Day 84: Ordway, CO to Pueblo Lake State Park - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

July 5, 2011

Day 84: Ordway, CO to Pueblo Lake State Park

I look at the weather forecast for Breckenridge, a few days up the road, and see a high temperature of 72 degrees and a low of 42. I'm almost into the mountains but not quite. Even at 4,700 feet it's supposed to reach nearly 100 degrees today. The promise of cooler weather fills my head and makes me anxious for what's to come, like a little kid in the days before Christmas.

But for now I start early. I head back out into the yellow-green range land of the Arkansas River Valley, dotted every half mile or so with a small home or farm. The pattern breaks only for a couple of prisons and a few modest towns.

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I crest a rise coming out of Olney Springs and that's when I see them for the first time: the Rocky Mountains. They appear in a light gray-blue, and I can only see a faint outline through the haze, but there isn't any doubt about what I'm looking at. As I ride toward them I don't think about how grand they are, or what it will be like to ride over them, or how they represent a significant milestone for the trip. Instead I think about how the name Rocky Mountains seems like a really lazy choice. The Appalachians are unique, the Blue Ridge evoke feeling and images, and even the Ozarks have character and soul. The Rockies are huge—they are impressive, they inspire people to write songs, they have the power to kill. They divide an entire continent! Yet the most some explorer could say about them is that, yeah, I guess they look pretty rocky.

The Rocky Mountains, just barely.
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I ride into Boone looking for some water and a Snickers to power me through to Pueblo. I pass something that looks like it could be a store, so I make a wide U-turn and slowly pedal back in the opposite direction. The front door is open, but when I take a closer look inside all I see is a huge, dark room filled with old tools and appliances and other junk. A musty smell pours out and hits my nose even as I stand at the edge of the highway. It's a great place to find a vacuum tube or a saw blade, but less so a candy bar, so I climb back on the bike and make another wide U-turn toward the west.

Then a man calls out to me from the darkness.

"Hello there," he says, his voice rough from decades of cigarette smoking. "Is there anything I can help ya with?"

I tell him I'm looking for a gas station or a convenience store.

"Got one of those up the street," he says. "Just past the park. But if ya need a place to stay or something to eat or drink, anything at all, I can help."

The man's name is Larry Taylor. He looks to be in his late 60s, and stands with medium height and build, much like me. His skin is tanned and creased from years of working outside and he wears a beige sleeveless t-shirt complemented by gold-rimmed sunglasses with dark lenses and a black and gold Army Corps of Engineers hat. He bears more than a passing resemblance to Hunter S. Thompson. After finishing up a ten-month stay in prison five years ago, he bought a small 1980s Toyota motorhome and headed west across the country toward Pueblo. The motorhome blew a turn signal fuse while passing through Boone and temporarily stranded him. But instead of fixing the problem and returning to the road, he decided he'd found home.

"God wanted me to be here," he explains. "So I stayed. Bought this building here for a thousand dollars. Cost a lot more to fix it up like ya see, of course. I also got everything on the other side of the street, a few buildings down the way, and all of that area in the back there. Got something like 400 antique cars."

Five years after coasting in on the highway he literally owns or rents half of the dying town of Boone, Colorado.

"Not long after I got here I noticed all the bike riders passing through," he tells me. "So I decided I'd do whatever I could to help."

Larry takes me upstairs and gives me the tour of his place. He shows me the outdoor sleeping area on the roof that he set aside for cyclists. He explains that he's a Vietnam veteran with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who enjoys drinking, making use of his medical marijuana card, and watching the 70-inch TV he bought second-hand for $300. Then he tells me about his dream: to build an amusement park on a 450-acre plot of land that he rents just outside of town, using the labor of homeless veterans.

I'm speechless. It's way beyond anything I ever expected him to say.

"Ya wanna go see it?" he asks.

A minute later I walk down the stairs from his living room and climb into the passenger seat of a brown, 1980 Toyota Tercel hatchback with huge patches of oxidized paint and rearview mirrors attached to the hood.

"There's no seatbelt," Larry says. "But it's ok, we ain't going far."

He backs out onto the highway and then turns right and heads up a one-lane road of brownish gravel and dirt. We rumble past a few small houses, an overgrown basketball court, and an elementary school—and then he floors it. The 1400cc engine screams and wails and the car flies up the road, hitting 30, then 40, then 50 miles per hour—or at least that's what it feels like. The speedometer doesn't work so I can't know for sure. Gravel pings off the bottom of the car and a cloud of gray smoke billows behind it as we race up a hill, barreling toward a completely blind crest at the top. The road doesn't look like it's used much, but if there's a vehicle waiting on the other end we're both three seconds away from the end of it all. My nuts clench accordingly.

