Ordway, CO to Riverside, WY – I Finally Forgive Kansas

7 Jul

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The last entry for Kansas took 3 rewrites, and I was still ThisClose to just writing

“Fuck Kansas” *Send

I’m at the Dinosaur Depot Museum in Canon City, Colorado and I’m giddy. Hanging on the wall in front of me is the worlds’ most complete Stegosaurus skeleton. I can see the crack in his tail spike where the bone infection took root, the abscesses in the back plates as it spread, the bend of the legs as it kneeled down to cool it’s feverish body in the mud beside the riverbank. I run my fingers over a preserved imprint of a T-Rex footprint in mud and shiver as I feel the pebbly skin. On the wall above is the boney remains of an ancient fish with the boney remains of it’s last meal inside. Behind me in a glass room volunteers remove the plaster and matrix from dinosaur bones. The original dinosaur skeletons shown in the Smithsonian in the 1920s came from the quarries near Canon City. All this, plus I got to sit on an Apatosaurus femur, which the Smithsonian frowns upon.

On the wall a display shows the geological progression of Colorado. Eons ago the Interior Sea ran down the center of America from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, with Kansas and Utah as it’s riverbanks. It was here the sand, mud, and shells compressed layer on layer until from beneath the waves the earth birthed mountains and the Rockies gained prominance. I leave Canon City grinning and begin the long 11,500 foot climb up these layers to Hoosier Pass. I’m breathing hard and occasionally gasping, the scenery and the altitude take my breath away.

My first impressions of The Rockies are that they should be called “The Lumpys.” I expected jagged stone peaks slicing into the blue sky everywhere I looked. Instead rounded lumps of earth surrounded me, with farther rounded lumps retreating into a blue haze from the forest fires consuming the state. In between are large swaths of prairie and sagebrush.

This is the majority of the Rockies, but there are also marvels. As I climb the passes, my lungs sipping air when I’m demanding gulps, I realize that along with the highway signs saying “Historical Marker, 1 mile” they should also have highway signs saying “You’re gonna want to stop and stare for a while, 1 mile” The Rockies are filled with views that demand awe. Gargantuan mountains with treelines scoured level by ice, curving bowls of rock sit atop the bald peaks where the glaciers carved their cradles. 4,000 year old Soldier Pines hide amongst the treeline of the Arapahoe, where bright green trees are far outnumbered by the limp, wine-dark corpses of pines that have died of thirst in the unseasonable heat. Jagged towers of red stone stabbing into the sky above the deep blue Colorado River. Canyons where the rivers sawed straight down into the earth, exposing multicolored layers of time. I pause frequently, gaze in amazement, take photos, stare some more, look around and wonder why there isn’t a crowd gathered here staring at this at all times, take one last look and leave. This happens frequently enough in Colorado to remind me of the Avenue of Giants in California, or the 1,000 year old graveyard on Koya Mountain, where I’m so awestruck at all times that it’s a relief to be finally are out of sight and back to regular, status quo gorgeous.

A change happens as I descend the other side of Hoosier Pass. The final climb is 4 miles and 1,000 foot elevation gain, and the entire time I’m huffing hard, as I’ve done since beginning the climb yesterday for another 3,000 feet, and 2,000 more earlier in the day, and really since I began the trip. It’s been slightly overcast since I got into the mountains, cooling me but blocking my views. I reach the peak, snap evidence of me grinning at the highest point on the TransAmerica Trail, then I point my front tire down and gravity and I kiss and make up. Suddenly my odometer’s jumping past 30, the sun is out from the clouds and pedaling is optional. Over the wind in my ears I hear a creek gurgling beside me as I race beside pines and aspens, gargantuan mountains with pink and red bands of color loom above me, growing larger and larger. Suddenly a long-forgotten feeling emerges from behind my grin: Ease. This trip has been incredible, but it’s been difficult. Even on the shortest days, there’s background stress as my body deals with things breaking down; my food, my muscles, my bike. I have to know where my bike is at all times, where I am in relation to home, where I’m shooting for tomorrow, what new location I’m sleeping tonight. I realize the next time I’ll have this feeling is when I step off my pedals with my rear wheel in the Pacific, and that this moment is coming up soon. I’m over halfway done with this trip. It’s this that makes me pause even as I’m racing against sunset to appreciate Dillon Reservoir, watching the full moon hang above the sails floating in the darkening, glassy water, stark white against the crimson rocky peaks. To appreciate spending that night in a house, with my own room, my own bed, my own shower, my own TV. I’ll have this feeling of ease again, but I’ll never have these moments.

It’s this memory of ease that makes me take a half day day to soak in Hot Sulphur Springs, catching up on the 3rd Game of Thrones, and spend 5 minutes staring into the eyes of a dragonfly that’s landed on my book, wiping his eyes with his legs and staring back. It’s what makes me appreciate more the small moments here. The fact that the entire next day I still smell of sulphur, like I’ve just teleported with Nightcrawler. Taking a picture of a Coyote in the Arapaho and having it yawn it’s mouth and leap back and forth on its front legs until I left. That even a County Commissioner campaign poster has a gun shooting the underline for the name. Sharing Whiskey with a Blackwater Employee living in Seattle and heading back to Afghanistan as he tells me of the two times he’s met Ichiro, once when Ichiro was sober and timid, the other drunk at a party and yelling at him in Japanese. Sharing dinner with James, a Math Teacher in Waco  who spent his time in the Navy dropping sonar buoys to track Russian subs, now partially retired and taking half his family to meet the other half in Yellowstone.

After crossing the Wyoming border and asking directions at the home of Roy and Donna I end up in some reverse “If you give a mouse a cookie…” where I’m offered a bottle of water, then a soda, then a banana, then a sandwich, and we chat on the porch about the unseasonable heat, how his farmer friend will need to buy hay for the first time ever after his crop didn’t come up and how low the Platte river is running.  I end up camping in their yard as Roy runs an extension cord from the house to the tent so I can charge my phone. Then the next day, as I coil the cords and replace them near the house, he comes out, wishes me luck, and gives me $10 for breakfast.

Now that I’m in Wyoming, I’m done warning Eastbounders about Kansas. When the cyclists and I swap advice they tell me Wyoming is windy, it’s hot, and it stretches on forever. I nod, and think “You have no idea what hot, windy, and endless is (Also, Wyoming is amazing, but that’s for another entry)” Then it’s my turn. Kansas is over a state away, why make them worry about the distant future? I smile and tell them simply “You’re gonna love Colorado”

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