Day 6: MS Went over the Mountain and Saw Snow-white

William Kotzwinkle’s bear story comes to mind at the end of the day in Laramie, Wyoming; our turning point on the Lincoln Highway. At the start of the day in Sydney Nebraska, MS had her morning blues. Battery dead again, leaking fuel. Oil clean. A short somewhere? The clips on the fuel lines not fully closed? David saw a challenge in kick-starting – and it got her going to a rather cool start. Sunny day, strong winds from the northeast, morning coolness requiring windbreaker.

Sunday morning 9/11, Lincoln Highway to the Nebraska – Wyoming state line is deserted. Most of the time no other car between us and the horizon straight ahead and the horizon in the rearview mirror. Left of our narrow 2 lane Lincoln Highway trucks are plowing along on 4 lane Interstate 80 and on our right the Union Pacific trains today are pulling double container loads per car. With one train we catch up. Math problem for you reader. Given: 2 triples are traveling at 59 miles per hour, a train is riding in the same direction at 39 miles per hour; its takes the triples 3 miles to pass the train from last car to locomotives pulling them. Question: how long is the train?

It is big sky country indeed for hours and hours and hours. Prairie left and right as far as the eye can see, grass, not a single tree except near an isolated farmhouse. Sage grows here, Tumbleweed crosses the triples’ path. The occasional herd of Black Angus cattle which my mind transforms into buffalo’s because that fits better in the total picture.

American history presents itself on the roadsides left and right. Abandoned silo’s and elevators, sometimes shiny, sometimes rusty, sagging, broken and bended pipes and cranes, resembling destroyed War of the World’s outerspace invaders’ machines. Deserted farmhouses left to survive by themselves in the ever present winds, blazing sunshine and fierce winters of the high plains. Rusty and dismantled cars sticking out of the high grasses in their cemetaries – models going back to the early fifties. Truly an open air museum.

The Nebraska-Wyoming state line is a war zone-like mass grave of cars, trucks, motorcycles, garage shop, gas pumps, border check sheds, agricultural machinery and all kinds of rusty contraptions I can’t identify. Everything a ruin. We wander through it all, wondering. A big pick-up truck drives into the scene. The usual exchange: where are you from, where are you headed. Grandfather and grandson. “Have you read the book ‘Dutch Origins’?” asks the rugged grandpa. “Ït is out of Chapel Press, Arkansas, you should read it” when I say I haven’t. Follows a stream of consciousness type narrative about each of the old tribes of Israel who have wandered out over the world and founded the European countries. Daniel did Germany, we get a rundown of how the name Germany actually goes back to a name in the bible. Dave and I listen dumbfounded. “I am partly Dutch, not Deutsch, spechen Sie Deutsch” he says before taking of. “Probably a Mormon”, concludes David, “they twist everything to fit their belief”. I will look up the book, though.

I confess: we fell from our non-interstate belief around there near Pine Bluffs. The original Lincoln Highway disappears as a dusty loose dirt road into the far distance. Interstate 80 here we come to make it to Laramie. The triples easily match the speed of the trucks and are happy to pass them. Two stops. One at Lone Tree, a tree growing out of a rock formation, probably hundres of years old. The railroad, the Lincoln Highway and now the Interstate all are making a respectful local ‘detour’ around it; this type of tree can live 2000 years. The second at the highest point on the LH at 8640 feet, (2800 meter), with a monument for the founder of the LH idea and with a huge Abraham Lincoln statue, head only, looking down on today’s travelers. We realize we have been slowly going up to higher elevations already. Midday we ride into Laramie.

A mountain tour of about 180 miles (300 kms) is on our program for the afternoon; initiative of David’s for which I am most grateful. Up to the Snowy Mountain Pass at 10.860 feet (3.500 meter) elevation in the Medecine Bow mountain range. The 50 miles to the mountains is an immense grass prairie, nothing else grows there. It reminds me of the Campo Imperatore in the Italian Abruzzi mountains or Angel Fire in New Mexico. High Chapparel type gates indicate that there is a ranch house out there somewhere, occasionally visible as a speck in the far distance. Sometimes a primitive settlement of a few low wooden weathered buildings very western movie style but real now. Often housing a bar, sometimes a store, a house.

It gets colder and colder as we sart climbing. Ominously dark clouds are hovering over where the pass must be, curtains of rain visible. David’s Pristine is out of breath on the steeper inclines, David feels. At the top, the view is majestic. Snow on the mountains across the valley even below our level. Medicine Bow peak of over 12000 feet where a plane crashed about 50 years ago killing all aboard. Glistering mountain lakes. And an endless prairie view over the plain between mountain ranges that once was home to the Overland Trail. On the way up a sign indicating a memorial to a massacre. It is sunny at the pass, dark clouds moving away. The wind is cold.

The loop back to Laramie passes through Colorado, the original home state of MS. Millions of pine trees flank the curving road with steep downhill inclines and challenging curves for dozens of miles and miles. It is as riding the Dragon. Great to practice riding all curves outside – in and to never use the brakes but only the gears to negotiate curves & inclines at good speed. So far the riding highlight of he trip.

The rain hits near Laramie. Most of it we see left and right from us, we squeeze through between two systems dumping water. The smell of rain and wet grass brings smiles and prompts deeper inhaling.

No more proper place to turn back to Wisconsin and Indiana than this high mountain loop in Wyoming and Colorado.

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