Thursday, July 7, 2011

Losing my marbles and hitchhiking / 11th hour serendipity.

This is the day I went insane. It was a slide into a mental unrest that stacked up over the course of hours. I wanted desperately to connect with the comfort of the ACA route. I knew I would not regain a comfortable sanity until I was knifing out pages of my guidebook again. I wanted to get to a connecting point today, and was disappointed to learn that I had probably gone fifty miles out of the way to get to a closed road with a potentially impassable path that hadn't been maintained by the forest service for 17 years.

The road claimed to be closed in 19 miles, but I thought that maybe a bicycle could make it. I asked a lady walking her dog if she'd seen the condition of the road ahead. She told me she'd tried to take her 4-wheel-drive jeep over it last year, but had to turn around. I still wondered. She convinced me to follow her back to the grocery store where she could make some calls to get a better idea of the conditions.

She called several people, and got only warnings. It would be an incredibly steep grade, it was unmaintained, and was barely passable at it's best. It might also be impassable due to snow. And rather than gravel, it would be more like loose rock forming the concept of a path. That's the state of the Rollins Pass. I was in Rollinsville, and that's how Google told me to get my bicycle to Winter Park. Denver to Kremmling was the route. I checked again, and this no longer seems to be the prescribed route. The Google Bicycle route had changed since leaving Kansas, but I still had it saved on my GPS.

She offered me a ride to Idaho Springs. Linda is the lady with the dog. I took the ride.

I pulled a muscle on the long climb yesterday. I didn't want to keep pushing it. I'll call it knee pain - it's that or closely related. Not bad, but not something to carry over steep mountain passes in questionable terrain. Or even ride an average daily distance.

From Idaho Springs, I could take route 40 over the continental divide, and all the way back to the ACA route - 75 miles away.

I'd already taken one ride, and that opened a mental floodgate. I wanted to get there, and I didn't want to hurt my knee. I started a string of serial hitchhiking. Colorado is good for that. I always say how easy hitchhiking is, but I stood for a long time with my thumb out. The key is location. I was on I-70 - a fast interstate. With full-speed traffic, and no clear destination, it's too much to ask someone to pull over. Especially if you have a loaded bicycle. I thought that the volume of traffic and a wide shoulder might solve the problem, but no.

I continued up the road to where 40 was an exit from the interstate, and stood where cars could choose between the two. I stood for awhile longer. It had been a couple hours. I rode up to where 40 was the only choice for many miles, and fairly quickly I had a ride. A nice girl took me a few miles up the road to Empire where she said getting a ride would be much easier since cars had to go 35mph and only had one direction. She was right - I had another ride within two minutes.

My next ride was a talkative 33 year old woman. She's a nursing student in Denver, but commutes from 10,500 feet up in the mountains. It's an hour and fifteen minutes in good conditions, and goes over a steep pass. Her pickup truck threaded through many switchbacks. The weather changed with the elevation and the tree line was almost within reach. We crossed into an elevation with cold and snow where the weather was bunching up and forming a storm. We descended a thousand feet over winding switchbacks to the mountain valley where she lived. This was the highest valley in the Rockies, near Frasier, Colorado. I was out of my mind. It looked like a Kansas town on lots and lots of shrooms. I was dehydrated, even though I'd only ridden about 30 miles the entire day.

I was on a mission. I put out my thumb and got one more ride to Granby, Colorado. It was a slightly lower elevation, and the difference was palpable.

I began a slow ride to the edge of town, and saw loaded touring bicycles at a gas station. I thought I had 30 miles further to connect to the route, but in fact I was only 2 miles from an intersection that was on the maps. The maps. At times like this, those would be good to have.

I rode further, but realized that it was getting later and I was riding into nothingness again. I turned around and looked for secret camping at a nature viewing area. I checked my phone and saw two missed calls from Mom. We haven't talked in more than a week, and my blogging stopped dead when I got to Denver. I had to return the call, or I'd be a serious jerk. But my head was exploding.

