The Summer of 1998 Part II

The next morning, the coal trains were silent, but in their place were the constant cacophony of the omnipresent Harley Bunch as they sped by at a quasi-Mach 2, oh wow, what a sight they were. Then I remembered my encounter with “The Bunch” back down the road. I knew it was a rhetorical question when I asked them, “How come you guys are traveling up U.S. 287 on your way to South Dakota?” Their obvious response was, “Hey, man, the only way to go is through Colorado.” I could dig that. Instead of negotiating Raton Pass, I took off along some by-pass New Mexico roads, only to see in my rear-view mirror more of the Harley Bunch. Well, I knew we were all on the same track. I almost felt I was part of their group. Maybe my bike on back had something to do with their affinity towards me. I. really doubted it. But it was fun jousting with than along that two-lane road on the way to Trinidad, Colorado.

I hooked a left onto U.S. 160, and could see the Rockies a far distance away, about forty miles I gauged. Whoa, there was a mileage sign: Trinidad-39 miles. Hey, I was right on with that guesstimation. I had some time to reminisce about the night before, sitting in my “living room” chair (the passenger seat facing the stern) with the cargo door wide open. I sat there transfixed by the Almighty’s awesome display of heat lightning in the far eastern sky. It’s a meteorological phenomenon indigenous only to the western U.S. of A. To anyone who’s never been west of the Hudson River, it’s rather difficult to explain what it all looks like. I guess the best way to describe it is it’s like a million light bulbs being switched on and off behind these giant cumulus clouds, periodically silhouetting their bulbous outlines. What makes it all that more spectacular is the distance involved….all that wondrous creation could be 50, 60, maybe 100 miles away. I’ll never tire of it.

The other remembrance was talking with the Okies who had lodged their RV right next to me at the Midway rest area. I asked them if they had noticed an inordinate number of campers and RV’s going south. Their first reaction was, “What does ‘inordinate’ mean?” I’m just jesting. Actually, they too had been agog at the convoy of vehicles retreating from the north. “Do they know something we don’t know?’ I wondered. We agreed on one thing: “The whole state of Colorado was not on fire.” I slept better knowing that.

The one thing I noticed getting out of Texas was that the grass was greener and the steers were fatter. Those poor Lone Star cows were really suffering through one of the worst droughts ever. Uh oh, La Veta Pass proved to be a little problem for Ol’ Baleau…she wasn’t clicking on all eight plugs. Maybe I should’ve got that tune-up before I left Dallas after all. I was pushing the old gal, but 99% of the time she was running like a song. More often than not, it’s only one freakin’ spark plug that goes bad. I was determined to see how far I could push her. Even the oil change was overdue, not from the mileage standpoint, but from the time elapsed since the last change (11 months). And to add to all that, I probably should have flushed the radiator (2 years since previous clean-out). Ol’ Baleau was running a little hot on some of the inclines.

These acts of negligence was not my nature, believe me. I had lulled myself into a false sense of security, figuring that no driving meant no maintenance. Wrong. Well heck, as long as I’m talking about all the red herrings that I self-imposed upon myself, I might as well mention the four new tires I had to purchase, simply because the steel belts on two of the existing tires had literally “exploded” through the tread, most likely from having sat too long without being driven. The one consolation was that the 50,000 mile warranty limit had just been reached. So, at least I had some new treads under me, although I felt those Michelins had another 10,000 miles left on than. But, then again, neglect was probably the cause of it all. As the saying goes: “Use it, or lose it.”

Despite all those previous impending thoughts about the welfare of my Detroit Iron, the old van was sasheying effortlessly along U.S. 160 through Fort Garland, Alamossa (Holiday Inn ice stop), Monte Vista, and then north on U.S. 285 to Saguache. CO 114 took me over North Pass (without any missing or overheating), where I started looking for that familiar campsite I remembered situated under a grove of pines, right next to a creek. Sure enough, there it was, unoccupied, but no firewood.

It was then I contemplated driving another 120 miles to Montrose, and spend the evening with Gene Paterson/Lowry (ex-highschool classmate). This was when the inexplicable hand of fate intervened. A couple of miles down the road, I intuitively pulled off into a primitive rest area (gravel parking lot with an out-house). I tromped down to the creek and found a plethora of dead kindling and medium-sized logs. I stacked all the wood I could on my handy tarp, pitched it in the van, and drove back up to the campsite. Yea, you bet, it didn’t get any better than that…heating up a pot of Ditty Moore stew over glowing ambers next to a cascading creek, under a star-lit sky. I had to pull on a long-sleeve shirt. Just two days before, I was in the sweltering heat in Vernon, Texas. I thanked the Lord for getting me there safely that night, as I looked up through the pines to the constellations. The quietness and stillness was euphoric.

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