McCook was all concrete and blazing sun, but Friday morning the clouds dappled the sky and the air was fresh. Some folks in our riding group had bike troubles, so we had a little time to sit around and shoot the shit. I gravitated towards Lisa Niner and Marjorie White, a duo from outside Baltimore, MD who are two of my favorite people on this ride.
I already mentioned Niner, who filled my head with flat track intel back in Ohio. She’s the comic relief of the group – quick with a wise-ass comment or slapstick stunt. But if you sit down and talk to her, you realize how REAL she is. Totally present, no bullshit, and very kind. She’s thisclose to retiring after 30 years in the military, including a tour in Afghanistan during recent hellish times. She’s a lifelong loyal friend of Marjorie’s, riding beside her as they blaze a trail from coast to coast.
Marjorie lost her son, Tom, three years ago when he was killed while riding his motorcycle. Last year she rode cross country in his memory, to raise awareness of motorcyclists and mental health. This year, she rides to recapture the joy of life. It is an honor to know this woman, who has overcome her fair share of obstacles. You wouldn’t know it if you met her – she exudes an aura of peace and love, the kind that I’d imagine Dorothy encountered upon meeting Glenda the Good Witch. It’s evident Marjorie is a deeply spiritual and mystical woman. Her blog is worth reading.
Once on the road, Pete lead us out of McCook via route 17 (117 once we hit Kansas), expertly skirting two huge storms, us riding parallel and perpendicular, touching no more than a couple drops.
This stretch of road was the most beautiful of any road we’ve been on so far, in my opinion, save the lush curves of the Hudson Valley / Berkshires region. We were in the place where the high plains start to give way to desert and altitude. The light was bright grey and yellow in places; dramatic dark sky swirls with slanted curtains of rain falling in the distance. Fields were randomized: fallow, amber waves of grain, corn, and wild. Up-and-down-up-and-down sand dune roads. The curve of the earth was visible from this brilliant high perch if you strained a bit, grain silos looming on the horizon. Dead trees, evergreens, falling-down farmhouses from the dust bowl of America past. The road curved and sloped gently, and for the first time on this whole trip I felt an eerie sense of perfect calm. The silhouette of a coyote loped across the crest of hill, disappearing into the corn.
Colorado was next, and we stopped frequently to hydrate – a must as you gain altitude. We hit a large convenience store wherein I spent way too much money on hipster snacks (there was a dearth of both hipsters and their requisite snacks throughout Nebraska and Iowa, as you might expect) and marveled at their “souvenir” section, complete with marijuana memorabilia (weed tourism!) and a rack of drug rugs (those striped, knitted hooded sweatshirts that you could imagine being worn by either someone wearing leading a llama in the Andes or by a white dude with dreads at a jam band show).
Moving through the landscape, I kept expecting the mountains to roll over the horizon line. Were those clouds or mountains? It was hard to tell, the day increasingly hazy. By the time we got about 30 miles outside Colorado Springs, it was evident we were going to need our rain gear. A confusing network of cumulonimbus thunderheads loomed. We rode straight towards a curtain of grey. The road twisted this way and that, us veering away from the storm and then back into the heart of it. And then the mountains were there, creeping up, like they were there the whole time. I’d imagine brilliant white peaks, but instead was greeted by a dark, jagged and ominous silhouette. The rain began – giant droplets that must have been at least a half-inch in diameter. The traffic slowed. Lightning flashed to our left, then to our right. We joined a slow-moving moto-train as the Canadians appeared in front of us. (“The Canadians” is the defacto moniker for the foursome from Ottawa, self-guided lady riders who’ve been with us since Springfield.) The hotel soon came into view, and we were safe.
What an epic ride!