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Selection of the “bivy” as last night’s digs seemed to have been a good one; including packing, loading up on ice and water, and so on, I was able to get out of the campsite in around seventy minutes. For my efforts I was rewarded with a town that was almost entirely closed; would it foil my effort to grab a quick bite before my cog railway ride to the top of Pikes Peak? Not quite, for right at the beginning of the street which led to the depot there was a funky little coffee shop which served up just what I needed.

When I arrived at the parking area, I was greeted by an enthusiastic young attendant who directed me to dock the rig in a spot right near the front of the lot closest to the ticket booth and boarding area. Why? Because the exit out of the other lot was steep and covered in gravel, which he recognized would not be the best cherce for me. As I approached the ticket window, I began to wonder about the strategy for this gig, and it came to me: ax the girl at the window what the best seats were on the train, then put twenty years of New York City subway expertise to good, aggressive use, and snag one of those bad boys.

Alas, as I got closer to the counter, I could hear her explaining that the seats were pre-assigned, and to match the seat numbers on the ticket to those on the rail car. My plan to go all out was dashed. Not only that, but I had secured my reservation only the morning before, since until then I could not know exactly when I might arrive here. (And boy I am glad I did make the reservation -- when I called, there had only been openings for this, the first ride of the day, perhaps for the second one, and then for one more the entire day. Even now, it was clear that many folks had come down hoping to get on via standby.) Point is, as a late “reservee” I figured I’d be stuck with some bogus seat facing a bulkhead or something.

Wrong again, railway-breath!

I had the aisle seat of a three-seat row, shared with two extremely nice folks, Cathy and Bruce from Nebraska, in the LAST ROW OF THE CAR -- which meant that not only did we have the entire view out the huge end windows, and not only was there no row on the other side of the aisle (that space being dedicated to the driver’s controls for the downward trip), but that we would have the FRONT seats for the ride down.

What were the only seats that could have compared to these? Just the ones in the front, going up, I would say. As the person on the aisle, meaning closest to the middle, meaning easiest to see out the other side as well, I guess I’d say I had the second-best seat on the entire train, n’est-ce pas?

The ride was wonderfully scenic in general and very interesting regarding certain particulars. We saw a Bristlecone Pine that is estimated to be 2,400 years old; passed Calendar Mountain, so named because it is 12,365 feet tall; and saw marmots and deer. Sitting on the Continental Divide, which separates the ocean to which rivers on either side flow, Pikes Peak encompasses four climate zones from bottom to top, yet is only the 31st tallest peak in Colorado at 14,110 feet! There are 54 mountains of at least 14,000 feet, and some 250 of 13,000. YIKES!

We were told that steam engines were used until about 1958, and diesel electrics into the late ‘60’s. The cog rails are reversed every seven years (to expose the opposite side to the wear of the cog wheel), and replaced every fourteen. They are lubricated by periodic dumps of the train engines’ compressor oil directly onto them.

You probably already knew that Zebulon Pike is the man whose idea it was to build the roadway to the top, and it is he for whom the mountain is named. Actually, though, it was a gentleman by the name of Evans who had discovered it first; however, there was already a Mount Evans in the state, so they went with Pike. Later, Zalmon Simmons -- apparently it’s all about the “Z”’s here in the Rocky Mountain State -- commenced to have a hotel built halfway up the hill. While that first name may not be familiar, the last name probably is, for it is the same Simmons of bed-making fame to this day. The hotel fell out of use and was dismantled several decades ago, but near the old location there is now a spot called “Halfway House”, where a cutaway railway car is used as a “waiting room” for hikers riding the cog rail part way up or part way down.

The narration was not only informative, but humorous as well. The guy claimed he wanted to answer some of the “FAQ” questions first, such as:

1) How fast does the train go? ANSWER: 9 MPH up, 120 MPH down.

2) Do rocks ever fall onto the railway? ANSWER: not since last Sunday!

3) Are there emergency brakes? ANSWER: there are fluid brakes, ratchet brakes, and then two big springs at the bottom. (Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs!)

4) Noting that the aspen trees gracing the hillsides were of use to native people for the sunscreen-like qualities of the powdery residue of their bark, and also the pain-relieving abilities of the bark when “brewed” in very hot water, the narrator explained how a medicine man might say to a tired, sunburned young brave returning from a hunt to -- yep, you guessed it -- “take two aspen and call me in the morning.”

Such buffoonery aside, the weather and views could not have been better for the entire time, both during the trip and for the forty or so minutes at the top before the train begins the ride down. Three horn blasts signal ten minutes until departure, and as the narrator said, if you take eleven minutes to return, you have become a hiker!

Shortly after departing the peak depot, we passed by a maintenance car going up, and later on another passenger car doing the same. Down near the second pullout we learned of (but could not quite see) a nearby house whose occupants must ride a cable car to get from the driveway to the house itself. Imagine being a real estate agent and having to explain that one?

Back down in Manitou Springs and ready to hit the road, I re-fueled at a Sinclair station, and probably would have purchased a coffee mug had it had the dinosaur logo on it, not some admittedly well-executed but mostly anonymous modern-style graphic on it. At these prices, however, I also made sure to purchase some more of the road fuel for The Chief (tm) himself. And would you believe I ran into Cathy and Bruce again?

Aimed the rig back onto I-25 north from Manitou towards Denver, then to Boulder and the Rte. 36 interchange. Once again Colorado presented me with total bolshoi -- the road surface was of varying (and mostly poor) quality; the number of lanes changed often, and often in insanely drastic fashion; there was a ton of traffic, and once again it was hotter n’ heck. For what it’s worth, when the road did its loop westward around Denver proper, it did go to literally within a few hundred feet of the new football stadium. (It was at the old one -- Mile High Stadium -- that Sammy and I spent an enjoyable evening, many moons ago, with Paul O’Neill and the Denver Zephyrs Triple-A baseball team, then a farm club of the Cincinnati Reds.)

