Vacation Time – August 1997 Part XIII

The next morning, I crank up the fire for coffee and a quickie breakfast, tryingto keep my mind off the impending trial of “scrambling out of the hole”, so to speak.I survey the sand and rock incline, which I estimate to be about a 25-degree slopeover a distance of thirty feet or so. Standing at the bottom, looking up, the ascentappears almost insurmountable. Slopes can be deceiving, I’m hoping.

Well, I figure if I can move it in, I can move it out. I batten down the hatches, ram her downinto low gear, and make the charge of the van-brigade. Ol’ Baleau makes it out O.K.,like we had four-wheel drive. Oh, that smooth pavement feels so good. It’s downhill all the way to Ft. Collins, or in technical terms,about a 4,500 foot drop within a distance of 70 miles. U.S. 34 literallyfollows the river mile for mile downthe twisting canyon. It’s a beautiful drive, but I’llhave to admit, after a while it gets a little taxing.

Here’s a tidbit of history: the literal translation of Cache la Poudre is “the hiding place for the (gun) powder”. It seems like some 1870s explorers got a little antsy when surrounded by Indians, so they buried theirmunitions supply in order to keep the savages from confiscating the booty. As slow as I’m driving, I still manage to catch up to a semi-flatbed hauling a load of hay.I’m more fascinated than frustrated at havingto follow this rig. We have to nego­tiate several ancient, arched tunnels (circa 1920), and I’m astounded at the heightaccuracy by which they’ve stacked the hay in order to pass just under the minimum clearance. I mean, they had it dimensioned down to fractions of an inch.

Finally,the canyon dissolves into the eastern plains, and it’s a kind of a relief to be on a flat stretch of road for a change. I hook a right on the venerableU. S. 287 in Ft. Collins, and head due south through Loveland and Berthoud, both of which are still pleasant and peaceful townships, generally uncorrupted by the front range development. And these towns have not been decimated by I-25, which concretes the landscape about seven miles to the east. I’ve almost come full circle here (remem­ber my travail earlier on the way to Cheyenne?). The old highway 287 passes throughfields of grain almost as high as an elephant’s eye, and Longs Peak, at 14,255 feet,is clearly visible just beyond the front range (approximately 30 miles away). This panorama could easily be the quintessential backdrop in an advertisement for Coorsbeer. Regardless of sounding schmaltzy, the sublime words of “America the Beautiful”seem appropriate: “…purple mountain’s majesty, and amber waves of grain…”. It’s a pleasurable thirty mile drive, despitesome heavy traffic at times. But it sure beats the monotonous interstate to the east, where drivers have the pedal-to-themetal, and the Rockies spin out of the ground like spurs on a boot.

I stop at good ol’ KingSoupers on the outskirts of Longmont for some staples, which includes abundle of newspapers from the recycling bin. My plan is to be back beside the St.Vrain by early evening as I head west towards Lyons. Halfway up the canyon, I makeone last stopfor some kindling wood along the side of the road. It was a trove ofdead limbs that a farmer had meshed with his barbed-wire fence. I could only hope he wouldn’t miss a few twigs and branches out of the lot. Today is Wednesday, so I’m several days ahead of the Labor Day weekend migration to the mountains. I do plan ahead sometimes, and sure enough, my “space” is unoccupied.

How long has it been since I’ve spent a night here along the St. Vrain? Well, it’s been exactly two weeks, and that’s just long enough. I’m going to be scatter shooting the events over.thenext five days.A pick-uphaspulled offthe state highway down onto the “frontage” road slightly above my campsite. All he needs is a slotted screwdriver to tighten a fuel line (his toolbox is somewhere else). I comply, and his problem is quickly resolved. I notice the truckbed is brimming with two-by end cuts, so I subtlety mention I’m scraping for firewood. The next thing I know, he’s pitchin’ 2 to3 foot long end cuts as fast ashe can down the slope next to my rockpit until I have to say: “Thank you, I be­lieve that’s quite sufficient”. What a Godsend. I immediately break out the log­splitter and crack the two-bys in half length-wise, for more efficient ignition.Now that’s good exercise, handlin’ a five-pound sledge hammer in one hand, and asplitter in the other, while balancing a two-by on end. No pain, no gain.

There’s no end to the heterogeneous individuals that seem to materialize. I don’t mind a bit…the more company, the better. One of those top-heavy shack­-built-on-the-back-of-a-pickup anomalies teeters down into the nearby camp area.I’m rejuvenating my feet in the icy wateroff a sandbar when this mountain manright out of “Deliverance” comes over and asks: “Is it free to stay here?”. I say:”Yeah, you’re free, I’m free, we’re all’s God’s green acre here. Make yourself at home.”

I meet the rest of his family – a pipe-smokin’ wife with the feminity of a fence post, a precocious daughter of about ten years (named Nicole),and Kodiak, their amiable sheep dog. They’re nice folks, but the conversation quickly evolves into their jeremiad of no-work-in-California and we’re-headed­-east-to-greener-pastures plight…kind of like “Grapes of Wrath” in reverse. They kindly offer me some spaghetti (note, not pasta), but I already had my mind set on corn beef hash, tomatoes, and onions. As is my custom, I surveyed their vacated site the next morning, hoping I wouldn’t have to volunteer another clean-up cam­paign. It was gratifying to find no non-degradable refuse, but at a closer inspec­tion, I discover a pile of discarded “pasta” in some tall grass. My first thoughtwas how ironic that a poor family would waste food so egregiously. My frugal up-bringing surfaced, making me feel guilty that I had not accepted their generositythe night before. Well, I hope they’ll find their field of dreams in, in Oklahoma?

Another couple refused my offer for some of my complimentary end cuts. They were obviously hooked on butane and/or lighter fluid because they had that woodso juiced up, it created an orgy of flames. Through the darkness, I could barely make out two silhouetted figures dancing around the conflagration, whooping it uplike they were on the warpath. Could be, they were a little juiced up themselves. For the last two mornings, my neighbors have vanished into thin air before I havea chance to have coffee with them. Well heck, it was just 9 o’clock.