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Fort Collins

Although I was turning off the Great Divide Mountain-Bike Route I still had to bike my way out of the mountains. Steamboat Springs lies to the western side of the Continental Divide, which meant that I had to climb over to the eastern side and then over the Front Range to arrive in civilisation. I was making my way east to the town/city of Fort Collins but I would need two long days to get there. Having consulted with the friendly folk in Orange Peel Bikes I decided to exit Steamboat via Buffalo Pass. This was a nasty climb with long steep sections of rough gravel, which made traction very difficult at times. It was a beautiful piece of nature but it took me a lot longer to crest the climb than I anticipated so I turned into the town of Walden near the bottom of the climb to see if I could stop for the night as opposed to 30k up the road like I had planned. I was beat in any case so it was a big relief to discover that the town-folk were totally cool with me camping in the local park. Such ease is good for morale and stopping in a town meant that I could enjoy pub food for dinner and a diner breakfast. The only concern I had was that I was leaving myself with a mountain of work the next day. I still had Cameron Pass to climb, this is marginally higher than Buffalo Pass but at least it is asphalt. The only thing going for the 172k ride to Fort Collins would be that I would get to enjoy a monster descent from 10,276ft to 5,600ft that was over 70k long. After all my hard work in the mountains I deserved it but it wasn't quite the drop I wanted as it still required a great deal of pedalling into the breeze.

I lucked out big-time in Fort Collins with an offer from the Wilder family to stay with them while I was in town. I found the Wilders on warmshowers.org, a website similar to couch-surfing but specific to bike-touring. While I had met one such host in La Paz I never really got on board with this resource as it requires time to browse hosts and correspond. In addition it is difficult to schedule something when I have no idea what the road will be like to get there. It is stressful telling someone you'll be there at 6 only to scrape in before 10pm. Or worse, to tell someone you'll be there on Wednesday only to discover that the route is brutal and you won't make it until Friday, by which time they could be gone for the weekend. In general it is a lot less hassle and a lot more fluid for me to camp as much fun as making these human connections is. Of course, the problem with camping in a city is that the camp-site is generally on the out-skirts and so I end up with an extra-burban commuting experience when all I really want is for downtown to be on my door-step. Hostels usually solve this problem but there are precious few of them in America outside of the major cities. This is why I turned to warmshowers.org and it worked a treat. Of course, the best bit is that you get to stay with local people which allows you to get under the skin of a place very quickly.

I was keen to spend a few days in Fort Collins as I was effectively shopping for towns to spend the winter and I wanted 'to try before I buy'. Colorado is likely the biggest haven for cyclists in America so I wanted to see if 'Foco' stacked up as a place to train for the winter. The metro-area, consisting of Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs, tends to be where cyclists in Colorado live as they have access to the mountains for spins but they don't have to put up with mountain weather. Only die-hard cyclists living in towns dotted through the Rockies will ever cycle during the winter as road and off-road conditions really don't allow it. Fort Collins has a pretty active bike community and it is a small enough city that it doesn't take long to get beyond city-limits. There was no doubt that Fort Collins ticked the bike box. It has a strong cycling culture, however, there is more to me than just the bike. I wanted to find out if the town had enough going on culturally that I'd be keen to stay.

As I wandered around downtown I couldn't but be taken by the place. The downtown area is easy to walk around and is full of restaurants and cafes where one can while away the hours over a book. The town has quite a few breweries making for a great pub-scene. It must be annoying for under-age students of CSU to miss out on this. Of course, being a university town Fort Collins has an educated and open-minded feel. I am not sure how strong the political divide is in Colorado but it is officially a red state even if Fort Collins, Boulder and Denver are among the most liberal cities in the country. Bikes are cool in this town as epitomised by New Belgium Brewing who have a bike as part of their logo. I decided to visit the brewery to see if I could take a tour. It turned out that there was one leaving that minute. I had to cross a packed bar at 2pm on a Tuesday to join the tour and I couldn't believe the buzz to the place; it felt like Dublin at 11pm on a Friday night. The brewery is a pretty laid-back employer and that typifies the mentality of the town. I guess when you work in a brewery it is clear that there is more to life than work. New Belgium Brewing is just one of several breweries in town, the biggest of which is Anheuser Busch. Such beer companies are big employers in Colorado as they all base themselves here to avail of the pure Rocky Mountain water, a vital ingredient.

I really enjoyed Fort Collins but I was a little concerned that it would be a difficult place to break-in. In bigger cities there is more going on and greater diversity that you can participate in things more readily. I was of the impression that it might take me six months to crack Fort Colllins and that was time I didn't have. Still, it was a beautifully leafy town with a charming unaffected air. It is no surprise that a lot of people love to call Fort Collins home. It is not on a lot of people's radar but for someone who enjoys the outdoors, a good quality of life and an understated vibe it is a very cool spot. The happy Wilder family typified everything that is good about this town; life for Lin and Tim is busy but in a family as opposed to a work kind of way. It is great to see parents have a choice. This was my introduction to the 'lifestyle state' of Colorado, a state which really emphasises fun, the outdoors and a good quality of life.

I'm much obliged to the Wilders for putting me up and for putting up with me for four nights. For someone who likes to move their legs, it was a treat to be spread out on a double-bed as opposed to being cocooned in my mummy sleeping-bag. However, it was time to go. I wanted to leave before they knocked the house down. I was privileged to observe five Wilders armed with hammers knocking lumps out of an internal wall. This ceremonial event was to kick-start a kitchen rebuilding project which had been on the long finger for a number of years. The logic being If you knock a wall down then you can't ignore the project any longer.

So, a big thumbs up for Fort Collins and the Wilders but next stop Boulder.  I have posted some pics of 'FoCo' in the gallery for you.

Chat soon

his dudeness

the climb up to Buffalo Pass - beautiful but probably one of the steepest climbs of the tripview from the road up Cameron Pass - the last climb for the bionic dude?magic - this 15 mile section is only part of the drop from 10,200 to the 5,600 feet

biking through Poudre Canyon - one of Colorado's many canyons rising up from the metro area through the Front Range of the Rockies

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