Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bikin' Colorado

-Paradox, Colorado [USA]

My entry into Colorado was incredibly anti-climatic.

After a whole day of slogging uphill and a week of straight rain while struggling through “Middle-of-Nowhere", Utah, I crossed my first border.  Admittedly, in most people's eyes, it was an incredibly insignificant border.  So insignificant, that one might not even refer to it as an event, but to me, it marked a major milestone.  This marked the moment in which I began to believe that it might actually be possible to travel on a bike.  And maybe, just maybe, I might be able to complete this half-baked scheme of a bike trip.

And so it was, that ten miles outside the Colorado border, the sun peaked through the clouds for the first time in several days.  I desperately wanted to sit on the side of the road, strip-off my "super gross" rain gear, and enjoy a few minutes of warmth and sun basking.  But, I wanted to cross the state-line even more.  So, I kept pushing, pushing to make it to Colorado before the ebbing sun sent it's last fiery rays into the ever-approaching night.

I dropped down a short, but steep, series of serpentine switchbacks and rolled into the "Centennial State"[1].  I half expected/hoped for horns and fanfare.  Instead, I had a few more minutes of sun and then the rain picked-up again.  It was only a drizzle, but enough to put the candles out of my one-man party.

My entry, and first state-line. 
Thirty minutes later, I found a reasonably flat piece of ground to pitch the tent.  The walls of the canyon were too steep to offer much of flat area, so I made camp right-off of the seldom-used state highway.  In my haste, I failed to notice a sign announcing a mine vent in the area with the possibility of radioactive waste until I began unpacking the bike.  Another damper on my rained-out party, I decided it was worth a change of locale and quickly crammed the tent back into the bag, moving a little further down the road.

A semi-warm bowl of pasta sent me to bed early, only to wake to continued rain, turning to snow.  I packed the tent, cramming the wet material into a wet bag, and continued trudging through the mid-autumn storm to Paradox, Colorado.

Paradox isn't really a place... it's a section of road or maybe a valley or maybe just more of a general idea.  Officially, it is the valley named after the unexpected course of the Dolores River.  Here, the river flows across the middle of the valley instead of down the length[2], something I'd never seen before.  The valley is also the site of a Bureau of Reclamation salinity-control project which has caused thousands of earthquakes, and, is the proposed location of a new uranium mill (the first built in the US in over 25 years).  Herein lies two greater paradoxes, control the water so that it is usable to the farmers and ranchers at the cost of earthquakes; build an unwanted mill so that there is work in the area... Both a deal with the devil, both a story of the West.

But this isn't my story...  my story is one of people.  My time in Colorado was to become the beginning of countless acts of kindness that I have, and will undoubtedly continue to experience, through this trip.

Checking out gear in a friend's garage.
-Durango, Colorado [USA]
So, as I worked my way down the highway of Paradox, I got off the bike a bit to rest my aching legs.  It was only mid-morning, but my legs felt like it was the end of a long day, a function of many days travel without rest and the continual cold and wet.

After a few moments of stretching and massaging, and trying to convince my tired body to continue, I started walking down the road, trying to cover ground... not quite ready, mentally as much as physically, to pedal any more.

After 15 minutes of walking, I heard a vehicle approaching.  Then I heard it slow down.  Through the drenching rain, a middle-age blondish woman stopped beside me and rolled down the tinted window of her black, extended cab, long bed, dually Dodge pick-up.  "Honey, you look terrible... you wanna a ride?"

"Yes, yes I do."  I respond without hesitation.

I threw my bike into the back of the truck and peeled-off my rain gear before jumping into the cab.  I was freezing cold and shivering uncontrollably.

Fall in 'the pass'.
-Ridgway, Colorado [USA]
"Sugar[3], you're shakin' like a leaf!" the lady proclaimed as she cranked-up the heat.

I just nodded.

"I can give you a ride if you can help unload the elk."  she said with a thumb gesture towards the back.

