Fort Collins to Sterling and back via Fort Morgan

Day 1: Fort Collins to Sterling - 105 miles with only a little climbing (1000 feet?)

Pawnee National Grasslands

Al, Jane, and I left Fort Collins at 8:30 AM for a 105 mile first days ride. Al wanted to do this route, but, as it turned out, it was asking a bit too much of Jane. Riding SR 14 east out Fort Collins was easy, at least after we got through the Fort Collins traffic, although we did have a 5 to 7 mph head wind for most of the days ride. The route is simple: get on 14 and ride east. The problem is that there is very little in the way of services between the end points of the ride. There is a place to eat in Ault, at about 20 miles. There is a place for a snack and a bathroom break in Briggsdale, about 45 miles into the ride. There is a place to eat in New Raymer, about 70 miles into the ride. There are places to stay in Sterling at a bit over 105 miles. Not bad, but not ideal.

We made it for a good second breakfast in Ault at about 10:30 AM. Then we headed towards Briggsdale. It took us till 2 PM to get to Briggsdale. I knew we were in trouble because Jane was not feeling well (I think heat exhaustion) and our pace was less than 10 mph. We had 60 miles to go, with about 6 hours to sunset and we were averaging 8 mph. We weren't going to make it before dark. Jane is not a quitter and we really had very few options other than going on. We made it to New Raymer at 6 PM. I asked about a place to stay for Al and Jane (I could camp in the city park), but none were offered. It was 35 miles to Sterling, we had less than 3 hours of light left and storms were cranking up to the west of us. We rode on.

At 8:30 PM when it was getting dark, and a big storm was closing in on us, we were still 10 miles from Sterling. I was resigned to riding in the dark in the rain for at least an hour - actually it would have been more like two - with Jane who was already in pretty bad shape. It was not a happy prospect, but what do you do? I was a quarter mile or so ahead of Al and Jane when a farm pickup truck coming the other way stopped and the farmer asked 'You need help getting to shelter?' YES.!

When Jane and Al caught up with us, I asked Jane if she would like a ride into Sterling. YES. We loaded the bikes on top the equipment already in the back of the truck. The farmer (I don't even know his name) drove us into town, found us an inexpensive motel and helped us unload the bikes. We got our room and 10 minutes later, just about 9:30 PM, the storm hit Sterling. We were very lucky, and very thankful, not to be riding in it. Jane was so exhausted that she has to rest for an hour to get up enough energy (with prompting from Al) to clean up and get ready for bed.

The route itself was actually quite nice, especially after it entered the Platte river valley at about mile 80. Most of the middle part of the ride (mile 25 to mile 70) was along the bottom of the Pawnee National Grassland. This would have been quite beautiful if the government didn't permit rancher's cattle to badly over graze. At least part of this is on a (Bike '76?) major bike route, so the folks at the places to stop aren't surprised to see bike tourists. A nice ride, if a bit too far between services. The road has a good shoulder and light traffic, but I wouldn't want to ride it on a windy day. Speaking of wind, we did have one freak wind gust that blew all three of us into the middle of the road. At least 40 mph sustained for about a minute - we all fought to keep our bikes upright. I had to stop and extricate my mudflap which was blow under the back of my fender.

Day 2: Sterling to 5 miles east of Fort Morgan - 50 miles with almost no climbing (400 ft?)

We had planned an easy day on Day 2, in part because we knew Day 1 would be hard, but also because we only had 130 miles to cover in the last two days. We left about 8:30 AM, rode downtown to a cafe (J+L - very good place for breakfast) on north 3rd St., and headed south on US 6 about 9:30. It was a little warm and a bit muggy, but the bicycling was great. Flat road, good shoulder, light traffic, and interesting things to look at (crops, historical markers, and trains). We stopped in Merino for a snack - I had a good $1 milkshake! - and in Brush for lunch. When we got to Fort Morgan we asked about places to stay between Fort Morgan and Greeley. There were none. Moreover Fort Morgan was hosting a big volleyball tournament so there were very few room available. We got the last rooms at the Quality Inn, five miles east of town. This was the best location - it was as far east as we could get without going to Greeley, another 50 miles east.

The high point of the second day's ride, an overpass complete with train

My room was the last room rented by the motel. It had a broken air conditioner and no towels. I talked to the manager who promised to fix things, but seemed to make little or no effort to actually keep his promises. Ah well, I did get him to reduce the rate and give me some towels. In the evening it cooled down enough for comfortable sleeping. The volleyballers were also a bit noisy, but I still had a good nights sleep. The restaurant was good and we enjoyed our supper. A good day, especially for Jane who definitely hadn't had a good day the day before!

Day 3: Fort Morgan to Fort Collins. - 80 miles with a bit of climbing (2000 feet?)

Al and Jane left an hour an a half before I did, so I got more sleep and then got to ride at my normal pace - I averaged 13.7 mph while riding instead of the 10 mph they were doing - until I caught up with them in Kersey. We rode the frontage road to Wiggins when there was a good place to have breakfast and then US 34 to Greeley. US 34 is a great road if you like rough roads with no shoulders and moderate traffic including big trucks and RV traffic. Actually most of this route (about 30 miles) was good - either four lane with a small shoulder or two lane with good shoulder, but the other 20 miles was not good. I only had one scary bit - a gray Accord that came within a foot of me at 60 mph while a semi was in the other lane - but the riding was often unpleasant. I'm not sure I'd do that route again.

Highway 36 Where it had a good shoulder

After Kersey, we always had a shoulder and riding was good, if a bit noisy, all the way back to Fort Collins. Our route was 34 to business 34 to 85 at Greeley. Then 85 north to Lucerne where we had lunch (good lunch at the only restaurant on 85 in Lucerne) and headed west to Winsdor. SR 392 is nice road with an OK shoulder and moderate traffic. This is a pretty ride through a lot of irrigated fields ending at a pleasant small town. Finally we headed north on SR 257 to SR 14 and then east to Fort Collins. All of this was pretty flat riding with light to moderate traffic. Nice riding. On 287 we passed a marsh area with lots of birds; pelicans in Colorado? Red wing Black birds and lark buntings were also abundant.

We got home about 4 PM. It was a successful first tour for Al, and, to some extent, for Jane. That first day was too long for her, over 100 miles into a headwind is not easy, but the last two days were pretty good. Al is going to ride with me up to Rustic ( about 45 miles up US 14) when I do my tour next week. He now has the confidence to ride longer rides and to do multi day tours. I hope I get to ride with him some next summer.