Sunday morning was awesome. The ride out of the woods and my ordeal with the Park Ranger complete, I was glad to have a cigarette and looked very forward to hosing myself down. Calixte and Benjamin are fantastic people and very generous hosts. When I emerged from the shower I was accosted by the smell of Calixte making all of us pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs. It was simply delicious! It was so hard to eat slowly and talk. My body was, to me at least, notably thinner than when I’d left Salida about 2 weeks ago. The last 200 miles of the trail had been particularly punishing. Calixte was on schedule to run out the front door at around 10 o’clock. She was headed for a farm in Santa Fe. New Mexico was, for her, the Promised Land.
I’d first met Calixte in Brooklyn, New York not long after I’d got back from a few months of writing and foolishness in New Mexico myself. She’d mentioned to me that she was wanting to get to New Mexico for some kind of hippie experience out in the desert, and I, of course, am all for it. I bought her a copy of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, something I’ve made a habit of doing for any friend who cares about the desert and our Wildernesses. Next thing I knew, she was off and she never came back. The next time I saw her was at a mutual friend’s wedding in Texas just a few months ago in May. Conversation got us around to her living in Durango, me saying that I’d be in Colorado, her saying that she and Benjamin were hoping to move to Santa Fe in September, and, to get to the end of this, that I’d have to try to stay with them when I passed through. Benjamin had just had his first officially published piece in High Country News, and that, to me, makes him a celebrity.
The bed of Calixte’s pickup was loaded up. We managed to tie it all down so that nothing would fly out, and we put a tarp over the whole thing so that if it did rain on her way down yonder nothing would get too wet. It was a gorgeous morning, sunny and breezey and warm. Clouds were sitting on the mountain tops like heaps of gray frosting, and I was glad to not be up there anymore. Around 10 o’clock or so she sped off, leaving me and Benjamin to our own devices.
I had my little map of Durango that told me where the laundries were, where the P.O. was, and all that sort of thing. I found where the cheapest laundromat was and went to the grocery store to get a pint of ice cream to eat while my few clothes spun around in the front-loader. I ate my ice cream and read The American some more. If I have one thing to achieve in Durango, it’s to get out of it by spending as little money as possible. I bought enough groceries to get me through the next few days, mostly bagels, eggs, bacon, pasta and chicken. I also got some big bandaids to cover up my ankles. There were missing a layer or two of skin from yesterday’s 30+ mile hike and I just wanted to cover them up. I was walking around town in my camp sandals now, really happy to not be wearting those shoes which were in a notably different condition than they were a few weeks ago. I went back to the house and all along the route I could not find my tobacco. I knew it had to be here because Benjamin had had some. Good man, smoking man’s cigarettes. I called up Benjamin to ask him where on Earth I could find some of this premium stuff, and he gave me some tips. It is amazing how much walking around an addict will do to find a fix. But I finally found it.
I got back to the house and Benjamin was busy typing away on his word processor. It’s a priviledge to know someone who’d rather do something than talk about doing something. He was working on a new story and I wanted to get out of his hair, so I went out on the town.
So here I was in Durango. I had my way out of town planned for Wednesday afternoon, and had to figure out how to get to the airport. There’s no bus service or shuttle of any kind, and a taxi would cost about $30. Let’s just say that this would have been a sizable percentage of my holdings, rendering it a non-option. I figure I could walk there with not much of a problem. I decided I had to sell off what was left of much of my hiking gear. Some of this was for the cash-factor, but some of it was compounded by other sensibilities. I really couldn’t afford to check any luggage if I didn’t need to do so, and most of what I’d be checking would have been nearly junked anyway. I made some flyers with everything priced to move. My sleeping bag was disgusting and would have best been incinerated, but it ended up in someone’s trash barrel in an alley somewhere.
I wondered down main street that afternoon as it sprinkled off and on. I went into bookstores, coffee shops, all my usual haunts. I also found a guitar store that sold some very expensive guitars. I may be a broke-ass, but I know quality. I sat and played guitar for a good hour or so, trying to help in the selling of this fine hand-buillt instrument made in Colorado, USA. No takers today, so I’ll be back again tomorrow to bug them. They don’t mind. I’m not playing Bob Dylan or Annie DiFranco songs or anything. The day was winding down so I went back to the house, stopping to get a beer at the gas station on the way. Me and Benjamin sat around and watched a couple hours worth of Star Trek (The Next Generation, for those who care). I’d never really seen any of it before as sci-fi is not my thing, but I did enjoy it.
Benjamin had to get up in the morning to go to work. He works as a carpenter’s assistant making furniture and has to be there early. I can sleep through anything and assured him to not tiptoe around me in the morning as I was so grateful to be on a couch anyway. I slept a nice and dreamless night. My theory is that if I go to bed having fully exausted my imagination that day and have not let anything nag at my nerves or subconscious I don’t remember my dreams. Is this true? I don’t know, but I rarely do remember them.
The next morning I hit the library, trying to get my stuff on Craigslist in addition to the fliers that had been posted. I was also in a pickle trying to figure out how to get to the airport. It was about twelve miles away from central Durango and, as my flight was in late afternoon, figured I could walk it if I had to.
