Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ness City, KS to Pueblo, CO: One Night Stand and Other Stories

Miles Per Day: Day 43=REST; Day 44=57.66; Day 45=50.20; Day 46=60.99; Day 47=64.17; Day 48=54.35

Total So Far: 2,186.01

Inspiration: Pink Floyd (have a new understanding and appreciation for the “Uncomfortably Numb” track); Billy Joel; of all things, Handel's Messiah (ECO); the unbelievable kindness and attentiveness of some of the readers of this blog (fur ball a.k.a. Fluffy thanks you all); Family Guy on Hulu; public libraries; Plato's Republic

Spirits: emotional; pensive; heartbroken; absolutely inspired

Things Seen On the Road: tons of snakes; wild onions; cacti; rabbits and probably some prairie dogs(?); more and more cyclists passing me on the road going East towards Yorktown, VA.

Favorite Quotes: (1) sheriff of Eads, CO after asking him to help me find the owner of the stray dog that crashed in my tent in the middle of a thunderstorm [paraphrasing] “listen, I've been doing this for over 11 years now...what you need to do is to just go and leave it alone,” (2) operator at sheriff's office who answered the phone the night a stray dog crashed in my tent: “do you mind calling back in an hour? We have a tornado now on the ground and all available resources are occupied at the moment.”

Meeting Fur Ball
I was finishing my dinner at a pizza joint in Eads, Colorado when the waitress mentioned that the county was now in the middle of a tornado warning. I gulped down the rest of my dinner, paid my bill and rushed out to the public park right in front of the sheriff's office.

The rain had already started by the time I took out my tent poles. As I was staking down my rain fly I spotted a fluff of fur out of the corner of my eye. I turned and saw the cutest and saddest thing I have seen on this trip thus far: a small, wet, shivering, smelly ball of fur trying to stay dry underneath a bush besides a tool shed. She looked very scared. As soon as I spotted her, our eyes met and it was love at first sight. She rushed over and followed me as I finished setting up camp. All the while I looked around to see if her owner was nearby. “Maybe she got loose while she was being walked,” I thought. But there wasn't a soul in sight.

At this point I considered my options. I could leave fur ball out in the middle of a huge thunderstorm and a possible tornado in the hopes that her owner would find her. Or I could let her in the tent, at least until the storm passed. The latter seemed like the only real option. I quickly got inside the tent and fur ball followed me without missing a beat. Within a minute she was curled on my lap, tittering and asleep:

Reaching Out
Those of you who are following this trip via twitter and facebook know what happened next. I first called the sheriff's office to see if they could find fur ball's owner. The operator who responded basically asked that I call in an hour because a tornado had touched down in an adjacent county. Perturbed, I called, emailed, texted everyone I could think of. In the end, there was nothing to do but hunker down for the night and wait out the storm.

And what a storm it was. It was, by far, the strongest thunderstorm I have ever experienced. There was hail, lightning, thunder, and winds so unbelievable one side of my tent almost came out of the ground. Here's just a taste of what fur ball and I experienced that night:

Doggie Beer Goggles
The next morning I awoke to the sounds of birds overhead and a bright, blue Colorado sky. I immediately started packing up. I figured the quicker I could gather my stuff together the faster I could figure out what to do with fur ball. As I was putting away my sleeping bag it became clear that fur ball was having second thoughts about our one night stand. Gone were the snuggles, the hand licking and the search for warmth on top of my bare chest. She was suddenly more cautious and not all that thrilled about being near me. I guess all that rain and thunder had give her some serious beer goggles the night before. She probably awoke to find that my condo was made of plastic and my Ferrari was actually a Surley touring bicycle.

But hey, all was not lost. I immediately took out a couple of pizza slices and our romance was back on track. Say what you will about Jack...he always takes care of his one night stands:

Decision Time
After breakfast I got a call from the sheriff who basically said that leaving would be the best thing. He felt fur ball would gradually make her way back home now that the storm was over. I now faced a pretty stark decision. If I left I could get out on the road fairly early and make a ton of mileage before the hot sun made riding unpleasant. On the other hand, could I handle the heartbreak of seeing fur ball follow my bike out of town? Besides, who's to say she would even make her way back home? What if she got hit by a car? What if she was picked up by someone who would mistreat her?

In the end, I grabbed fur ball, cradled her in my arms and spent the next hour or so walking the streets of Eads, Colorado, looking for her owner. Eventually, a very sleepy 12 year old girl said she thought the dog belonged to a family who lived two blocks away. Pretty soon fur ball's tail began to wag and I knew I as onto something. I knocked on a door and a very relieved mom answered the door. “Fluffy,” a.k.a fur ball was back home:

Temporary dog napping aside, the stories keep on rolling:

*Setting up my tent near a public swimming pool in Tribune, Kansas I experienced something truly magical. The day had been particularly overcast, something that had made riding all that much easier. But as soon as I stopped to set up camp I noticed that the clouds were parting out towards the west. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. Right along the horizon, cumulus nimbus clouds were bunched together in a chain of white and gray. Above was a sea of dark, ominous clouds. And through these shone the setting sun. Check out the Photo Roll and Wish You Were Here sections of this post for a little taste of this amazing moment.

*About half an hour after crossing into Colorado I noticed that the vegetation along the road had changed dramatically. Grasslands had been replaced by cacti and other desert plants and flowers. It is amazing how a change in altitude and terrain can completely alter the landscape. Check out samples of the vegetation I encountered in the Photo Roll section of this post.

*Right on the edge of the Colorado border I noticed several funnels south of the highway. These were localized dust funnels that were probably less than 10 yards in diameter. Throughout I kept hoping that they wouldn't grow into something much bigger.

Watching a sunset in Tribute, Kansas. This video does not do the experience justice. Note that the background sounds are from a girls softball game nearby.

Colorado terrain.


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