Thursday, July 28, 2016

An Uninvited Visitor

I look so serious!
Ness City, Kansas to Canon City, Colorado (3,365 - 3,683 miles)

Black clouds boil toward Orday, Colorado—a promise of heavy winds and hail—and I eat my spaghetti dinner in a hurry. I'm in the city park, watching on the sly several young men walk across the grass. They're wearing dirty clothes, carrying themselves in the slouch of the wannabe thug, and the toughness in their eyes tells me I don't want to be here after dark. I pack up and ride the roads, search for an awning on the downwind side of the approaching storm. Ordway has a desolate ambiance, few people moving around, a number of closed businesses, and if I close my eyes and listen hard I can almost hear the tired gasps of this old town.

I cycled 90 miles today and feel the same way—tired and old—need to find a dry, safe place to spend the night.

I cycle into a church parking lot and survey an outbuilding on the edge of a ball field. The building, not much bigger than a walk-in closet, is built out of particle board and two-by-fours. This structure won't withstand a tornado, but it looks like it'll keep me dry. I push my bike inside, spread my tarp over the dirty floor, roll out my sleeping pad.

Home sweet home.

Then I think about the thugs in the park and scrutinize the room. In the long wall facing the ball field there is a horizontal opening where presumably food and money is exchanged during the games. Someone skinny could crawl through the opening, so I go outside and drag back a piece of plywood I found lying in the dirt. I prop the plywood over the opening, then go inside and shut the screen door. I push a tin washtub against the door, recline on my sleeping pad, try to relax enough to fall asleep.
Dare to be different

The wind picks up after dark, a howl against the eves, and the plywood sails to distant lands. Swirling gusts blow rain into the building and I sigh and taco-up in my tarp. The temperature drops and I think about slipping into my long johns, don't want to un-taco and face the rain. I shiver and try to think warm thoughts. Lightning rips open the darkness—yellow strobes in the room—and thunder booms overhead. I pull the tarp up to my eyeballs, curl into the fetal position.

The wind threatens to lift the building from its foundation, and I listen for the roar of a tornado. I've heard several in my lifetime—they sound like a locomotive is about to roar through your living room—and if I never hear another one it'll be alright with me. Hail rattles the roof and the gusts pick up and the lightning spits and the thunder rumbles. I'm cold, damp, frustrated with my environment, tell myself it can't rain forever.

The storm blows over an hour later, and I shine my light outside. I need something to stuff into the food-service opening, venture into the night, locate a frayed tarp in the slop. I drag the tarp back and stuff it into the opening, push the washtub back in front of the door.

Then I fall asleep.

I'm a hard sleeper, normally, but tonight, for some reason, I wake to sound of the washtub sliding on the concrete floor. 

Scritch.. . . Scritch.. . . Scritch. . . .

I am instantly on edge, one hand seeking my fillet knife, the other my pepper spray, and I slowly come upright. The clouds have blown away, and the night has cleared. In the moonlight, a hulking form moves outside the screen, pushing the door inward.


"I'm pointing a revolver at you," I say.

The man speaks in a low tone. "You don't have a gun."

"Hollow points. Blow a hole in your chest the size of a grapefruit."

There is a long pause, and I ease the safety off my pepper spray.

"Give me your wallet." The man sounds mature, perhaps in his thirties or forties, and I detect a slight Spanish accent. He wears dark clothing and a floppy hat, maybe a bulky rain jacket.

"You want to die," I say, "keep coming."

He steps to his left, out of my range of vision, and I lower the pepper spray.


Something hits the outside wall close to my ear, and I jump to my feet. I cram gear into my panniers, tug the washtub away from the door, shout that I'm coming outside.

"I'll shoot you on sight," I say.

I hold my pepper spray in a death grip, roll my bike into the open, try to see him in the moonlight. He's gone, melded into the darkness, and I pedal across the parking lot like a forest fire is on my tail. I spend the rest of the night in the prairie outside town—wide awake—not about to let someone sneak up on me. In the morning, I point my bike to the west and don't look back. Though I had an awful night, sometimes it's best to forget the bad and remember the good.

I'm closing in on the Rockies!



Be careful what you wish for.

I walked across Colorado during my 1998 Continental Divide thru-hike, and I had no trouble with the
elevations, which, at times, were above 14,000 feet. Now, many years later, I struggle to crest the hill outside Wetmore, Colorado. I'm sucking wind, breathing hard at 6,000 feet, wondering what is wrong with me. I make it to the other side and roll down toward Florence, 1,000 feet lower, decide to spend the night in the hopes the drop in elevation helps me acclimate. In the morning, I leave Florence and ride nine miles to Canon City. I take the day off, still hoping to acclimate. Outside the library, where I'm writing this post, my breaths come quicker than they should, even though I am at rest.

Not good.

Tomorrow I have a 60  mile day planned, one that includes a 4,000 foot climb that will take me to 9,000 feet.


Coughing my lungs up is not an option.

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Susan Passerotti


  1. Gah. That's my worst nightmare in the woods. People. Glad you made it through all right. Next couple of weeks are going to suck. Here I am, weak in my chair, but present in spirit. Rock on, TJ.

  2. Glad you're here, Neal. I was careless to stay the night in that location, big wake up call.


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