07.23.11 – Front Range Stop #3: Colorado Springs

Leaving Denver at 7am, it was a bit later than I would have liked. I rode south, which provided me the opportunity to take one of the main bicycle paths in Denver. I had been there for 2 full days and having not seen many bicycles lanes or cyclists in general, I assumed Denver citizens were not as big into cycling as other Colorado towns. My time on this path completely changed that perspective. There are tons of people who commute to work and one person in particular approached me that morning. Britt, from Primal Wear sports clothing, pulled up along side me, started the typical conversation where someone asks me what I’m doing and then told me that her company made the very shirt I was wearing (I had on my RIT Cycling jersey). It was nice to have someone to chat with for a bit and tell me a little more about how Denver is a nice place for bikes despite my first impressions. Britt sped off to work and shortly after, I stopped to help an older gentlemen switch his bicycle pump from schrader to presta. During this maintenance stop, Britt came back up the path and invited me to take a small tour of the Primal Wear facility. Even though it was late, getting hot, and afternoon storms were a possibility, I knew I would always have the joy of riding late into the hot or rainy afternoon so I accepted.

The Primal Wear HQ is conveniently along the bicycle path. The building had an unassuming warehouse exterior but inside it was as comfortable as a nice hotel lobby with Monster energy drinks instead of coffee. A spacious, carpeted floorspace on the first floor is where many of the business and marketing people congregated and the designers had their own private sector on the second floor. The designers seemed a bit more cramped into a limited space but I suppose it’s better that way if you need to work closely (pun intended) with others on the designs. It was really nice to see how other companies (not just the manufacturers for which I’m trying to work) in the cycling industry love what they’re a part of and strive to contribute their piece to the puzzle. Before leaving, Britt and I snapped a picture together and she gave me a pair of socks and two huge water bottles! The bottles have proven to be one of the best additions to my ride especially going through southwestern Colorado and pretty much all of Utah! Thank you so much, Britt and Keith, for your kindness and interest in my ride. I hope to cross paths again with you both very soon.

Leaving Primal Wear, I was pretty much at the outskirts of populated Denver. I came across another gentleman, Zach, who’s parents were the original developers of South Street in downtown Philadelphia. Weird, huh? We talked for a bit and then he sped off to get some exercise. Despite how poor the bike path had become in this barely used section of town, I decided to tough it out so I wouldn’t have to re-navigate my way to the main road. While on this poor section, Zach reappeared and felt bad that he hadn’t offered a better route knowing I was planning on doing this path. He showed me a more enjoyable route and the company was nice as well. Local knowledge paired with a kind and interesting person is one of the greatest things to come across. We split ways at the training facility for the Denver Broncos football team. (Editor’s Note: The Philadelphia Eagles are going to go undefeated this year and you are all witnesses to this claim. You may begin asking me for other visions of the future but I will not field questions involving the Cowboys, Giants, Patriots or Bears).

It’s so much hotter when you’re going uphill at 3 mph. The ride on the main road heading south involved 30 or 40 miles of climbing and while it was only 2 or 3,000 feet, the heat made it tougher. Not planning for such heat, I hadn’t packed quite enough water to get me to the next town. Just before I ran out, a small elementary school appeared along the side the road. By some miracle, a maintenance worker was sitting out on a bench so I pulled in an asked for some water. Rick Kylie was his name and everything about him was tough looking except for his soft-spoken voice. I don’t think he had ever met someone traveling by bicycle and it seemed like he was unsure of what questions to ask. It was actually quite refreshing to talk about traveling in the bigger sense of seeing new places and meeting new people. While I don’t mind talking about where I’ve slept or what my bike weighs, these logistical questions can distract us from focusing on the real reasons we all chose to explore. Thanks, Rick, for helping me focus.

The downhill was really quite amazing since the road was smooth and 4% for almost 10 miles. My first stop was SRAM/Rock Shox. Brian at the SRAM Chicago facility connected me up with Russ who showed me around. Since Rock Shox had been there for a while, SRAM acquired some great testing facilities and their main guy, Bear, seemed able to build a fixture for testing any component in any way. Each product seemed to have half a dozen people working on them since there are so many different product levels. I liked that they don’t simply focus on race-day products and instead cater to riders of all levels. Russ really took a lot of time to show me around, introduce me to other engineers and explain a lot of what goes into design and development. I can definitely see myself working at a company like this. After a great tour, I headed to my host’s house closer to downtown.

