Monte Vista to Ft Garland: The rift valley
Sunday August 13, 2017, 45 miles (72 km) – Total so far: 326 miles (525 km)
We are just hopping across the valley today – traversing the basin of the rift. It’s a cool start at 7am but the pedaling warms us up quickly. Highway 160 has a huge shoulder all day, so it’s just a matter of ignoring all the traffic off our left shoulder. There is plenty of it, too, even in the early morning. When we get east of Alamosa, we’ll see strings of 10-15 vehicles at a time. I wonder whether it will be everyone heading home from the mountains, since many schools in different states start tomorrow. But no, it seems like there are just as many cars going the other way.
There is not a whole lot to see – just high altitude desert with a low cover of ‘chico’ or greasewood and rabbit brush and the like. But it’s nice to put down a considerably higher average speed than we have the previous days climbing on gravel.
Ho-hum. We just pedal and pedal. Coming into Alamosa, the shoulder disappears. At about this point, there’s a turning lane into Walmart. A look at google last night indicated we might want to use this as a backroad instead of the shoulderless road through town. The road through the shopping area has a bike lane. I didn’t plan out a turn-by-turn route last night – just looked at where I should bail and rejoin. So I just keep heading straight where the bike path ends. This road eventually ends in a t-intersection where we head south onto the Adams State campus. I can’t imagine going to such a tiny college in such a small and cold town, but nevermind. Once on campus, we turn left at another t-intersection and follow this road into a park. So far, so good. It’s all been easy. I stop to have a snack and look at google to get an idea of where to head next – that’s easy: over the bridge on the bike path, then right down another path back to the highway. Done deal.
And so we continue on – only the traffic is heavy enough now that we stop and put the headphones in and turn up the music on the ipod. I still have the huge shoulder, and the traffic is nearly constant, the only time I will usually ever listen to music. It does make the ride go faster and the traffic less annoying.
Off to our forward left are the tall and dominating peaks at the end of the Sangre de Cristo Range. A bit further to the left, the Great Sand Dunes are a wisp of tan pressed against the base of the range. Way off to the right, there are more volcanic intrusions and flows in the valley, and the long gap south as the Rio Grande follows the rift. This is our view all the way over to Blanca. Just pedaling onward.
At Blanca I stop for a chocolate milk. The tiny general store has a food counter up the back. If it were later in the day, I would most definitely be indulging in pierogies. We had these as a kid whenever we went to family reunions in Youngstown, Ohio for my dad’s side of the family (his maternal grandparents immigrated from Ukraine). The store here also has homemade sausages on offer. Maybe another time.
When I go to pay for the milk, the attendant asks, “Are you on the bike?” I tell him yes. He says, “Holy crap, you’re fast! I just passed you back there!” I laugh and say, “Thanks, but I’m actually a slow rider!” (My average speed today on the flats with a slight quartering headwind is only 13mph). He tells me how envious he is of my riding. It turns out he had a mountain biking accident on Mothers Day back in May and is still off the bike due to the injury to his foot/ankle.
And then my desire to remain in America takes another nose-dive. The guy gets off the stool he’s been sitting on to show me his foot. The foot and ankle are almost twice the size of his uninjured foot. I proclaim, “Yikes! You did that back in May?! What did you do to it?” He says he doesn’t really know but thinks it must be some tendon or ligament damage. Wow. Just wow. So here is the scenario: You hurt yourself but work in gas station so don’t have health insurance. So you can’t get any treatment or any diagnosis. You have a bum foot for months with no idea when and if it will heal.
In my head I’m just thinking: America, your health system is f88ked. You need to join the rest of the advanced countries and do the hard work to implement universal care. Some guy hobbling around in 2017 because he can’t afford to visit a doctor says terrible things about your wages and your healthcare system.
I tell the guy how sorry I am for him and give him my well wishes and good thoughts. Those won’t heal him, but man, that pisses me off. The anger drives me the final miles over to Ft Garland. At the fort museum, I position my bike so it won’t be easy for anyone to take off with it (I’m not carrying a bike lock on this tour). Then I head in to pay the entry fee. The volunteer guy is very friendly and gives me a map. I head down to watch the introductory video and then take my time looking at the grounds and the various exhibits. The newer exhibits are all well done and cover the Fort’s role in the Civil War, the Buffalo Soldiers, fort life and local history, and Kit Carson’s life. I spend more than two hours here. It’s well worth the cost ($5) of admission. The volunteer is able to answer all of my questions and I’m really glad I took the time to have a look. I did not do so in 2013 as I got to Ft Garland late in the day after climbing two passes and in the midst of a sneezing attack.
And I did have time today. This is as far as we’re going. It’s not because we are tired or anything but rather that there isn’t really any public land or anywhere suitable to camp up ahead at any sort of appropriate distance. This is a very poor or pretty crappy town, and once you’ve seen the fort and the Catholic Church, you’ve pretty much exhausted the interesting bits.
I go have lunch in the park, and then help two little kids with their bikes whom have been hanging around since I sat down. The one kid’s bike just needs some tire inflation, and the other kid needs the back axle moved back in the dropout so the chain is tighter and doesn’t keep falling off. I’m not sure how long it will fix the problem, but long enough for the little guys to speed off in hopes of finding some other kids to race. I loved how they kept looking at me like I was some sort of alien with bike tools who just sorted landed in their park. They never said too much, but they pushed their bikes toward me when I offered to fix them, then watched intently as I worked on them. I did get a ‘Gracias’ before they took off.
I then roll down to the RV park. It’s a gravel lot above the creek with a small outbuilding that has washer and dryer, and one bathroom for each sex. Across the creek and on the low side of the creek is an open grassy area surround by trashy, occupied mobile homes. There is no one at the house/office, and instructions are to pick a site and they’ll come later to get the money. The whole set-up is a little odd, but I find a spot in the grassy area with some shade and get set up before the storms come through. None of the mobile home occupants really give me a second look, so I must be in the right spot. It sucks to be really far from the toilets, but for $10 a night, I don’t expect much anyway. Sometimes all you need is a safe place for the tent.
No one ever comes to collect my money. So I make a little envelope out of a sheet of paper, put $10 in it and write “tent site $ for solo touring cyclist” on it with the date. I’ll drop it in between the door and screen door of the office when I leave early tomorrow.
The museum today was the highlight – the rest was a pretty flat ho-hum. There were no topographic highs or lows really, but after the past six months, I’ve had enough highs and lows anyway!