Altitude

Since we left Loveland, which sits 4,900 feet above sea level, our team has followed the Big Thompson River up to Estes Park, at 7,500 feet. The next day, we took Trail Ridge Road up to Fall River Pass, elevation 12,000 ft. Lunch, and the Alpine Visitor Center, waited for us at the peak. There was also a steep trail that took us to an amazing overlook where you could see the Rocky Mountains’ pristine peaks. This climb is called Huffer’s Hill, aptly named for making its visitors winded. That day, we also crossed paths with the Continental Divide at Milner Pass before reaching Granby. From Granby, we climbed Bertound Pass, at 11,300 feet, and coasted down before climbing Loveland Pass. At Loveland Pass, there was another path that took us to the peak, where we could see the windy road we had taken from the base of the mountain. That night, we stayed in Silverthorne, 9,000 feet, where we were treated to an amazing pasta dinner by St. Mary’s Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbus, served on real plates and eaten with real silverware.

Some members of our team are reacting to the high altitude better than others. We have had reports of altitude sickness, sleeplessness, and changes in appetite. I have had three nosebleeds upon entering the Rockies. The air up here is definitely thinner, but it’s also crisper and sweeter.

The climb up to Leadville the next day was pretty amazing as well. Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the United States, at 10,200 feet. Once in town, we enjoyed lunch and coffee and took some time to explore.

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The rest of the ride was downhill to Salida, but about 30 miles from town, I saw lightening in the sky, and it suddenly started pouring rain. I sprinted to the closest building I could see, a small home on the side of the road, and was welcomed by a couple and their chubby cat, Starlight. Mr. and Mrs. Steele gave me shelter from the storm. Mrs. Steele even took my drenched fleece and popped it in the dryer. We talked about our families and life in Colorado. Mr. Steele told me about his family business of hay farming and the issues they have had with rafters polluting the river. I told them about our cross-country trip and the cause we were riding for. About half an hour later, feeling extremely grateful for the kindness of these strangers I had just met, I hopped back on my bike and headed towards Salida. The United Methodist Church here in town took us in and provided a roof, warm showers, a beautiful dinner, genuine company, and even BOOKS. During dinner, I had an interesting and eye-opening conversation with Pastor Rhonda about her religious and career path.

Today is a build day, and even with the opportunity to sleep in until 6:30, I woke up to a rude alarm at 4, and rolled out of my sleeping bag at 5 AM.

No Words

Every morning, five of our teammates keep us updated on the going-ons of the world outside of Bike and Build. Recently, we have been getting a lot of bad news from around the globe. Almost every morning, we hear about the violence in Ukraine or the bombs and mortar flying in Gaza.

After the somber international news was delivered this morning, Tom, our host at the church in Estes Park, said something that struck a chord with me. I think it made everyone pause for just a second and consider the simplicity and importance of his statement. He solemnly affirmed that terrible crises and atrocities are occurring at every moment all around the world. Then, Tom said that he finds that the way to stay positive even with all the violence and crimes against humanity is to commit to doing small good deeds. Small deeds that go a long way–like housing and feeding a group of young adults looking for a summer of adventure and activism. He pointed to the dedication of our team of 31 and encouraged us to do the same.

With this thought turning in my brain, we took off for our first day of climbing in the Rockies. Our peak elevation was at 12,005 feet. It was physically challenging, but the beauty around us made it a simple task, and totally worth it. After hanging out and eating lunch at the tourist stop at the peak, we cruised into the small town of Granby. This is a cliche cop out, but I truly cannot begin to describe the gorgeous landscape we rode through today. Here are some pictures instead!

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Riding to Estes Park

Yesterday, we spent the day working on four different build sites with Loveland’s Habitat for Humanity chapter. We spent the day breaking rocks, spreading dirt, and laying down sod. Levi, our volunteer manager, explained to us that rent in Loveland has become increasingly expensive and scarce since the flood. Because of this, there is a big need for non governmental organizations such as HH.

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Recharged from our day of building, we finally entered the Rockies today. With the excitement from our hearts shining on our faces, we rode closer and closer to the towering mountain ranges in front of us. Homes and buildings became more sparse, and we were soon surrounded by nature.

For the first time since the Appalachians, I didn’t see any road kill, or smell methane from cow farts during our ride. Instead, I saw chaotically carved rocks and smelled nicely-scented trees. This new landscape is incredibly refreshing.

The ride was about 40 miles with 5000 ft of climbing. The only challenges were the muddy roads and a mile long stretch of steep road. I was riding alone today, but bumped into Beth and Emma on the steep climb and we hollered and whooped our way to the top. Unfortunately, even with my new Armadillo tires, I continued my flat tire streak, making my trip total come to 24.

