Friday, June 8, 2012

The Hardest Road

My first view of the Rockies
June 5 

I knew going in this stretch was a monster.  After Jackson there was no obvious place to stop for another thirty five miles.  Just the work of returning to Highway 144 from my northerly perch at the lake took a couple of hours.  My body still felt banged up and I was unsure what kind of distance I could manage.
Ten miles into the hike I reached US 34.  A more desolate section I have yet to see, although I did not suspect at first what was in store.  There was an occasional farmhouse if I needed water and short frontage roads appeared from time to time so I could escape the tiny shoulder of the highway.  A couple of ghost towns warned me of impending doom, including Dearfield, an attempt to create an African-American agrarian community in the 1910s.  The dust bowl blew away these dreams and the town was empty by 1946. 
Five mile in all amenities disappeared.  An endless property known as Eagles Nest Ranch consumed the horizon in all directions.  No more houses, no more side roads.   Thick grass and the possibility of rattlesnakes kept me on the thin shoulder.    I've seen way too many of their corpses to doubt their presence here.  The wind roared, tossing me like a puppet towards oncoming traffic.  To the drivers I must have appeared to be a stumbling drunk, unable to control my limbs.  For twelve miles this property continued and my aches and pains were completely forgotten in the fight for survival.
Adrenaline carried me on its wings until I finally passed the Eagles Nest hours later. I was running out of water by now and decided to take a long cut off the ADT in search of hydration.  The first house resulted in my near consumption by an enraged Dalmatian, but the second domicile quenched my thirst.  I headed back towards my scheduled path as the day wound down.  As I rounded a corner there appeared in front of me one of the most amazing sights I have ever beheld.  My first glimpse of the Rockies, bathed in the glow of an orange and purple sunset.  I sighed with pleasure, knowing all the day's work had not been in vain.
There was, however, still one of Maslow's needs to account for this night.  I still lacked shelter and Kersey was at least five more miles away.  With just a flicker of light left I made for a farmhouse and spoke to the owner.  He would not let me camp there because of his completely insane dogs, but he was willing to take me into Kersey.  I loathed doing having to double back the next day and do the miles twice, but I was too tired to do anything but accede to his suggestion.  I piled in and we headed into town.
The man dropped me at a bar and I inquired within where the park was.  One of the customers, Kenny, took pity on my plight and offered me a beer.  A short conversation later he also suggested I come sleep on his hotel room floor in Evans.  I said yes, glad to have a chance to sleep in safety and some degree of comfort.
On the ride over I learned more about my host.  Kenny was once a successful professional rodeo rider who had fallen on hard times.  In a period of nine days he was divorced, involved in two car accidents (he was not at fault but the second car was not insured), had his house hit by a tornado, and barely escaped death in a fire.  The confluence of events drove him into depression and he coped by using hard drugs, including methamphetamines, for a period of several years.  He finally freed himself from this deadly spiral and kicked narcotics cold turkey.  Kenny is working insane hours in construction to get his finances back in order while planning his return to the rodeo circuit.  He is too old now at 43 to do the bull-riding events, but he can still compete successfully in cattle roping. 
Crossing thirty difficult miles in windy conditions is not anyone's idea of a great day....and yet... seeing the mountains and meeting a fascinating individual in Kenny somehow made it worthwhile.

30 miles/1452 total miles

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