Having only been to Colorado once before when I was a year or two old, I had always thought the entire state to be mountainous. Even when I was in Colorado itself, and describing my possible route to Jenny and Stan (my hosts after the Colorado Trail), I clearly didn't understand the state that well since they expressed doubts of me biking across Eastern Colorado in one day, which at the time I brushed off. But looking at my routes the next day, I realized there was no way I was making it across eastern Colorado in one day. Nearly half the width of Colorado is in the eastern part of the state and it had taken me weeks to just get across the first half. On top of that, I now had to hash out my route across the rest of the USA. In Boulder, I was between the two routes that I had previously been thinking of. One route would be far north and one would take me back south. The northern route would eventually take me to the rails to trails I described previously, whereas the south had the Transamerica bike route, which is the most popular route across the USA and fairly direct. There's actually a shorter truly southern route, where literally half of the distance is taken up by the width of Texas, but it was hot enough in the middle of the USA. I didn't think doing that route would be a good idea. However, the Transamerica route seemed like a good option and I decided I would route towards that. It would also take me by some family in Kansas, and the whole point of this trip was to experience parts of the USA I had never experienced before and that's what the more southern route had to offer.
Now, I thought getting to the Transamerica route would be fairly easy, but as has been a theme of this trip, knowing the right roads is tough. Often the "highways" and "roads" listed throughout Eastern Colorado and Kansas would actually be dirt and rocky and not at all conducive to distance riding. So what I would do is spend an hour looking at satellite images of my route and try to guess if the fuzzy gray texture was asphalt or gravel. If I was lucky, I would have Street View available, but most roads had not been scanned. I also tried to research if there were any hosts in Eastern Colorado to stay with and now it was becoming much harder to find people as the density of the population drops off a cliff east of the Rockies. However, I did find one family and not only were they on Warmshowers, but they also hosted on other websites such as Couchsurfing, so they were used to having all types of guests and said they were happy to have me stay. Ellie was in Limon, Colorado, and to get there from Boulder, I would have to bike over 120 miles and go right through the city of Denver, which I was nervous about for a couple reasons.
First, biking through cities is tough. Not only is it dangerous due to traffic, but it's also incredibly slow because of all the stop signs and traffic lights. Denver is so big that I expected it to take me hours just to get through the city. It didn't help that the home run derby for the baseball All-Star game was happening the very day I would be biking near the Rockies' stadium. My other concern with the city was that I had yet to miss a single bakery on the trip, and biking directly through a city might take even longer if I were to keep that streak going, and it would also be expensive. I also already had baked goods from the French bakery that Sarah had taken us to the day before. But with all this in mind, I ate my baked goods for breakfast, said goodbye to Sarah and Jessie and took off!
For most of my trip, I had been in very low population areas, which made for the best riding on highways. However, I thought getting from Boulder to Denver might be difficult because it was much more dense and I didn't know if I was allowed on the freeway/highway between the two cities. Luckily, I would find out that there's a bike path that goes right along the freeway the entire distance. It made for some of the nicest bike path riding of my trip (only topped by another bike path I would be on shortly). It was incredibly smooth and considering it ran right next to a freeway, it was surprising nice to ride along with good distance kept between the path and freeway most of the time.
Before too long I was crossing into Denver itself and was beginning to get worried about the traffic and bakeries. But following my GPS, I found my way towards another bike path in Denver, and soon I was on the best bike path I've ever been on in my life. Well, there are certainly more scenic bike paths, but considering it was taking me right through the heart of Denver, I couldn't have asked for a better ride. The bike path drops down below the street level right along one of the waterways through Denver. Because we were below the street level, and cars were on bridges above the bike path, I didn't have to stop more than three or four times throughout the entirety of Denver. Being below the street level also meant I didn't have to see much of the city itself, or any potential bakeries, where I would have to stop. Here in the Bay Area, we have a well known bike path called the Ohlone Greenway. I hate biking on it because it makes cyclists cross over busy intersections nearly every block and it's full of stopping and waiting for lights or cars or stop signs. The system in Denver is what every bike path through a city should be, where it takes cyclists away from cars and the dangers of traffic and also doesn't require the cyclists stop at every intersection or nearly any intersection at all! It was also just surprising pretty riding next to the river. While I'm sure it wasn't especially clean, it made for some of the nicest big city riding I've ever experienced.
