Until the very end, election day 2016 was refreshingly non-political. For at least 2-years, if not longer, almost everyone had been ready for November 8, 2016 to end. Rather than a righteous expression of democracy, to most Americans the electoral process has become a tortuous, brutal endurance test. Be reasonably assured: anyone preaching recycled, long-winded, election-based “patriotic” American ideals are full of shit and simply wanting to hear themselves cackle. The senses-battering saturation with all conceivable means of spin is exhausting. By the start of any election year, people are just trying to survive the carpet bombing style propaganda campaigns disguised as “discourse” and non-stop political advertisements. In an odd way, I’d escaped the final onslaught by being on the road! I’d figured out my cellphone predicament the night before but as election day dawned I was without data which mercifully left me disconnected.
The night was cold but the Bellyache Mountain again performed admirably. The bag/bivy tandem combined with the plush grass to create a perfectly comfortable, restful nest. Until I got out and started shivering! As in Flagstaff, the bivy had a coat of thick frost and my water bottle had frozen. Unlike Flagstaff and Albuquerque: no condensation. Anywhere. At all! Bazinga! This time, I was (finally) wise enough to cover the backpack with its rain fly, so the Palisade avoided the frost and its accompanying melt.
My slow de-nesting process began as the sun started illuminating the sky around 5:30. Climbing out of the ditch, I crossed paths with a young woman mysteriously walking up the I-25 exit ramp. I say “mysteriously” because it seemed especially strange considering the hour. Judging by her amused and paranoia-free reaction she was as perplexed by my “mysterious” backpacked presence. We never spoke; just nodded and exchanged oddly knowing smiles. November 8th was starting well.
After getting sunrise pics, the first item on my agenda was McDonald’s for coffee, breakfast, and internet. Then it was a stop at Subway for the rest of the day’s food and I was at the ramp by 8:00. The morning remained chilly but aesthetically gorgeous; my spirits were high. The connection from the night before continued to crackle thru my veins and I felt, finally, like I’d hit that old familiar, sustainable stride. The headphones provided the soundtrack as I settled in to Tuesday eager for a reunion with my old friend Colorado.
SidMaybe it’s my white bread redneck pedigree. But, while it does happen occasionally, there are traditionally two general groups who disproportionally fail to stop: bumper stickered Subaru hippies and blacks. So, I was surprised when Sid pulled over about 11:00 in what looked like a late-90’s sedan. (Sorry if I’m not specific enough. My Auto Trader subscription has lapsed. Sue me.) Not just because a black guy stopped, but his car was incredibly messy. So cluttered I was certain he lived in it! It took a few minutes to clear room for my backpack on his backseat then he needed to make a spot on the passenger’s seat and adjust a six to eight foot long 2x4 so I could sit down! I’m not one to pry so never asked, but having that random piece of wood in his car never made any damn sense! What the hell was that thing even doing there?!? Maybe he’s a hoarder. No judgment.
Sid didn’t live in his car, but close. He lived in Minneapolis and drove all over the country for work. This morning, he was on his way from San Antonio to Colorado Springs and had chosen the road less traveled thru the northern Texas panhandle to Raton and I-25. Having wound thru Lone Star Nothingness most of the morning, he wanted company. North Texas will do that to a man. It wouldn’t shock me if the 2x4 had a name. Maybe Wilson? I’ve endured Texas repeatedly. Personally, I would have named mine Woody.
Another peculiarity and a hitching first: he’d been arrested for drunk driving so Sid’s car was equipped with an annoying interlock device. Before we were even able to pull of the ramp it beeped forcing him to blow into it. Thru the entire ride, that happened every 20-minutes; in mid-conversation, “BEEEEEP BEEEEEP BEEEEEP!” and he’d immediately go thru the state-mandated motions of blowing into this annoying little box while speeding down the interstate. To the best of my knowledge I wasn't the one being punished but that fucking thing made me want to drink.
Sid had immediately offered to take me clear to Colorado Springs, a couple of hours north of Raton, meaning I’d arrive around 1 or 2pm. Sprint’s data “miraculously” appeared once we crossed into Colorado so by Trinidad I was scheming a Colorado Springs/Denver escape. There was a cheap Greyhound from Colorado Springs to Denver later in the day meaning that once Sid said he’d drop me at the bus station, I knew that, if I wanted to, it was possible to get to Denver's Union Station in time to catch Amtrak’s eastbound California Zephyr and revisit Fort Morgan that night. Suddenly everything seemed to fall into place. Denver: solved! Mountain, meet molehill.
Sid drove me thru more familiar territory. Trinidad, the Ludlow Massacre site, Walsenburg, Pueblo and the American Discovery Trail crossing, my Sinclair gas station/motel from 1998. Friendly ghosts haunted me just as they had the previous day on the train. This stretch of road holds memories that I’d almost forgotten hold so much meaning. Geographic separation coupled with the passage of a few years to add texture and depth. It’s funny how chapters of our lives sometimes need to completely end to be fully appreciated.
The conversation began slowly, but by the time we approached Colorado Springs, we’d been talking politics and society. While Sid couldn’t stand Hillary, he despised Trump. Heard that line before? Like me, he was relatively sure Hillary would be President Elect Clinton at the end of the day but was at the same time still wary of the social forces making a Trump even possible. Eventually we were both chain smoking and comfortable enough discussing social division and race that senseless political correctness evaporated to the point that he was telling me “white jokes”. I liked this Sid.
Approaching Colorado Springs, I spotted a Love’s station in Fountain directly across from Cheyenne Mountain and NORAD near Fort Carson. My mind flashed to Santa Fe. At the last second I called an audible and asked Sid to drop me at the truck stop. He seemed simultaneously intrigued, perplexed and amused as he obliged.
