Colorado Springs to Tres Piedras

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#1
I woke up far above Colorado Springs near Monument. I felt like I was in a new land and was welcomed to the region by magpies, a bird I hadn't seen anywhere north of there. The pass at the top of the South Platte River was indeed the entrance to the Southwest.

It was a long ride downhill on the New Santa Fe trail through the air force reserve to Colorado Springs. It was a gravel path through a verdant pine forest. The plains, foothill, and mountain ecosystems all met there.

I stopped on the edge of the city at a large and welcoming bike shop. I needed a new bicycle seat. I met Kate before I even went in. She was a petite older blonde with super white teeth and a smile brighter than white. I would meet her friends over the mountain the next day. The bicycle shop marked down a hundred dollar seat to thirty and I bought it.

It was a long but not difficult ride uphill to Garden of the Gods. I took some pictures. It was full of very touristy tourists. I didn't feel the sacred of the place like I did at the petroglyphs but I knew I was meant to be there. I rode through and on the way out met an older, well off couple from Texas. They had open hearts and we witnessed.

I rode back down through town on a different route. So far nothing about the springs attracted me. I knew the other obvious pilgrimage spot near there was Manitou Springs but it wasn't on my route. I was still somewhat fatigued from riding up the Platte and had other mountains to climb.

I met two travelers from Michigan flying at a Walmart where I'd stopped to buy groceries, a couple. The man was blond with no shirt and wearing shorts that kept falling down. He held the sign. He was green at it and I let him know that the exit was more profitable than the entrance. They hadn't received any donations yet so he took my advice, hitched up his shorts as he crossed the entrance, and smiled as people ignored him standing there. I visited with his girlfriend who was drawing mushrooms on the tailgate of their beat up old SUV.

I rode on down the trail below the giant store into a no man's land populated by the dangerous, desperate, crazy, and brave. I reckon I was among the brave so stopped when Jeremiah said, "Hey." As I squeezed the brake, he added, "Got any clear?" I had to ask what that was and of course he was looking for meth. No judgement. I looked at him and saw a brother.

He was young, in his twenties, a handsome native man who I soon found out was from the Dine nation. Despite his quest for drugs, he made a good impression and I asked him if he would like to smoke. He agreed and as we walked on, he explained that he was the adhd type, a Ritalin veteran who calms down on meth.

When we reached a spot where we could sit together, I opened the beer I'd bought to fortify myself for the mountain ahead. He brightened with a look of longing at that and I gave him the first pull. After a good hearty drink, we sat down. I told him my history with the Dine. I walked from Tucson to Big Mountain for his nation in 1984. They know me there. I also use one of their songs in my meditations. He spoke his language and knew his traditions and we talked about the difference in meaning of the song between our languages. Before we parted, he sang me a song in his language.

A little farther down the trail two guys at a bench stopped me to ask for foil. I laughed at them that they had drugs and no way to use them. The guy who asked me didn't even see me, not as I am, but his friend did. I answered the plea in his eyes and gave them a piece of foil. It was right at hand and they were already digging their own graves. The no judgement thing was harder with these guys and I was happy to roll on.

I met Giovanni up around the next curve. I saw a light in him as soon as he came into view and when he nodded I stopped. He was holding a bud in one hand and a pipe in the other, complaining that it didn't work, that the pot was bunk. I gave him a puff of what the drunk guru had given me a few days earlier and that worked for him. We talked meaningfully for an hour. He knew what I said made sense but couldn't believe that he was hearing it. He was definitely going to make use of the knowledge.

Giovanni was an arranger. He set lyrics to music. He sang me a few of his compositions and then surprised me by singing my psalm but first he taught me a rhythm to tap out when he told me to join in. We sang together then. While we glorified the creation like that, another man came up. He had a beautiful smile and looked like a jazz pianist from the fifties. He didn't say anything except that it was his own and gave Giovanni a small bag of marijuana which presumably would work.

