The Road goes ever on and on. Photo: Hal Walter

• Editor’s note: It’s your lucky day, folks. We have a guest post by my old pal Hal Walter, who invested a portion of his increasingly rare downtime in telling us a tale of that long and winding road.

By Hal Walter

I do a lot of driving these days. Between coaching a rural 2A cross-country team at Custer County School, and overseeing my autistic son Harrison’s transition to college life this fall, I am becoming more intimate with the Central Colorado highways than I really care to be.

Our cross-country team is traveling to nine different meets this fall, from one to three hours away, by bus. Sometimes I am the bus driver too.

My son is attending Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, where he also runs on the cross-country team — which means even more mountain driving to see his competitions. Because of issues surrounding his being on the autism spectrum I spend some nights and partial days in Leadville and also bring him home for weekends.

Recently on a Sunday evening, I conned my wife into joining Harrison and me for dinner on our way to Leadville. After an excellent meal at the new Thai restaurant in Westcliffe, Mary headed back to the ranch while Harrison and I pressed on to the Timberline Campus as the sun sank behind the Sangre de Cristo range.

About 12 curvy miles north, nearing the small settlement of Hillside, I saw something cross the highway in the dim light ahead. It seemed fairly tall so I immediately thought it might be an elk and slowed down. I don’t want to hit anything after some road debris tore a hole in my gas tank on an earlier trip, but I especially do not wish to hit an elk in my 10-year-old Suzuki SX4.

I also encounter a fair number of Amish travelers in this area, on horses, in carriages and more recently, riding e-bikes, which I reckon to be their version of motorcycles.

I hit my brights but they were useless in the twilight. Slower, slower. I finally rolled up to the place where I was expecting to see elk, but instead spied an odd-shaped object on the left-hand side of the highway where there is basically no shoulder. I’m thinking, “What the heck is that?”

It was initially a tallish Thing, segmented and rectangular. Then I realized it was a hand truck stacked with white boxes. It seemed at once to be moving yet standing still. That’s when I saw the smallish guy behind it, head barely above the load, pushing it along.

I coasted forward and looked to my left as I passed but could not get a good read on what sort of person this was. As I drove on I saw in the rearview mirror the hand truck crossing the highway right after I passed. Was that a homeless dude or an Amish person? It almost seemed like an apparition, yet I knew it was real.

At the next curve I slowed down again for a big Amish carriage in the oncoming lane with clomping horse, headlights and flashing taillights. A mile or so later at a ranch driveway I made out the silhouette of an Amish man astride a horse. After I passed he spurred the horse out onto the highway and in the fading red glow of my taillights disappeared south into the darkness. I drove on, still puzzled by the guy with the hand truck.

It’s about 105 miles from Westcliffe to Leadville. After a short stop at the Salida Safeway to stock up on some necessities for Harrison’s week ahead, we arrived at the CMC residence hall after 9 p.m. We schlepped the clothes, electronics, groceries, running shoes, and other items into the room. We straightened up a little, got the coffee ready for the morning, and went to sleep.

The next morning Harrison wandered off for breakfast in the cafe. I did some more organizing of his things, then headed off to the nearby trail system for a hike-jog. I then accompanied Harrison to meet one of his instructors before his first class. I spoke with the assistant dean. I talked with Harrison’s counselor. I went back to the room and did some cleaning, got a shower, packed up, and left Leadville right after noon, bound for cross-country practice back in Westcliffe.

I stopped about halfway home, in Salida, and got lunch to go and the necessary coffee. I also went to the running shop, tried on, test-ran, and bought new shoes. I ate while driving, then stopped to change into my coaching/running gear just before Hillside. I drove on. Just as I arrived at Westcliffe I saw up ahead something curious on the road.

As I drew near in the bright daylight I realized it was indeed a homeless guy still pushing his hand truck of white boxes, like something right out of “The Road.” He was moving so slowly the motion was barely discernible. In the time I had driven more than 200 miles and done countless other tasks that I viewed as necessary, this man had pushed his hand cart of boxes about 12 miles.

The testament to human endurance notwithstanding, a flood of thought coursed through my road-weary brain about the pace of our lives and the pace of others, what we view as necessary and how little others have. The spectrum of my own First World problems as compared to someone living at a snail’s pace. The craziness of our lives, and of our times.

