White jawed and invisible whiskered, I watch him watching me watch him and gently continue my pedal towards his mark. In the crisp morning, the horizon has an endless girth. From eye-corner to eye-corner. Flat, featureless and unbroken. The road slices through its gut, focusing my gaze on the task ahead. That task being to simply put what I see in front, behind.
The road. An unrelenting forward force. Black, cracked, and with the promise of escape laid upon its stubborn shoulders. It’s a mesmerizing presence. Needless to say, anything that suddenly appears on it is like a streaker at the cricket. A typo in the script. A fly in the otherwise dull ointment.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is such a fly. A white and ginger oddity framed on the canvas of a dark road.
He’d fox-in-a-box popped from the grassy cloak of the road’s edge moments before and now stood motionless, watching my slow approach. Slender and quizzical. Suspicious-eyed and curious-eared. His rusty tail conducts an invisible orchestra.
Adagio. The grass waves. I pedal. We lock eyes. It must be love.
He’ll get spooked soon, I think as I continue my methodical pedal grind. He’ll get spooked and dash back into the grass. Duck and cover, dive and roll. Be gone, like run-off down a lonely, Colorado drain.
I cross an imaginary line in this Colorado standoff of Fox v. Fembiker. But he does not soft-sock trot into the safety of the grass. No. He bolts. Straight down the center of the road and away from me, following the faded yellow line that dots its way off into the distance.
Mondrian landscape with canine figure.
His tail’s gone all allegro and he’s bounding, bounding. As if to say, “C’mon, chase me! It’s fun!” Stops. Looks back. A slight pause, mouth open and curious, then off again. Down, down, down the road.
I’m grinning, stupidly and secretively. My pace remains steady as watch him retreat. I don’t give chase.
My legs hurt. I mean, they really hurt today. Four miles in and fatigue is chomping away at them. An ache spreads from mid-thigh to hip and back down to knee. On both sides.
Fantastic Mr. Fox disappears from view. sucked into the crack between blue horizon and black road. Pffreewrut! Gone.
I am alone again.
The sun is not flexing its fierceness yet, preferring to creep up and slow roast no doubt. So I’m left with the fresh light and optimism of a cool beginning. I like the early morning starts, with my shadow stretched out in front and the sun spooning at my back.
Looking down, I ride over myself for most of the morning. My cycling shadow getting shorter, the day getting hotter, my ache getting greater. A squint creeps onto my dial as the light swings overhead to blast me more aggressively than is necessary. There’s a wind from the west and I’m slogging headlong into it. The thermometer is supposed to reach 100F today. Something to look forward to. My legs disagree.
Ugh. There’s nothing out here. Nothing.
Plowed fields glare at my impertinent dismissal of their brown presence. I don’t care. I focus on the little things. The strewn items of garbage (there are a lot of one-shoed people out here it seems), the cracks in the road, the squiggles of drunken tar trying to fill them in. The clunk and bump of me going over them.
I’m not sure why I say that out loud, perhaps a mix of boredom and terror, but there you have it. My first snake sighting. He motors at speed across the road in front of me and out into the safety of the grass. I don’t stop immediately, but I do stop. Look back. A viperous periscope of a head ratchets up in the grass to give me the ol’ snake eye. Cheeky bastard.
Open the file cabinet in my mind. File it away. SIGHTING: Snake: TYPE: Unknown. REACTION: Terror, followed swiftly by disaffected apathy. Noting it in case nothing else happens today.
Soon after, the tiny town of Haswell rears into view. It seems a little broken down and busted up. It’s unfortunate that many abandoned buildings in small towns are on the main drag. Still, they make for good photos. A giant texaco logo on the side of a desiccated building looks artistic rather than commercial. Weeds through floorboards are quaint. Peeling paint, endearing and aesthetically pleasing. Easy to say when you don’t live here. I glance towards the lush green park where cyclists are allowed to camp. It is a green beacon in this brown town. A quiet mood blankets me. If I stay any longer, I’ll be depressed all day.
With a sigh, I push on. It’s getting progressively harder to will myself to keep moving and I recognize that today is going to be one of those battles in the mind rather than battle in the legs.
Steel yourself, mind. Gird your hemispheric loins. When the day has its temperature tantrum, you must be strong enough to ride away and leave it kicking and twisting in the parking lot. When the dry wind is stealing your soul right from your open pores, you must have the fortitude to spit at it. But in a direction that does not fly straight back into your face.
Are you ready, mind?
We pedal along in silence. It seems even Precious has the blues.
On a particularly long and monotonous stretch, I stop. Traffic is non-existent. I twist my body around and scan the road behind me, all the way back until it’s a dot on the horizon. Nothing. Not a car in sight. No life beyond plants. Looking ahead yields the same result. Unclipping my other foot, I get off the bike.
