Tandem, An American Love Story

From Riverside, Wyoming to Walden, Colorado, the road climbs through a broad valley. We passed some of the most beautiful ranches yet, high meadows, speckled with steers, running up to treeline.

We stopped at small store/cafe in Cowdry, very much in the middle of nowhere. A young woman in her late teens was running store for her parents. She had dark hair, wore baggy overalls and ballet slippers, and had dark intense eyes. She put some Delta blues on the stero, and Claire and I couldn’t resist dancing on the old oiled floors beside the pot-belly stove.

The place was crammed with 60’s books and memorabilia. Her parents must be old hippies, a thought somewhat jarring to me, since it is the era of my coming of age. She said her father plays blues guitar, and there are often several musicians gathered to jam. The ambiance of the place is perfect for it, and I am sorry we missed him. It also reminded me we’d be passing through blues country in a few months, a strange thought here on the spine of the Rockies.

The daughter is married and her husband wants to be an artist. They are thinking about going to college in West Virginia or Ohio. I grew up in West Virginia and went to college there and in Ohio, and at first I was surprised that someone would want to leave spectacular Colorado for there. But, it’s natural for young people to want to go somewhere else for school, perhaps to live. It’s how we mix our blood and culture in America, part of our strength.

Soon after we left the store, we saw two cyclists in our mirrors, they caught us several miles later at the Walden store where we waited out a shower together. Claire and I ate a half-gallon of ice cream for our snack. It seemed to impress them.

Both Jerry Wilkes and Randy Schumacher are from Minneapolis area. One of them was a triathlete, and the other had been a bike racer. They were doing a quick trip from Yellowstone to Denver, fairly lightly loaded, but using racing bikes with road gearing. Strong.

After a shower at the town pool we set up camp in the city park, and met an Adventure Cycling tour on their way from Virginia to the Oregon coast.

We were amazed at the production the group went through for dinner. We have chosen, for weight and space reasons, to eat cold food and not cook. We ate our carrot sticks, with cheese, summer sausage and a cabbage leaf rolled up in a tortilla. We had apples and candy bars for desert. We were finished while they were still getting stoves and pots set up. Then they were at least another hour cooking, eating and washing pots. We made a good choice. Cold food tastes just as good as hot after a long day on the road. Works for us anyway.

The next morning, Jerry and Randy were at the town cafe where we stopped for coffee, and they wanted to take pictures before we parted ways. I believe they think I am lucky to have a woman like Claire, willing to undertake this trip. Don’t I know it.


Rain showers hung low and raced across the valley and up the creek ahead of us toward the nearly 10,000 foot, Willow Creek Pass.

It’s not a difficult crossing, but the rain caught us at the summit and then turned to hail. We put on all our clothes and huddled under evergreens to wait it out.

A man we’d seen at the Rand store stopped to offer us a ride in his pickup, but we declined. We’ll accept a ride in an emergency, but it wasn’t an emergency yet, just uncomfortable. We do uncomfortable. Makes for vivid memories.

We finally decided it wasn’t going to stop, and the best thing to do was lose some elevation before matters got worse. At 40 mph, hail hurts, but in half an hour we were running in light rain with a tailwind into Granby.

We were cold and wet, and decided to get a motel. We enjoyed Granby, but took note of it’s rapid growth, like many towns in Colorado. The motel owner wants to sell out in a couple of years and travel, maybe by bike. He made sure his wife saw Zippy.

The next morning, July 1, we went to breakfast at a local hangout cafe that is so popular people gladly share tables with strangers. We talked to a local builder. He confirmed that the area is growing fast with Denver money, big money. He described some of the same problems as Montana is experiencing, just different people.

We rode a fairly short distance to Rocky Mountain National Park. The rangers said Timber Creek Campground was full already, but they radioed the host and found there was one left and asked them to save it for us. Thank you.

Elk wandered through the campground, grazing and begging. One cow wanted my apple. She didn’t get it. Claire has worked as a naturalist for Olympic National Park, and I dare not ever feed wild animals. Obviously other people do.

Around sunset the elk faded into the willows along the river and began talking to each other with tweets and squeals; strange and lovely.

We walked near the slow meandering Colorado, listening to the elk, wondering when we would cross it again. We knew it would be next spring, but where? The Arizona, California border, or above Grand Canyon at Page, Arizona, or maybe Moab, Utah? One thing we knew to be certain, it wouldn’t look much like this creek-sized river.

We met a couple playing with two young children on the river bank. They admired what we were doing, and hoped to do some traveling of their own someday, after the kids are grown. They think we’re brave, and maybe a little crazy, to be doing what we are doing. We think they are.

We always enjoy the NPS campfire programs, so we put on all our clothes against the chill, and walked to the rustic amphitheater in the twilight. This program was one of the most unusual I have seen. The seasonal naturalist who was to give the program, was hosting a get-together of a group of barber-shop singing friends. He usually misses their summer sing because of his work, but this year they decided to come to him. They sang songs of the last century as the last sky light silhouetted the high peaks, and until well after the first stars appeared. Songs of love and beauty. What a treat. And, how unusually appropriate to the spectacular setting.


Tandem, An American Love Story — 3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the memories, and the update on your own adventures. That last few days back to Sequim was bitter-sweet after more than a year on the road. We’ve never been the same; a good thing.

  2. What a marvelous and beautifully descriptive article about a simply amazing woman – Karen Landis. I’ve had had the serendipitous experience to create and nurture a friendship with Karen after I underwent a hip replacement and three hip fractures and realized I needed to request the local “Meals on Wheels” service. And of course, if she didn’t have enough on her plate, Karen serves the Chino Valley community two days a week by delivering meals to people in my circumstance.
    I loved Karen the first moment I met her. And when we started chatting I knew I had met a soul mate. I’ve been looking all my life for a role model, a hero, an amazing example of humankind. I don’t know if she realizes what an outstanding example she is of a strong, independent, intelligent, talented woman. Sometimes as women, we have a dentency to undervalue ourselves. But Karen, I want you to know you are the real deal. You are just so beautiful in your authenticity. And I a so appreciative of the value you have added to our environment by caring for the land and the animals under your watchful care. Your abilities and strength simply boggle my mind. And thank you for your loving service to me these past four months. You rock girl!

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