Day 29, a day of changes

Many eventful days begin with slow mornings. Today was one of those. We set no alarms. We planned on sleeping in. We were up at half past seven.

You have not known pain if you have not shaved off a months face bristle with hotel soap and a single blade razor.

We went and ate breakfast at the diner across the parking lot. I looked twelve. There were a lot of Sunday regulars. Our waitress and a large man were huddled around the TV watching a local boy compete in the Tour de France. So did I. I even ordered 8 slices of French toast in honor of the last day of the tournament.

These men are small monsters. It takes a particular kind of strength to compete in any athletic event that lasts a month, and so my hat's off to the hopped up jockeys in leotards. Now, if they really wanted to impress me, have them carry all their gear and keep the bikes in one speed -- like in the Tour's early days.

The Tour did nothing for motivation. We waddled back to the room and put off everything. Today was the last day Connor and I would be riding together, and so there was a bit of sadness on top of altitude sickness and fatigue that made leaving Pueblo a challenge.

The massive storm drains along the Arkansas are covered with large colorful portraits. Downtown Pueblo has some striking buildings and I felt some regret that I did not do a bit more exploration. We rode through the park and onto the winner of best street name on the trip so far -- Goodnight Boulevard.

The Pueblo lake area looks like a miniature grand canyon. Actually, I can't do any of today's sights -- my most beautiful day -- justice. You'll have to wait for my photos or someone else's. These might be lacking also.

Eventually, we hit the town of Wetmore. This is where I go straight west and Connor goes north. We looked for water, found none, and settled for shade. Connor was a tremendous person to ride with: I met a thousand more people because of his easy affability; we were equal in speed, films watched, books read, our understandings of what the value and purpose of slow travel is; he always ate a full 3-course meal and convinced you to do the same; he hated bike talk; he fundamentally understood this isn't an athletic event and convinced me of the same; he was just great company. I owe him a malted mikshake (it turns out one cannot eat 3 pieces of bread in a minute). I hope he comes to New York to collect.

One last note on the subject and then on to the afternoon. If you're traveling across country, you want a Sal Paradise not a Dr. Gonzo by your side: somebody good and somebody interested in everything and somebody who rarely sleeps.

So west led me straight over my first pass. I climbed 4000 ft. I sweated, I got nauseous, I was lightheaded, and I loved. Colorado has had a tremendous amount of snow and everything is green and rocky. The hills are not as steep as the Appalachians and there are no trees looming over you. When you get up top of the pass, you are free to look around you at cloud height, down to the light green cattlefields at the base of the real Rockies, and straight up at the jagged mountains you've yet to hit.

I met a cyclist who'd just come across the desert. He'd invented a kind of mask made out of cloth with hundreds of little American flags printed on it. He drank water right through the thing. He showed me right there on the side of the road. He recommended the opera in Telluride.

I got to Westcliffe and stopped dead. I went to a Mexican restaurant, chatted with the chef, had three flautas, and chatted with two young Britons I'd met earlier on at the Colorado border. I could not move. I went to the dingiest motel, asked what the dingiest room might cost, told them to go stuff themselves, and asked the directions to Cotopaxi. It was 26 miles away.

26 miles yes, but 26 miles down a rolling hill, into the sunset, narrowly beating storm clouds, past a beautiful pasture, into a ravine, down it at 40 miles an hour as the green makes way for orange and red rock, and right to the Cotopaxi store.

I am sleeping at the store. The man with the mask told me it was OK. I'll be up by 6, but I might just stick around for breakfast. I'm only a few miles from Salida, where my maps await, and then only a few miles from where I plan on stopping. I will wait at the base of Monarch pass. American Flag Man alleged that Monarch is the tallest in the nation. If so, I'll want a days rest and clean clothes.

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