My friend from Rochester, Chuck, connected me up with his daughter’s roommates, Hannah and Amanda, who were staying in CS for the summer. Hannah made a fantastic dinner and I met Amanda later on when she arrived back from gardening. Hannah is studying the interaction between lady bugs, aphids and ants. Apparently there is some relationship where the ants eat the aphid feces and therefore want to protect the aphids from being eaten by the lady bugs. I may have mixed up who eats who and whose feces are being consumed but you get the point. Their couch was very comfortable and I went to bed quite excited to explore my final Front Range town.

The next morning I set off to get some breakfast at a joint I was told I couldn’t pass up while in town. The food was so-so but perhaps I just didn’t get the right dish. Maybe it was the mediocre meal or maybe it was no longer having familiar faces around me like the other Front Range cities but I got an unexpected feeling of loneliness. I thought about my travels for the next week; Cañon City, Salida, Buena Vista and Gunnison. The only thing I knew was certain would be sleeping in my tent and eating by myself over a little camp stove. I looked out on the day’s schedule; Garden of the Gods, bike shops, breweries, and was excited to do them all but wish there could be someone with which to share the experience. Remembering the most wonderfully unexpected experiences in Minnesota and South Dakota, I did my best to wash away this solemn feeling and remember that even if I did go through the next week by myself, I could still enjoy it if I tried.

So I set off for my first stop, Garden of the Gods. As I mounted my bike, I pedaled away and immediately my chain got stuck! It was a bad case of chain suck and without any tools I was forced to walk a mile to the closest bike shop. Too scared to try to tug the chain out of the stuck position, the mechanic at the shop was a little less hesitant perhaps because it would have been no skin off his back if something broke. Thankfully, the chain popped out and I was on my way to my first spot, phew! Garden of the Gods is a free small public park in the foothills near Pikes Peak, one of the Colorado 14ers. It’s large in comparison to county or city parks but small in comparison to most national or state parks. There are amazing geological formations like spires, balance rocks and large faces of different types of earth and rock. It’s all easily accessible by on main paved loop and even though it was a weekday, the place was quite busy. Thankfully, the park included a large shoulder specifically for bicycles. I dismounted a few times and walked into the brush at a few spots to get a closer look at some of the structures. In contrast to my earlier feelings of loneliness, I enjoyed being among these formations without the distraction of other people. After about 2 hours, I had seen enough (and most) of the park and decided to head back into town for some food and brew.

My first stop was Phantom Canyon Brewery where I had a good pasta dish (yay carbs) and some nitro beers. Sitting next to me was a gentleman who worked at a neighboring brewery, Bristol, where I was planning on going next. After hearing of my adventures, he bought me a beer and talked a bit more about the ride. It was nice to have some company at the bar and meeting someone like him shined a positive light for an outsider like myself on life in the Colorado Springs area. I then headed to a local bike shop, got some route advice, and met another amazing person. I don’t remember her name but long story short, she hitchhiked around the country for 6 years and decided to move to Colorado on a whim. She’s now going back to school to be a pharmacist but the amazing part about her story is that she decided to move some place simply because it felt right. Her and another one of my friends to whom you’ll be introduced in my Salt Lake City update, both took this “leap of faith” to another place simply because they liked the area. Why is this amazing? I’ve been taught to go where the job is. While I agree that finding a job you enjoy is an important aspect of life, I am beginning to think that finding a place you enjoy may be almost if not equally (and perhaps more?) important.

My final stop of the day was Bristol Brewery. A seemingly unexciting place from outside, I was quickly reminded that some places are made amazing by the people who inhabit them. As I locked up my bike by the front door, a man came rushing out and told me we had met at SRAM (the bike company I visited from the day before). It turns out that I arrived at the brewery at the very same time a dozen of the employees from SRAM were celebrating a successful day of bike trail maintenance (on a weekday because SRAM supports local trail building!). This gentleman’s name was Corey and at almost 40 years old, he had the excitement and enthusiasm for his job and life that would typically be found in a teenage boy who buses at Hooters. The story of how he got to a well respected head position at SRAM is a long and amazing one that involves a lot of persistence, genuine interest in bicycle engineering, and the willingness to go anywhere and do anything. In short, his stories gave me a chilling excitement about what could lie ahead for me if I didn’t settle for anything less than my dreams.

Seeing Corey and his band of coworkers outside of SRAM were an exhilarating insight into another side of life for these bike company employees. Interacting with them outside of work showed me what I already believed to be true. Their jobs, hobbies and general way of life are spun from the same thread and each person’s thread is woven tightly amongst that of the others with which they work.

Well if that wasn’t my best effort at a masterpiece of illustrative writing, I don’t know what is! I got to bed early and got a good early morning headed toward Canon City. Hope you enjoyed this lengthy (but only two day) update.

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