Just as I’m pulling into Ron’s Place, he’s scrambling up from the creek holding asmall trout he’s caught for dinner. Hisphysicalfrailty is reinforced by his dietary regimen, but he is truly a survivor. He is so nonchalant at seeing me, as if he expected me to return to his habitat. I scratch through his crusty demeanor to find he’s a likeable guy, and he’s happy to have me there.
The coffee is percolating inhis oversized pot, so I start out to get my own container, and he yells out: “Hey,ain’t my coffee cup good enough for you?” I do an about-face and accept his generosity, along with an admonition that his brewis”stronger than a hound’s tooth”. I temperate my cup with his cream and sugar, not to offend my host. We talk for about three hours, sitting side-by-side on a bench seat extension from his card table. Actually, I came back to listen… my curiosity drove me backwards 40 miles.
Ol’ Ron was in his early 70’s and was thrice divorced. He was hanging out here until afterLabor Day when his social security check came in (mailed to his daughterin Salt Lake). Ron wasn’t just whistling Dixie when he said he was hungry for conversation. Aside from his diatribes against his former wives, his main spiel concentrated on confrontations with his ex-partners in a trucking company. Simplified, Ron’s intransigence and stubbornness prevented him from having any kind of workable relationships with just about anyone. His bitterness had extended his life into homelessness. To add to his plight,he was slowly degenerating from a liver cancer.
Impulsively, I had to pursue the issue of the homeless, wondering how anyone in this country could possibly be without friendsand/or family somewhere. I knew it was a rhetorical question because he answered “I chose this way of life knowing it’s the only way I can live peacefully. I don’t owe anything to anybody…no responsibilities, no commitments.” As succinct an answer as anyone could expect. At one interval, I offer to help cut some firewood with his sawthat looks like an elongated hacksaw (what’s the name of that tool?). He vociferates:”You don’t know how to cut wood”. I contain my composure and keep sawing away until I’ve dismembered a 30 foot branch for his fireplace. He grunts a “thank you”. Just before leaving, I offer hima couple of sawbucks, but he refuses with a faint exclamation, “Ain’t no way I can use th’ money ’cause I’d have to go into town an’ leave all my belongings here for somebody to rob”. Well, he does express his appreciation for a pack of cigarettes, and I’m out of there.
I’ve got plenty of daylight to settle down somewherein Colorado by sundown. As I’m pushing Ol’ Blue over the summit again, I can’t help thinking about that curmudgeon I just left behind, and not regretting one minute or mile that I backtracked to visit with him. I’ll never forget him, God blesshis independent soul. This makes two straight days I’ve traveled west in the morning and east in the afternoon, with the sun at my back…what a pleasure.
I stop at Fruitland to get a couple of gallons of high-elevation priced gas – the same spot where Ihad earlier unloaded the camp site trash bag. At first, the attendant balked at my dumping such a huge load in his trash can. When I explained the origin of the refuse, heimmediately relented and, in fact, shook my hand in a kind of appreciative gesture.Well, that little moment of gratitude made all that cleaning up worthwhile. Stillheaded east on route 40, I glance to the left and see Kings Peak, the highest pointin Utah at 13,258 feet, which still has a snow coneon top. I’m guesstimating the peak to be about 40 miles away (a later Road Atlas verification shows I’m right on target) and I remember yesterday seeing the same mountain range from I-80 as I wasdriving west in Wyoming, at about the same distance from the ridge line.
It was thesame phenomena as I experienced back in northern New Mexico…mentally picturing anon-visible road by relating it to a visible node. No wonder that distances are soindiscernible in places like the Texas Panhandle. I stop in Duchesne for a few moreoctanes, where I always get a kick out of asking a local what the acceptable, and correct, pronunciation of their town is. So far, I’ve never been able to remember theaudible phonetic: Dush-ay. For some reason, it reminds me of Louisiana. Another splendid sunset is reflecting in all three mirrors as I cross the state line into the northwest corner of Colorado.
An archaeological dualism exists in this remote sectionof the state. First, there’s the Dinosaur National Monument, which I’ve never had anyinclination to visit (fossils just don’t ring my bell). Second, there’s the depressing remains of a not-so-far-ago era known as the oil-shale exploration dynamo ofthe early 1980’s. The self-sufficiency of ourcountry’s fuel production had bottomedout almost overnight. All that was lef ton this desolate landscape were dirt roadsand power poles leading out to vacated lots once occupied by migrant workers in theirwheel estate homes, so optimistic about their oil-fueled future. Where have they allgone? The first city limit sign is appropriately named Dinosaur which has an elevation posted on it. Well, I’ll be a Tyrannosaurus Rex if my altimeter didn’t read the verysame numbers – 6,200 feet. Excuse my cockiness, but I was feeling downright proud of having the intuition to know where to set that altimeter needle back in Heber.
The evening light is waning, and I have no idea where I’m spending the night. It’s 90 miles to Craig and another 15 miles farther to the Hayden rest area. My vacation schedule does not include driving two hours at night on a two-lane highway. My optimism though is high on finding a place to pull off somewhere, somehow.
The planets must have been lined up, because just 20 miles down the road was Massadona – a smattering of old wood-frame houses and one neon-lit cafe and bar, with an adjacent rest area. It was a god-send, to say the least. I still wasn’t sure the area was accommodative, so I stepped inside to confirm my “reservation”. The lady behind the emptybar counter said they had been holding my spot for two years, and were so glad to seeI finally showed up. Just kidding, of course.
Forty or fifty years ago that mighthave been the case, when U. S. 40 was the primary road betweenDenver and Salt Lake. Now, the “rest area” is an anachronism, a grassy common square rimmed with shady cottonwoods and telephone cable spools set on end as picnic tables. In the center of the open space (approximately 50 yards square) was a dilapidated wood structurewith two doors designated “Men” and “Women”. I parked in one of the empty twenty-or-so spool spaces and said a most grateful prayer…”Thanks again for…”