Day 34: Push to La Junta

by James

Mike woke me up in a frantic scramble. It was June 20th in the artificially-lush city park of Lamar.

“We’ve gotta pack up the tent. Like now. Thunderstorm.”

And, accordingly, a boom of far-off thunder followed shortly, like in a bad TV drama. I bought the likelihood of an oncoming rainy tantrum, so I shook the sleep from my eyes and began to steadily, mechanically roll my sleeping bag and stow my electronics in the Trek’s panniers.

I realized wistfully that the Trek’s position, propped up on the side of a big shrub, had not shielded the bike and bags from the sprinklers. The damage wasn’t too bad, but there were muddy puddles in my sandals and the bike clothes were slightly damp.

We packed the tent up in no time flat and tackled the bikes. Before I was half-awake, we were pedaling down Lamar’s main drag, following a beeline to our sanctuary: McDonald’s. The thunder pounded around us like a temperamental god tossing armchairs around heaven.

Get to the arches. Get to the arches.

We made it to McD’s just as the dark skies opened up and let loose a downpour. We got inside, along with all of the equipment that signifies a long stay. We were unsure of when we’d leave.

Here’s a day, a situation, that exemplifies pretty well a major difference between Mike and I.

I set up shop immediately, ready to trench into the fastfood joint like a b&b, caring not how long we stayed so long as I wasn’t wet within five minutes of leaving the golden arches.

I’d splayed my stuff across two tables, dipped into the wallpower, and had myself surrounded with hot food. Mike had done much the same, but I could tell he was nervous.

Mike gets antsy, pessimistic, and generally short of patience when we don’t get out on time in the mornings. In an abstract way, I can sympathize; I understand that there is release in getting into the thick and pounding out your daily sweat. I understand that we’re on a schedule, and that we’ve got a respectable average to maintain.

What I didn’t understand is why Mike wanted to leave a half an hour after we’d arrived, in the midst of a very-pissed Mother Nature dishing out trouble in the form of a serious thunderstorm.

Mike was pretty adamant that we ride on, saying that we’d get wet at some point today anyway, but I told him flat out that I wouldn’t be leaving the restaurant anytime soon. This he didn’t like, but he agreed to stay.

In any physically-intense, prolonged situation requiring that a group of people work together, there are going to be conflicts1. So far, it’s amazing how minor the friction has been between Mike and I. Given the circumstances, we are incredibly functional. That’s not to say we don’t have disagreements on how to run the trip.

Mike is very organized and very rigorous. He has a way of doing things; a schematic, a schedule, or a blue-print, and that’s the way he gets it done. Classic mathematician. Most of the time, he’s completely right and his work is dead-on. This methodology makes him a great mechanic, router, and bicyclist.

I am, as Gene said, “the party guy.” I take cracks at exerting only as much effort as necessary and I make a constant effort to enjoy myself as much as possible, even at the cost of route progress. I take pictures, blast music, and spend hours at lunch writing verbose blog posts. I propose rest-days and ask, “do we really need to peg the rain-fly in?”

Without Mike, I dunno when I’d pull into the bay area. Without me, I don’t think Mike would even take pictures, let alone stop to look around.

In the absence of one another, we’d each pull closer towards the center. While working together, we play our extremes like good contrarians. At any rate, we both like beer.

Mike was anxious awhile, but eventually calmed down as the storm continued to rage. I think he realized that escape from Lamar anytime soon was unlikely and made some kind of peace with it. Out of the big windows I could see sheets of rainwater pounding the pavement, the wet surface giving a ragged reflection of the crumpled-newspaper sky above.

We spent a good few hours in that McDonald’s, studying radar images and talking to hitchhikers caught in the storm. One burly, bearded hitchhiker gave us a played lottery-ticket worth $2 and told us about the bridge he’d slept under in town. He advised us to stay there if we weren’t going to make it out of Lamar tonight. We considered this seriously and thanked him.

Eventually, the rain abated and we began preparing to leave. My bike had a flat, so I brought the tire and tools inside and went to work changing the tube. I didn’t seat the bead onto the rim correctly, so when I inflated the new tube to near 80PSI there was a huge BANG that scared every employee in the place shitless. I apologized sheepishly and went out for a new tube.

After the tire was fixed and the two of us had changed, we left the McDonald’s for the light rain. It was about 2PM.

After an hour, we traded rain for a wicked headwind. I don’t have any hard data, but I’m guessing the winds were around 30MPH. Somehow, I borrowed some of Mike’s masochism and began to enjoy pumping my legs endlessly against the wind, nearly stationary and perpetually in my two lowest gears.

No rain, but plenty of wind.

We made our way slowly, slowly, into La Junta, passing through the darkened desert outside of the junction town. The setting sun bled through the clouds like a lit match touched to layers of white cloth.

Sunset outside of La Junta.

We slid past the desert hills and through the industrial outskirts of town. Near the edge of La Junta, we stopped at a restaurant called Boss Hogg’s. The place was open and well-reviewed on GMaps, so we went in.

For an appetizer, Mike and I ordered fried cow nuts, a local specialty2. I ordered something called a Hogginator which turned out to be a one-pound hamburger with green peppers and mushrooms. The hamburger disappeared and when the waitress asked where it went, I told her I’d blacked out.

We sat in the diner, then closed, watching the lights dim and the chairs flip. We listened to pop country play over the radio. Mike enjoyed some tune about a guy going through a series of jobs and then concluding after each dismissal “at least I’m pretty good at drinking beer.”3

The waitress tipped us to a soccer field within the junior college that she claimed to be sprinkler-less, so we thanked her emphatically, paid up, and made tracks for the field.

In an hour, we were sitting cool as crocodiles in a tent on the dusty soccer field of Otero Junior College. Not a sprinkler head in sight.

  1. sociology masters thesis done.

  2. they’re surprisingly bland. I mean come on: cow balls. You’d think they would ooze spice or have you aurally hallucinating the withered voice of Johnny Cash or something.

  3. Beatniks and Rednecks: The Great Union, my new book coming out in August.

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