It is very difficult to go from living and experiencing the woods and deserts on a day to day basis for a good length of time to then be thrust into living amongst the buildings, pavements, and electrical wires of town and all the people who are there as well. It is tough to find a place in a town like Durango (not too big, not too small) where a guy like me can sit and read a book and not pay too much money for a coffee or beer. Tourism is the lifeblood of Colorado’s economy, and that affects the lives of the people who live there, too. I know that they all have to go somewhere, and I am good at finding these places. They are the places that look uninviting, dirty, or violent. Typically, they are not. I was finally lucky enough to have found one of these places.
I walked into the bar around 5 in the afternoon, hoping to hit a happy hour, quench my thirst, water my spirits, and pass some time before going back to the house to make dinner. I sit at the bar, order whatever the cheapest beer is really feel at home. This is one of the last bars in America you can smoke in (give us our Freedom!) because they raised a fuss when the ordinance was initially passed to abolish the practice. They don’t take credit cards yet, but will begin doing so later in the year. I myself like to run a cash operation.
I’m still sort of a mess, visually speaking. I’ve only got my hiker clothes on, what’s left of them. I’m glad to have a second shirt without holes in it. My shorts have a rip in them from when that tree attacked me. I’m wearing my sandals around town to give my wounded ankles some breathing room. I’ve got a bag of food to contibute to tonight’s dinner and a book to read and what’s left of my journal, the liberated pages of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
I sit at the bar, minding my own business, and a woman sits down next to me who acts like she’s been there all afternoon. Very quickly I learn a lot about her. She’s in her 50s, but the magic of the Bottle has her feeling 30 or so. She wants to dance and I decline this invitation. Even if I liked to dance, the ring on that finger tells me not to. She just wants to have fun, I understand, so I’m not mean to her or anything though I am cautious. Whenever I’m in a town where I don’t live I behave as though I were a guest. Interact with the locals, sure, but don’t get too involved and never take sides on anything. We do talk for a good while, she being fascinated that I just walked to Durango from Denver. She goes to do some dancing or play some video poker or something, and the whole bar shuts down as a couple of guys in BMW hats come in the door. Guys with perfect teeth and brand new hiking boots and really clean clothes. The atmosphere shifted completely. There’s just something about guys like this, older guys with lots of money and expensive motorcycles who talk too loud who walk into a bar like this. No one else is happy anymore, people start to leave, and I leave as well. I am hungry.
I make dinner that night, talk with Benjamin, find out how Calixte’s doing down in Santa Fe, eat a bunch, watch some more Star Trek, and so on and so forth. The next day or two is spent in prep to leave, meaning going to the P.O. to mail a box back to Missouri, planning how to get to the airport (I’ll get to that in a second), and trying to not be too down about leaving this Big Backyard for Texas. I do manage to find $20 lying around in the grocery store, get a new notebook for 33 cents, and end up with nothing to take on the plane but my daypack full of whatever would fit into it, most importantly my journal, camera and books detailing this whole trip. Everything else either got shipped or left behind.
The day of departure comes and I get up early to see Benjamin off and thank him immensely for everything. I eat what’s left of my food and go down to the bus station to wait for the bus that won’t get me to the airport but will get me close. I might have to walk 6 miles, but as long as the rain holds out it won’t be too bad. I’ve got my trail shoes on again, but the first thing I’m doing at the airport is pitching them in the trash. The bus drops me off and I find the road that leads to the airport and start walking. I stick my thumb out whenever a car does pass, which is sort of rare. Eventually a guy picks me up and I retell the gist of the trip and he loves hearing about it. Another nice guy indeed, and he gives me a couple of yogurts and an an orange out his cooler and shoves $20 bucks into my fist to help me get something to eat at the airport if I want to. My protests as to this extent of his generosity went unheard by him.
I waited for the plane in this tiny two-terminal airport with everyone else wanting to get to Denver. The lady I’m sitting next to reeks of whorish perfume and is from Dallas. She’s talking to a rich fella about her rich husband and how hard it is to be rich in Dallas. I really don’t want to be around people like this. I actually don’t like people like this. The plane itself is delayed by lightning in Denver but eventually we take off. We get into Denver at the same time my flight to Kansas City is supposed to depart, but due to lightning all over the Denver region every flight is delayed at a minimum. I rush to the gate only to find out that it’s been cancelled. I go up to the smoking lounge for some respite before heading to wherever it is you go in situations like this to sort yourself out. As it was, the line to the help-desk that services the entire airport is hundreds of heads deep and full of indignants who want to get everything for free due to this outrage from the weather. Something about me enjoys this weather even though I find the human method of dealing with it incredibly annoying. Every flight out of Denver at this point is cancelled and I finally get booked for a flight the next morning at 7 AM. I go up to the airport bar for one last cigarette, and reduce myself to some McDonald’s, the only thing that’s open. It’s about 2 in the morning now.
I go to my terminal, find some newspapers, and lay down with my bag of clothes for a pillow and the sports section draped over me for some sheets. My alarm goes off at 6 in the morning, I go have a cigarette and some coffee up in the bar and get on my plane for Kansas City. It lands just fine and without any incident. The folks pick me up and just like that I’m back in Kansas City and headed, somehow, to Texas. Part of me feels like I’d made a mistake, leaving Colorado. But I’ve got a plan to get back and plenty of work left to do, mostly scribing the trip out for myself, my few friends, and anyone else who would care to read about it.
It was an amazing trip, and now it’s over.