Unsure if I understood correctly, I turned-around to take a look.  Sure enough, there were four elk quarters on the back seat, laying on top of black plastic bags, filling the air with a not unfamiliar smell of rawness.

"I'd be happy to."  I responded.

I was incredibly grateful... grateful to be out of the rain, grateful to rest my legs, grateful for the heat, just grateful... At this point, I would have done most anything to stay out of the weather.

"What in the hell are you doin'?" the women stated more than asked.

I started to tell her precisely what I was doing... riding a bike, come hell or high water, to the southern-most point of South America, about 15,000 miles away. She just looked at me like I was the craziest fool she had never heard of, or could have even contemplated.  Fair enough... The look became more perplexed when I told her that I had started in Utah, just a few weeks back.

I quickly changed the subject to other stuff... the weather, the terrain, the elk in the back seat.  This took most of the remainder of the 45 minutes ride to her home.  Upon arrival, I hobbled out of the truck, walking like a arthritic cowboy, to unload the elk.

After the last large piece of meat was placed precariously on her unstable table, I thanked her and began to take my leave.  She offered me another ride, 2 hours further down the road, if I could help her load the family dog, a large black lab, into the truck to take to the vet.

"He can barely walk... his hip is bothering him." she explained.

"I'm happy to help, no need to give me a lift." I responded.

"Fair enough.  I'll still give you a ride... the weather is horrible."
-Red Mountain pass, Colorado [USA]

And so I arrived two days ahead of schedule to the home of two dear friends.  They weren't expecting me quite yet, so I made myself at home on the front porch, protecting myself from the increasing snow flurries; winter had officially arrived.

And so my time continued in Colorado, receiving help from strangers on almost a daily basis.

I ordered better gear for the weather, but didn't have an address to send it to.  A friend offered me an address of his long-time ski buddy.  The long-time sky buddy gave a place to stay for several days and then sent my gear to another friend in New Mexico so I didn't have to wait an extra week.  My panniers began to come-apart at the seams and a local bike shop helped me get a new set at a major discount.  Another bike shop helped me tune and adjust my bike at no charge.  A man, traveling with his aging father, stopped me on one of the major mountains passes to cycle with me, just to hear what I was doing.  An oilfield worker from Texas, in the largest pick-up truck I'd ever seen, stopped to give me water while cursing me for "takin' up the road".  Another friend drove hours out of his way to meet-up and give me a lift over some of the now snow-covered mountain passes.

Unexpected help and amazing experiences pop-up at, and around, every corner.  I begin to realize that this what my life will be like for the next few years.  I begin to trust the unknown and myself.  I being to appreciate that I have something to offer in return, a story, an escape, a word of encouragement.

I try to give back, speaking to several classes at one of the high schools along the way.  I work as a volunteer for avalanche awareness classes.  But, I definitely receive much more than I could possibly give, a lopsided equation that proves to be the norm for the next several months.

Rocky Mountain sunset
-Ridgway, Colorado [USA]

1.  Colorado was given the name of the “Centennial State” because it became a state in the year 1876, 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.  Other nicknames considered for Colorado, named after the Colorado River due to the ruddy-colored (in Spanish: colorado) silt the river carried from the mountains, included:
  The Silver State - reference to the large quantities of silver present in Colorado.
  The Lead State - reference to the large quantities of lead present in Colorado.
  The Buffalo Plains State - reference to the large herds of bison that once roamed the Colorado plains.
  Switzerland of America - reference to its elevation, its majestic mountains, and natural beauty.
  The Highest State - reference to Colorado as the state with the highest average elevation (and perhaps foresight into its legalization of marijuana).    -return to the story

2.  Think about it... it really is paradox.    -return to the story

3.  I'm not quite sure why, but throughout the world, almost without exception, I'm called these "terms of endearment" by grandmas, waitresses, and other womenly types.    -return to the story

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