We almost gave up. We almost turned around just one week into our ride and abandoned our year’s worth of planning. Almost. Within the first week, the hard drive on my computer crashed, the Nikon d70 died, and the Colorado wildfires threatened to shorten our trip without our permission.
By the time we rolled into South Fork, Colorado, the skies had filled with the smoke of yet another new fire. Colorado was burning, and we felt helpless in the fires quest to swallow the entire state. Once again, we found ourselves staying in a cabin, not a campground. Because of the heat and smoke, we had to abandon our desire to start in northern New Mexico. Our new starting point was to be Del Norte, Colorado. Unfortunately, no one had informed us that Del Norte is not exactly the best little town to bunk for the night. Upon seeing the abandoned cars and shady characters in the hotel parking lots, we unanimously decided to head back east to South Fork, a much friendlier, cleaner community. A new fire had started along Highway 149 and the smoke was quickly filling up the valley. Helpless.
We awoke in the morning to find conditions unchanged. There was no rolling along the Divide today. To take our chances of being caught in the fire or the thick smoke would’ve been a very dangerous and silly move no matter if Jack was with us or not. We headed north on 149, the smoke having thinned some since the night before. It was a stunning ride along the twists and turns of the valley. We rolled along the Rio Grande watching fly fisherman as they flicked theirs wrists back and forth as if following along with a symphony. We stopped for a brief bit after we successfully emerged from the smoke. Terry, Jack and I stood and marveled at the San Juan Mountains that spread before us. As the winds whipped through the valley, we found ourselves in more than one Dorothy moment. What’s a Dorothy moment? Rolling through wind tornadoes. There were 2 substantial wind tornadoes that were as wide as the 2-lane highway. All you can do is stay loose and independent of the bike, allowing the bike to dance its way through, all the while being whipped from side to side. It’s a brief moment in time but slightly scary nonetheless.
We hopped on our bikes, destination Lake City for grub. Unfortunately, it didn’t take the smoke long to find us. With the bikes parked in front of Poker Alice, we watched as the smoke crept over the mountains like fog along the coast. It was awesome to watch but reminded you that you needed to eat quickly and get back on the road before visibility became too hazardous. After stuffing ourselves in record time, we hit the slab (Ugh…slab) once again in search of a place to tent it for a couple of days. We had mapped out several options along Highway 70. The spots boasted camping lakeside and activities for all. Uh huh… In truth, it was dust camping right next to the highway, no trees, no water, blah. Truth in advertising?!? We once again found ourselves on a side street, map in hand, frustration mounting. Gunnison held nothing of interest as far as camping and another night of hoteling it made all of us cringe. We headed north on 135 towards the Rocky Mountains on the hunt for a tent space. We finally checked with a local who pointed us in the direction of Almont and the Taylor River. After riding several miles without any luck, we were at last greeted by a small, well-run state campground. Salvation! With only about a dozen spaces, we were fortunate to find the last spot along the river. We rolled in, kickstands down, and steered Jack in the direction of setting up the tents. Now, generally Jack is quite happy to set up camp. But on this occasion, not so much. It’s hard for a kid to realize how cool it is to be able to do what we do. Jack has no bar as far as measuring how fortunate he is to go on these adventures. He doesn’t see that in comparison to other summer vacations, he has it pretty good. So when the child starts whining about what he hasn’t done or seen, the moment starts to get a little tenuous. For all of us, the frustration of equipment failure, the fires, plans gone awry, all of it had now poisoned each one of us. Jack kept complaining that he had yet to catch a fish, I couldn’t lose the dark cloud over my head, and poor Terry had to deal with the 2 of us.
It wasn’t until I was doing laundry in the river that I exploded. Maybe it was stubbing my toe. Maybe it was Jack, once again, having to be sent to his tent to chill out. But, something set me off and there was no going back. I turned around, looked at Terry and exclaimed, “That’s it! We’re done! I’m tired of everyone’s attitude. I’m tired of Jack and his constant complaining! I’m tired of all the planning and trying to create something that isn’t! I’m done. I’m done. We’re going home.” Needless to say, I was met with a blank stare. But, Terry knew it. We all knew it. This was not the trip we had advertised to our friends, family and media. It was literally crumbling before us and it felt like there was no way to recover. We went against everything that we had been preaching to everyone else the last 6 years – the plan is to have no plan. We planned. We failed. We were epic fail personified.
Jack was devastated. Terry threw things. I opened the map to plan our route home. I felt hollow inside. An entire year wasted. Planning, saving, schedule revisions, done.
It took a better part of 2 hours before I started to realize something. We’re not quitters. We are forever telling ourselves that failure is not an option. If we left that campsite the next morning, we had failed. We were teaching Jack that when life hands you a tricky situation, you take your ball and you go home. I looked at Terry and said, “Maybe we don’t need to go home.” We stopped, sat down and talked. He and I realized that we had veered from our norm, allowing commitments to friends and press to guide us on our journey. We weren’t failing. We were just doing it wrong.
After some time to cool off, it was decided that we would stay and camp for a couple of days and enjoy the sounds of the river and the lack of people. It was time to reclaim our “selves” and come back together as a team. It was also time to start crossing some items off of Jack’s travel bucket list. First up – horse back riding! Time to trade in one horsepower for another (bad pun). To Jack’s utter delight, we spent half a day meandering the mountains of Colorado. He was just beaming as his horse trotted along the trails and climbed the mountainsides, away from the veil of smoke that had surrounded us in days previous. Oh, the smile on that kid’s face…
Back at camp, we knew we had done the right thing. As Jack roasted his marshmallow over the nights fire, Terry and I sat back and sipped some whiskey, the only proper drink during sunset in cowboy country. We just looked at each, smiled and shook our heads. Another crisis averted. Nobody said this was going to be easy, and that’s a good thing. As you travel through this life, solo or otherwise, you have to learn what failure means to you. Is it not taking that risk? Is it not doing something because of fear of the unknown? For us, it would have been admitting defeat and scurrying back home. And then, what would we have learned? What kind of lesson would we have taught Jack? Not a good one, that’s for certain. Our kids need to learn how to take a nasty situation and turn it around, not wait for someone else to fix it for them or just plain ol’ give up. There are no life lessons to be learned when you are constantly being rescued or say “I can’t”. In this generation of trophy kids, we need to start teaching our kids that you get a prize when you earn it, not just because you showed up. Our trophy? Simple. It was just what you read. Camping along a river, Jack on mallow duty, and Terry and I winding down. It doesn’t have to be tangible, just obtainable. Cheers.