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We meet again in the middle of the afternoon for what promises to be a ride in some beautiful evening sunlight. Even in the winter, the sun in Colorado seems brighter than it is on the West Coast. “It’s because we are closer to it,” someone quips. They have a point.
For this ride, we are heading north of Boulder to find some gravel roads. Boulder is a relatively small and quaint town, but not without its dose of highway interchanges, strips malls and a bit of sprawl. But what makes this place different from so many other towns is how quickly the scenery changes from suburban to rural. Buildings give way to trees, and pavement gives way to dirt.
We pass the Boulder Reservoir, a body of water that seems almost out of place in this prairie landscape and hit the first of many dirt roads to come. These are not like the West Coast gravel roads I am used to. The surface feels buttery smooth and ridiculously fun to ride. And unlike many other places, this is not just one stretch of road that everyone rides over and over again. There is a seemingly endless network of dirt roads crisscrossing the various ranches and properties for dozens of miles north of town. A new route is just a 90-degree turn away.
Now, one of the main reasons we do not have similarly smooth dirt roads in the Pacific Northwest is due to the simple fact that our propensity for precipitation would churn any smooth dirt road into peanut butter. I wonder aloud what happens to these roads when it rains in Boulder. I am informed that it rarely does. When the roads do get wet, they get messy. But thanks to the elevation and the perpetually low humidity (just 14 percent during this particular ride!), everything tends to dry up very quickly. They’ve thought of everything!
As we round another corner and start heading back toward the Stages HQ, I notice a small animal running through an empty field next to the road. Then another. And another. I unfocus my eyes and realize there are dozens of these little groundhog-looking things running around. “Prairie dogs,” Sean points out when he notices me looking.
“Oh, yeah?” I say, “They look cute.”
“Perhaps. But they’ve been dying from the bubonic plague.”