Visiting Old Campsite

July 18, 2016

I've been living in Colorado for nearly 4 years and attribute moving out here to the attraction I felt while biking through. My route ran just south of where I live (Boulder), passing through Colorado Springs. Although nearby, I hadn't had an opportunity to traverse any of the roads I fell in love with until a couple days ago, when I drove down southeast into the mountains for a rafting trip. It turns out that the organization through which our crew rented the rafts is positioned right on the road I passed through! Positioned just north of Poncha Springs (where I recalled details pertaining to location of my campsite that night), I took the opportunity of driving to the spot with my girlfriend during a lull in the activity just after our arrival.

We first drove through town a little so I could catch my bearings when, all of a sudden, I recognized the small ridge under which I slept that night just over 5 years ago. This reminds me that the 5 year anniversary of completing the trip across the country is tomorrow! I'll do something special to commemorate just how growth-inducing the trek was for me. Anyway, we pulled off the road alongside the ridge and walked through some rugged brush (the leg-scratching kind) to reach a spot overlooking the very spot I camped that night on the trek. I wasn't entirely sure of the exact location, but could position it within 100 ft.

Part of the reason I recall that campsite so well is due to the very significant series of events leading up to it. During the day of riding leading up to finding that campsite, I passed over Monarch Pass on the continental divide: the absolute highest elevation I would reach during my entire trek (11,312ft / 3,448m). It was a moment I'd considered with trepidation for many months before, both after setting off from San Francisco on May 23rd as well as beforehand while contemplating the trip. The Rocky Mountains terrified me; I couldn't wait until I could understand them as a memory rather than consider them as a future event surely bringing suffering and excessive strain into my life. I recall the long ride leading up to the base of the final climb and the 7 mile suck of a climb up to the pass. I recall stopping multiple times to rest and suffering attacks by mosquitoes in the lower elevations flying faster than I could climb, encircling my head and occasionally being inhaled by the deep gasping breaths my body required for the effort. I remember the spectacular views and watching the valleys behind me slowly fading from a place I had recently been into an aspect of a terrific overview. It makes me emotional just considering the memory in its entirety, much of what made it so spectacularly beautiful being what I will write about soon. Tears well up in my eyes as I recall the pivotal moment this small aspect of the trek as a whole has been for the future direction of my life and my attitude. I had little understanding of its significance while suffering up to the pass, but hindsight has blessed me with perspective.

I remember reaching the pass, exhausted but entirely thrilled. I indulged in the moment by parking my bike beside the marker indicating the elevation to take a picture. Although it felt strange to see the gift shop ungracing the top, I celebrated further by venturing within and surely taking the opportunity to relieve some bodily needs. I have faint recollections of speaking with at least one person about what I had just done, sharing the moment a little. I soon again mounted Odysseus (my bike) for the long and fast ride down the mountain on the opposite side, feeling great and likely howling and whooping like a primal beast (what I called my Mountain Call, as it often welled up within me to the point of bursting when descending on the other side of a big climb). I decided to spend the night near the small town of Poncha Springs just about 18 miles down the road from the pass. I imagine I first found a place to make camp on the perimeter of the town before riding in to find a place to relax and celebrate. I found a dinky little bar, nearly empty, which served sandwiches made by the bartender with whom I spoke for a while. Now dark after finishing my meal, I found my campsite and drifted to sleep.

I awoke with a decision to make. I was planning to continue along Route 50 to avoid many of the remaining mountains of the Rockies. Yet, since I had now encountered the behemoth the day before and succeeded in overcoming, I realized my attitude towards mountains had shifted quite a bit. I realized much of the fear with which I considered the Rocky Mountains had been unfounded; I had grown into quite the powerful cyclist capable of more than I had previously thought. Many of the fears were created by the unknown, and some in struggling through the Sierra Nevada early in the trek when I was unseasoned. Although I scoffed at it at the time, my cyclist uncle told me I would come to love mountain riding either early in the trip of shortly beforehand. This transition had just occurred, leaving me desiring more riding through the Rockies before departing them for the flat plains to come. As such, I decided to depart from Route 50, the road which led me across Nevada and the first road I truly grew to love, having been taught many invaluable lessons upon its surface. I split north for another taste of the Rockies, knowing full well the decision meant a longer and more arduous trek. I now smiled at the prospect, in stark contrast to the accusation of madness with which my self of just a day ago would have reacted to the decision. The truth was I had descended into a form of madness; it isn't considered sane to actively decide to experience more hardship and struggle. Yet my eyes had been opened to the realization that the state of being at the peak of existence follows these very decisions: I had made several such decisions leading up to the initiation of the trek and would come to experience transcendence, a knowledge of the workings of the universe as a result.

The veering north led me first past the awe inducing Collegiate Peaks, still snow-capped. I passed through many more mountains and suffered/enjoyed many more climbs than I would have had I continued along my beloved Route 50. It was hard parting with this old friend. I passed through Woodland Park, the first town I encountered where I could see myself living: large enough for job opportunities and excitement, and small enough to avoid the depersonalization of cities. Its positioning in the vicinity of mountains was also immensely attractive. It became the model for the place I would seek to live upon returning home to Illinois after completing the trek in Boston. It also solidified my desire to move to Colorado, I prospect I began seriously considering soon after crossing the state border from Nevada.

All of these considerations and the magnitude of the moment struck me as I gazed over the old campsite in Poncha Springs. It was difficult knowing I couldn't share the experience as fully as I would have wished with my girlfriend; there was an intimacy with which I experienced that location she would never be able to fully understand. We soon hopped back in the car to drive past the bar where I celebrated the accomplishment of crossing the Continental Divide, and drove back to the rafting company, saying goodbye once more to the beautiful Route 50, no longer traveling upon its surface but still embracing the memories, lessons, and experiences we shared together which have come to shape my life since.

from experience Bike Across America


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