I rode on past many filthy camps paved with plastic trash both occupied and ghosted. I was surprised that the community had given up such a prime recreational amenity to such squalor. It was an avenue of the abandoned.

The bike trail ended at the edge of the city and I rode highway 115 uphill around the base of the front range. There's a big arc of the mountains there and the entire southeast slope was occupied by Fort Carson. Military land on one side and colonists on the other. There was a grand view over the Arkansas River drainage as it flowed out into the plains.

I made camp just before the top of the climb at a place beside the road amid red sandstone boulders. I was in the highway right of way but out of sight from the road because of a guardrail. That didn't block the view from Derek, who spotted me as he bicycled past on his way to Argentina.

He found me perched cross legged on one of the boulders eating my supper. I'm sure I was the sight of contentment. He tried to come down but there were a lot of pokey plants and he didn't want to backtrack to the entrance I'd used so we wished each other well and he rode on.

I cleared the top of the hill in the morning and breezed down the other side. At one point I thought I heard a voice but didn't see anything. Ten minutes later, Derek caught up with me. We were the tortoise and the hare but for a few miles rode together. When there was a place to rest, we stopped and smoked.

Derek was a disabled veteran and spent most of his time cycling. The year before he had ridden from Oklahoma to Alaska and back in two hundred days, a distance of ten thousand miles.

Derek was flush. He bragged about how much money he made every month and about how little he spent. As we got back on our bikes I jokingly said that since he was so rich, he could buy me breakfast at the next town. Saying that must have bugged him because he held back after that and we drifted farther apart. I stopped when I reached a very busy cafe and he pulled in after me. I told him I was just kidding about breakfast and he lied saying that he knew that, then he left and I joined the line to get a coffee.

The cafe was indeed busy, a sure sign of a quality place. As I waited in line the woman behind me struck up a conversation. She was a bicyclist and so were her companions. When I got to the counter she told the clerk to put my bill with hers then she invited me to join her and her friends.

I don't remember the men's names but both women were named Mary. They all knew Kate who I'd met in Colorado Springs the previous day. They were fascinated with the tale of my journey and understood it from the perspective of themselves having ridden many road miles. The other Mary gave me a small offering before we all left, nine dollars.

I rode on to Cañon City and stopped at the Walmart for wifi. I usually go to the employee break area when I do that. There were two tables there and a steady stream of employees taking breaks. They all went to the other table from me except for one older woman who sat at the far end of my table. I was writing and still meditating, at peace from my ride, and without even realizing it, opened my mouth and let a little bit of the song from my heart out. The woman at my table looked me in the eyes then and said, "Thank you."

I stopped again to buy a beer to go with my lunch and struck up a conversation with the clerk. He warned me about Veteran's Park, that there were homeless people there who claimed the place for their own. I replied, "Looks like I have work to do."

I was greeted as soon as I entered the park by a man with crazy eyes and a big knife. He asked me if I'd like to smoke and at my assent we went to another table, away from the teens that he was sitting near, and sat together. I told him what I'd heard about the park and he laughed. He commented on his own eyes, that he knew they gave him a crazy look. He never did load a bowl but he gave me some, a gift of smoke, then wandered off to chase a skirt. I ate lunch and drank my beer.

I started to ride on then but was greeted by Jim, a sixty year old ranch hand. I stopped and he said that he thought I was somebody else but we became friends and decided to smoke together. He'd fallen off the wagon the night before and was trying to come back to himself. I suggested, with many examples of course, that he should come back to a higher self. He replied with great respect that I should start a college.

While Jim and I talked, a woman, Stacy, walked by with two beautiful dogs. I asked her if I could meet her companions and we became friends. She lifted her glasses so we could see each other and the chaste hug of parting was electric. Remembering it makes it quite clear that she's still in my heart. Jim too, he was my brother.

