Wednesday, April 2, 2014

37 miles from Nowhere

Yes, I had my mountain bike towed today.

My beautiful Blue, tossed onto the back of a tow truck - derailleur side down, oh how I cringed - towed on a big ol' tow truck in Lusk, Wyoming.

Here's how that came to be.

If you've never broken down in the middle of nowhere - NOWHERE - on a cold windy day, you should sometime.

Just once.

And to really get the full experience of being absolutely stranded, make sure you're in a spot with no cell service.

The best place for this ever popular character building scenario is about 37 miles outside of Lusk, Wyoming.

Say, at the tail end of a six month strong winter that refuses to end, on the start of a vacation you've had your heart and hopes set on for what seems like forever now, when you're only 150 miles from a really bad day that you thought could only get better.

So there I was.

Hands stuffed deep inside puffy pockets, hunched against the biting wind, on the side of highway 18, trying to look helpless and miserable and doing a fine job at it as it's what I absolutely was. No one stopped. I looked as helpless and sad as I could, which usually works, but no one stopped.

"Alright," I said, "I'm going to have to walk and see if I can get cell service at the top of the next hill."

I take my phone and the buck knife Pete loaned me - hey you never know; you might come across a deer that needs skinning - and start walking along the highway.

Soon a man pulls up in a pickup, with Paul Newman blue eyes and premature wrinkles from living in Wyoming winds all his life creasing his interesting face, and packs of cigarettes cluttering the console. "You've got a long walk ahead of you," he says. "I'm just trying to get far enough for cell service," I say. "You've got about a 37 mile walk ahead of you for that," he says in that calm and straight Wyoming way. "The best you'll get is wind burn until then. But I could give you a ride."

So I gather my knife and my Mom and my bike - the important things - into the truck and we drive a very long 37 miles through very bleak country to Lusk, a place I thought was only here for passing through.

Paul Newman apologizes for having to drive us so far from our car in order to get cell service - please, Paul, don't apologize to me for giving us a lift and helping us out - and tells us about his cabinet building business which is the best in a 100 mile radius. I refrained from saying I didn't think there could be much competition in these 100 miles because he seemed so proud of himself. I think he is a really good carpenter, too, because he had a pencil behind his ear as I think all good carpenters do.

He drops us at the Triangle 4 Cafe, the only one in town, and when he overhears my worrying to Mom about leaving my bike outside he said "Don't worry about someone stealing your bike. No one here would for fear they would have to ride it." Regardless, I set it against a window and chose a table with a view.

Mom starts calling AAA and I sit dazed and dejected, clutching a mug of bad coffee. I wasn't a very good adventure buddy, I'll admit. Not very good in the least. I hadn't wanted adventure, not this sort, not this time. I wanted to get away from work and the gym and the weather, to get in the car wearing Chacos on my feet and finally just LET GO, to chat with my Mom and listen to audio books and get a bad lopsided sunburn through the window. Instead there were snowstorms and ending up in the ditch and choking anger and tears of rage and disappointment and delays and UPS packages that didn't arrive on time and water spilling all over in the car and that was before we'd even hit pavement and breaking down and finding out AAA  expired the day before.

I know, I know: First World White Girls Problems.

I know. I know that, I do.

But I'd had my heart set on this concept of how this trip would go, and it was going nothing of the sort and I threw a bit of a tantrum. I wasn't exactly the best adventurous version of myself.

Meanwhile, back at the Triangle 4 Cafe (what does that mean, anyway?), there are three grizzled old small time gents having coffee, banging their mugs on the table and bellowing for refills ("Hey, they didn't ask for more, and they didn't say please" "Yes," the ever patient waiter, "but they also didn't pound their cups on the table so they get more."), whom we ask about local mechanics, which prompts a fiery discussion amongst them about the virtues of the only two in town.

Later, after they'd left, the server comes by and says one of them had paid for our lunch ticket.

