Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Long Time Gone

"A headwind, really fighting it. Tough, hot going into Jeffrey City. Cook dinner, get said hi to by about 47 girls in an old Dodge Dart." Bikecentennial diary, Split Rock Monument, WY, June 19, 1976.

Over the course of the Bicentennial summer I rode a Viscount aluminum-framed ten speed from Reedsport, OR to Yorktown, VA. Although I had made virtually every mistake I could selecting the equipment for the journey, I had one thing going for me. I was twenty-one.

There is no real way to count the number of towns into which I rode. The manner, grace, aplomb with which i arrived and departed.... Another story. Sometimes I hammered with panic-stoked ferocity, just ahead of hail the size of bowling balls. Other times it was on tiptoes, fatigue tugging at the tires as night fell. In one remote Montana town my friend Glenn and I found a saloon with an authentic Wooden Indian standing guard on the steps. We wobbled out several hours later, riding unsteadily toward our "hotel" only to have several young ladies (adolescents, we presumed) say suggestive things under the door between the rooms - a door we didn't dare open.

The route, mapped out by a group of long-haul cyclists from Missoula, avoided big cities for obvious reasons. Instead, we rolled into (and usually quickly out of - rarely ahead of a posse) small towns along a 4400 mile route. Most have faded from memory.

Jeffrey City has not.

Set in the middle of virtually nowhere, Jeffrey City received little mention on the map, none at all in the guidebook. The widening in the roadway represented an oasis of sorts along US 287. Approximately dead-center Wyoming, it was surrounded by dry, dusty tumbleweed terrain, mind-numbingly empty vistas and nothing to keep the headwind from howling fiercely enough to make the spokes hum. The only entertainment available as the asphalt oozed beneath my front tire (requiring near red-line effort) was counting the minutes between musty antelope carcasses ripening under an unrelenting sun. Jeff City was a place to get out of the breeze, eat something and consult the (pre-GPS) map for the nearest five star resort. Which turned out to be in San Diego.

The town's population at the time was around 700, living mostly in mobile homes arrayed in echelon on the six thousand foot high desert plains. Pre-fab buildings (including every single commercial, governmental and school structure) greatly outnumbered more permanent-looking structures. Trim, neat yards signalled a population at peace with the hostile surroundings. I don't remember much grass. The entire town looked like it had been delivered whole one afternoon, and plopped down on the (abundant) level ground, awaiting the arrival of people to inhabit the joint. Uranium was king and this was his court.

Few townspeople paid more than a passing glance, save for the above-mentioned high school girls. I had ridden part of the day with two other riders (over the course of the summer I met hundreds of cyclists riding the same route, including a young woman whose attention eventually led me to Denver) and as we ate, the young locals flirted with us. They were fit, vivacious and talked as one might expect from the children of hard rock miners. All in good fun, of course, since this was Wyoming, home on the range. Give it a minute.

Last year my friend Darren and I, killing time after yet another law enforcement encounter, discussed his affinity for all things rural. Unbelievably, Jeffrey City became the topic of our conversation. Let him tell you his part of the story.

There is no doubt in my mind what happened a short few years later. The lassies who had killed off the dusk hour of a broiling Wyoming summer evening complimenting our tanned legs and tight buns (you think I'm kidding?) grew the rest of the way up somewhere else.

Still, it makes an old man smile to think about the magic summer propelling me into their presence, even for that little while.

No comments:

Post a Comment