Colorado was the state where the tourists really overtook the locals & I really had to seek out those who had deep roots in these Colorado towns. Luckily, an unexpected shorter day led to likely my most memorable interview of the trip in Hartsel where the locals there, eat, sleep, and breathe town pride. The 4th of July was spent with 100 of my closest friends from Texas, and a birthday was celebrated at an RV park in Del Norte.
Brush Mountain Lodge
Tucked into a hill a little ways south of the Colorado/Wyoming border is Brush Mountain Ranch run by Kirsten. Since 2006 Kirsten has worked her ass off to create an oasis for divide racers and tourers and everyone who has visited knows about “the Vortex” effect. You think you might just pop in for one her wood-fired pizzas and be on your merry way… but somewhere between all you can eat pizza, laundry service, and hilarious chats on the porch you find yourself sucked in for the evening 🙂 I was greeted with an amazing hug from Kirsten that rivals any out there and observed as she basically spent the next 5 hours hustling around doing everything she could to serve the incoming cyclists. With the help of a few friends here and there, she manages to do it all.
One of my favorite parts of the trip happened the following morning when I caught Kirsten sitting on the porch during a free moment (this was after she managed to make breakfast for 15+ folks). Together we talked of the transformational power of the divide and the “why” behind it. We talked about how many riders are at a transitional period of life and are moving onwards from many different circumstances. Riders mourning a loss have spread ashes of a loved one amongst her gardens, riders have celebrated a graduation or a new job, riders have overflowed with love from a new marriage, or overflowed with freedom from newfound independence. Sitting there on her porch, I witnessed how easily our conversation flowed discussing the rawness of life – and how Kirsten’s “porch therapy” is an integral part of the journey. What a place and what a woman.
I was outside Whole Foods in Frisco – quite the treat on the Divide – when Brian approached. Curious about what we were up to, he shared a little bit about his own journey in his big ole’ RV.
“I’ve lived on the road for 3 years now. It’s nice not paying someone to do my laundry – and I have an espresso machine in my RV. Right now I just go around building stuff…churches, race cars, houses. We should all work to have fun, because real life is fun, not work. But I’m trying to find someplace to retire and open a destination RV park. Maybe Tennessee, I like it there.”
Doug & Larry
Hartsel, Colorado wasn’t in the plans, but I sure am glad it worked its way in. It’s a tiny town that was once known for its hot springs, where the number of people that live within the city limits can be counted on 2 hands. Everyone else who frequents Hartsel lives on “at least 1,000 acres outside of town”. We stopped in for some food at Highline Saloon and found out that a few other cyclists had already pitched their tents in the “backyard”. The experience of the saloon and the camping were too good to pass up, and we raced the incoming storm to set up our tents. The rest of the evening was spent inside the saloon where I saw two old dudes playing some poker and decided I’d join them.
Doug and Larry were patient with me as I watched the first few rounds to get the hang of their version of 7 Card Stud. Then- $10 in quarters later, I was in the game, playing poker with two, 30 year locals in an old saloon, in the middle of nowhere Colorado. I loved every second of it. Doug came to CO from Chicago on vacation in 1990 and never left. Larry had a similar reasoning except he came from Texas in 1988. Every Wednesday night they meet at Highline and play poker, each with their own purple drawstring quarter bag. Sometimes it’s just the 2 of them, and other times it’s a whole crowd. Every person that walked through the front door Doug new by name, and they knew him. Larry had a old pup named “Dog” who was only allowed halfway into the bar, so she stood with half her body through the door all evening while her owner played poker. You can’t make this up.
Larry: “If you want a picture of me, you’ll have to go to the post office.”
Coming out of Del Norte, CO, the expectations were set for how the 4th of July would be celebrated…with lots of climbing, beautiful views, and ending with a campspot at a little place I found on the map – Rocky Mountain Lodge. I had called the night before to reserve a spot, and the woman on the other end – who I would learn is Becky- said “we’ve been full for a few years, but cmon, you can camp wherever there is space.” So, we roll on in around 5pm after an amazing last 15 miles along the Conejos River.
Well…Little did we know we were entering into the biggest 4th of July celebration in Colorado featuring a bunch of Texans. A generous woman let us set up in her front yard and told us to come on down to the pavilion for a $10 donation for all you can eat brisket and potato salad. Eric put his name in twice for the dessert raffle and won the peach cobbler, we watched as a group of women danced to Shania Twain’s, “Man I Feel like a Woman”, and got to listen to some live music from The Cowboy Way. We talked to Sherri (the lady in charge of the dessert raffle) and found out that this lodge wasn’t any old lodge.
“I’ve been coming here on and off for 59 years. My parents came here when we could afford it while I was growing up, and now I live here 6 months out of the year. I used to work in the oil industry but I got laid off so now I do remote work here. But these boys – their great-granddaddy owns this place. Most people here celebrating the 4th have 3 generations here. That’s the kind of place this is. Becky and Jerry do a great job. You should use the bathrooms, they were built in the late 20’s.”
Everyone around the small village that is Platoro, CO are signs that say “no wifi, no service, all wilderness.” Kids raced around on dirt bikes, horses, and families paraded around in ATVs. For how small of a place it was, there was no lack of entertainment or beauty for that matter. However, Platoro is only ever bustling in the summertime because this area of CO happens to get over 200 inches of snow each year, and the ONLY gravel road that reaches Platoro is closed most of the winter.
“Dad started fishing here in 1960 and this is the only place we ever vacationed growing up. My sister and brother-in-law bought it 12 years ago and we come up here May – October every year to work. We enjoy all the riders coming through. We watch the dots and make sure to have food ready for anyone that may be coming down the mountain late at night. One year, the side door was broken and it was open all night long and we woke up to find 5 cyclists asleep in the lodge living room. That’s normal here. It’s pretty much a ghost town in the winter though, the snow reaches the second story of this lodge.”
Del Norte, CO
Sitting right next to the Rio Grande River in Del Norte is the most hoppin RV park around. So many interesting people, but Miss Linda (the RV park host) was extremely special because it was also her birthday the day we checked in.
“I’ve lived in Del Norte my entire life, but since my parents were strict, I spent most of my childhood out on our farm and rarely ever in town. It’s a great place to live, but if I won the lotto, I’d move someplace with good doctors, like Durango, because that’s what really matters. But, I do love it here, and today is my birthday!!”