I realize it seems odd to live near some of the country’s greatest mountains—mountains that enticed me to move here to begin with—and to spend my summer weekends running away from their cool-air majesty. In the sweltering heat of the lower, rolling corners of Colorado that don’t appear on tourist websites or Strava segments, I am finding a little taste of Texas.
I am not interested in moving back to the Lone Star State, but lately I find myself searching for small tastes of the place I still reflexively call “home.” Things like good Mexican food from colorful hole-in-the-wall restaurants that don’t have English translations on the menu but do have tributes to the late singer Selena on the wall. Things like endless rolling hills crossed by low-trafficked roads that wind up, over and around farm and ranch country, all drenched in a hazy blue sky that affords sunburns, 50-mile views and plenty of space to think big and feel small.
The former is somewhat hard to find, so I learned to make my own homemade flour tortillas and annually import special meat seasonings (via my mom when she comes to visit). The latter is what I have lately been after on my bike, which means eschewing Colorado’s famed mountain routes and driving sometimes two hours in search of the unloved barrenness of plains and plateaus. And I’ve been wondering why I’m doing it.
Those tastes are not inconsequential and, though I did not really intend to seek such experiences, the search seems well underway. The Hill Country north of San Antonio is where I cut my teeth as a bicycle lover. I jumped straight from learning to ride late in life (age 10) to placing third in the elementary school bike rodeo to 30-, 40-, 50-mile road rides far from home as a teenaged cyclist. For some reason, I have missed those long, rambling, head-clearing days on the bike.
Last weekend, I found one of those rides an hour from home: 50 miles of dirt roads that drift straight and narrow through the low hills southeast of Denver. Gradual climbs and descents punctuated by occasional short steeps are well familiar, as are the strong smells of cow manure, the summer sounds of frogs and crunching gravel, the need to hold your breath as a truck pulling a horse trailer barrels by (don’t want to breathe in too much dust) and the sanity-questioning intensity of riding through the middle of the day sans shade. The only things unfamiliar were the clusters of pine trees and, on the return trip, the stunning view of Pike’s Peak shrouded in thunderstorms.
On roads straight and brown and sweet-smelling as a raw two-by-four, you can do quite a lot of thinking. Or not. I believe that’s the point. The time in my life when I was disappearing on long road rides in central Texas coincided with upheaval, growth, questioning (my teenaged years, remember). At 30, I don’t share the same life angst felt by my high school self, but I am again at a point in life requiring persistent deep thought.
I am certain that is what has triggered the intense desire for these types of bike rides. Physically, I have no need to go home. Mentally, I have every need to go home to the types of places where I remember doing my best thinking, and that means riding through my memories on roads like the ones I explored in my youth. No other activity grants me such access to both the past, present and future all at once, while giving me time to think about it all in cadence with my physical self. Pedal strokes align with breaths align with miles align with thoughts.
It’s a big part of why I love to ride.