Monday, December 14, 2015

Del Norte to Del Norte

     My mom said late that day while edging along the side of the mountain at 10 mph that Indiana Pass kicked our ass. It makes me feel dejected to admit that she was not wrong. Running out of time, it already being the first week of October and we were only halfway through Colorado with 900 miles still to go, we had been skipping to the highest passes to really get that “Divide experience” in before packing it in and heading home. The two days leading to Indiana Pass, I sat out from riding the passes and instead rode when we found the trail outlet where my dad would be coming from. 
     That Thursday morning, we dropped my dad at the base of the pass in Del Norte, CO, a small Latin influenced town. After he started out, heading south from town, my mom and I studied the maps, trying to find Platoro, the town we were heading to that night. We plugged the name into the GPS, with no results. We tried Summitville which was a few miles from the summit of the pass, but everything we were searching for seemed nonexistent, places that the Divide map creators thought up, maybe thinking that if people can live on their bicycles for weeks on end, they wouldn’t mind there actually not being a town where stated. We decided the best plan of action would be to take the same course as my dad, up and over the pass by way of forest roads. Not even half a mile up the road, my mom called out, “What the… Is that a horse hoof?” She pointed to a fence beside the road, where multiple large animal bones were wrapped into the fence and truthfully, I didn’t find it that odd until I did notice the particular bone she had referred to, the lower half of a horse’s leg with the hoof connected was tied into the wire halfway up the fence. We looked at each other, eyes wide and continued on our way. It was a long ride up the pass, and I felt for my dad, having to ride the sixteen miles up the pass, only to have to do yet another pass ten miles after it. As we gained elevation, I watched the temperature drop to the mid forties, then the thirties. 
     We stopped at a campsite at the summit, the area overlooking the fields of the valley, and was chased back into the truck by the nugget-sized hail. I looked over to the dashboard and asked how we were doing on gas, thinking we hadn’t filled up before we left that morning. My mom looked down and gasped. “Oh my god!” Her face drained of color seeing the needle pointing to just under a quarter of a tank. Most of the way was downhill, so we could coast for miles on end. I continuously checked the mileage left until we reached Platoro, which I assured my mother had a gas station. Ten miles went by easily, the road bumpy, but manageable. We passed a small private lake that had a sign for Platoro, 12 miles. Looking down to the needle hovering over E, we sucked in a breath and continued on our way. 
     After the sign, the road deteriorated to the point where it caused the teeth rattling effect again. We passed around a corner, the road containing jutting rocks and potholes, my mom and I focused solely on the gas gauge. Suddenly there was a beeping noise, accompanied by the truck computer flashing a low tire pressure on the back wheel. Three of the tires showed a steady 80bpm, but one showed 15 bpm. I looked over to my mom, her face a mixture of surprise and dread. “How can it be 15?” She stopped the truck and opening the door, we both heard the hissing, saw the rim sinking to the muddy road. We looked at each other, both our mouths agape. “But I can’t change a tire. Mom, I don’t know how to change a tire.”  We didn’t even know where the jack was. As we started unpacking the truck, thinking the jack must be underneath all the bags or we’d have seen it, the hail started falling again, small beads of ice clinking off the truck, off the top of our heads. I crawled under the truck, trying to figure out how to lower the spare. With all of our clothes, our gear and food stacked around the outside of the truck, my mom pulled the truck's manual out of the glove compartment, finding out that the jack was just underneath the front seat, easily accessible even if all of our belongings were still packed neatly inside. Thankfully, the manual gave us step by step instructions, the pages of the book soggy from the water falling from the trees. After getting the tire bolted back on, the blown one we managed to toss in the back, and all of our things stuffed carelessly into the backseat, we turned the truck back on, our faces and fingers red and numbing. In the excitement of the tire change, we had almost forgot about our dwindling tank of gas. We crawled along the road, going only 10 mph, each bump making us catch our breath. When we made our way off the mountain, driving past a small campground, the sign pointing towards Platoro showed five miles, however, it also showed the next pass, Stunner Pass was barring a straight shot there. On the way up the pass, snow fell, melting once it hit the ground, making for a muddy, slippery road.
     Coming around a final bend in the road, we made it to Platoro, a small town with forty or so wooden structures sprinkled at the bottom of the valley. Most of the buildings we drove past were boarded up, until we reached the center of town where a small general store and cafe sat. We walked in, noting the paltry amount of food on the shelves. An older woman walked out from a back room and asked how she could help us. We asked her where we could find the gas station in town, the doubt heavy in our voices. "Oh, no..." she said, "The closest gas station is twenty miles by way of the canyon road." If it weren't for the phone she was holding in her hand and the electric lights flickering overhead, I would have thought we had been transported back to the late 1800s. I asked the woman if there would be any way they had gas we could buy off of them, or know anyone who would have some. Her voice become a touch gruffer. "Well, my husband is on the mountain cutting trees, I'll have to radio him and see." After hearing that they had a jug to spare, we sat in the closed cafe, waiting for the husband. After a good lecture from the man about being unprepared in those parts leads to life or death situations, we noticed we finally had message from my dad on the satellite phone telling us to come meet him, he ran into some bad whether back in Summitville. I wrote back that we had had a bit of trouble and asked if he would be able to ride towards us at all since our maximum speed seemed to be 15 mph. After an hour and a half of driving the 20 miles back north towards Summitville, we saw a red flash and around the corner came my father, mud caked with a scowl on his face. We loaded up his bike, got in the truck and argued over which way to go. On the way to pick him up, my mom and I had decided it would probably be wise to go back up over Indiana Pass to Del Norte since we didn't know what the conditions of the roads past Platoro were and we were still low on gas. The ride back up and over the pass dragged on for another two hours. We passed by the gate adorned with the bones and drove to Three Barrel Brewing Co. in Del Norte. As we sat at the bar, drinking the coconut brown lagers and wolfing down the BBQ chicken pizzas, we laughed about our failure to gain any mileage that day, even while burning a tank of gas and a rear left tire.

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