FOUNTAIN, COLove’s seemed to be surrounded by an abundance of places to camp but before Sid had left I realized I’d messed up. This Love’s was large but wasn’t a “real” truck stop; more like an expansive gas station featuring six bizarre flavors of coffee that I assumed all tasted alike. It looked like it was frequented mostly by soldiers from Ft. Carson and locals going to and from work. Not prime for procuring a lift thru Colorado Springs. On the positive side: Subway!
Another thing I quickly noticed: the small collection of humanity parked on a short driveway off the service road with a looped turnaround at the end. There were a half-dozen vehicles parked along the edge of the driveway and loop, most of which were obviously filled with blankets or sleeping bags. This wasn’t “Sid Clutter”. People WERE sleeping here. And, they were gone. Homeless people? Working homeless people? Working homeless people who car pooled or took transit? Raging echoes from days of hitchhiking past whispered in my ear while unwelcome election warnings quietly chimed. Warnings I suppressed choosing instead to curse my early exit decision and pondering how to get north.
I set up at the Love’s exit to the service road leading back toward I-25 to judge traffic volume and evaluate courses of action. Here I encountered a woman in her 30’s panhandling for “gas” with her son next to a shiny late-model mini-SUV, which struck me as odd. I asked her story and she readily, and entirely too enthusiastically, told me how venomous fate had conspired so that both she and her husband had lost their jobs, were homeless, living out of the SUV, and trying to get money for fuel to drive somewhere else in search of work. I never saw her “unemployed” husband nor do I know that I believed anything she said. I gave her $5 anyhow. If she was full of shit, her performance and presentation was polished and original. I appreciate these little things.
What struck me was her son. He was 10 or 11, oozed genuine sympathetic gentleness, and couldn’t keep his curious eyes off my backpack. Once the conversation with mom ended, I’d walked 50-ft or so and sat down on the curb to inhale my Subway from earlier. As I was eating, he walked over smiling and offered me a bagel. They’d already milked me for $5. Scammers? Then why bother? I still couldn’t tell for sure. What I was now certain of was that this kid wasn’t oozing sympathy. It was empathy and gratitude. To this day, I don’t know if they were really homeless or if the kid was being used an emotional trigger and a cute flesh prop. Honestly, I don’t care. The world needs more people like that kid. I wouldn’t give his mother another nickel. I’d take her boy to Chuck E. Cheese and Sizzler. I’d love to know how he turns out.
There was no ride the rest of the day and I was skeptical I’d be finding one anytime soon. This Love’s felt like a LaBrea tar pit. But, there were interesting things afoot, particularly the cars apparently squatting. I planned (ha!) to spend part of Wednesday investigating. That wouldn’t quite work out.
Maybe 90-minutes before dark, it was time to find what I’d figured would be easy stealth camping pickins near the tree-lined river running directly behind the Love’s. I’d assumed there would be a bounty of secluded choices for the night’s 5-star accommodations. I even had visions of using my tent! I was wrong. The river ran adjacent to a busy biking/running trail stretching along the opposite side from me with cars regularly poking out from a drive leading to the greenway. More importantly: almost no spots not covered with dead trees or river trash.
After 45-minutes of climbing and stumbling over dead shrubbery, trees, and river banks, I gave up and just threw the pack down in the middle of a small treeless field full of moderately tall grass on the south end of the Love’s. Even with the grass, to say I was “hidden” would be an exaggeration. Opting for what’s described in my journal as “the least shitty spot”, I sat down and waited for the sun to fall enough so simple darkness at least partially compensated for this annoying lack of useful botany.
In the meantime, cars continued to pop in and out along the greenway. They combined with my overblown sense of exposure to trigger a mild 2008 Vern rerun. For about an hour, I was ready to bug out. Reptilian paranoia scripted all sorts of imaginary scenarios. Most of which involved having been spotted by bad guys who at that very moment were scheming of ways to rob me of my Clif bars and freshly purchased multivitamins. Even in the moment, I knew this was a Rawlins replay. Knowing didn’t help. Laughing at myself in realtime didn’t help. Not at all. What’s that about our internal narrative’s and “stories”, Erik? Molehill, meet mountain.
Finally, I managed to convince myself that the greenway wasn’t teeming with Colorado Springs bandits, snuggled into the bivy, and began checking the incoming election returns on my phone eager to see how badly Clinton had bludgeoned and vanquished the orange political interloper Donald Trump. More importantly, I was eager to move on from this two year Democracy Abortion.
Here’s a concisely representative recap of the next few of hours:
“Wait. What?? WHAT??? Am I reading this right? Trump is projected to be AHEAD?”
“The orange cunt won WHAT?”
“He won THAT, too?”
“Wait! He actually won MICHIGAN???”
“The pollsters and “experts” were “fooled”? Isn’t that fucking rich!”
"Fuck you, Nate Silver!"
“You ‘protest’ voting cocksuckers.”
If that's too profane for your gentle little Wordpress sensibilities, rest assured several "fucks", "cocksuckers", and a few dozen "motherfuckers" were politely omitted in this pristinely sanitized narrative. You're welcome.
Here's the visual companion to the above dialogue. It was snapped about midnight. I was so pissed off that the attention-drawing flash didn't phase me a bit. In fact, I think I actually hoped someone came over to "play" right about then.
A day that had begun so well with such a positive sense of connection ended with intensely primal disgust and embarrassment. Not directed toward Donald fucking Trump or our Boutique Corporate Media. Oh, no. My target was much broader as I heard myself repeatedly saying over the last few years:
Literal and metaphorical course corrections were now demanded and coming straight away.