The Summer of 1998 Part XXI

The scale of the west is so enormous – the distances between major towns is comparable to driving through several New England states. As I was cruising through Billings, I was reminded of what a unique setting it had – the town (pop. 67,000) sat in a flattened out bowl along the Yellowstone River, completely surrounded by protective mesas (mainly from the bone-chilling north winds). I ascended I-90 into the vast plains and hooked up with I-25, heading south to Wyoming. I passed by a marker denoting that old General George had “met his Waterloo” about fifty miles east at Little Big Horn. I passed through Sheridan and ended up behind the Comfort Inn in Buffalo. For ventilation, I cracked open the rear door. Because of the cable securing the bike from the door handle, I felt safe from any intruder.

Wow, was I surprised the next morning! I had had an intruder all right – a four-legged, furry little feline had crept through the crack, and found a cozy nook in the corner of the bed for the night. I gave her some soft strokes, then she scampered out the way she had sneaked in. A one night stand, and I never knew her name. It had been a Comfort(able) Inn, parking lot-wise. I hightailed towards Cheyenne, stopping only in Wheatland for some groceries. Decker’s Food Market was dearth of any customers, so I asked one of the check-out girls, “Am I the first one in the store today?” She gave a promo-type reply, “No, but you’re the first special customer in here today.” Wasn’t that special of her to say that? I rolled into the Hitching Post Inn just in time for Happy Hour and a hearty palatable of hors d’oeuvres. It was a matter of perfect timing. And there I was, once again parked under the live oak in my “reserved “spot, next to the old Lincoln Highway and within a stone’s throw of the Union Pacific tracks. Everything was as right as rain, as I fell asleep to the sound of each train.

I spent the majority of the next day biking around downtown Cheyenne. As usual, I had to check out the classic Romanesque-style Union Pacific depot, which, like so many of her sister stations, had been demoted to serve as a souvenir shop/museum. I pedaled over to the post office, then to an antique shop to browse through a selection of license plates (nothing caught my attention), and finally an impromptu visit my old architect buddy, Morris Kemper (ex-associate back in the Denver days). That evening, I relaxed in the commodious Hitching Post lobby, listening to the soft vibes of the resident folk singer. Later on, more trains to put me to sleep.

It was time to head south to Colorado, so I said farewell to my most gracious host and headed towards the Rockies. Mercifully, the monotonous stretch of I-25 was terminated after only sixty miles, as I exited at Loveland to stock up on supplies. Traveling south on old U.S. 285, I passed a lumber yard and thought; “Wait a minute. Here I was faced with having to scavenge along the roadside for dead logs and kindling wood, when all I had to do was pull into their yard and ask for some end-cuts.” A young employee greeted me and, after hearing what my plans were, started cutting up two-by’s on the table saw faster than I could pitch then into the van. I finally had to say, “Hold it, that’s enough. Any more and I won’t be able to sit and drive this thing.” I thanked him with a small gratuity, and he said, hey, I was glad to help out. I know where you’re headed. That’s pretty country up there. I’ve done a bunch of fishing along that creek.” Sakes alive, I was loaded for bear.

In Longmont, I stopped at the King Soupers for some ice (yes, I do buy ice when I have to) and an extra supply of the Rocky Mountain News, glommed out of the re-cycling bin next to the store. One never has too much newspaper when camping out. I headed due west to Lyons, and then up state highway 7 along St. Vrain creek (it’s actually called a river in Lyons). Almost to the day, it had been a year since I had ascended this picturesque canyon, and I was remembering that it was eleven miles from the intersection in Lyons to my appointed destination, and also, the elevation at that point was approximately 7,000 feet. Needless to say, my ol’ eyeballs were pretty busy watching out for those 30 mph curves, while keeping an eye on both the odometer and altimeter. My memory served me well. My old site was right where it was supposed to be, and, thank the Lord, it was unoccupied. The boulders, trees, creek, everything (including the rock pit) were just as I had left it. God may move mountains, but He wasn’t about to disturb my idyllic setting. I thanked Him for getting me there.

After “leveling up” Ol’Baleau with my newly acquired 2 X 8’s, I started unloading all the end-cuts until I could see the refrigerator. We must have stacked half a cord in there. Next in order was gettin’ out the sledge hammer and log-splitter, and go to work making combustible 2 X’ 4’s out of 2 X 8’s. It was strenuous work, but it felt great, using my hands for something other than turning a steering wheel. The rest was academic, and soon I had a conflagration going that would have had Smokey the Bear shaking in his boots. Not to worry, everything was under control. Later on, the coals were just right to heat up a sauce pan of Ditty Moore stew. As that glamorous beer ad once said: “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

It was the weekend, so I anticipated having company. Sure enough, here came a young mother of two in her mini-van. They pull out all their paraphernalia and set up one of those neon-blue plastic tents. Then they take off, and about a hour later, they returned, only now, dad has joined the family. I walked over and introduced myself, and offered then some of my end-cuts. It was barely past the noon hour, and Kevin offered me a beer. In jest, I replied, “No thanks, it’s a little late in the day to start drinking.” The guy was obviously wired as he rambled incoherently about this and that (I can’t remember what his spiel was all about). Anyway, a couple of hours later, they packed it all in and moved it on out, just like that. I never did figure out what was going on with those people. What next, I wondered.