Day 19 Sterling to Fort Collins CO
I did this ride in the other direction last summer (see my Colorado Trip Web Pages), so I knew pretty much what to expect. It is a long ride through a lot of grassland with few services. This time it also had the possibility of being a long, windy - and therfore slow, ride with late afternoon storms. I got up an hour earlier than usual in order to be on the road by 7:30. I ate breakfast (pancakes) at the excellent cafe/diner and headed west. I stopped on the west edge of Sterling at a fancy new park (no camping allowed) to use the toilet. The next possible potty stop would be twenty two miles down the road in Stoneham. Wide open spaces and a fair amount of traffic made anything else impractical.
Clouds to the south
There was more traffic than I remembered, much of it large trucks, and a stiff, 15 mph and gusty, crosswind from the south. There was also a good wide shoulder. Since the wind blasts from the trucks were unpleasant, I ended up switching to the wrong shoulder (upwind and therefore no wind blast) about ten miles west of Sterling. CO 14 goes around a brideg under construction and climbs a big bluff there and the right shoulder goes away to provide a passing lane. I switched to the left shoulder and stayed there until I got to Stoneham. I took over two hours to cover the 22 miles because of the climbing and, mostly, the wind. This was looking to be a long days ride, or maybe I should say grind since that's what the wind was turning it into. I couldn't hear the birds or do much sightseeing because of the wind. I wondered if I was going to have to spend the entire day cranking along like this in relative misery just to get to Fort Collins.
Things improved a lot when I stopped in Stoneham. I became confused as I approached Stoneham because I though I had eaten there before, but the town didn't match my memories. Hmm? Oh well, there is a cafe and I won't worry about the fact that it is on the wrong side of the road as long as I can get a meal there! When I walked in to the Prairie Cafe there was a lady running the place and a man sitting at a fairly big table. He looked friendly so I sat at the table with him. His wife came back from the restroom and joined us a few minutes later.
It was only 10 AM, so my food choices were a bit limited - a sign said "This isn't McDonalds - you get your food my way!" I ordered a traditional breafast - eggs, sausage, toast, and hashbrowns - and visited with the couple. They were from New Raymer, ten miles down the road. After fifteen years in New Raymer, they moved there because of his job, they were still outsiders in that little town. We talked about the culture of small towns and how different it could be from town to town.
About the time I got my food (excellent and lots of it) another man came in. He was a plumber who worked out of Sterling. When the couple left he sat down with me and we talked about life in Sterling. As he put it: " life is too short to put up with the hassle of living in the city." Sterling was a friendly place where he enjoyed life. Sounds sensible to me! When he left I visited with the lady running the cafe. She was not fond of bicyclists since, while living in Steamboat Springs, she had encountered too many rude ones on the road from Steamboat to Kremmling. I told her I'd heard that was not a good place for bicycling (narrow, twisty, and too many trucks) and pointed out that the aggressiveness of those bicyclist may have been necessary for survival.
Leaving Stoneham I was in a much better mood and the wind seemed to be easing up so riding was better. I could actually enjoy the prairie. When I got New Raymer my confusion about Stoneham was cleared up. I'd eaten in New Raymer, not Stoneham. I needed a potty stop, so I pulled in to the Pawnee Cafe to get a coke.
This cafe, the one I remembered, is a bit off the road and has a covered area sort of like an old west store front. In that covered area was another touring bike! I knew that CO 14 was a fairly well used bike route and I guessed there was a small chance of meeting another tourist today. A small chance. I went in and sat down to visit with my fellow tourist. He turned out to be an ultra-marathon rider who was riding across the country for the fourth time, trying to beat his previous best time. The former owner of a bike shop near my home is also an ultra-marathon type and this fellow knew him and knew Asheville. We had a great visit and he headed east planning to ride through the night (I had noticed he had a generator hub on his titanium frame racing bike <grin>) and I headed west really enjoying the ride. It would have been depressing if we were going the same way since he had ridden from Fort Collins to New Raymer in the less time than I had taken to get from Sterling to Raymer.
When I left New Raymer, I was able to comfortably ride on the 'right' shoulder. This is good since the shoulders had narrowed. There are good shoulders all the way on 14, but they are only two or three feet wide for most of the distance. The wind for the rest of the ride varied and came from all points of the compass. I did have a gentle headwinds some of the time - the first non storm related west winds I've seen on this tour. There are a lot of people that 'know' there are always west winds on the plains. It ain't so. There are usually south winds (90% of the time on this trip), sometimes north, east, and west winds. On this tour the west wind was the least common of the bunch. Today I ended up with a good tailwind (east wind) for the last few hours.
Riding west from New Raymer takes you into the Pawnee National Grasslands. I stopped in the grasslands for a snack and to enjoy the peace of undeveloped, but alas over grazed, country. Then I rode on to Briggsdale, the next stop. You can see the mountains behind Briggsdale in the photo above. Briggsdale has a service station with some snack food and clean bathrooms. While I was there some men heading to Fort Collins visited with me about bicycle touring. One, who had bicycle with a gel seat, 'tried on' my flite seat. He was impressed (pun intended) by how hard it was.
I rode from Briggsdale to Ault, about 20 miles, without stopping except to take a picture of the Pawnee Grasslands sign. The wind was helping my ride by now and I was cruising in the mid to high teens and actually using by big ring for sustained downhills. Ault has a cafe - I was hoping it would be open - so I had a late lunch/early supper and a good rest before riding to Fort Collins. Ault is 20 miles east of Fort Collins, but that 20 miles has a much more urban character than the 80 miles I had ridden east of Ault. It is amazing how offensive cars can be when you've gotten spoiled by their absence! It is also amazing how many bad drivers I saw in that stretch, but riding was pretty good because it has a good shoulder all the way.
CO 14 west of Ault
Fort Collins, once I got off CO 14 which was pretty much interstate like at that point, is a nice town to ride in. There are lots of bicyclists here and generally good provisions have been made for us. I got to my friends house about 6:30 PM, 11 hours after leaving Sterling. I'd guess I spent 8 of those hours riding. A nice ride after a shaky start.