Posts Tagged ‘Leadville’

Truckin’

October 5, 2022

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.