07.15.11 – Front Range Stop #1: Fort Collins

Prior to this ride, I wasn’t very familiar with “the front range.” Yes, I had flown into Denver once and I may have even briefly been to Boulder when I was young but those events don’t even begin to paint a picture.

I arrived in Fort Collins after a short day from Cheyenne with Brian. Jesse met us at his house and after a quick shower, we were on our way to the New Belgium Brewery! As we arrived at the entrance to explain we didn’t have tour reservations having just ridden our bikes from the east coast, they were quite ready to make an exception and fit us in. Things got even better when Jesse’s friend and son of the founders of NBB, Zach, happened to show up and offered us a private tour. Of course we accepted!

Zach took us all around where the normal tours weren’t going and at one point while in one of the rooms, a tour group out in the hallway walked by the window and were looking in at us, inside the room, enjoying a first row experience! In addition to going all over the brewery and into the freezer room that held the sweet smell of their hops, we got full size glasses instead of the sample glasses and a front-of-the-line pass every time we needed a refill. Needless to say, I was all smiles (for a few reasons) after 45 minutes. At one point, as we walked by another tour, Zach lifted my hand up as if I had just won a boxing match and proclaimed to all that could hear, “This guy just rode his bicycle clear across the country! Isn’t that awesome!?” at which point a few people gave the obligatory round of applause and I felt kinda silly in the spotlight. The tour ended with some free swag including custom patch kits, NBB velcro pant leg clinchers and even a beautiful merino wool NBB sweater! Thanks so much Zach, we really appreciate the time you took to show us around. In case you didn’t know, NBB is really invested in promoting cycling (you may be familiar with the beer, Fat Tire) and they’ve given all of their employees custom beach cruisers to ride around town. It’s no surprise Jesse likes Fort Collins so much and it was only the first day!

On Sunday we went whitewater rafting on the Poudre River. Having never rafted before and having a general nervousness about water, I was just as excited as I was scared. It seemed like no one could really explain to me what it was like to raft. Having now gone through rapids up to Class 4, let me try to tell you what it’s like. Most of the time you’re floating down the river hitting small rapids that feel like the wake from a nearby passing speed boat. When things start to get a little more intense (Class 3 or 4), you have to work to get through the rapid and the focus required of you leaves little room to be scared. Sometimes the raft simple drops into the rapid as if falling into a hole (often there IS a hole, which is why you have to paddle so hard!). The people in the front, which included me, generally get the wettest but also generally get the best experience. The risk of falling out isn’t too serious if you have proper foot placement in the raft. There’s more of a likelihood that another raft will fall on you, which happened in the first 20 minutes! It’s a great experience if you’re paddling in sync with the others in your raft and I’d have to say our group was amazing. Thanks so much to Cass at Mountain Whitewater Descents.

There are several bicycle companies in Fort Collins. For the most part, they seem to be small frame builders compared to the larger well-known companies. In general, these types of companies seem to focus on innovative designs regardless of how “efficient” it may operate. In other words, aesthetics seems to be equally important as manufacturability and structural integrity. It would be silly for me not to visit one or two of these places and learn more about them.

I called Panda Bicycles and said, “Hi, my name is Lowell and I’m cycling around the country for a while. I’m in Fort Collins and I’d to come check out your operation.” “Sure, come on down. We’ve got a few bikes you can try out.” Panda Bikes is a relatively new company started by a few people out from Colorado State University. They specialized in using bamboo tubing for their bicycles. Using steel lugs, they get a special bamboo that has excellent flex and strength properties while also being light. Riding their road bike with tires smaller and stiffer than mine, I could immediately feel the comfort that the bamboo provides over small bumps in road. While it may not be the next “best bike material,” I truly believe bamboo has great potential to be another viable option and if it attracts new people to cycling, I’m all for it.

If you’re visiting Colorado, you should probably get into the foothills. While there are many peaks at 10,000+ feet, you need not look further than the foothills for some great hiking, biking, and landscape views. Jesse took Brian and I up to Horsetooth rock. It was a relatively easy climb (Jesse did it with only flip flops and a bottle of water in his hand). The terrain on this hillsides has a lot to offer. Big trees, small trees, underbrush, boulders, rock gardens, you name it. One moment you could be hiking on a dirt path and then be scrambling up a rock the size of a small building. The rock is called Horsetooth because at a certain angle, it looks like the front bottom teeth of a horse (go figure, did I really need to explain that?). Anyway, getting on top gave us an amazing 360 degree. We could see a dozen front range towns on one side and more foothills with the Continental Divide on the other. It was much windier on top of this 20′ x 40′ stone peak platform and small birds shaped like tiny boomerangs swirled around us, making the most amazing sounds as they cut through the air. It sounded almost like swinging a fine stick swiftly through the air, and it came from all directions though from where, you never knew.

On what would be our final night in Fort Collins, Brian and I decided to do some backpacking. For some reason we felt the need to carry 25 pounds of gear, food and water on our backs for a night into the foothills instead of getting a proper rest for our travels the next day. Lauren, Jesse’s girlfriend, let us borrow her car to get to the Greyrock trailhead. Though we had wanted to take the short trail to the peak, we accidentally took the long trail and couldn’t make it to the peak before darkness fell. It was a tough climb with these big bags on our backs although the views were worth it. At one point we saw a baby black bear on an adjacent hillside. Although it took a moment for us to spot it, the little bugger seemed to have been staring at us for minutes, plumply perched in the same position your dog would assume upon telling it to sit. Being far enough away from each other, I don’t think either party felt threatened, however we were keeping out eyes open for mama bear or any brothers and sisters. The bear wandered off and ten minutes later we found the trail had wrapped around to the spot where the bear had been! No worries though, Brian brought his machete and though we would have hated to use it, it brought us comfort and our hike continued without any more encounters. We reached a flat dirt and boulder overlook that provided a view of Greyrock and the hidden meadow between several foothill peaks. Since it was getting dark, we decided to set up camp here and make use of the existing fire ring. With a great view of Greyrock on the opposite side of the meadow, we cooked some dinner, watched the stars and marveled at how much the full moon was lighting up the landscape and giving us shadows at midnight. A storm was apparently pounding the front range towns while we got to enjoy the lightning show from a safe and quiet location.

The following day provided a much easier hike out to the car (downhill!) and we returned to Jesse’s to prepare for out departures. Brian left first since he had a little more ground to cover into the mountains. I was traveling south, putting off the mountains for about another week. It was sad to see a new friend go but it was great to have spent two weeks traveling through some tough days and sharing some great experiences that I probably wouldn’t have had were it not for a companion like Brian.

Instead of writing about the entire front range here, I’m going to leave it at this and hopefully you aren’t tired of reading already.

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