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Day 47: Into the Nothing

One terminal tire. Zero bike shops. Ninety empty miles to the nearest "town." Here we go…

Day 47, we woke before dawn on the plush carpet of the daycare room of the Sheridan Lake Bible Church. And maybe we should begin with gratitude: thank you to all the churches, towns, and individuals who have given us places to lay our heads, to eat, to keep warm. Just: thank you.

Last night, after doing what she could for the compromised tire, Sara left the patches and tape and rubber cement out to dry. So, in the morning, we put the tire back on, pumped up the tube, and held our breaths… 

It holds. The hernia spot still bulges, but nothing pops, nothing wheezes or whistles or slowly deflates. A good start.

We eat breakfast, then load our gear on the bikes. With this added weight, the tire still holds... But even then, we stop and question the wisdom of setting out at all: right now we have a place to be — pretty soon, we will be nowhere. We know because we crossed nowhere to get here. And if we break down in nowhere, what do we do?

Is that a house out there? Maybe they can help?

Well, if we break down in the nowhere, we try to hitch a ride. If we can't hitch a ride, one of us rides until we get reception, find a ride or a rental car or something… No one's ideal, but it's not like we're running from cannibals.

So we set out. We've finally encountered the smoke of the western forest fires, and the sunrise is so red and ominous that it feels unreal, a bloody barren masterpiece from the mind of Cormac McCarthy. Into this we roll our bikes. Sara climbs on, gently sets her weight on the MacGyver'd tire. It holds, and we bike up to the train tracks. She stops and walks the bike across the bumps. We're on our way.

There is a kind of concentration, a hopeful meditation that's akin to praying without an audience. I think that for a while I was as focused on Sara's rear tire as she was, almost like my attention and will could keep the tube from hemorrhaging outward. At the same time, I expected any moment for the patches and all to give way. I could already feel us standing in the field between the railroad and the roadway, watching the semis and diesel pickups fly by.

After 28 slow miles we pull into Eads, affording us the rare opportunity of taking a picture of something that isn't the nothing. That something being the halfway point in our journey:

Some places it says Pueblo is the halfway point, but there's no sign in Pueblo that we know of. And Eads lines up with the number of miles we've done and have yet to do. So we stop and grab the photo op. Again, we hesitate before setting out — is it better to be stranded in a town than out there? But we've made it this far. We push tenuously on.

The stretch out of Eads is probably the hardest riding of the day — the low pressure in the wounded tire makes it an incredibly sluggish, and eventually a painful ride for Sara. And moving that slow is hard for me, too, especially since I've taken on some of Sara's weight to not overtax the tire. My shoulders and neck start to ache, but Sara's sitting on thorns, practically. Bouncing thorns. And then I find an actual thorn, meaning I get another flat…

Our spare tube is in Sara's tire; we find the hole, patch it, then: you guessed it, we push on. (By the way, these thorns are no joke: they're known as goathead thorns, and they're responsible for many a cyclist's woes out here in the dusty flats.) Soon after, we top one of the subtle rises that marks the landscape here, and we see Haswell in the distance. It looks like we're practically there, but that's just an illusion of the nothingness, of there being nothing between here and there — we're still over 5 miles out. It takes another 20-something minutes to get there.

In Haswell there's a store that doesn't look open but is open. And it has a table and a little shade. It's 2:30 and 90 degrees out (when we woke it was 36 degrees, when we got on our bikes it was in the low forties; we've shed a log of clothes by now). We pull in to rest, drink two gatorades each, and buy some candy bars out of the fridge. We talk with the owner a bit — he comes on as monosyllabic, almost gruff, but opens up pretty quickly into a kind of pleasant, slow-talking, even gentle-seeming kind of guy. We play with this incredibly even-tempered black lab, Jaeger, who belongs to his son but his son joined the Army when his classes got cancelled because of Covid. He was supposed to come back soon, but now it looks like he won't be home for a while. Jaeger plays fetch with a half-inflated basketball, then sits in the grass and guards it like a cat with a caught mouse. It's a good rest, but we have 40 miles left. Sara risks putting a bit more air into the tire. It holds, and we roll out again, a little bit faster now.

The riding is still slow and gruesome, the plains desolate. We hit a headwind, of course. After 13 miles, we stop and eat again (candy bars were not sufficient) at a park bench in Arlington, a place with three houses, one person living in each of those houses, and a sign proudly directing you to the Arlington Cemetery. Oh, and an outhouse.

The last 25 miles isn't the worst, actually. The sun's in our faces, but there are fewer semis, it seems, and the road occasionally improves for stretches. About a dozen miles from our destination, the sun is coming down, and we stop and do a kind of photo shoot.

And then we head on, into the sunset. And we make it to Ordway, our stop for the night, just in time to order two sizable calzones before the restaurant next to the Hotel Ordway closes. They are good calzones, and the people throw in a few donuts for free. (We eat so much.) Thank you, Kimi's Cafe.

We're beat, but we've made it through the day. The tire has held. Tomorrow holds 50 more miles before Pueblo, but we feel confident that, since we've made it this far, we'll probably make it there. It's the exhaustion around the tire, more than the tire itself, that has us tentative right now. So we rest, we sleep hard, and dream of a day off in Pueblo.

Day 47 stats: Sheridan Lake to Ordway, CO, 89.6 miles, 1625' of elevation, 1 goathead, 1 dog friend, many emotions, 2 ginormous calzones.

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