1984 Bike Tour: Day 42 – Fellow travelers in stunning landscapes

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Saturday, June 23, 1984
Elk Creek BLM campground to Ouray, Colo.
90 miles

Locator map

I’m reprinting the day-to-day journal entries of a cross-country bike tour my friend and I took in 1984. More about the TransAmerica Tour 1984

Gene’s Journal

You never know what fellow travelers you’ll find when you break camp in the morning.

After leaving the campground we rode along the Blue Mesa reservoir shore and crossed a bridge to Sapinero, which is more of a cafe and filling station than a town. We stopped for another breakfast there. When we were getting ready to spin off, we met a group of college-aged folks who were walking from West to East to protest nuclear weapons. They were going to deliver a petition in Washington D.C.

We talked awhile, and they asked us to “join their circle” as they held hands and looked for inspiration for the day ahead. Bruce and I joined in, but we were more inspired by being on our bikes.


Just as we left Sapinero, we picked up another bicycle tourist — Frank — who told us about all the problems he’d encountered. Just like the guy in Golden City, Mo., this guy was starved for conversation and talked nonstop.

We rode to the top of Blue Mesa and caught views of the Gunnison River canyon, then coasted down to old cattle town Cimarron, which only has two stores now after the railroad pulled the tracks. We ate lunch there and talked to a storeowner, then climbed a long hill away from the town. We dropped Frank and never saw him again.


At Cerro Summit, we had nearly 15 miles of downhill into Montrose, dropping from 9,000- to 5,700-foot elevation. Every male in town wore a cowboy hat — except for two greenhorns on bikes who wore hardshell helmets.

We debated on whether to proceed to Telluride for our destination of Durango, or go to Ouray then Silverton then take a railroad. We opted for the latter at the recommendation of a local cyclist.

Hot springs

The 37-mile route into Ouray was slightly uphill but beautiful. It headed right at the base of the San Juan Mountains along the roiling Uncompahgre River. Wildflowers bloomed at the edge of the road.

Ouray is famous for its hot springs. We stopped at a bar for a couple of beers, and ate a Mexican dinner right from our bar stools. We talked to a couple of local writers who had stopped in. We set up our tent at a campground at a pebbly site at the bottom of a hill. Good for camping vehicles, but not for soft floor tents. We slept soundly anyway.

Headline, June 23, 1984
News leaks out of Soviet Union
about 5 days of explosions at the ammo dump
for the Soviet Northern Fleet at

Bruce’s Journal

We are camped at 4-J’s in Ouray, Colorado, “The Switzerland of America.” And it is. We came 90 miles from Blue Mesa (through Sapinero, Montrose and Ridgeway) to this tiny little tourist town nestled in a canyon of the Rockies.

The ride from Cimaron to Montrose was 20 miles of downhill. All told, it was the best overall day of riding I’ve had in weeks. Now that my back derailleur is straight, I am again riding at a much better pace. It’s amazing how much I was slowed. I still have the pedal noise, but at least I’m not falling so far behind Bis.

Snow caps

Anywhere you look up from Ouray there are 10,000-foot mountains and snow caps that are even higher. There are cute restaurants and hotels all over the place here, and in that respect, the town is a lot like Annapolis.

We drank and ate in the bar of the Western Hotel, which was fun [probably less so for the other patrons near us, because we hadn’t showered or cleaned up after our ride]. And we ran into some interesting folks, two of whom pronounced themselves to be writers who live in Sante Fe. They carried their own PR release about a PBS show they had done, and they were a bit on the pompous side. The woman said she was affiliated with some “important” artists.

At any rate, we had a good time, even though our look and smell put us close to derelict status.

Kids with warts

It is now Sunday morning, our sixth week on the road. It doesn’t look like we will pass the motel one fellow had told us about: The Toad Motel, “where kids with warts stay for free.” I really would have liked to have seen that sign.

This morning we have an extremely rough 23 miles to Silverton. We must cross the Red Mountain Pass, which, by all accounts, makes Monarch look like an ant hill.

Not so chilly this morning. I couldn’t see my breath like yesterday at Blue Mesa, but the wind is already blowing.


Day 43 — By bike and train over the San Juans

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