Colorado 2014 – Day 120 – Kelly Flats CG – Ft Collins: Dear 18-year-old self,

Tuesday September 16, 2014, 37 miles (60 km) – Total so far: 5,317 miles (8,558 km)

Almost 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese; 66 percent of Australians fit that description. I’m beginning to think it has warped our views of what a ‘normal’ weight person looks like. What we would have seen in the 1970s as ‘overweight’ is now seen as ‘normal’. A conversation with a guy at the park in Walden has made me think more about it. He saw me snacking and came over to chat. After asking the standard six he said, “I don’t see how someone so underweight could pedal a bike like that up all the mountains.” What? I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m thinner than I normally am, but I’m also heaps stronger. And I feel like I could climb just about anything you put in front of me, if you give me sufficient time. At the beginning of the tour, when I was about 10 pounds heavier, people called me ‘thin’ when I was a very normal weight of 135. Now, people are calling me underweight – when I’m very fit?

So I had to do some investigations. This is how I know what proportion of the population is packing pounds. This is how I also know that my current weight puts me at a body mass index (BMI) of 19.5 which is considered a normal weight. You have to drop below 18 before you are considered underweight. ‘Normal’ BMI is anything from 18.5-25. Many of my fat friends from high school say that BMI isn’t a good measure because, even though they are big, they are strong – it’s all muscle. I’m not so sure about that. For me, at 5’8”, I would not be considered overweight until I hit 165 pounds; obesity would begin at 200 pounds. And yes, if I weighed 165, I would feel fat. And if I weighed 200 pounds… oh dear.

So after pondering that man’s comments and all the other ones I’ve gotten on tour, I’ve decided I should take a picture of what a BMI of 19.5 (a totally normal weight) looks like. I’m a bit thinner than I normally am, but stronger, too. Just as we’ve inflated portion sizes, we’ve inflated our idea of acceptable ‘normal’ weight. I don’t care if you are fat – a whole bunch of us are – but please don’t say I’m underweight or lack strength, just because I’m a normal weight.

I get so tired of fat people justifying their size by saying that normal weight people aren’t as strong. I am 20 pounds lighter right now than when I began my 2013 tour, and I am sooo much stronger. My normal weight is about 135 lbs (about 10 pounds heavier than this), and I’m no stronger at 135 than I am now. At the moment, I feel like if you give me enough time and don’t rush me, I could climb just about anything.

Rant over – I take off down the canyon. I quickly hit the fire scars from the 2012 High Park Fire. The fire, ignited by lightning, burnt 87,000 acres (136 square miles) and destroyed 257 homes over 22 days. It stands as the third-largest wildfire in Colorado history, surpassed only by the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs a few weeks later in 2012 and the Black Forest fire in 2013. I was a bit hesitant to ride this route because I have so many wonderful memories from all the places it burnt (e.g. Poudre Canyon, Buckhorn Rd, Rist Canyon). I did not want my last memory of the area to be burn scars when it could be past memories of green trees and recreation. But I tell myself to get over it – and face up to it. I studied human perceptions of wildfire as part of my PhD, and I know that fire is healthy, etc. So get over it Em, and go ride.

Poudre River in the lower canyon.
The High Park fire burnt through this area in 2012. The area does not look devastated as I feared it might. Just looks like a normal fire. There is a lot of evidence of both the fire, and the floods that came after, but it doesn’t really detract too much from the beauty of the canyon.

The further we get down canyon, the more frequently the canyon walls open up to wide grassy areas and lower, open slopes. Yes, there is evidence of fire, and an abundance of weeds, but really, it does not look devastated. We roll back into narrower, rocky parts of the canyon with high walls. In some places, the only obvious evidence of fire is the standing dead trees at the top of the canyon walls. The most altered places are actually those places where substantial mudslides flowed during floods after the fires. Most everything has a cover of vegetation now, though. To me, it all looks like just a normal fire, and it really doesn’t look all that bad. It’s probably healthier now than before. I do know that some places outside of the canyon burned with much greater intensity, and I’m sure those areas are slower to recover. But I’m pleasantly surprised that the fire damage here is less than I feared.

Lower canyon. Brings back lots of fun memories from all my time spent up here with friends when I lived in Ft Collins.

I think about all of the great memories I have of this area, as I ride downstream. Again, I’d forgotten what a nice area it is and all of recreational activities the Poudre Canyon provides. It really does put to shame a lot of the valleys in Montana I visited this summer. I don’t know if I ever realized how spoiled I was for recreation opportunities when I lived in town!


As I roll through the streets in Fort Collins, it doesn’t feel like 20 years have passed. I feel like I could pick up the life I left fairly quickly. I know that would not be the case if I actually tried to do so, but it’s nice to feel like I can still recognize the old Em and the old Fort Collins I used to know. Some parts of town are different; but many of the same businesses are still there. The biggest difference I see is the increased traffic and the preference for taller buildings with no setback. The area around campus and downtown feels much more claustrophobic and vertical than it once did. But it’s still a great town and incredibly bike-friendly.

Kermit finds a friend at City Park in Ft Collins. It is still a very nice park – the water slides and the landscaping, including these frogs, are new additions since I lived here in the 1990s.

I desperately need to give my clothes a proper wash – they haven’t seen a washing machine since Red Lodge. After I get this done, I head up to City Park to hang out in the shade. I’ve got a couple hours before Jenny gets off work and will be home. We used to come to City Park to study when we were at CSU. We were both nerds, so we spent plenty of time here reading and preparing for tests. I think about all the places I’ve been and all the things I’ve done since those days. I feel, simultaneously, like the same person but someone totally different. I think about what I would tell my 18-year-old self if I could go back in time. I think it would go something like this:

Don’t worry about the future. It will play out in ways unexpected. You’ll end up married (ha!) and living in Australia. You’ll get a PhD and then decide not to use it because doing so requires you to sacrifice your ethics and the things you hold quite dear (your health and time). But you’ll be okay. You will always be okay. However, you will have some very, very hard times. Life in Australia will never, ever be easy. You will go hungry at one point and you will have times where you have no idea how to deal with the situations hurled at you. There will be times when it will all seem so overwhelming that you will want to curl up in a ball on the bathroom floor, cry, and say ‘it’s too hard’. But through it all, you will find in yourself a strength you did not know you had. Regardless of how bad it gets, you will always be okay. You will always find a way forward. So, don’t ever worry about what other people say (because they will say a lot, and it won’t always be very nice), keep your mind and your heart open, grab opportunities when you see them, and never ever stop loving and caring for others, even when it is not reciprocated. There will be times in your life of pure joy and beauty. You will have the chance to ride your bike more miles than you ever dreamed. Soak up those good times to get you through the more challenging ones. And yes, you’ll look back on the next few years as one of those great times in life where everything was about as perfect as it could get. So live it up – study hard, play hard, work hard and party hard. You’ll never want to go back and change a thing about the next few years. Enjoy it! I’ll see you down the road!

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