A Last Blast of Winter Trip – 2002 V

Sadness was seeing the Rockies disappear in my rearview mirror. Near Limon, I had to merge with the gawd-awful I-70 for a few miles before exiting on to old U. S. 287. Now the road was flat as a pancake and full of 18-wheelers bypassing Raton Pass on their way from Amarillo to Denver. It was obvious that the highway had just been resurfaced – the pavement was as smooth as a baby’s derriere. It was too euphoric to last forever, and sure enough, I had to stop at one of those one-lane road-repair interruptions. There was enough time-delay to do a quick oil change. There was a pickup with a Wyoming plate in front of me and the driver was out doing practice swings with a three-wood. My conversation with him told me he was from Casper and he was headed to Port Arther, Texas, and he was in the oil-drilling supply business. After talking with him, I felt somewhat assurred that our country was not totally dependent on OPEC.

Nothing titillates the olfactory senses more than a waft of breeze from the ubiquitous feed lots of southeastern Colorado (and western Kansas for that matter). I could tell I was approaching Lamar when I got a whiff of the ummistakeable malodor. I turned east onto U. S. 50 and was now chasing my shadow as the lowering sun behind me cast a silhouette of Ol’ Blue on the pavement. The brilliance of the sap green fields and stark white grain elevators made for a magical drive. I looped around Garden City and started keeping my eyes peeled for the rest area where I had stayed back in September of last year. I pulled in and parked under the same scraggly cottonwood. It was April 22nd, and as I watched a splendiferous sunset, I was remembering that it was exactly 7 months and 11 days since I had sat here and watched a tape of a jetliner plowing into the WTC. The freights were still rolling by, but that night a passenger train streaked by. I couldn’t believe it! What in the wide world of AmTrak was one of its trains doing in the middle of Kansas? Now I was really in love with that rest area. I fell asleep to the whirl of the steel wheels.

The next day, I encountered one of the real “highlights” of the trip. A few miles down the road I pulled off at a “Scenic Overlook”, and there stretched out below me was the Ingalis Feed Yard – a million future Whoppers and Big Macs grazing around in the mud and manure. Whewee. It literally took my breath away! I was sure that countless tourists from all over the world came here to this “Garden Spot of America” just to get a scent of the incredible scenery.

After that exhilarating experience, I had to stop in Cimarron for a “breather”, and some gas. Inside there were three local gents sitting at a table, so I ambled over and asked (pointing across the street), “When were those grain elevators built?” One old codger said. “Ain’t got no idea.” Then another wise-acre added his two-cents worth with, “You know how Cimarron got its name? When the white men run off the injuns, they shouted ‘See ’em run'”. “Cute. Real cute,” I thought. I exited with, “Thanks for all the info.” Twenty minutes later I was hitched up in front of Dodge City’s fabled “Ye Ol ‘ Genuine Western Frontier Store Fronts”. Yep, pardner, the town hadn’t changed a bit in 150 years or more. Realistically, the saloons, brothels, and general store had been replaced with a plethora of cutesy antique shops and a museum. I unhitched the bike and pedalled around the downtown area which still had the original brick-paved streets, for cryin’ out loud. And the Union Pacific freights kept rollin’ on through. Despite its contrived facade, I really liked the little town. Okay pilgrim, it was time I got the hell out of Dodge.

I headed south on State Hwy 34 and U.S. 183 through the derelict little towns of Ford, Bucklin, and Sitka whose demise was solely attributed to the abandoned railroad tracks. So sad to see. As I crossed into Oklahoma, I was pleasantly surprised to see how lush green the countryside appeared, and again, I thought about the Dust Bowl days. As in Kansas, the road was straight as a Cimarron arrow but up and down (just like in eastern Colorado) where I could see the highway stretch in front of me for 6 or 7 miles. The Sooner State was AOK, for the time being anyway. The air outside was getting warmer by the mile. It was time to say, “Goodbye winter. It was nice knowin’ ya'”. I kept checking my Atlas to see if there were any rest areas or roadside parks between I-40 and the Red River, but none was to be found. I pulled into a parking area off the interstate, but it seemed so desolate and uninviting. And besides, I could feel an increase in the humidity. So I decided to splurge on my last night, and checked in at a Best Western about 30 miles west of Oklahoma City. What the heck. Ol’ Blue had served me well for seven nights.

When I left the next morning, the air was still stifling. But when I stopped for gas about thirty minutes later, all of a sudden a cool wind picked up out of the north. Then it really gained momentum, scattering paper and plastic everywhere. What a Godsend! The Almighty had provided me with a perfect day to drive – cool, cloudy, and a 30 mph tailwind. The needle on the gas gauge hardly moved for 200 miles. All that made negotiating I-35 somewhat tolerable. I breezed into Dallas, pulled under the red oak tree in front of Apt. 415, and rested my head on my beautifully restored ’57 Chevy pickup steering wheel. I said a quick prayer for getting me home safely.

I could probably wait ’till the cows came home before I heard from Mr. Lewis or Mr. Lambert, but it didn’t seem to matter at the time. I had felt the last blast of winter and seen some dear friends over a span of 8 days and 1850 miles. And besides, the odometer now read 200,635 (it had clicked over the magical number at the Kansas rest area), and that was enough for me for the time being.


William C. Early