Riding Around Colorado

I have always loved cottonwoods–their giant woody arms, their cottony snows, their heart-shaped leaves turning yellow in the autumn.

Ron and I have been walking everywhere lately. We’re trying to stay healthy and fit for our upcoming excursions in other places, and to get in better cardiovascular condition for ski season. We walk to the grocery, the dentist, the library. We walked our ballots over to the voting box this week for the election. It takes time to walk, and planning. But it resets the soul somehow, puffing out stress and breathing in the simple rhythm of walking upright.

But when I found a bike on Facebook marketplace for 40 bucks, I was ready to add to our exercise options. It was clear out in the suburb of Aurora, but for $40, we figured we could afford a road trip. We took the toll road that rings Denver all the way around to a place so far east it may have been Kansas. That added a few dollars to the bargain. The tolls in Denver are astoundingly pricey. (The toll from our house to where the bike was equaled $9.85!) 

Ron and I often walk up to Waneka Lake in Lafayette.

Ron still had his bike from 30-plus years ago. He dusted it off, greased it up and put the chain back on about 20 times during the first ride we took. No matter, our old bikes are seaworthy enough, not unlike the rather rustier ones we rode up and down the Gulf Coast in Florida this summer. (Grateful for those as I recall pedaling our way up Casey Key and wondering which mansion along the pristine beachfront was Stephen King’s writing alcove.)

It was in Florida where we re-ignited our interest in bicycling. It was primarily out of necessity since we didn’t have a car. But we enjoyed it so much. And now that we’re stoked on spokes again, this fall we have found Colorado to be, well, slightly hillier than Florida. In Colorado, even paths and roadways that appear flat from a distance have found us huffing and puffing in easy gears. 

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you heave to sweat up the hills and can coast down them.”

Ernest Hemingway

Though they are daunting, all the hillocks also promise fantastic vistas. Pedaling up the Rock Creek and Coal Creek trails around Lafayette has shown us giant cottonwoods turning yellow, deep blue Flatirons slanting upward, and Long’s Peak rising snowcapped in the distance.

I’m also excited to be perched high on my bicycle seat when we ride through some parts of the trails around here that lead through settlements of prairie dogs—little beasts I find unnerving at best. I have rodent phobia (musophobia), so the few moments when we are coasting through prairie dog towns are tense. And Ron knows that sometimes something as innocuous as a breeze, much less a rodent, can topple me from a bicycle. So, when we cruise through rodentville, he looks back at me frequently, knowing how much I hate it. 

Along the Coal Creek Trail near Lafayette, Colorado.

But the dogs just sit and rudely stare, silently threatening to pop up or down like weasels, or tarts. Their shadowy holes lie waiting to startle me like a jack-in-the-box or a whack-a-mole. But phobia or no phobia, we’ve had no incidents so far with these rodents. However, we have had a few minor maintenance problems as we get back in the groove of cycling.

Ron’s front tire deflated about a mile into one section of trail one afternoon. He had run over a couple of goat’s head weeds, also aptly named puncturevine, and well, his inner tube was tapped. I rode back the way we had come, and he walked his bike up to a trailhead where I eventually met him with the pickup truck. We drove off to Wal-mart for bike repair supplies, and Ron talked about how he had been impressed with the number of friendly offers of help he got while walking his flat- tired bike. He took it as a hopeful sign of humanity still left in our race. I hope he’s right.

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Bicycling with Manatees

Thank goodness Florida is flat, but so is a frying pan. Bicycling around these island places means most days we have sandy tires, hot seats, and sweat dripping down like we’re melting crayons. Feeling saddle sore and pedaling like crazy to get over an occasional bridge hump, makes me recall the bike ride I did in college that left me riding in the sag wagon and never finishing the miles I had pledged to cycle for multiple sclerosis. That time it was heat stroke. The high temperatures radiating off the blacktop in the late summer in Kansas left me too spent to pedal on. And I was only in my early 20s. Now I think I’m too old to be that hot. Also, we have ocean breezes that ruffle through our sweaty shirts and cool us down a little as we adventure on two wheels here. And we have the adrenaline of exploration. In Kansas I may have glimpsed a few cows chewing their cud in a field beside the road. Here, there are manatees!

The cruisers we rented in Ft. Myers Beach took us along the main road, past friendly construction flaggers, onto bike lanes that came and went like the sun behind a cloud and then out again, onto pedestrian walkways, and then back into traffic, pickup trucks speeding around us, cars blasting music. A few times we rode along the beach. When we could find the right consistency of sand for our tires, beach rides were perfect. The cool sea air blasted us the whole way and we avoided traffic altogether, only having to lookout for bucket-toting tots digging holes, beached humans wearing earbuds, or the odd fishing pole line.

One sunny day we rode south from our condo to a park on Lover’s Key where we could ride all over trails that held a multitude of birds and plants that were new to us. Then we rented a kayak and paddled our way through the estuaries of mangrove forests searching for manatees. We had been assured by the woman at the rental place that we would see these fantastical creatures. So when we paddled the two miles up to the end of the snaking watery trail and still hadn’t spotted the hulking mermaids I began to lose hope. My knees were turning bright red from sitting in the hot sun and if it hadn’t been for the dripping water off the oar that cooled my legs with each stroke and the broad-rimmed sun hat that kept more freckles from popping up on my face, it would have been too hot to go on. But once we turned back to retrace our way we didn’t have to go too far before the manatees appeared!

First, one bobbed his head up out of the water, snout first, a few yards ahead of our boat. We paddled like crazy toward it and then glided silently to where we thought it might pop up again. We saw it closer then, and could make out it’s rotund brown and speckled body beneath the water. We could see the dark shadows of his nostrils and eyes.

We paddled on and then spotted another manatee and sat silently waiting, hoping to see it closer. It did not disappoint. This time the sea cow swam right over to our plastic yellow craft and tipped her body around as though saying hello. She swam right next to us, close enough to see the texture of her scarred hide and the algae growing on her belly. She swam around the bow and along the other side of the boat and beneath it showing us her amazing hulking size. Sea cow is an apt term for landlubbers like me to understand the heft of these beasts. 

Not sure how sailors would ever think this creature was a mermaid.

We exchanged open-mouth gapes with the young couple in the kayak across the way from us who also saw this manatee so close. After what seemed to be enough time in reverent pause we paddled on. We saw a small manatee munching on plants that hung over the water, and another amazing more people in kayaks.

Eventually we pulled our watercraft back up the bank and walked our soggy bottoms and squeaking shoes to the beach, where we welcomed a cool dive into the Gulf water. We ate sandwiches and listened to the surf. We let our shorts flap in the breeze and dry out a little before riding back. We saw the fins of a dolphin several yards out in the waves, and the usual sea birds: egrets, herons, sand pipers, and gulls. But none of them were as close, or impressively large and docile as that manatee. We’ll be thinking about her for a long time.