All I wanted to do was hitchhike to Oregon. I wanted to take a bus. I wanted to do anything but ride a bicycle for another month. My anxiety level was high to put in mildly. I had a hold on logic, but reality was a loose connection.

I'm in one of the most beautiful spots in the United States. I am a week from Yellowstone by bicycle. I liked the route before, and can probably get back into the flow of bicycle travel again. If I quit now or took a bus, I would regret it severely. I knew all this.

I managed - barely and only technically - not to completely break down on the phone. I had the support of my parents in every way possible. Of course. Always.

I stood where I was planning to set up a small secret camp. Mosquitoes bit me. I was exhausted but not tired. The sun was going down, but it was far from dark. I wasn't hungry, but knew it was time to eat. I decided to ride the couple miles back to town in search of food and anxiety medication.

I opened the door to the bar, and pushed my bicycle halfway in.

"Do you mind if I roll in this bicycle?" I beamed the question with a smile that was a hundred years from the instability that coursed through me like an unwanted electricity. My conversation with home had been helpful, but I was far from walking on sunshine. I was told nicely that sure I could bring the bicycle inside.

"Did you get a room in town yet?" A guy at the bar asked this. It was clear I was traveling, and it was also getting dark. It was a little weird to not have a room. I was planning to get some pints and food and ask to sleep out back - or ask about an okay place to put a tent. God knows there's plenty of space around here. My plan was to get drunk and do something and automatically fall asleep, because eventually all humans just do. I told him I did not have a room.

"Then I have a room for you." I figured he owned a hotel, and this was an aggressive approach. Then I saw that he had bicycle maps. He was on tour from the west, making up his own route.

I sat beside him and asked "how much is the room?" He told me it didn't cost anything for me - he had a spare room attached to his, and I looked like I could use a chance to clean up and get a good rest. I took him up on the offer. I took the bartender up on the offer to make a pizza. I took the opportunity to have a few pints, and all of these things brought me much closer to an acceptable reality.

The guy was Terry. He is a retired married man who speaks in punctuated bursts. His statements are a palm smacked on a table or a firm handshake. He has no idea what I'm about, but isn't the type to take much notice what anybody is about.

"What's the nails about?" his voice smacked on a table. Not unfriendly, but not at all friendly either. A statement in the most austere sense.

I painted my nails back in Denver. Pink on the right hand and a pretty light purple on the left. I always wonder if people are going to notice or be weird about it. Mostly people don't or shouldn't care. Sometimes I get a compliment. After a week or so it chips away to a ragged bit of color and looks less flamboyantly expressive. I like it at that point best, and then I mostly stop thinking about it altogether.

"Just to be colorful, I guess." This is my stock answer. I was already in the hotel room, and there wasn't much chance of getting booted for looking faggy.

It was a shit-ball room with sketchy bedding and an awkward old guy on the other side of the thin door. Terry opened my door with a hatchet and an airhorn at 4am to get to the bathroom to pee and fart. I didn't sleep again for well over an hour. Considering the storm it was still a much better situation than I had lined up before the bar. Beggars can't be choosers - I would have happily slept in an old beggars closet.

I packed and left early. Terry shook my hand as a quick sincere gesture and said he would see me in heaven. I assumed that he meant it in a nice way since he held no weapons. Indeed, Terry. Indeed. I know you're a good guy, and I wish you the best. Your delivery keeps me firmly between a start and a chuckle.


LBJ said...

Were all your rides along the way pick-up trucks? I have had to hitch a ride before on my bike, but it's been a little easier for me, I think, since I have a Montague folding bike. It can fit right into most trunks (even w/panniers attached).

Pixy Stoneskipper said...

Yup - all pickups. There's plenty of them everywhere. I don't even stick out a thumb if it's just a car. Once I got the location down, getting a ride was simple.

I've had many long daydreams about traveling the country with a Raleigh Twenty - hitchhiking city to city, then having perfect transportation and plenty of couchsurfing availability at each destination.