I’d left Steamboat at sunset. Narrowly avoided rolling right up into the business end of a skunk while still on pavement. Swerved left while she dodged right, and the encounter was over before my heart rate had peaked. Note to self: saving batteries by running lights on low may not always pay dividends. I rolled into the deepening gloam sensing impending rain, hoping it would stay beyond that western ridge. A bit later I forded a small creek, taking great care to link stepping stones to keep feet dry. Red skies at night, sailors delight? Wet shoes at dusk, campers disgust. Resumed riding, noting the glint of frost in grassy meadows, the steam from sensed but not seen rivulets. Relaxed briefly knowing it was more likely to snow than rain. Stiffened back up when considering what would happen to the surface conditions if it were to snow then rain.
Deep into the evening I arrived at a creek of indeterminate depth. Dropped the bike and walked, poked, prodded to find a way across. None obvious without foot submersion. Paused to appreciate currently dry toes, socks, shoes. Paused longer to consider how they’d feel in the wee hours — once wetted — as small flakes began to twirl through my headlamp beam. Decided to bivy until daylight.
Minutes pass as the truck slowly opens a gap. Never before have I wished that a driver were less respectful, if indeed that is what’s happening.
Woke in the early gloam, shivering not from uncertainty, anxiety or fear, but from straight up brute cold. Not too cold to have prepared for, but colder than I did prepare for. Travel light, freeze at night. Moments later I splash across that stream — the one that halted progress. Water warmer than air, shin deep, welcoming. Back to riding, the cold breeze created by said motion chills my feet, literally freezes my shoes. Noting the mini icicles hanging off my Lakes I have the presence of mind to wrench feet loose of pedals before stopping, forestalling an awkward fall, an injury.
Cues show a climb looming. Legs protest but the rest of me welcomes the exertion: Work equals heat. Rhythm is sought but not found. Saddle sores complain so I shift and squirm to find a position that appeases them. Good. Now hands complain. All will get their chance today – take a number, wait your turn.
Dieseling along up the grade a noise approaches. Fluid by any measure compared to my labored breath and arrhythmic jerking. A ranch truck, going my way, barely moving faster than I when the road would allow so much more. Being respectful, maybe. Not wanting to disturb the delicate compromise between painful feet, ass, and hands, I fail to lift a hand to wave as it passes, but exaggerate a nod of the head. No response from within the truck. So loud is the exhaust I can no longer hear my own ragged exhalations.
Then a new noise – something like sandpaper, perhaps 10 grit rasping across sandstone? A rope off the bumper of the truck is looped over the neck of a cow, one that appears intact if not healthy, aside from the fact that it seems to be melting into the road as it is dragged along. 1/3 of it has already been consumed by this process. So even is the erosion that the upper 2/3 of the carcass could pass for a live ruminant were you to prop it in a field with the correct aspect turned to. Behind the cow the road is painted green: the color of alpine grasses recently consumed but as yet undigested. The smell that follows is not of grasses, not of beef, not of exhaust. It is unearthly, sickening. Not rot precisely but a cousin perhaps. Between dry heaves, still metronomically ticking over 98rpm, I think my thanks for not yet having eaten this morning, knowing the contents of my gut would quickly join that of the cow’s on the now-slick road.
Minutes pass as the truck slowly opens a gap. Never before have I wished that a driver were less respectful, if indeed that is what’s happening. Perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps he has no destination in mind, intends to drive until only a sodden end of rope remains, then to get on to his chores before the morning is too far advanced. I glance at my cues and note that my next turn is a mere half mile away. Anyone can do anything for seven more minutes, even if they don’t want to.
With the otherworldly scent still thick in my nose I begin descending toward the Colorado. Miles of descent, steep and slick with melting frost turning the surface ice-like. Frozen hands, frozen feet — what I would give to switch the warm blood from my nose to either of those. Bottomed out in fog, soaked head to toe, I zing zing across the bridge and begin climbing out. Knees complain, ankles throb, neck is unwilling to suspend its ponderous load. Another glance at the cues: Something like 56 miles, mostly uphill, to the next town with promise of a burger, a shake, new hope.
For more from Mike Curiak, check out his journal at LaceMine29.
Top photo: Jose Gomez/Pixabay