Pueblo to Boulder and Back
Many people spend their Spring Break partying on a beach in Florida. We opted for a more adventurous way to pass the week. We decided to combine public transportation, bicycle touring, and meeting strangers into a wonderful 5 day vacation.
Navigating our way out of Pueblo was easy, using the very familiar Fountain Creek Trail, but we quickly entered uncharted territory. First the bike trail ended, then the pavement ended, and we spent 13 bumpy miles wondering if a different route would have been better.
Luckily the weather was beautiful and the views of Pikes Peak and the Spanish Peaks were spectacular. Strip malls soon gave way to farm houses, solar panels, cows, and irrigation structures. Some of the gravel Overton Road is hard packed and in spots almost like asphalt, but there are also spots of thick loose gravel that expend plenty of energy and slow the pace.
Traffic was minimal, maybe 4 or 5 cars total, most of which slowed down as they passed so they wouldn't kick up gravel and dirt, but not everyone was so considerate.
After a couple of gravel dustings, we were thankful to be back on pavement and heading towards Fountain. We came across interesting art pieces and made other junk into art pieces of our own. We stopped for a break along Fountain Creek, which is still just as smelly as it is in Pueblo, but I had to stop and do some work at one of my field sites along the way.
We then hooked up with the southern portion of the Pikes Peak Greenway, which is a nice gravel bicycle and pedestrian path that follows Fountain Creek. Yes, it's still stinky, but there are some nice fountains, views, and the elusive prairie dog to keep your mind off the smell.
When we got closer to Colorado Springs, the gravel trail turned into a nice paved trail, but we didn't stay on it for long. We had about an hour to kill before catching the FREX, just enough time to find a cafe and take in a coffee and a sandwich.
For those of you that don't know, the FREX is awesome. For $11 you can take it from Colorado Springs all the way to Denver. We detached our panniers and loaded our bicycles on the front rack and boarded the bus. They also have a convenient bike locker at the bus stop, if you want to leave your bike safely overnight.
I don't get the opportunity to travel by bus much anymore living in Pueblo, but I was reminded why I love it so much. Someone else drives, I get to relax, read the paper, kick my feet up, and don't have to worry about directions. When we reached Denver, the traffic was insane, and all I could think about was how many single drivers were on the road and wondered what was going through their minds.
We made a quick transfer at the Market Street station and bordered another bus towards Boulder. Our bicycles weren't so lucky this time, they didn't get the cool ride up front, but did get their own separate compartment underneath the bus.
On the bus ride to Boulder, I remembered that I forgot to call my cousin who lives there so I pulled out my phone to give him a call. I was literally searching through my phone contacts when I noticed someone 4 rows up that looked very similar to him. I spent the next few minutes trying to convince myself that there was no possible way that the one person I knew in Boulder, would be sitting 4 rows ahead of us on the bus. I was wrong. Conveniently, I didn't have to use my cell phone to make plans to meet up with him and his wife later.
That evening, we went out for dinner with Rita's relatives at the Boulder Tea House then met up with my cousin and his wife for dessert afterward. It seemed like we had done an awful lot in one day and were basically exhausted and ready to sleep.
The next day was exciting as it was my first time riding a bicycle in Boulder, one of the premier bicycle cities in the U.S. For the most part, I was not disappointed. Definitely a lot of people riding and walking everywhere. The amount of bicycle infrastructure was mind blowing, which almost made things more complicated for getting around. The biggest thing I noticed was drivers being comfortable and courteous around cyclists. In my opinion, Boulder earned it's platinum ranking.
Denver on the other hand was far more disappointing. I know it's not fair to judge some place after only riding there once, but being an out of town cyclist in Denver is not easy. We spent a good portion of our day looking for routes, trail heads and connectors that were suppose to be somewhere according to our bike map. Signage was horrible.
Once we made it onto the South Platte trail, things were a little easier. I always thought Fountain Creek in Pueblo was pretty gross, but relative to the South Platte and Fountain Creek in Colorado Springs, the Pueblo reach of the Creek is sparkling clean.
industrial areas. Not that appealing, but fairly interesting just because I wasn't aware of the dirty side of Denver. The further south we rode, we started to notice a few more yuppy joggers and fixed gear bicyclists here and there and were soon in the LoDo neighborhood.
We were a bit behind schedule from looking at maps most of the morning, so made a quick stop at a hipster coffee shop for lunch, and continued on our way. We did come across a section of the South Platte trail that was closed for construction, but a nice detour was prepared and very thoroughly marked and easy to navigate around A+ for that..
Our destination for the evening was in Littleton with our host Cathy from Couchsurfing. Her friend Don came over, we had a beer or two, Rita cooked a great curry, we sampled chocolates for dessert and topped off the night with a relaxing soak in the hot tub.
The next morning we set out early, but not before a prepared breakfast of waffles and homemade yogurt.
We were back on the road, and the southern section of the South Platte trail was by far the prettiest. That section is named the Mary Carter Greenway...I'm not sure who Mary Carter is, but she sure knows how to make an urban trail.
We followed the Mary Carter Greenway and 470 trail as long as we could but said our goodbyes to urban trails and hello to suburban sprawl neighborhoods as we rode through Highlands Ranch and Castle Pines. We also said hello to very steep grades and very strong headwinds. We were also introduced to the suburban buffalo.
After a lunch break, we continued the grind into the wind and uphill towards Palmer Lake. The scenery was spectacular, but it was difficult to enjoy while being blown around by the wind. Our original plan was to ride all the way to Colorado Springs, but I was developing some hefty right knee pain due to wrestling with the wind, so we opted to spend the night in Palmer Lake.
Spending the night in Palmer Lake was a nice treat. We were the only guests at a bed and breakfast, so we lounged around in bathrobes all night watching television and reading outdated magazines.
We woke up the next morning to beautiful blue skies, people were out walking, riding and washing their cars. We decided to ride only 30-35 miles, take a day to rest my knee, explore Colorado Springs, go rock climbing, and still be able to meet up with our Warmshowers host Liz who was gracious enough to reschedule our visit after our wind/injury delay.
The ride along the New Santa Fe trail from Palmer Lake to Colorado Springs through the Air Force Academy along upper Monument Creek was excellent. The ride was a little slow because the trail is gravel, but we were in no hurry, so we could enjoy the views.
In Colorado Springs, the Pikes Peak Greenway is mostly paved, with the same great views. We rode into old Colorado City and had a great cup of coffee and read the morning news while marinating in the warm sun. While Rita was in the library looking for directions to City Rock so we could do some bouldering, there was an interesting scene outside that involved a lost girl, a delusional grandfather, and a few police officers.
We met up with Liz and Larry from Warmshowers and they welcomed us with snacks, wine to soothe our injuries, a great dinner, and many great laughs. We're hoping that they will ride down to Pueblo this spring, so we can return the favor and give them a comfortable place to stay while they take in what Pueblo has to offer.
The next morning we woke up to a slight dusting of snow on the ground in Colorado Springs. We planned our Colorado Springs exit strategy over a couple of cups of hot coffee and decided to bypass the Fountain Creek trail for a more direct street route, hoping that the Sunday church goers would be off the roads. The direct route was definately easier, but our feet were frozen by the time we arrived in Fountain so we stopped again for more coffee.
We took our time over the last 15 miles, stopping a few times to soak in the last bit of our trip and reflect on the good and the bad and also to think about planning our next mini-tour.