Where’s a fox when you need one?
In an effort to bring excitement to my day, I kick down Zimmerman’s stand and pose my steed in the middle of the road. Are you ready for your closeup, Precious? I discover the advantage of a featureless landscape. He is a giant out here. A star. A majestic presence framed by a respectful scene. Colorado and Precious. A love song of the ages.
But, still nothing. I stand in the middle of the road surveying the scene. Sip on my water bottle. Squint. A car. Far off behind me and appearing to crawl, though I know it’s probably speeding. My movements are unhurried as I stroll back to Precious and slowly wheel him to the side of the road.
The car is closer now, it’s blue. Or is it green? I still can’t quite see it clearly, but I’m suddenly self-conscious about being out here by myself. About what I must look like. What a sight I must be. Isn’t it weird, me just stopped on side of the road, looking at nothing? Isn’t it fruity?
The tension rises, the anticipation of the car’s approach. I swing my leg over the bike and stand still, looking straight ahead and casual. It will look as though they’ve just caught me at a time where I’m pausing to tie my shoelace, or eat something. Nothing to see here. Nothing suspicious about a girl alone in the middle of nowhere with a bike.
With an an air-sucking ‘whoosh’, it goes by. Then a motorcycle roar, hidden by the car, startles me in a second whoosh of noise and fumes and leather-clad whoops as the pillion girlfriend cheers at me and waves.
I watch for a minute or two as they pin-point disappear.
Colorado has a slightly different feel to Kansas so far. But not much. There’s a swagger to the not-quite flatness. A sly nod and wink in its dry face. Still, monotony is monotony and I’ve just about had enough. Where are the mountains I’ve heard so much about? Just give me the damn mountains!
I won’t deny that things are starting to change. Black-eyed Susans are beginning to dominate as my road side audience. They nod and wave, and if I get too close the larger ones flick me like triffods in annoyance.
Their petals are burnt, their centers angry and black. They’re raging against the same wind as I am, and I feel their defiance. I think they’re having better luck than I. My shoulders are beginning to sag and I’m slowly being worn down by the heat and the wind and the dry water-cracker taste of the scene.
In Arlington, I spy a procrastination station and eagerly pull in. There’s a small mesh picnic table, a wooden outhouse with a crudely latched door, and glory upon glory, some shade. It’s a tough day in the battleground of my brain today. Struggle against the frown maker of my mind. I don’t want to go on, I dread the energy sapping heat of the wind. I revel in the joy of simply sitting on this picnic table and sipping my Nuun and eating my snacks and stretching my legs. I could sit here for hours.
It’s a stupid heat and its stupid hot. The air is dumb with it and whispering all through my sweating hair and over my ears and across the red-glow of my flushed cheeks. I mean to end you, it croons.
Twenty-five miles to go and my motivation needs a therapist. An email picks me up. It’s from Heather and she’s managed to sort out my car rental problems for tomorrow. I just have to get to Pueblo and pick it up. Then I will have two glorious days of NOT hurting my legs and NOT simmering in my own juices and NOT complaining about the damn wind.
I just have to get to Pueblo. All that lies between it and me is today and a bit of slogging in the morning-morrow. Kick in the pants. Get the off the bench dance.
Off, off, off we move, pulling out onto the baking road and behind the exhaust pipe of the day. A hot waft of head wind, demoralizing and accusatory, slaps into my angry skin. Annoying. Sweat appears and is left crusty and salty on my face. I feel the shell of it at the corners of my eyes when I squint.
My lips are sticky to the touch, a battle I’ve been waging all day. Is the lip balm a cure or a cause? A film of dry-lip grunge forms a tight line across my mouth and I wipe it onto the back of my glove like some kind of saliva slug. I am both fascinated and disgusted by this development and have been playing scientist with it. Experiment 1: More lip balm. Experiment 2: Less. Experiment 3: None at all. Experiment 4: Open mouth riding. Experiment 5: Closed mouth riding. Conclusions: All I’ve really learned is that closed mouth riding is the worst. After a time, the film on your lips becomes glue like, and opening your your mouth is like ripping apart a zip-lock bag. Only parts of your lip come off with it.
Squinting ahead, I gaze into my future. I want to close my eyes to it and sleep while riding. Not very practical, but my brain entertains the idea for a beat before discarding it. The sky is a gradient of rich to pasty light blue. There are no clouds. I yearn for a tree sighting to save me from the drudgery of this mundanity.
It’s not a tree. Well, there are two trees down there, but it’s what lies beyond them that startles me out of my jaded thoughts.
