Colorado 2010 – Day 34

Brush to Limon: The magic shoulder

Tuesday June 8, 2010, 76 miles (122 km) – Total so far: 1,477 miles (2,376 km)

As I’m leaving early in the morning, I notice that there are two storm chaser trucks parked out front. Okay, so they don’t look like the trucks from Twister, but the satellite dish looking thing and the logos on the door make them pretty obvious. I will have four different sets of these from different organisations pass me today.

Hwy 71 south out of Brush is pretty busy to start, even at 6:30am, and the pavement is not all that nice. I have no idea where all these people, who are passing me every 2-3 minutes, are going. Nearly all of them turn off on a road that appears to go nowhere in particular. There is some uphill involved today but I’m feeling good and my chest isn’t wheezy this morning, as it has been the past few. I really love this high plains scenery, but a road shoulder would be nice. I get to the little community of Woodrow. It is surprisingly still alive and has a post office. I find out later today that the rural community around here is quite wealthy, all having made money off oil wells on their properties. The residents even keep the local school going.

Early morning on the high plains south of Brush, CO

Just south of here I get new pavement and a small shoulder. Beautiful, thanks. Having a clean, smooth shoulder makes the riding quite pleasant all the way to Last Chance, though I’m still surprised that I can’t go more than 5-7 minutes without seeing another vehicle. I’ve got a 10-15 mph tailwind today, so that’s helping things along, too.

New pavement and a small shoulder appear south of Woodrow on Hwy 71 in Colorado
There will be nothing to obstruct their view.

Last Chance sits along Hwy 36. At one time it had a church, motel, restaurant, general store and gas station. It now has a church, a few homes, and a billion flies circling the dumpster near the porta potties at the wayside park.

Hwy 71 on the eastern plains of Colorado lies along a branch of the Texas-Montana cattle trail from the 1800s.
Anyone know the purpose of this sign? I saw this in other parts of Colorado, too. I assume it’s because it’s very easy for snow plows to lose the road in these places?

Between Last Chance and Limon I encounter the magic shoulder. It appears and disappears for no apparent reason. Pavement quality varies the rest of the way to Limon, and there’s a fair bit of truck traffic in this bit. It is mostly pleasant, but a consistent road shoulder that isn’t composed of crumbling pavement would make the ride much better. I still can’t go more than 5 minutes without seeing a vehicle, even though there’s nothing much out here. This highway must act as the short-cut between I-70 and I-76. The scenery is still beautiful and all the climbing is made quite tolerable because of the tailwind.

Crop. Sky. Eastern Colorado.

Much of the area will soon be developed as a 250MW wind farm spread across 20,000 acres of private land. Groundbreaking is to take place in August 2010 to build 139 turbines and associated transmission lines. It is expected to create 200 jobs in the construction phase – so I’m extremely lucky to do this ride before all of that extra truck and worker traffic are on this road, too. And I’m very lucky to see these awesome views from these high bluffs looking onto lower plains without the noise pollution or all those turbines sticking up in the view. I’ve just lucked out to see this gorgeous landscape before it is radically altered.

Between Last Chance and Limon you climb to the Cedar Point area and have awesome views from these high bluffs down onto the high plains below. They are starting to build a wind farm in this area. I’m about a third of the way to the top of this climb where this pic was taken.
This is in the heart of the future Cedar Point wind farm. Imagine turbines sticking up all over in this pic. (I’m not against wind farms whatsoever, but I aesthetically prefer the view without them.)

Only once do I really get squeezed by the traffic in this section. I’m flying down a hill in a place with a shoulder that is simply the leftover pavement on the right-hand side of the painted white line. I’m riding on and just to the left-hand side of that white line. As a semi comes barrelling down behind me, there’s a couple of motorcycles coming up the other side of the road. There’s nothing I can do at this speed. Luckily, they can move over because the truck has his wheels over the centre line. He’s still pretty dang close to me, too. Just as this is all going on I see a big hole in my path. There’s nowhere to go but over or through it. The pavement on the uphill side of the hole has a bit of a lip from where the initial crack in the road has lifted up the pavement. The latent BMXer inside me takes over. I grip my handlebars, crouch and start to flex like I’m ready to hit a jump on my old bike. I’m under no illusions that I can ‘jump’ a fully loaded touring bike, but I’m hoping my speed and the little lip are going to give me enough air to clear that hole. It will be disastrous if they don’t. I pull up all my weight as I hit the lip at about 26 mph, and there is a moment when the bike is fully airborne an inch or two and I clear the 18-inch+ wide hole. I also manage to stick the landing just as the wind buffets me as I fall out of the truck’s slipstream. Awesome! I’ll always be a BMXer at heart.

There’s one big downhill before Limon and I’ve got no traffic behind me, so I get out in the middle of the lane and let the bike run. Midway down the hill I get a momentary blast of a cross-wind that gives me a bit of a push and wobble, but I hold on and all is fun. Once in Limon I head up to get lunch at Wendy’s. There I overhear several storm chaser guys talking on their phones about how they’re ‘holding’ in Limon as they watch weather radars on their computer.

Afterward, I head over to the KOA to camp for the night. The folks here are super friendly and the place is clean. The lady attempts to give me a site with some shade, but sadly I think she really meant the next site over. Never mind, I’m going to head off and explore the town anyway. I head up to the local museum and see the Weather Channel’s storm chaser truck on my way there. They all seem to be just hanging out waiting for some action.

I think of the bike as a houseboat – slow, not aerodynamic but carrying most of the comforts of home. At the KOA in Limon, Verne gets to command a tug instead of the houseboat for awhile.

The local museum is superbly done. You just wouldn’t expect this quality in a town this size. I really enjoy all the exhibits and the photos from the 1990 tornado that ripped through downtown. They also have an exhibit that shows the cool fossils they’ve found in the Cedar Point area (where they’re building the wind farm). I compliment them on what a great museum they have and they say I have to go down and check out the other stuff in the old depot. The depot is only one of three remaining Rock Island depots in Colorado (I saw the Rock Island Western Division HQ in Fairbury, NE) and celebrates its centenary this year. Limon was built as a railroad camp and is located where the Rock Island and Union Pacific lines met. This was also where the Rocky Mountain Rocket train (a passenger/tourist train) split with part of the train going to Colorado Springs and part going to Denver (the two towns are equidistant to Limon). There is no passenger service (nor Greyhound stop here) anymore, and only the Union Pacific line is still active.

Down at the depot, the volunteers make sure I go out and have a look at the restored train meal car, schoolhouse and saddle display in the barn. An older woman then takes me through the exhibits in the depot building and gets to talking about ‘the way Limon used to be’. It’s really cool – I hope somebody gets her story down on tape. We’re in the very back of the place in the re-created (not recreational!) drug store, and eventually somebody has to come get her, because she’s going to be late for her other volunteer job across town. The other ladies get to talking to me and they’re all very happy to hear I’m a CSU alumnus (CSU is a land-grant university so keeps strong ties with ag communities). Several of them have family members who went there – one of them has a son who worked in Australia for several years. I have such a good time looking at the exhibits and hearing all the stories that I spend about 2.5 hours here. It’s been another fantastic day – tailwind, beautiful High Plains scenery, a BMX moment and a really cool local museum.

Ave speed: 15.6 mph Max speed: 36 mph

Elevation start: 4229 ft. Elevation end: 5377 ft.

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