Rocky Roads

Just gained an hour in Nevada, sitting at a hotel / casino in downtown Ely where they allow smoking indoors. Jesus, I haven’t written in almost a week again, so I’m having to dig down deep into my memory pocket and my scattered notes. A couple small stories from Colorado, and then we’ll put that aside and talk about some philosophical, metaphysical stuff.

Colorado Springs had a dramatic beginning, us arriving mid-storm, the cloud cover unfurling over our heads, knotting and twisting, letting splurts of rain droplets and hail. Rush hour traffic slowly chugged (I would learn later that there is always traffic in Colorado Springs, regardless of time or weather), and like good ducks in a row we plowed a tiny path to the hotel through darkened highway lanes, lightning striking on either side of us.

We took a couple days’ break from the bikes, which was mostly logistical. I missed my green rocket, but so it goes. The next day was the Pike’s Peak climb, and as I have a healthy fear of heights (and no experience mounting a switchbacked road at 14K feet) I opted out, as did BVB. We took the cog train instead, which afforded the views we wouldn’t have been able to look at had we moto’ed up (target fixation is a real thing – you look somewhere, you will go to that somewhere… even off into the great blue yonder).

Most riders made it up all the way, but a substantial amount were undone by the elevation, turning around and going back or simply leaving their bikes and getting a ride up in the car. And there was one small, unfortunate occurrence, which involved Madella.

I haven’t mentioned Madella yet, although she was one of the first people I met back in Brooklyn at the start of the ride. The moment I met her she gave me a big grin and a hug to match, and proceeded to explain how her tiny town of Colfax, California raised the money to allow her to make this trip. She was riding on a 250 cc scooter, arguably the smallest bike in the stable for this coast-to-coast journey. She fashioned a milk crate to the back of it, lashing it down with straps which sometimes didn’t hold things together as well as they should, but she never complained – she improvised. Anytime we stopped, she would drape an old bed sheet over the contraption, creating a sort of bike-tent which was a necessity in the hot California sun.

On one of our first riding days as the Ducks, we were almost marooned in a hilly patch of gravel. Stopped on a steep grade, riders struggled to turn around. Madella immediately jumped in to help, pushing BVB and others back up the hill, helping them right their machines, dusting them off, giving them moral support. All the while talking a mile a minute, smiling and laughing, in her pink helmet and cotton gloves to match, her “Jesus” vest and her military patches detailing her time in the service. We learned soon after that not only did she use to drive big rigs, she was part Cherokee, a descendant of the tribe which was forced to bear the Trail of Tears.

Madella was clearly a salt-of-the-earth type, we determined. Fully herself; uncompromising, honest, with a heart of gold.

So that day on Pike’s Peak, Madella decided to ride the scooter up, despite the fact that it had a carbureted engine – lack of oxygen at a high elevation could make it simply stop working. And unfortunately that’s what happened, in the middle of a turn, near the base of the mountain. She stopped, wrecked, and had to be taken to the hospital. Because she didn’t have a full face helmet, she chipped the veneers off her front teeth and bruised her face, including two black eyes. And she also broke her wrist. The throttle one. And she didn’t have health insurance.

Zandra Charbonneau, one of “The Canadians,” herself with a heart of gold, immediately started a fund for Madella, with much of the group contributing. The next day, Madella herself, swollen and limping, appeared at breakfast, and gave us the scoop. She was, unsurprisingly, her buoyant self, speaking matter-of-factly about her fall and the implications. At the time she didn’t know she wouldn’t be able to continue on the ride in one of the cars, but later on that day, it became known that she’d be heading back home via public transportation.

That evening, Zandra presented her with $1,700 from the group, to help with her medical bills and her journey home. And suddenly the room was awash with tears. Madella was completely taken aback, and sweetly thanked the group between sobs, tears streaming down her face.

Something about that moment was representative of Colorado Springs. Somehow, those three days in that big hotel seemed like our undoing. Out of our riding routine, spread across a large area, unsure of what laid ahead – a mood set in that didn’t feel great. Maybe it was anticipation of what laid ahead – the most daring riding on the whole trip. Maybe it was Colorado Springs itself – a gridlocked city of narrow mountain roads, NORAD in view from the hotel window. And for some, perhaps it was a release. So many on this trip have overcome incredible obstacles in their lives, and some of those obstacles are fresher than others. Madella’s thank you was a catharsis; others shared stories afterwards, we cried together, we grew closer.

Luckily, good things were ahead.