I rode on from Cañon City up five mile hill then stopped at a campground at the very top. The manager was out front with a lost dog, a blind shi-tzu. They had already contacted an animal shelter and were about to take the dog there. I held, comforted, and healed on it for a bit before they left. As I finished my break, another long distance cyclist came by, Xavier. I hailed him and he stopped.

Xavier and I rode together for the rest of the day. He'd started in Lawrence, Kansas and my familiarity with the town sparked our friendship. We barreled down the big hill to the Arkansas River from there at the speed of traffic. I had to brake to keep from passing the cars in front of me. It was a spectacular descent.

The next thirty or forty miles were all uphill, a gentle uphill through a deep canyon. We were following the Arkansas River towards Salida and had decided to camp together. Xavier didn't have any food with him so I cooked him supper, beans with onions and bread. He kept me talking for hours and was a great listener. He also said I should start a college.

I rode on in the morning before Xavier then he passed me half an hour later. Then I passed him without even noticing, it was while he was stopped somewhere, but he caught up with me at a cafe and bought me breakfast. It was another tortoise and hare experience but this time in truth. He had a tattoo of a hare on his shoulder.

I paid for a shower at Salida then ride on up to Poncha Pass. From seven to nine thousand and ten feet in less than fifteen miles. It wasn't as much hard as difficult. There was a wind and it was cold.

I crossed into the Rio Grande drainage from the pass and made camp in the high desert at 8,500 feet.

It was a rainy morning and cool. I layered up, drank coffee, then rode on for a thousand feet of descent. The first town was a hippy town and I stopped at a cafe for another coffee. I think that's when my mood changed. I was surprised that nobody greeted me and sensed a certain impersonal mood about the place. I rode on.

I stopped at Joyful Hot Springs but a day pass was fifteen dollars and I'd just bathed in Salida. Instead of leaving right away though, I rested at their smoking pavilion and met a young male contract nurse. He was working out of Gallup and his next assignment was in Olympia, WA. I watched his gears spin as he realized how he could combine his current lifestyle with some variant of the life I lead. Until just that year, he'd spent his entire life in Hazelton, PA.

I was still riding down the San Luis valley. It's the highest desert in the country and mostly over 7,500 feet in elevation. It was a flat sagebrush desert between two major mountain ranges. The valley widened out as I rode south.

There were very few homes or buildings and no trees but there were a few homestead like places and near one of them I spotted a calf stuck in the fence. I of course dropped my bike to set it free. It'd been stuck there for some time. Long enough that the rest of the herd was gone and it was there by itself. She was easy to untangle, stuck more in the mind than body, much easier than untangling a horned goat from a square fence.

Helping the calf did nothing to improve my mood but I was still aware of all the beauty. There in the high desert I felt above and between the surrounding mountain ranges. I was placed and valued the perspective but my mood was as black as the dark sky. In addition, it was a two lane road with no shoulder and five times people passed against me
where I had no option but the ditch. I cussed at them but held my lane and came right back to myself.

I stopped much farther down the road at the entrance to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument where I met my brother Ken and his friend Sarah (Kenny, correct me on her name) They were both family and from Rochester, NY. Ken and I had fourteen mutual internet friends so we were no strangers even though we'd never met.

Ken also had the misfortune to have been in Florida during the shooting of Smiley and Dice and was traumatized from that. I hoped it was helpful that I knew the family well and offered Ken my observation of the light I'd seen in Dice's eyes as he was carried to the main circle in Vermont.

We sat on the ground together and smoked. Ken and I had a beer. They gave me a couple tangerines and a pack of crackers too. It was a family moment.

I rode the last fourteen miles from there to Alamosa and found a bike trail on the edge of town. I followed it to the Rio Grande and made camp in the riparian area below the trail. My nearest neighbor was a fat porcupine that waddled as it walked. There was a rodent nearby too and it was harvesting ripe seeds from a plant by shaking the plant and making the seeds fall. I never saw the animal but I eventually knocked the plant down so it could easily get at the seeds.