I hold my breath as we bounce up and over the ridge and then exhale as we keep speeding north with no other cars in sight.

"This is gonna blow your mind," Larry says with a smile as we turn a corner, drive past a water tower and sewage treatment plant, and come to a stop at a high point overlooking a narrow river and a broad sweep of land that extends to the north as far as I can see.

"Costs me 50 cents an acre," he says proudly. "$225 a month for all of this. Can you believe that?"

As I look out on the property and the vast expanse that lies beyond it, he explains how everything would be laid out.

"See all that area here? That's parking. Ya can put the concessions right next to the water tower. And that big area of there is the motocross track. Ya see it? And then those folks that live over there, they can keep an eye on the place, act as security. It'll help improve their economy. It'll help improve all of our economies."

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Larry urges me to walk down a steep hill to get a look at the rest of the land, so I do. When I reach the bottom an antelope hops past. After I watch him go I look out at the dark green grasslands along the river that give way farther out to browns and yellows and sagebrush and tiny hills. As I soak in the beauty and the bigness and the quiet, Larry pulls a boombox from the trunk of the car, places it on the roof, turns on the radio, and blasts the volume.

The view from the future amusement park.
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So there I am—in the middle of nowhere, with a man who I've known for all of 20 minutes, as Maxine Nightingale's "Right Back Where We Started From" echoes down from the hilltop above me.

It's completely absurd.

And I couldn't be happier.

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After another white-knuckle ride back to Boone, Larry continues the tour. There's the 1970's Lincoln Town Car coupe, with 40,000 original miles, fender skirts, and an in-dash eight-track player with a cartridge still inserted. Behind it are the refrigerators he converted into planter boxes. Down the stairs around the corner is the basement of the building, a cold and dark place with a long tunnel at the end that he fires his guns down.

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Larry could show me bits and pieces of his empire all day, but with a hot afternoon coming I know I need to leave. I shake his hand and wish him good luck. He does the same and tells me to let all of the eastbound riders I meet know that he's there. In my head I laugh, because I know that none of them will experience Boone quite like I just have.

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I stop at the end of town at the store I hoped to find all along. When I mention to the cashier that Larry just gave me the grand tour of Boone, a sour look comes over her face.

"Ahh, Scary Larry," she says. "We don't really care for him. He's a nice guy, but..."

Not everyone's on board with his master plan.

The long, straight road to Pueblo.
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Highway 96 joins with U.S. Highway 50 and turns into a dead straight run to the west. The riding is flat and easy and I pedal on the wide but dirty shoulder, dodging rocks and scraps of tires and a few small car parts. I run into the ACA group at a brewery in Pueblo, where we share a loud and delicious lunch before I head down the street to pass the blazing hot afternoon in a coffee shop.

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I sit in a leather-covered booth seat and feel tired immediately—somewhat sleepy tired, but mostly tired of the routine of getting up early, racing somewhere to beat the heat, and then hanging out until the cool of the evening arrives. I miss being able to ride throughout the day at a relaxed pace and spend most of my time outside. I miss not feeling dehydrated every day. I know that cooler weather is coming, but that actually makes things worse because I find myself daydreaming about cool afternoon rides at 9,000 feet.

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I ride out to Pueblo Lake State Park in the evening and grab a spot with the group, who invite me to stay with them because they have extra space. It's pleasant at first, but just before I head to bed the winds kick up, sometimes as strong as 40 miles per hour. I can deal with the flying objects and a shaking tent, but the gap between the rain fly and the bottom of my tent shell lets dirt blow inside. It coats everything in a thin layer of brown and collects in little piles all over the floor. After so many great nights of camping I almost feel guilty about complaining—but then I go right back to cursing, wiping off the dirt stuck to my sweaty forehead, and feeling the grains grit between my teeth.

In the calm before the storm.
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The tent poles bend and creak under pressure from the wind and the rain fly flaps and chatters loudly. I wedge all of my bags against the side of the tent facing the wind in a last-ditch attempt to keep the blowing dirt out, but it works only slightly. I know that I won't get any sleep until the weather calms down, and that's not supposed to happen until after midnight.

Today's ride: 62 miles (100 km)
Total: 4,225 miles (6,799 km)

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