I crest the top of a small rise. Black-eyed Susans are flanking my progress, intruding my thoughts with their frantic ‘look-at-me’ movements. But I am looking straight ahead, my eye having caught sight of something in the distance.
The road stretches out straight for perhaps half-a-mile before beginning a slow, languid curve to the left. Hugging this curve is the railway track. It has been stalking the road all day, never more than a hefty loogie away. But now it has become the focus of my vision. For sitting upon it and stretching out along that very languid curve, all the way to the disappearing horizon, are motionless rail cars.
I’ve read about this. I know they’re abandoned and this will go on for miles, although I can’t remember how many exactly. The excitement I feel is not because I’ll have something new to gaze at. No. I’m excited because I’m hoping they’ll act as some kind of awesome wind break for me. That they’ll protect me from the constant playground bullying of a rude wind.
I inch closer. Closer.
They’re larger than I thought. Double deckers. Car carriers, perhaps? They brandish their airy, mesh sides with pride. Ancient paint cracks and surrenders. Graffiti at human height, brand graffiti up higher. Union Pacific. They’re Building America, or so they claim.
Here, the yellow flowers provide a phalanx of protection between the road and it. I consider stopping and wading through for a closer look, but am put off by the potential snake-to-ankle-bite ratio that is hidden within.
As a wind break, these mesh-sided abandoned train children are hopeless. Directionally, it’s just all wrong anyway, so I simply plod on in bitter silence.
My flag flaps and cracks in the wind. It’s angry too.
The road ripples up ahead, slowly rising up and up to a logical crest that I must reach. The train to my right, dead and unmoving, shadows it.
A break! In the train. A polite interruption for a side-road to cross the tracks, then the carriages resume as though nothing has happened. Another. I stop and take a photo, knowing full well there is no way to adequately capture the grinding length and determination of this odd Colorado occupant. I can pass through. It just sits. Alone. Aloof. Unloved. Forgotten.
Not far to Sugar City now. I can already taste the freezing cold Coke that I’m going to have. It fires up the anticipation in my mouth and becomes the single thought in my mind.
And then it isn’t.
I become aware of a vehicle behind me. Not overtaking. Lurking. There is no approaching vehicle – one that it might be waiting for so it can safely pass – so I’m a little creeped out by its presence.
Keep pedaling, girl. Just keep pedaling and it will go away.
It doesn’t go away. In fact, it slowly crawls up beside me. A red pickup truck, beaten and grumbly. I hear an amazing drawl of a voice get thrown out the window at me.
“Ma’am, do you want a ride into town? It’s mighty hot out.”
Sam Elliot. It was Sam Elliott. Well, his doppelgänger with a glorious and mighty grey mustache that was fat and alive and no doubt had its own wife and family in another state.
A dog sat behind his seat leaning over his shoulder, tongue out and smiling at me. Keenly observing the interaction.
I laughed and said no thank you as I calmly continued pedaling. Explained that I was almost there. As he drove along beside me, he continued to re-iterate how hot it was, as if I hadn’t noticed, and urged me to accept the ride and get out of the heat. Explained we could throw the bike in the back of the truck quite easily.
The look of worry on his rugged face made me fall in love, just a little bit. His western shirt, his rugged working-man arms all tanned and leathery. The faithful dog of this man’s man, dribbling on his shoulder. And that mustache.
I turned him down though. Letting him know why it could never be with a subtle, apologetic grin. With a ‘well, ok’ and a ‘be careful’, he powered off and out of my life. The red truck disappearing over the rise as fast as it had materialized beside me.
Before long, I crest that same hill and spy the silos of what must be Sugar City ahead. There’s a giant smudge on the sky behind it and my heart trips and skips and flops down on the ground. It is a mountain range. Masked out and bruised. Is that the start of the Rockies? How many days is that away? Am I nearly there?
Everything points in that direction. That abandoned train, that wire fence, that groaning, buckled road. This way, they say. This way to the doom you so desperately seek.
It’s a join-the-dot puzzle in my brain to get there. From this dot of Sugar City, to that dot of Ordway, and on and on until I can look down at my piece of paper and see the shape of the mountains sketched out in front of me. Sharpen your pencil, Precious. We’ve got work to do!
Sugar City is sweet with a true sense of life having passed by. It’s a mood not helped by the run-down, abandoned houses just as I enter the town. But I have other things on my mind right now. I’m gasping for the syrupy poison of a coke, with its sugar and fizz and the anticipated joy at it hitting the back of my throat.
At an intersection, I spy what looks like a store and mosey over. Cupping my hands up against the glass, I peer in. Closed. Sunday. I’ve completely lost track of days.