Hal Walter hangs his hat outside Weirdcliffe, Colo., whenever he’s home long enough to take it off.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

17 Responses to “Truckin’”

  1. Pat O’Brien Says:

    Life in the high country. Curiosity would have gotten the better of me.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I’d have written it off as another acid flashback. If I stopped to investigate everything I thought I saw I’d never make it out of the house.

      “You drive,” he said. “I think there’s something wrong with me.” — Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”

  2. Shawn Says:

    Thank you Hal. Thank you for seeing something that sometimes many of us fail to see. The hardship and will of others that don’t have the ability to escape the event horizon of the cost of living someplace.

    On a similarly mystic time of travel in my life, I recall passing an individual on a remote Alaskan highway back in the early ’90’s. That person was dressed in full orthodox religious attire including the appropriate hat and massive staff. He walking down the side of the road in the driving wind and rain with the purpose of Moses. It was appropriate that to the south the clouds were breaking and intense sun was shining onto the coastal range mountains. Mystical indeed! I had considered stopping and and taking a photo of the person but felt that it would trivialize a moment in time that was better simply remembered.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      The muni buses have been free here for a while now, and sometime back I saw this short, squat dude with a rucksack as big as he was trudging over to a bus stop, slowly crouching down, and easing out from under the pack to await his greydog. Looked the way I envision George Washington Hayduke from “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” “A back that any pack would fit,” as his captain said.

      This would be doughty pedestrianism anywhere. But in a town that may be the worst I’ve ever seen for foot traffic? Oof. And they say some people don’t want to work.

  3. khal spencer Says:

    Wow. Awesome essay.

  4. carl duellman Says:

    That’s gonna be the new thing. Dollypacking.

  5. Herb from Michigan Says:

    Thanks for Hal’s guest article. The curious questions I always have when I see someone packed out to the gills trying to move to “wherever”, are a) where are they headed b) what caused them to move from whence they came c) if they had a decent place to encamp would they still be on the move. Although I recognize that mental illness as well as drug/alcohol induced mania might be driving their nomad life I can’t help but wonder if we are perpetual motion machines by design. We’ve all heard the expression “just keep moving or they’ll throw ya in a hole and pitch dirt on ya” so maybe the inner compass for some won’t let them stay at rest?

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      You’re welcome, Herb me lad. Speaking strictly for myself I think we are a nomadic cluster of monkeys, and we have been trying to kid ourselves into thinking we can stay put somewhere — farming, raising livestock, writing code, blowing shit up, and what have you.

      I’ve been on the move all my life, and though the intervals between moves have become longer over the years, I still feel as though I could hit the road again and not look back.

      The one thing I don’t understand is why I kept going back to Bibleburg. All in all I think I did about a quarter century there, as a teenager, a college dropout, a rookie newsie, and a freelance journo. Five houses/apartments in all, I think? Between 1967 and 2014. There’s no accounting for taste, I guess.

      • Pat O’Brien Says:

        You went back to meet Marvin and hear someone play an Ovation for real.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Hm. Good point. If I hadn’t gone back in 1973 as a college dropout, I might not have gotten into the newspaper game. And my life would’ve been very different. Not in a good way, I expect. The unskilled, undisciplined and directionless rarely prosper outside of Congress.

        Back then I could’ve turned up at the crossroads with a guitar and the Devil would’ve looked up, briefly, and then muttered, “A high-mileage ’54 soul with whiskey dents and a leaky head gasket? Hard pass. Try donating it to your local NPR affiliate.”

      • Pat O’Brien Says:

        He turned me down as well. So, I still play poorly. You know what Keb Mo said about that, right? First verse says it all.

  6. SAO' Says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with sports. All in all, for every good thing they accomplish, there are at least two negatives. You want team bonding? Comes with a few concussions and financial ruin.

    But i will say, your volunteer high school coaches all deserve sainthood. (As long as we’re not talking 5A football or basketball.) Folks who want to share their love for something and hopefully encourage a few kids to do something that can last a lifetime? I’m all for TNT’ing Mount Rushmore and putting a 2A cross country coach up there.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Did you catch this tale from Hal’s newsletter (currently on hiatus)? “Sport reflects life, and life isn’t always fair.” True dat.

      • SAO Says:

        I point people towards that one all the time. Nothing better than a good Cinderella story, but for every kid who gets the glass track shoe, there are a hundred left over, still picking lentils out of the ashes.

  7. SAO' Says:

    Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.

    John Muir

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: