A cool Colorado rain drizzled on my tent throughout the night at the Lower Piedra campground between Durango and Pagosa Springs while I huddled in my sleeping bag for warmth. Using carabeaners, I had clipped a damp sweatshirt, socks, and long underwear from the prior day's rainy ride to the inside roof of my tent in hopes that they would dry. The morning light revealed that it had been no use — everything was soaked.
I spent the first part of the morning drinking cold instant coffee and reading a morning devotion on my phone while waiting to hear some noise from Jen's tent. It was my first day cycling with Jen, my friend and Providence House director, and I was excited to have some company. Through the thin walls of my tent I could hear the sounds of the forest waking up, and the exhilarating roar of the river beside me, and felt so connected to a world that had become so hidden by man's urban creations. The rain stopped, and we decided to get moving. With a long stick, I fetched the food I had hung high in a tree to protect ourselves from bears while Jen filmed with my camera and laughed at my awkward attempt at trying to pretend that I was a seasoned outdoor survivalist. Our loaded bikes sunk into the damp soil as we descended down the twisting campground road toward Highway 160.
Jen pointed out how liberating it was to be living off of our bicycles. It was true — to carry all you need on a bicycle did something very special to the spirit. It reminded me that the best moments in my life had never arrived from a purchase I had made, an improvement in my status, or a promotion. They had arrived when I was connected to the beauty and harmony of nature, spending time with loved ones, and serving others. Each day of this trip has filled me with these moments.
Jen, like myself, was not an avid cyclist. She owned a road bike, and had modified it with thorn resistant tires and a rear rack for holding a small amount of gear. She had even engaged in several training rides to prepare. She had decided to join me, not because of a love for cycling, but because she wanted to support my efforts funding a youth recovery home and raising awareness for Providence Network, where she had served as the director of Providence House for the last five years. With that being said, Jen is in phenomenal shape, and despite over a month of daily riding, I found myself barely keeping up with her pace as we rode over the rolling mountainous hills into Pagosa Springs.
My mom's friend had a brother in Pagosa, Rob, who had invited to put us up, so we met him at the West end of town at Boss Hogs Restaurant. He was an incredibly friendly guy, and seemed to know everyone at the restaurant. After a delicious sandwich and salad bar, we coasted down a hill to his girlfriend, Laura's house, and were welcomed with warm showers and gracious hospitality.
Jen and I walked into town to explore and found a cheap hot springs that was a bit off of the main drag which had a warm swimming pool, one hot tub, and two insanely hot pools. We rejuvenated our tired muscles in the fiery geothermal springs, then made our way to the larger pool and met Karen, who began to talk about losing her husband recently to a sudden heart attack.
It was a surreal moment, as the dark clouds above began to shower, creating mesmerizing droplets on the steaming surface of the water while she spoke with such openness. Although I was a stranger, she poured her heart out to me, and talked about how hard it was for her to be alone when she had planned her entire life around her husband. The conversation turned to addiction, and she explained the pain and anguish that her drug addicted brother-in-law had caused her through this period of grief. Although it is hard to explain, I felt that God was working through me, lending an ear, providing some piece of comfort in her time of grief, and helping her come to terms with the pain that addicts are capable of inflicting.
Later in the evening, Rob and Laura returned to the house from an event, and Rob declined my offer to pay him to SAG our gear over the pass, insisting that he do it as a donation toward the cause. This was another one of the acts of kindness and selflessness that had made this trip so incredible.
The next morning, we set off for Wolf Creek Pass into the intermittent rain, stopping only to put on and take off our rain gear. I had been mentally preparing for the climb for several weeks as I had dozens of memories of my car struggling toward the top between trips to and from Durango in college, and knew it would be a beast. It took a couple of hours of steady climbing to reach Treasure Falls, a magnificent waterfall that cascades 105 feet into Falls Creek before connecting to the San Juan River and marks the point where the pass really starts to climb. With a maddening look of determination, Jen set the pace, climbing for over an hour before stopping to look down at the enormous amount of elevation we had conquered.
For weeks, I had been wondering if Jen would try to kill me for having our second day be one of the most difficult rides of the entire coast-to-coast trip, but to my amazement, she continued to endure the pain, climbing with a feverish pace ahead of me. While my legs screamed at me to stop, I could see her joyously glancing around at the wildlife and the beauty below us, as if the climb was effortless. We continued to the top, and upon reaching the snow-laden summit, Jen smiled and exclaimed, "That was it?! I am going to come back in the Fall and do it again from the other side!" My fears were apparently unfounded, and I knew Jen would have no trouble making it through the rest of the week of riding. She was an animal.
We talked to some tourists as they snapped pictures in the summer snow. I told them about the fundraiser, and I was handed money by two complete strangers, and we were showered with compliments surrounding the feat. There happened to be a folk festival in Pagosa Springs that weekend, and two folk artists stood by the sign and sang about Wolf Creek Pass. Then came the reward: over an hour of adrenaline-filled soaring down the other side, gazing at the beautiful scenery as it whizzed past.
