Tribune to Eads, Colorado - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

June 13, 2014

Tribune to Eads, Colorado

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DENIS loped into the back room of the gas station at Sheridan Lake and sat with his coffee. He was a tall, lugubrious-looking man who positioned himself at a table in the other aisle so there was no way to avoid making contact.

"Gittin' on all right?", he asked after a while.

Denis: America needs more shiny knees
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"Oh, not bad for an old man," I grumbled. That's always a good opener with people even older than I am because it gives them something to say. And, predictably, Denis said: "Got a few years on you, I bet."

He came to sit with us. He was 80, he said, about to turn 81. And until he and his wife moved house recently, he'd always slept in the room in which he was born.

"Never want to leave," he said, "an' never wanted to leave. My wife, she comes from further north and when she came here she said 'I'm not staying in Colorado', but now she wouldn't want to live any place else either."

Sheridan Lake: "a special community"
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We got to Sheridan Lake after crossing into Colorado early this morning. The wind hadn't been as hard against us as we'd feared but it still blew dust clouds across the road and filled our nostrils with soil. This was a century after the Dust Bowl and nothing like what the region experienced then but it was easy to imagine how it had been. And how people fled. Especially when, out of one billow, chugged a man on a tractor little larger than a lawnmower, pulling two home-made wooden trailers, the first like a pigeon hut and the second bearing a board painted "Jesus Saves."

The wooden sign for Colorado comes at a slight curve in the road, just after

A case of overselling things...
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...because this is all there is
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another which urges you to come back to Kansas. At that moment, there's nothing to choose between them; Colorado calls itself beautiful but the land on one side is as arid and desolate as on the other. Few people live out here and, when they do, it's in dying communities of a few dozen, grimly clinging to the land, the grain silos and the wind. There is no charm. No effort. Everything is reality. So little is beautiful that there's no point in hiding the ugliness.

Colorado: sad towns dependent on their silo
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Waiting for the load
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Villages without enigma
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Closed
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Which is what surprised me about Denis and his love of Sheridan Lake. It's larger than the few other places, it's true. It has one of those ubiquitous gas stations that serve coffee, sell packaged food and a dozen varieties of Pringles and act as a gossip exchange. And it has a church which cares for passing cyclists. But otherwise it looks no more than a shanty town beyond a rail line on which trains run only twice a year, at harvest.

"You need any help," Denis said, "people here'll help ya. This is a devout community, ya know what I mean? We got a good community and a good church. An' I don't know 'bout you folks but I reckon America, the state it is and that fool of a president we got who's just makin' things worse, it'd be better if more people here had shiny knees, you know what I mean?"

Denis was delightful but he could drift into politics and religion as easily as he could be steered out of them. At one moment I thought he was suggesting the president had been sent to test the people, like Old Testament pestilence, but I didn't grasp his reasoning and I wasn't going to ask.

More making the best of what there is
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So we got him talking about goats. He had more than a hundred, he said, until he sold most of them, and there was nothing better for keeping down weeds.

"Bit o' bindweed and they'll go half an hour to find it," he said. "You ever tasted bindweed? People told me it was real sweet, so I tried it and it was like sucking on a candy bar. Ain't ever tried it but you could make a good salad outta that."

He left us as friends. We may not have seen the world the same way but we'd been enchanted by his company. I mentioned that to the young, short-haired woman running the place.

"Oh, Denis," she said with caution. "He's all right when he's in a good mood. But sometimes I say to him, 'Denis, you're not going back there to upset those cyclists.' Because one day he sat with a guy who was homeless and riding across America and Denis went on and on about how stupid he was and how he shouldn't be cycling and this poor chap was getting more and more upset and still Denis woudn't stop. And this poor man was still upset about it when he came in again next day. Today, Denis was in a good mood. You were lucky. But otherwise..."

She didn't make the sign of the cross but her tone suggested it.

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First cactus of the ride
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Nature at work
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Am I mistaken or does this train have a seat on top?
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Well, yes, I rather think it has
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Today's ride: 94 km (58 miles)
Total: 3,381 km (2,100 miles)

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