It was midaftemoon when I stopped at my favorite “Midway Rest Area” on top of northeastern New Mexico (elev. 6750 ft.). This would be another first since I had never stopped there when it wasn’t dark (for an overnight stay). I pulled in next to a pickup with a camper on back sporting Maine license plates. I thought: “Hey, I can’t resist this. I gotta talk with these people.” The elderly couple were on their way back from the restrooms when I intervened, saying, “You people are a long way from home. Where are you headed?” The missus replied, “Alaska.” Getting my geographical head together, I said, “Excuse me, but aren’t you kinda taking the long way around?” She replied, “Oh no. We’re coming up from Florida where we’ve been visiting our children.” “I wish you well on your long journey,” was all I could say as they departed.
I passed them down the road as they were doing a leisurely 55 mph, and I thought, “Hey, that’s great. They’re taking their good old time. My little trip seems like a bike ride to Tom Thumb compared to their odyssey. I would sure like to talk with them again.” Their high-profile vehicle wasn’t hard to keep track of in my rearview mirror. I figured on waiting for them at the first gas station in Raton. Then they disappeared off my “radar”. I couldn’t imagine what happened to them. There were no junctions where they could have turned off. I pulled in at the Texaco station and waited for about thirty minutes. There was no sign of them. It was like they had vanished into thin air. What a disappointment! I was really wanting to ask them if they had ever been through Colorado and what routes they were planning to take. Well, so be it. I had good intentions.
Going over Raton Pass was a walk in the park. I put Ol’ Blue in cruise control at 60 mph at the bottom, and when we hit the six per cent grades, she automatically shifted down to second gear and we glided over the summit as sweet as you please. It never ceased to amaze me how smooth the old tranny still performed. I coasted down through Trinidad and out into the plains to Walsenburg where I exited onto U.S 160 which took me over La Veta Pass to my destination for the night – Alamosa. I found my “reserved” parking space in the back comer of the City Market parking. It had been the second day of over 300 miles of driving, but it seemed almost effortless. I thanked the Lord for one more day of safe travelling, and for no drone of dieseling 18-wheelers.
I awoke to a blanket of white the next morning. Just an inch or two had fallen overnight, but then the flakes started falling again as I headed north on U.S.285 across the flat high plains of central Colorado (elev. 8,000 ft.). It was the quintessence of winter driving: a soft, sifting down of snow with no wind. It was truly a winter wonderland. It was what I had driven 800 miles to experience. I looked up through the skylight and thanked the Lord for giving me one last blast of winter. My contentedness started to wane a wee bit as I approached North Pass (elev. 10,150 ft.), but as I approached the summit, my fears were unjustified as there was only a light dusting of snow on the roadway. Although I do enjoy the snowride, I would much prefer not having to slap on the chains.
I slid down into Gunnison and made a bee-line to the county building to renew Ol’ Blue’s license plate sticker. You see, the van was “born and raised” in Colorado (1981 to 1984 in Denver) and will forever have the white-on-green plates. When my second cousin Priscilla Gould/Busby and family lived in Crested Butte (Gunnison County), I adopted their home as a registration address – quite simple. There was also a plus to being registered in the mountains – no emission/inspection sticker was required (only those residing along the smog-infested I-25 had to have their exhaust systems checked). Hey, as little as I drive in Dallas (and Denver, for that matter), I don’t think I’m breaking any laws. Judas Priest, I bike everywhere in Dallas, and in Denver too, when I’m there. Anyway, it’s much more enjoyable driving around the country with Colorado plates (as opposed to Texas plates). Honest to gosh, I have found people so curious and receptive when they see the Mile High plates – like an invitation to conversation. Colorado conjurns up mystical images of a far-and-away mountainous region, especially to people I have encountered along the eastern seaboard. It’s almost magical, and great fun. And as a final point, I spend probably ten times as much driving time around Colorado as I do in Texas, so I feel quite at home in the Mile High State. Enough said on that matter.
I try to get up to Gunnison every three or four years just let the nice little ladies behind the counter know that I was still alive and not just an address on Village Bend (where they obligingly mailed my renewal notice if I don’t show up in person). I always enjoyed transacting business there because of its friendly, uncrowded, laided back atmosphere. I inquired about getting new plates (the existing ones were slightly faded), but when I saw the only choice I had were the new “postcard” plates, I deemed them totally unacceptable. “Heck,” I thought, “I would just wait till I got back and repaint the suckers a dark green. The reflective finish was only on the embossed characters, so I wouldn’t really be abating the authenticity of the plates.” Well, that matter was quickly resolved.
Curiously, there was only a trace of snow on the ground, so I took to the streets on the velicopede. It was such a pleasure pedalling around on the wide streets and seeing so many other bikers out and about. The last time I was in Gunnison, I visited my highschool classmate, Gene Paterson, at her retail house. After several runs up and down Main Street, I finally recognized the dwelling. To my chagrin, she was no longer there. The new tenants, or owners, said they had been there for two years. Well, where the heck was she? I figured she had a business somewhere in town, but where? I called her home in Almont (ten miles to the north), but no answer. I dwaddled around town, making a few more attempts to reach Gene, but to no avail. I guess it wasn’t in the cards.