I did have to come out of the lower bike path on a couple occasions to get to the next part of the bike path, and those were the only times I had to wait for lights. On two of those occasions, I also saw a bakery or donut shop, but they were welcomed as bakeries were often where I would get my water refilled. Through Denver, I found a donut shop and a Mexican bakery. My dad (another bakery enthusiast) holds the opinion that in general, Mexican baked goods are lower on the baked goods tier list. After trying several items from a Mexican bakery, I would have to agree. But they certainly look good at least!
I just wish they tasted as good as they look. They are pretty dry and bready, where I prefer fluffier baked goods.
The donuts made up for it though.
It's kinda a miracle I haven't got diabetes huh? Anyways, once I got east of Denver, there were far less people and highway riding became possible once I got to the end of the bike paths. Once I was past Aurora, just seeing a picture of the landscape in front of me, I would never in a thousand years guess it was Colorado. Not a single mountain in sight and all that was before me was flat fields of wheat for miles and miles. I rode past field after field as I picked my way southeast down backroads, several of them on dirt, which was slow going. Eventually, I would make it to a legitimate highway where I would be able to ride directly east to Limon. This was highway 86, so a pretty untraveled highway since it didn't run directly from any big city to another big city. It was on this highway, in the middle of nowhere, that I would see what looked like two people just walking in the middle of the highway in front of me. I didn't really believe my eyes at first, and I thought that they must be local farmers or something that had suffered a breakdown, but I had actually stumbled upon Erin Dietrich and Chris Rea, a couple who were walking across the USA.
Up until this point, whenever people would remark that biking across the USA was crazy, I would usually respond "well, it's better than walking." But Erin and Chris were actually doing that and I had heard from Carol and Mike (hosts from Nevada) that they had previously hosted someone walking across the USA. So I knew that people did it, but walking across is just so exponentially more difficult than biking, it blows my mind. You can read more about Erin and Chris by looking them up. They just finished their journey, right by the Golden Gate Bridge, a little over a month ago. It took them about 8 months to make the whole distance and they walked about twenty miles per day, pushing baby strollers with their supplies in them. It sounds a little odd, but it makes sense not wanting to carry a heavy backpack every day and having extra room for storing water for travel through Nevada, where some segments require 80+ miles without the opportunity to refill water. I was only the second cross-country traveler the couple had met on their journey since as walkers, they could stay on the backroads entirely away from cars and it wouldn't cost them much time. The only reason we encountered each other on highway 86 was due to me being far away from all the normal established routes for crossing the USA. Most cyclist routes stay on highways for efficient travel. But it was awesome to meet Erin and Chris on their trip and we talked for a little bit before we had to split, each going in opposite directions.
I still had a way to go before I would arrive at my hosts for the night, Ellie and Warren. I would avoid some more dirt roads on my way, but I would make it to Ellie's that evening after riding 124 miles. After talking with Ellie and Warren, it turned out they didn't think I was going to be able to make it from Boulder to Limon in one day, but were fantastic hosts when I did end up arriving. They host all kinds of travelers and are clearly used to it as they had a little goodie basket all setup in my room for the night, which I was very thankful for.
They made a great dinner for us and made it clear that I could eat as much as I needed since they had some experience with previous cyclists being ravenous. They also knew of a good bakery in town that opened early the next morning run by a local father and daughter combo. I would talk with them both for a little while, but I would retire fairly early since I had decided that I would attempt to ride 200 miles in one day the next morning. To do that, I would need to get up right on the cusp of when it got light so I would have the time to make the distance. They said I was more than welcome to take their snacks to go as well, and I should help myself to breakfast if they weren't awake when I left. I was pretty tired after my 124 mile day, and I managed to fall asleep without too much trouble, anticipating an even bigger day tomorrow...