Time goes by and I have a delicious omelette - if you're ever in Lusk, do stop at the Triangle 4 Cafe. Charming and delicious - and many cups of bad coffee and phone calls are made and blah blah blah forever later a tow truck shows up.

Jim, the grizzled, bearded old tow truck guy loads Blue, my bike, onto the back of the truck and we clamber in and drop Blue and my Mom at a motel before making the - you got it - longest 37 mile drive ever back to the car.

Oh there's nothing out there.

Nothing except prong horns and mule deer and longhorn cattle and - startling and delighting - a large herd of elk. Abandoned house with windmill spinning heartily - no one informed the windmill of its abandoned status - and a forgotten road slowly disappearing into the prairie grass with crumbling bridges a quarter mile to the west.

I hear many things from Jim. All about his daughter who he used to race motocross with and who wanted to continue his towing business who died in a car accident. And about his other daughter now estranged who had an affair with the sheriff who weighs 400 pounds. About the body that was found in the river a while back ditched there after a Colorado drug deal gone bad.

Lusk. Who knew.

After we collect the wayward car (Me: "How far do we have to go now before we can turn around?" Jim: "Ah...we're there" as he whips a u-ey in the middle of the highway with that gigantic truck) we start the 37 miles back.

If I never drive that stretch of road again in my lifetime it will be too soon.

As the miles crawled by the sky gave up a pale wintry sunset and the horizon closed in around us, cold and bleak, and the edges got fuzzy like a charcoal drawing smudged for effect as the clouds sank ever lower and closer, something between clouds and fog and a threat of snow. The elk were still there, which I was surprised to see. "I don't know but that the weather didn't drive them down from the hills," Jim drawled. "Animals sense things."

I'm beyond tears and anger at this point, hazy numbness has crept in and I watch those 37 miles go by through the high up windows of "Baby Beast", Jim's tow truck, having no idea or imagination for what could possibly come next.

"Oh hey", I said to Jim as we pulled back into town. "A coffee shop!" cheering somewhat at the prospect of a familiar morning routine, at least. "Well it was," he intones, "Before it burned up last year."

Right. Of course it did.
"You must," Jim speculated at one point, "meet some nice people because of mountain biking."

"Yeah," I say, smiling to myself. "You know, I really do."

I'm thinking of my friend whom I texted about being stranded in Lusk who immediately took to the internet and called all the motels to find the best prices for us. And of him and some other buddies who volunteered their camping gear - and their weapons and their concern and advice - for my trip. And of all the people I've met so far - today? Has it all only been today? - on this misadventure in this passing-through-town of Lusk who have shown kindness to perfect strangers.

Because, you see, the car might not get fixed but I can't turn back now and we're stuck, we're really stuck in the middle of nowhere but I've only got until 9:45AM Friday.

There are no rental cars here.
There are no buses.
No planes.
There's nothing to do and nowhere to go except there are people, smalltown people who hear of your predicament and are like "Oh honey, you can take my car." I'm like, "I'm sorry, what?" And Joyce, the owner of this fine motel, replies "Oh sure we've done it before for people stranded here." And I say it would be great to just get to the next town where there's a rental agency but how would I get her her car back? And she says "Oh don't rent a car, take mine all the way" even after I tell her how far I'm going she shrugs it off and says to call her in the morning after we find out the status of our car.

And Kris, a friend of a friend of a friend, who drove us to the grocery store and then let us borrow her car (to get around town "You know, to get to the mechanic or breakfast or whatever") also said she'd make sure we got to where we're going.

"Pay it forward," she said. "Some stranger did me a kindness once, so you see this is easy!"

All because of mountain biking.

And that's it, that's today.

Now we're in a little motel with one bed - I'll be crashing on the floor with my sleeping bag, cheaper that way - me and Mom and Blue.

My sense of adventure is returning, incrementally, despite being emotionally drained and exhausted.

I've got 36 hours for this to all come together.

I don't care how or even if I get home at this point, I'll worry about that later.

I just have to get THERE.

In 36 hours.

Stay tuned...

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