Estes Park, which is where we are staying for the night, is a humble town of 5000. There are a lot of travelers and tourists that flock to the town because of its spectacular location in the valley of the mountains and its proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park.

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The Devil’s Backbone

Yesterday was the last of eight consecutive days on the bike. The ride was about 80 miles from Brush to Loveland. I rode with Sascha, Cindy, and Dylan. Besides some spurts of uncontrollable laughter, which can be quite hazardous on a bicycle, the first 70 miles presented few difficulties. But of course, adventure begins when things go wrong, and I had quite the adventure yesterday as we were nearing Loveland. About 10 miles away from our host, a wasp violently flew into my face and stung me underneath the eye. That brings me to the present–I am currently sitting on a comfortable couch in Grace Community Church with an uncomfortably puffy eye that has been swelling up by the second. My teammates are taking good care of me, though. Cindy brought me ice for my flaming eye and Ashley has generously supplied me with her various antihistamines.

Strangely, after the initial pain from the sting subsided, my eyes looked and functioned normally, and I was in pretty good spirits. Michelle, one of our leaders, gathered up a van of people to go hike and see the Devil’s Backbone, which is an interesting geological structure here in Loveland. We walked about a mile, mile and a half, along an upward-sloping trail of red rock towards the unique rock formation.

Though we had seen the shadow of something that was rumored to be the Rockies during our ride earlier that day, the foreboding shapes had been indistinguishable from the clouds. At the peak of our hike at the Devil’s Backbone, I could, for the first time, clearly see the mountains ahead. I expected to feel clammy sweat accumulating under my arms and on my back. Instead, I looked at the mountain range appraisingly, with wonder and confidence. Even with the sun setting rapidly, time felt still.

The landscape’s color scheme continued to transform. The sun’s changing angle introduced new hues at every new moment. It was a beautiful sight, and even though I experienced it with several of my teammates along a well-paved path that had clearly been walked by countless people before me, there was a wonderful sense of secrecy and solitude.

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Sweeping with Alex

I had another day of sweep today. Armed with extra snacks, med kit, tubes, sweep necklace and wand, Alex and I set off for McCook, Nebraska. The day started off misty and temperate. We had some good bonding time, talking about our families, college, and traveling to far off destinations. With the sweep spirits amongst us, we even found a serendipitous sweep cat. Alex was forced to carry the cat for this photo op, as I am allergic to felines. Along the way, we played some rounds of pictionary, as well as some other chalk games.

After lunch, we set off the finish the last 35 miles of our ride. That’s when the clouds disappeared, leaving us to face a blistering blue sky. There was a wisp of a breeze, but the air was mostly just hot and dry. In an effort to conserve the limited amount of water on my back, I took modest sips every so often. Even so, I ran out of water about 20 miles from our destination. Alex and I bumped into Sascha, Kaitlin, Sarah, and Emily, as Emily got her FIRST EVER FLAT TIRE.* This was a moment of sadness and celebration. All of us were running low on water, so as Emily changed her tube, Kaitlin, Sarah, and I set off to find some. This mission proved to be harder than we thought. The Nebraskan countryside was scarce in gas stations, homes, and McDonald’s, and the roads were threateningly shimmering in the heat haze. We rode into the driveway of a small white house by the road and desperately knocked on the door at least 5 times until a woman named Shelby opened the door. Shelby kindly offered us a pitcher of water from her refrigerator, and gave us good news–McCook sits in a valley. 15 miles later, we cruised into town on a comfortable downhill. About a mile from our host, we found several teammates outside a gas station, enjoying the shade and ice cream cones. Even though we were about 5 minutes from our destination, Alex and I put some more water in our camelbaks, which had again been emptied by our fierce thirst. It was a relief to arrive at McCook Evangelical Free Church.

*Just for LOLZ, my flat count is now sitting pretty at 23.

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Half Way to Half Moon Bay

With only 50 miles of riding on Friday, we had the luxury of sleeping in until 6 AM. We stayed in a small town called Red Cloud, named after a Native American chief. The town is also proud to be the place of Willa Cather’s childhood home.

After a full night’s rest at Red Cloud’s community center, we set off for Alma, Nebraska. We reached the half way point of our route yesterday–another milestone! Out of tradition and playful necessity, we all pulled into the lunch stop to hear Bon Jovi blasting on the loudspeakers. It was cool and misty for most of the morning. I felt more energized than usual, and decided to ride by myself.

Alma is a small town of about 1200 people. An intricately planned prom proposal by Dylan, for Rob, definitely brought some rarely heard noise and excitement to the town.

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