The next morning I’m awakened by the roar of Rick’s pick-up, and as I look outthe rear window, he’s gesturing a small wave of the hand and blasts a short honk.I wasa little puzzled by such a friendly good-bye from someone whom I had metfor only a few seconds the night before. My first sight of Suzi gives me a clue -she is aglow, smiling and eyes twinkling. She and Rick had stayed up quite late, talking things out, and had made a commitment to each other…meaning they were headed to Washington state.
Suzi’s e bullience was contagious – I felt so happy for her. She seemed grateful that I had showed up when I did, and showed her appreciation by cooking a superb breakfast of eggs, sausage, and toast. I drive her to work, and along the way, she hints that part of their decision was influenced by the threat to Rick that I was going to cart her off to Texas. Erroneous as the idea was, it obviously had an unintentional effect on Rick’s decision. Suzi made me feel like an angel in disguise, dropping in just in time to save the situation.What a great morning, and to top it all off, Suzi had made another gratuitous gesture by presenting me with a 1948 Maine license plate! Wow, what a surprise! She suggests I drive up to Steamboat Lake…it’s worth the time, and the scenery will knock your socks off.
Well, I certainly have plenty of time, so I trust her knowledge of the area enough to head north out of town on a Routt county road towardsthe unexpected. One thing I do expect is road repair, and sure enough, about two-thirds of the way up, there’s the familiar orange and black stop sign, held upright by a young lady donning the standard orange hard hat and vest. And, ofcourse, her face, arms, and legs arepermeated with a dark, red-brown tan that any pool-side bimbo would envy beyond belief. I’m at the head of the line, so I’mfirst to get the complimentary peppermint and Steamboat Bulletin. All this hospitality portends of a lengthy delay, so I just sit back and relax, occasionally conversing with the flag lady. I.commentin jest: “There are two seasons up here -winter and road repair.” She nods in agreement.
Finally, we’re on our way, the caravan bumping and grinding its way through the quagmire of rocks and mud, and I’m thinking to myself “They’ll be lucky to have this quarter-mile stretch finished by the year 2001.”A couple of miles farther there’s the landmark lake, and off tothe right is “Things ‘n Stuff”, a log cabin structure thatSuzi told me was worthstopping at. The sign outside proclaims Joe & Rilla as proprietors. An elderly lady greets me on the porch with a warm, “Good afternoon”. I respond: “Are you Riya?” She answers, “Yes, but no one has pronounced my name correctly in years.
“Their store is stocked with indigenous artifacts (again, the bull-in-the china shopsyndrome resurfaces), but I’m captivated by the black and white photographs of the past which have an Ansel Adams’ quality about them. We have a most amiable conversation about the past, present, and future aspects of Colorado. We solemnly agree that avaricious land developers are the scourge of the state. I tell her I’m in search of a place of solitude in the mountains, so she gives me some encouraging directions. Well, that was another stop worth making. She was a joy to talk to.
I’m really climbing now, the altimeter is peaking at 8,000 feet. I turnoff onto a dirt road just as Riya directed me, and keep on truckin’until I eventually find just the right place, exactly 1,000 miles fromDallas. A little presumptuous on my part, but that’s how I felt at an isolated elevation of almost10,000 feet, about ten miles from the Wyoming state line. As I’m scouring the area for firewood, my olfactory senses discern the most fragrant aroma, like chlorophyll. I’ve never smelled anything so fresh, so naturally aromatic, anywhere. The ground was partially covered with some sort of wild, lime and apple-green vegetation that must have been emitting all this fragrance. What the ground is not providing is any substantial amount of flammable wood. So, instead of looking down, I look up, and sure enough, there’s thousands of dead branches overhead.
The trouble is they’re all out of reach, so I have to resort to my rope and weightsling, the weight being a five-pound, cast iron rail anchor (shaped like a question mark) that I found next to a railroad track. With the slacken rope in one hand, 1 pitch the anchor up and over the branch with the other, then catch theswinging weight and yank real hard and fast. The branch breaks with a resounding “crack”. After about an hour and a half of looping and pulling, I have a pile of ignitable wood enough for a bonfire. After a delicious bowl of Wolf Brand chili, I let the fire extinguish itself while relaxing in the easy chair. The only lightradiating comes from the smoldering embers and an occasional strike of lightning.Other than that, the atmosphere is completely black…utter darkness. Light pollution is absolutely non-existent, as is any noise contaminant. This is as peaceful as it gets. The next morning I open the cargo door and see there’s quite enough firewood left to heat up for coffee. I’m patting myself on the back forhaving the foresight to fabricate a branch-breaking devise such as I did. Necessity begets invention. I can see Wyoming off at a distance. Heaven can wait.
I low-gear it down the dirt road to the paved county surface at Columbine. I pass byHahns Peak (I forgot to mention it on the way up) which looms like a lone 14,000 foot sentinel over the valley below. It’s quite majestic. As I’m down-grading through the pastoral countryside, I’m thinking about Suzi, and what a sensitive and caring person she is…a truly good friend. I stop by the store to give her one more hug and slip her an envelope with a C-note inside, simply saying, “Here’s a little traveling money for your trip to Washington.” She momentarily balks, but I respond; “I’ll be abused if you choose to refuse.” Bless her heart, she acquiesced, and I was out of there.
On the way down main street, Istop by a Laundromat to consummate my cleaning chores for the rest of the trip.The laundry establishmentis equipped with those unfamiliar horizontal agitatormachines, so I don’t know what the capacity is. A very helpful attendant assistsme, saying “Pack it as full as you want”. So, I’m stuffin’ all my soiled assortment into this voracious appliance, and my aid tells me “More. You can get more in there.” Finally, after having exhausted my stockpile of dirty apparel, I slamthe door shut and deposit a buck-fifty in chump change .A good bargain, considering what I stuffed in there.
I strike up aconversation with a bearded, middle-age man with a mastiff canine companion, theonly kind there is up here. This is definitely not poodle country…they would be squashed underfoot. Again, the Colorado plates lend me a clue that he’s a local mountainman. Retrospectively, Iaskhimabout the chances of finding a secluded place to camp out somewhere above Steamboat Lake. Well, I’ll be a donkey’spork-trailer, if he didn’t intimate anarea that practically described where I’d been the day before. Everyone’s in synch around here, it seems.
My next friendly encounter (while waiting on thedrying cycle) is an elderly Texas couple in a dirt-smattered, bug-splattered Dodge stretch van with a stand-up top extension and all the interior accoutrements.You know, it’s funny, every time I see one of these oversized, self-sufficientvans, I can’t help but feel envious. But, I always step back and realize that Ihave exactly what I need in Ol’ Baleau…nothing less, nothing more. The gentleman tells me they’ve been all over the northwest, and are headed home to Houston.I can only think to myself: “How fortunate they are to have seen this beautifulpart of the country, and what a misfortune it is to live where they do”. Well,that’s the beauty of travel…to get away from it all. C‘est la vie.