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August 17, 2002.  Day 1.  Fort Collins to Sterling (map).

Distance traveled:     110 miles
Time moving:              9 hours, 29 minutes
Time stopped:             2 hours, 14 minutes
Ending elevation:      3956 ft
Max speed:             30.9 mph
Moving average speed:  11.5 mph
Overall average speed:  9.3 mph
Cumulative climbing:   3286 ft
Cumulative descent:    4475 ft
Cumulative distance:    110 miles

Goodbye Fort Collins.  Looking west from intersection of CO 14 and 257

Goodbye Fort Collins.  Looking west from the intersection of Colorado Highways 14 and 257.  This is also the highest elevation of the ride at about 5180 feet.

I woke up at about 4:30, and was excited to get this adventure underway after  thinking, planning, training, and buying in preparation for over a year.  I went over the bike one last time, making sure that the tires were pumped, no screws were loose, and the wheels were true.  All things I had done over and over again last night.  But it was still dark, and I did not want to leave too much before daybreak.

After breakfast of pancakes, fruit, and coffee, some light was appearing in the east and it was time to get moving.  I left home at around 6:00 am, and it was very cool, in the low 50s, and perhaps even upper 40s in some low spots.  After about 9 miles I was at I-25 and CO 14, and was a bit chilled despite pushing all this extra weight around, so I stopped at McDonald's for a cup of coffee and a biscuit.  The bike handled well, but the front lowrider panniers added some wobbles that took some getting used to.  

The first 46 miles of the ride are very familiar, I have ridden highway 14 to Ault many times, and have ridden to or from Briggsdale four times.  It is a hilly ride, but the road has reasonably wide shoulders and I enjoy the changing of the scenery from the urban area around Fort Collins to the irrigated farmland around Ault, to the dryland fields and grazing lands further east.

I reached Briggsdale at about 10:00 (46.5 miles from home), and rested at the Crow Valley campground, which is part of Pawnee National Grassland and has shade, water, and picnic tables.  
At Briggsdale.  Camp here, or go on to Sterling?

CO 14 and Weld County Road 77, Briggsdale.

 I was making good time, the weather was cool, and everything was going according to plan. I spent about a half an hour at the campground resting, birdwatching, and refilling water bottles.  Soon I was back on the road and heading east.

View to the south, at CO 14 and WCR119

View to the south at CO 14 and WCR 119.

There is something about the open nature of the Great Plains that is appealing, in a very subtle way. Today, a warm, dry day in midafternoon, this spot is very quiet, and being a drought year, it feels barren and stark.  But on a cool, early summer morning, the sounds of thousands of songbirds can produce a bewildering, euphoric state of mind.   Anyone interested in the history, ecology, and future of the high plains should read Richard Manning's book Grassland, which may very well change the way you see the "empty wasteland" that is much of the American west.  Another excellent book is  Great Plains by Ian Frazier

Bike at WCR119

My bike at CO 14 and WCR 119

New Raymer historical marker

New Raymer historical marker

At about 11:00, the wind picked up, out of the ESE.  In other words mostly a headwind.  This wind grew steadily stronger, but it was still cool, and I was looking forward to stopping for lunch at the Pawnee Station cafe in New Raymer.  CLOSED!  Bummer.  I had plenty of "energy food" along, but I was ready for a sit-down rest and could use a good meal for a break.  I did stop for a rest at the rodeo grounds across the street, and photographed the marker that talks about some of the local history.  The area was served by rail until 1980.  I managed to embarrass myself by falling over on the gravel road when I was getting back on my bike.  Still getting used to the added weight and change in balance of the bike.



From New Raymer it is 8 miles to Stoneham, and I knew there is also a cafe there but didn't have any idea whether it would be open or closed.

 Prairie Cafe, Stoneham Colorado

 Prairie Cafe, Stoneham  Colorado.

This is a genuine 3-calendar cafe.  I had one of the best burgers ever, fried in an electric frying pan probably purchased at Target or Walmart.  It was interesting to listen to the folks in there talk about how someone they know moved out of Greeley because it has gotten too expensive.  

The woman running the cafe was used to seeing cross-country cyclists, she said they pass by "all the time" which I interpret to mean one a week or so. This is one of the few routes that make a good passage through the central plains.

I had been on the road for about 8 hours and ridden 83 miles.  The first 46 miles had taken 4 hours, the next 37 miles took nearly that long -- the headwinds were taking their toll, and I still had 25 miles to go to reach Sterling.  I could camp if necessary (camping is allowed in most of the Pawnee Grasslands) but the biggest problem would be food and water -- I didn't have enough of the right kind of food to be camping, and there are no commercial establishments between here and Sterling.

So, I headed on, and the wind had really picked up, even the downhill stretches were slow and required work. The couple that owns the Prairie Cafe also makes painted wooden "whirligigs" based on their own designs and various cartoon characters and other fanciful things. The legs on the Coyote were spinning at quite a clip when I left. They also make clocks, dollhouses, and other simple but well done decorations.

Back on the road, persistence paid off, and I checked in to a motel in Sterling at about 5:30.  Watched Booknotes on CSPAN, and saw an interesting interview with Simon Worrall discussing his book "The Poet and the Murderer".  It is the story of Mark Hoffman, a forger who was best known for falsifying documents describing the early history of the Mormon Church (and committing murder to cover his tracks) but he also forged other historical documents, including a manuscript by Emily Dickinson.  This was a fascinating interview, and I will have to read this book.

Near Stoneham

Near Stoneham.

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