who used to work for the Sheriff's office and supposedly knows the area very well.

No idea.

Finally they ask Kenny, because Kenny knows everything.

And he does!

And not only will he tell me where Gillian's place is, he'll show me. So I hop on the bike and ride about eight blocks north up Main Street behind a gray SUV driven by a guy who met me exactly 20 seconds earlier. When he reaches her street he stops.

"Follow it to the end and take a left!" he yells out.

Before I can say thank you he's already backing out of the driveway and headed back to the grocery store.

A tall, broad-shouldered woman with a New Zealand accent, Gillian is another TransAm legend. For more than a decade she's offered warm showers and a comfortable place to stay on her farm for bike riders traveling through Eastern Colorado. Five years ago she received the Adventure Cycling Association's June Curry Trail Angel Award, which recognizes the most generous people across America who open their homes and offer support to touring cyclists.

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My home for the night is a 1980s travel trailer painted the same color as an aircraft carrier. Inside I find a big open space with two large patches of carpet, a couple of old chairs, a small table, and a sink that doesn't work. The windows are open and covered by screens, although some are better attached than others and a few flies buzz around. The interior is very hot in the mid-day sun, but a powerful standing fan makes it tolerable. Al and Keith show up a short time later and we spread out three single-sized mattresses on the trailer's floor. It isn't four-star lodging, but it's another unique place to spend a night and I'm happy to be there.

I stand on the trailer's front porch at sunset. Half a dozen kinds of birds squawk in the nearby pens, a house down the street blasts Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion," the strong smell of animal crap fills the air, and haze from forest fires that burn hundreds of miles away rolls in. It's at the same time ridiculous and wonderful and that's exactly how I like it.

Today's ride: 64 miles (103 km)
Total: 4,156 miles (6,688 km)

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