I rode through Alamosa stopping only to get a charge on my map and continued South. Within a few miles of the town I found a new Motorola phone fully charged and unlocked. It didn't have a back but otherwise was in perfect condition. I rode on South into the verdant land of the Conejos River only stopping when I reached Antonito where I bought some supplies to make sandwiches.

The buildings in Antonito were of adobe and the wood fronts were falling from them. Three old men sat outside at a cafe and I teased them about how pretty it was on the river. They replied that it was the winter that was hard.

There was a windswept plaza with tables in the town and I went there to make my lunch. As soon as I parked, a man came up near me saying under his breath, "To treat a chief of the Kiowa like that..." and he pronounced it key-o-wa.

I didn't ask him how a chief should be treated but simply said, "Brother, would you like a sandwich?" He smiled and we became friends.

He had a small bag of fruit at his side and a few apples. He'd been gleaning. Later I told his friend Mark that Ray let mother earth feed him. Ray spoke many languages. When I said friends, he echoed in Lakotah. He also spoke in Spanish and French. The languages were all mixed up and it made it difficult to understand everything he told me about the surrounding mountains and the orbs of light that lived among them.

While he told me of the land, his friend Mark arrived and as we sat together to smoke, another man and woman walked up. The woman was saying, "Why didn't they just shoot him in the leg?" Their friend had been shot to death the day before as he burglarized a store. They said he was a nice kid mixed up in bad things. Later, Mark showed me a picture of him and he was a nice looking young man.

After we smoked a dog came up. It was a beautiful pit bull with its tail between its legs. I talked to it but it went away. It returned a bit later with an old glove in its mouth and its tail raised. It wanted to play. It only took a few minutes to realize that the dog only understood Spanish, then a few more minutes for me to remember how to say "venga" and "siente se", then we played.

Along with the fruit, Ray had two large books with him, The Book of Valor which he opened to a page showing a warrior of light in a golden forest, and the book, History of Western Settlement. The way he showed this to me was as if to say that I could find the city of gold or maybe that I already had.

In this rich moment, I felt out of time. Ray, Mark, and I were brothers in a circle. We all felt the significance. Mark was a parent and the death affected him. He worried about his own children. He worried about his culture and told me there had been more than nine hundred burglaries in that area in two years. We talked about intent and about keeping purpose in the heart. We parted with hugs, our council, those moments together, a prayer.

On the far edge of town was a shrine for Mary. It was built into the Adobe fence of a small casa next to the highway. I stopped. It was like being in Mexico and perhaps a portal into the old Mexico. The virgin was of Guadalupe and the vision of the light of Christ, that she was the ark of the new covenant.

I rode on towards San Antonio mountain. I thought it was near, not knowing that it was one of the largest free standing mountains in the world. It kept rising and rising but I barely got nearer. Ray had told me about the mountain and although I didn't understand what he said, I met her. She was not masculine and San Antonio was a misnomer. There were clouds above her and between them and the peak, I saw the virgin but she was the corn maiden too. Off to the east was the entire Sangre de Christo range and before that, another mountain that I saw was her sister. I rode on between them and eventually crested the pass.

The wind hit me over the top. It was blowing out of a rainstorm and the rain followed me for the descent. I had to ride across it, break through the storm, and get to the other side. My friend was there on the other side and the sky cleared illuminating the three rocks of Tres Piedras.

I spent three days on the mesa there. It was at 8,500 feet, very cold at night, but warm with the love of friendship. I rested some, hiked in the baraca, dug an outhouse hole, cooked, told stories, and watched a milky way so close that I felt that I could walk in it.
 
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#2
I love your story! Matter of fact, I was looking to travel that route in the future from Colorado Springs. Again, thank you for sharing your story!
 
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#3
Magpies! I love those birds, but haven’t been around them since I was a kid. I really enjoy your writing brother. How long have you been traveling by bike?
 

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