Luckily, there’s an ancient and faded coke machine lurking in the shade. I slip my coins in and get a freezing coke. Slam it down. Buy another, then slide down to sit on the cool cement and sip more gracefully at this one.
The streets are empty. I can hear the sound of a radio somewhere, snatches of music carried on the wind. A car pulls up in front of me and a man leans out. Seemingly oblivious to my appearance and the Australian flag flapping defiantly right in front of his eyes, he asks me if I’m from ‘round here. I laugh and say no. He seems confused as he drives off. I’m not in the mood to chat. The heat has soaked the words right out of me.
Spat back out on the other side of Sugar City and with a blast of astonishment I see the abandoned rail cars have picked up right where they left off. Having crossed the railway line in Sugar City, they’re now on my left and continue on for about 2 miles. I look down at my Garmin when they’re done – 13 miles, all up.
Ordway finally saves me from the day and I begin hunting for the hotel. A man sells watermelons from the back of his truck. People are pulling boats out to the lake nearby. Fishing tackle is being purchased and I remember that tomorrow is Labor Day. A long weekend.
I can’t find the hotel, so head back to the intersection where I’d also seen a sign for camping. Wandering into the grocery store, which is also a gas station and a diner, I pick up some chocolate milk and water as I wander the aisles. It’s an eclectic place with food, hardware, birthday cards and fishing tackle. I pick up a can of peaches. It’s $4. I put it back down.
While paying, I ask about the camping and am told to just wheel the bike around the back and set up the tent. I baulk, having seen the back of this building and its imprisoned trees, car bodies, dirt, and no peace of mind for a lone lady biker. Sensing my hesitation, the attendant gives me directions to the hotel.
“It’s nice,” she says. A lot of bikers stay there.
Outside, I chat with a curious fisherman and drink my milk as boats and people come and go. A second stranger joins the conversation.
“She’s going all the way to OREGON!” explains one to the other, and I shiver with pride at the wonder in his voice. Yes. Yes I am going to Oregon. All the damn way.
When they move off, I notice my rear tire. It has worn past the point of threadbare. The black rubber has completely gone in several places, the result of hauling Zimmerman and my fat ass over 2,000 miles of blacktop. Peering through a worn patch, I conclude the tire is still bulletproof. Well, bulletproof enough to get us to Pueblo. I do have a half-worn spare, but don’t think I’ll bother switching it out tonight. There are no downhills tomorrow. It’s not like I’m going to have a high-speed blowout that will, I dunno, break my wrist or something.
The Hotel Ordway is quaint and lovely and historically awesome. The foyer a wink at a time gone by and I’m tempted to call it a parlor. Due to a general unwillingness to haul Zimmerman’s bag up a flight of stairs, I opt for the more expensive downstairs room and settle in.
Food. I’m nearly out. After a delicious shower, I wander over to the grocery store to grab some supplies. The air is sleepy on my freshly showered skin and the snug afternoon feels friendly and gentle as it tousles my still damp hair. By the time I dawdle up to the door of the supermarket, it has closed for the day. A girl smiles apologetically out at me through the glass as she mops. I smile, then turn and go back to the room.
My last can of peaches makes for a sticky dinner. My last Snickers, desert. At around 9pm, in a sudden fit of worry, I rush out the back of the hotel to the staircase where Precious lurks in the darkness. Run the cheap security wire around his body and latch him to the railing. I doubt anyone would steal him out here, but it’s a ‘did I leave the iron on’ situation and I’d rather not worry about it all night.
Writing up my notes for the day, I smile at certain remembrances. The fox. The mustache. The train. The spiders in that wooden outhouse. The heat and the wind and my body’s annoyance at my brain making it continue moving despite the ache. Looking back at these moments, assessing them, I’m surprised at how I am somewhat disconnected with the scene. As though I’m looking at someone else and witnessing their journey. Their struggle. I shake my head. I have no idea who that person is. Strange to think it’s me.
The brain and the body. It’s easy to look at them as tools, particularly since one literally controls the other and makes it fire in controlled patterns and movements. But a person’s soul, their personality, it’s the part of the equation that is frustratingly unpredictable. How will they react? Fight or flight? It can so easily let you down.
“I can’t do this.”
At some point in every day, I have this thought. That I can’t do this. Sometimes it’s a quick flash, a moment bubbled up then popped on the surface of my confidence. The ache and the futility and the doubt will pound me down. But then a door in my mind will creak open and a giant neon sign will flash at me. It blinks steadily and confidently. It says:
“There is no choice but forward.”
Or to put it another way: When life gives you lemons, kick it in the lady balls.
Date: September 05, 2010
From: Eads, CO
To: Ordway, CO
Distance: 62.89 miles
View Garmin Data >