After leaving Mel and Ron's place, I stopped at a cafe called the Brown Dog in Buena Vista. Around here, that's pronounced "b'YU-na vista." It's a phonetic thing. I wrote there for a couple hours, breaking a long fast with a great sandwich, a big, home-brewed coffee, and a thick vanilla shake. Must be the mountain air or something, but it seems I'm constantly hungry on this trip. I have a couple theories about that: my brain's working really hard absorbing and describing all these new experiences and/or the hours go by so fast that what seems like breakfast a few hours ago was actually seven hours ago, and it's getting dark. Yeah, both of those.
Eventually, I got back on the road, with the goal of reaching Cheyenne, Wyoming by sundown. Turns out I get really excited about crossing state lines. I already want to do this trip again, by the way, or better yet, travel internationally to write about unusual, weird, wild places and the people associated with them.
From the 285 North (interestingly, only southern Californians put "the" in front of highway names), I switched over to the 25 North at Mel's suggestion to route myself around the hideous Denver traffic. Until I got into Denver proper, this highway was one of the beautiful I've ever driven.
I'd been watching massive thunderstorms building all afternoon. The landscape suddenly became green and lush, and there were beautiful ponds and pools and rivers of rushing, white-capped water everywhere. Coming as I have from the dire drought of California, this seemed profligate and wasteful to me at first. (I laughed when I realized I thought that.) The pines and all the trees along the way were healthy and strong, waving in the following wind that pushed Mini and me along.
Finally, the road came into Denver and the view widened out over the city. Los Angeles-like in its sprawl and spread, Denver wasn't a place I wanted to spend time on right now. I got in the leftmost lane of the six at my disposal and goosed the Mini up to 85. People still flew by me. There were a couple of brief stops and slowdowns among the glassy high-rise "luxury" apartments right on the highway and the endless miles of road construction projects, but soon I was out the other side and on my way into the country again.
Somewhere south of Fort Collins, the thunderheads really started to pile up. I took a short detour down a county road to get the Mini gassed up, and soon I was enjoying my first rainfall since I'd left California 13 days ago. Oh, and that smell! And the feel of moisture in the air! Heaven.
Around 7pm, with a couple hours to go before I got into Cheyenne, I noticed ahead of me a black wall of what looked like very heavy weather. Uh-oh, I thought. Mel was right. It looked really bad. But as I got closer, I began to discern that the heavy, dark mass was being generated from something down on the ground in a mountain range far away to the west. A veteran of many wildfires in California over the last 30 years, I began to recognize the signs of a massive forest fire and realized this must be the Ute fire near Durango that had started last week.
As I got closer to the Wyoming border, the base of the fire looked like an F5 tornado, with its "V"-shaped tip opening out into monstrous, billowing clouds of red and brown ash that drifted over Cheyenne and everything lying to the east of it. There was indeed heavy weather and lightning over the town, but I saw now that the intimidating black wall had been mostly smoke from this 30,000+acre wildfire. Honestly, I hope I never seen one of these things again. One of the reasons I left California is because it felt like the whole goddamned place was burning down. They don't even have a fire season now--unholy conflagrations are recognized as a year-round threat.
At last I got into Cheyenne and saw the trusty old Motel 6 leaving its light on for me. It's pretty cheap here, and definitely nothing to write home about. As I was bringing my stuff upstairs there was a couple having some kind of intense discussion on the balcony outside, their diapered kid eating plain spaghetti from a bowl as he sat on the doormat. The man asked me, "Hey, is your AC on? It's just miserable in our room." People smoked with their forearms on the balcony railing, making urgent-sounding phone calls and walking in and out of their rooms. It feels like a kind of halfway house or transitional home for folks on their way from one disaster to another. The railroad rises up behind the hotel and Route 25 runs along the front.
But my little room is bright and cheerful, and the big, pretty moth I keep trying to put outside is finally asleep somewhere in the bathroom. It's been a good day.