We found a rustic cabin suite in South Fork for less than a motel would have cost, and I spent the evening working on uploading video footage while Jen watched a movie and relaxed. We took some time in the morning, sipping coffee and slowly waking up on the tranquil cabin porch before getting back on our bikes. We cycled past countless horses grazing on the dense grass as we glided our way toward Alamosa.
After stopping at a grocery store to get some provisions, we rode several miles out of town to an RV park that advertised tent camping. At first glance, I thought the place had closed down. The dumpy exterior had a for sale sign, and the office looked as if it hadn't been used in years. There were remnants of what must have once been a small go cart track, although it now looked like a pile of old tires and rotting signs. We rode up to a man sitting on the porch of a house on the property and he explained, "the guy that takes the money will be back."
It felt like a drug deal was about to happen. Fitting with the theme, a man covered in jail tattoos showed up and took my twenty bucks and pointed toward a picnic table for us to camp. He said, "Campers shower is around back. They are building a fence next to the tent site — sorry about that." The bathroom was only separated from the house by curtains, and the water smelled like natural gas but I was happy to have a place to get sort of clean and set up to sleep. Sure enough, once our tents were pitched, a construction crew arrived next to us with their noisy equipment and began to work on the fence for the rest of the night. We made the best of it, and Jen cooked a delicious concoction of rice and summer sausage with my camping stove, followed by hot chocolate. We watched the setting sun form the most unique hues of pink on the clouds in the distance. Jen somehow found a kids' tricycle and began riding it around on the go cart track under the twilight until our flesh became a feeding ground for mosquitoes and we were forced into the safety of our tents. We sat in our tents talking late into the night.
The next day was a planned rest day in Alamosa. I had a lot of work to do for the trip, so Jen rented a car and drove to the Sand Dunes while I booked a motel and worked on my computer. My friend and former coworker, Robert, made a point of stopping by to see me on his way to Durango. We spent some time catching up in downtown Alamosa while drinking smoothies and talked about his plans to possibly join me for a leg of the trip on his bike in the coming weeks.
My parents had talked about how grueling La Veta Pass would be, and even considered coming back out to SAG for us, so we left Alamosa anticipating a difficult day. Although it was some work, it was such a gradual climb that we found ourselves laughing at the idea of them providing help once we had reached the summit. We enjoyed the coast down the other side towards Walsenburg stopping to look at the various wildlife which included deer and buffalo.
My friend Alex and her four daughters took a trip to Walsenberg to show their support for the ride. They met us at the fanciest restaurant in Walsenberg, which was one of the only restaurants that hadn't closed its doors from the crumbling small town economy. Alex has spent a tremendous amount of time and effort writing articles about my trip, and designed several ideas to get kids involved in the cause by providing parental tools which included the "Spencer's Jar" campaign. If you haven't already, check them out on the Tools for Parents section.
She treated us to appetizers, a steak dinner, and dessert while I got the chance to tell her incredibly friendly, polite, and well-behaved daughters about the ride. I felt touched that they drove such a long way to show their support for my efforts. They invited us to swim in their motel pool, but between the 76 miles of riding and the time it took to get our tents set up, we couldn't muster the energy to make our way back to meet them.
Back at our campsite, an elderly man exited his RV wearing nothing but a red speedo and moseyed over to talk to us, mostly about the weather. He made several appearances throughout the evening, which were so comical that we decided to nickname him Speedo Steve. The next morning was spent packing up, while Speedo Steve paraded around the RV park with his wife. The fact that he was with his wife took something away from my original feeling of creepiness at his choice of clothing.
As we finished packing up, a man who called himself "Dizzle" walked up and asked Jen and I if we wanted to smoke a joint. We politely declined, and he agreed to let me film his story. Dizzle grew up in Sacramento, and was tossed around the foster system until on his 18th birthday, when his foster parent dropped him off at a homeless shelter and told him to have a nice life. He took to the streets, drawn toward the only thing that resembled a family from his fellow Crip gang members. He explained that after seeing so many of his friends die on the streets, he started to contemplate the fate of his lifestyle. At the age of 21, he started to do some serious thinking, as he had heard that the average gang member's lifespan was 21 years. He opened a map of the US and pointed to a spot: Walsenberg, Colorado. He left the streets, and had been here ever since. While I was unsure of the validity of his story, I couldn't help but think about the purpose of my trip in hearing some of his words.
My hope for this ride is to fund a new recovery home for homeless and addicted youth that find themselves in predicaments similar to Dizzle. This is a unique demographic, as age 18 is when a lot of the funding for these efforts dries up. It is the age when addictions are most likely to engulf lives. It is also a hopeful age, as lives can be profoundly and permanently changed before young people determine what will define their adulthoods. It is when a lot of kids stare at a crossroads and just need some help choosing the right path, much like I did.
This new home for Providence Network has the potential to change many young lives before they choose the wrong direction ending up a tremendous cost to families and society. Thanks for helping me accomplish this dream of helping change the directions of young peoples lives by donating, sharing, liking, and supporting my ride.