You’ve probably seen them around town in the summer: bikers with heavily loaded saddle bags cruising down Highway 96, stopped by the side of the road studying maps or heading up Union toward the library. These are TransAmerica cyclists; they come from all over the world and from every state in the U.S., passing through Pueblo on their quest to see the United States from the perch of a bicycle seat. So, you might wonder, why do so many of them pass through Pueblo? The answer is quite simple: the bike maps tell them to.
The non-profit organization known as The Adventure Cycling Association started organizing bike trips across the United States in 1976 when the first BikeCentennial tour was organized to commemorate the 200-year anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This same route is now traveled by hundreds of cyclists every summer traveling between Yorktown, VA, and Seaside, OR. Pueblo is also a major stop for bike tourists taking the Western Express bike route to San Francisco as well as the Continental Divide trail through the Rocky Mountains. Anyone who sticks to the maps will pass through hundreds of miles of cornfields, ranches and tiny towns with few facilities. Pueblo offers the promise of civilization: grocery stores, restaurants and places to stay.
It is time that Pueblo began to embrace its situation as a bicycle tourist hot spot. Currently, the only camping spot for cyclists is out at the Reservoir, far away from our economic center. This means that we miss out on the economic benefits that might be provided by having large numbers of cyclists out and about in our downtown. There are a number of solutions, the simplest being that the city could open up one of the parks to camping for bikers. Park staff could require checking in with their office and a small fee of some sort, bringing in additional revenue for the city. Another option is a bicycle hostel, an idea being considered at Cycle of Life, the new bike shop on Abriendo. The last possibility is perhaps the most difficult, and yet might benefit our city more than any other.
Websites like WarmShowers.org and the more well-known Couchsurfing.org offer travelers an alternative to pitching a tent or staying in a hotel when they are away from home. The way these sites work is simple: every person creates a profile and offers up a place for travelers to stay. This can be a couch, an actual bed, or even just an area of their yard in which people can camp.
When a traveler is interested in staying with someone, they contact the potential host through the website email system and the host can either accept or reject the request depending on their schedule and interest. Sign-up is free, and no money is expected to change hands. Instead, in return for their hospitality, hosts can then take advantage of the large network of CouchSurfing and WarmShowers hosts when they themselves go travel.
Currently there are a small number of CouchSurfing and WarmShowers hosts in Pueblo. “It’s fun to show people the best parts of your town,” says Ryan Kopp, a Couchsurfing and Warmshowers host. “And it’s a great way to meet interesting people and help people out.”
These traveler-host sites offer an incredible opportunity to introduce the town that we all love to new people. With you, the host, as their guide, these travelers will remember Pueblo as that town with that great coffee shop, the beautiful river, that amazing green chile. They’re going to remember a good beer, Union Street, and the art along the levee. And who knows, after reaching the end of their bicycling adventures some of them just might come back to stay. I did.