I finally reached Boulder, at the foothills of the Rockies called the Flatirons because of their metal content -- which, as Sammy pointed out back then, meant that if there was lightning in the area, you did not want to be on the Flatirons. Here, I found to my dismay that Rte. 36 was not much better than the interstate. There was more construction, more traffic, and driving decisions so poor that they made me look like I was the local motorist who knew, and drove, this route every day. And it was still rather hot, despite also being cloudy. With little patience remaining for this garbage, I chose to go with a potent mix of high-speed parking- and right-turn-only lane flybys, aggressive lane-changing maneuvers and, yes, some brazen red-light running. People! Past a certain point I just cannot be held up by the dumbness and indecision of others. Managing to avoid any recognition on the part of local law enforcement -- possibly in return for having blown the whistle on the graffiti artist back at the border? -- it eventually occurred to me that I had not been held up by even a single red light since getting down to business. Final score: The Chief (tm) 1, Route Thirty-Six 0.

The scenery on the ride up to Estes Park was, again, gorgeous, and upon arriving I swear I mostly recognized the spot where there was once a liquor store, at which an under-aged kid axed me to buy him beer. That was back when Colorado sold “full-strength” beer and also “near-beer” to folks under 21 but older than 18 -- it had maybe 3% alcohol instead of whatever the usual amount would have been. What a pain in the neck, huh? Both for producers and for waitstaff/bartenders/store owners? The old downtown area was touristy but very cute, and I was sad that I could not quite determine where the Chicago-themed bar I had patronized (when I once visited town after Sammy had moved out of CO) might have been located.

I noticed that gas in town was going for $4.249, by far the highest I had seen aside from the rip-off job in White’s City, NM; therefore I realized I would have to consider my re-fueling strategy if I was to avoid paying $4. Arriving at my place of residence for the evening, a hostel built into the hill behind the main avenue, I wasn’t exactly getting the greatest vibe; not because there was anything wrong with the place, but because the innkeeper seemed a little nervous about me for some unknown reason.

Turns out she had booked the rest of the place for a family reunion, the Helms, from upstate New York, and she was worried that my presence there would bother them. I was thankful that I had insisted on hearing (“reading”) the words “there will be a bed for you” when I was arranging this stay via e-mail, because the first few exchanges had been far too casual in tone. There was now no doubt that I would not have been given a spot to sleep in had we not nailed it down in advance, and that would have been big trouble because it was a weekend and all literally every other place in town was full.

I was shown a bed -- a Sealy Posturepedic! -- under an outdoor canopy measuring about 10’x15’, up in the backyard almost overlooking the building itself. There was no electricity or water at the canopy, but the entrance to the kitchen and bathroom (on the second floor) was down just a few steps from it. I figured I could plug the laptop in to a socket somewhere else in the house, but she was nervous about this as well. Like, what the heck?

I mean, by now, I had already spent high-quality time with the ringleaders of the whole shebang, John and Brenda, and a few of the friends and family members as well. It was clear that my very existence wasn’t bothering anyone at all, for these folks were nowhere near as uptight as the innkeeper had apparently made them out to be. It was also pretty cool that several of them now lived in and around northern Colorado, thus giving some local flavor to it. Bottom line, of course I would have been respectful of their living spaces anyway, but here I was being offered drinks and snacks and so on, and we were getting along fabulously.

I wanted to get out and have a bite and a beer, so I hoofed it around town to decide where to drop anchor. There is no doubt that the (20-year old!) town cop wanted to bust me for jaywalking right at the main intersection, but I pretended not to hear his calls to me. I settled in at Lonergan’s, literally just a stone’s throw from the hostel, and enjoyed a burger and the first of many beers. Chatting with a guy named Aaron -- and it was he, not me, who pointed out that, together, our names were “Hank Aaron” -- I learned about the strategies for high-altitude, and bad-weather, long-distance bicycling.

Not wanting to leave, as my evening there continued to be enjoyable, but wanting to do some website updates, I axed if I could come back with the laptop and plug it in right there at the bar. The ‘tendress said sure, and she didn’t even ask me to pay or leave a credit card while I fetched the machine. Turns out I was gone for almost an hour as I recapped the evening back at the hostel with John and Brenda, but all was fine once I returned. A few (?) hours later those two showed up at the bar, and somehow we agreed we were going to do karaoke -- first time ever for The Chief (tm)! Turns out they left before their turn came up, but I didn’t. I’ll leave it to you, Dear Reader, to guess what song I did, but I’ll give you a hint. Since I know you’re taking copious notes this’ll probably give it away, but the song and the band has already been referred to on this website, on a page with a picture of a celestial body setting in the evening somewhere in Texas.

Upon eventually returning to my outdoor bedroom, I wished to remove my contact lenses and clean up a bit for the night -- but someone had unintentionally locked the door to the kitchen. Uh-oh! The inward-swinging window next to it was ajar, so I tried to see if I could reach the doorknob through it, but it needed to be open wider. Problem was, there was some sort of small appliance perched atop a table immediately beyond it, and I was worried I’d knock it all over if I attempted to open the window any further. So the contacts would have to stay in overnight, but as consolation I grabbed a loaf of garlic bread sitting atop the appliance and ate half of it. Yum!

Cog Railway Car

View From Rear Seat

Scenic View

Bristlecone Pine

Calendar Mountain

Continental Divide

Posing At The Top

Cog Rail Mechanism

Two Big Springs

Beautiful View, Pt. I

Beautiful View, Pt. II

Beautiful View Coming Down

Peak Depot

Classic Sinclair Logo


Downtown Estes Park

Creekside Water Wheel