A few weeks ago, I took a weekend road trip from New Mexico up to Paonia, Colorado for a one day writing workshop with Craig Childs, one of my favorite authors. The workshop was fantastic and on my way there and back again, I crossed paths with three people who reaffirmed my love for the open road.
After a night of free camping at the Angel Peak BLM land just south of Bloomfield, New Mexico, I headed north on the Avalanche Highway (aka 550) between Durango and Ouray, Colorado. The route winds up and over 10,910-foot high Molas Pass, already deep in snow. My dogs love to roll in the snow, so once we were well into the white stuff, I pulled over at an overlook for a few minutes to let them have a good romp.
As I was standing there, laughing at the kids’ snowy antics, a woman in an old pickup pulled up and asked if I could do her a favor. Sure, I said. She handed me a wallet and explained she had driven off with her husband’s wallet that morning and she was hoping I could drop it off at a coffee shop in Ouray for him. Then she pulled out a fiver from the thick sheaf of cash inside and handed it to me to buy myself a cup of coffee for my trouble. I gave her one of my Blonde Coyote business cards, so she’d have some remnant of me, and she took it with a smile and said she was sure I was trustworthy. “Any woman who travels alone in winter with a trailer and a pack of happy dogs must have some epic karma,” she told me.
In Ouray, I dropped the wallet off at Mouse’s Chocolates and Coffee and bought myself a hot chocolate and continued on to Paonia. I’d never been to Paonia, but I’ve always heard great things. I rolled into town an hour before dark with no plans for where to park for the night. I pulled over just off the main drag, and within a few minutes, a local named Steve strolled up to ask about the Teardrop. I gave him the tour and asked him if he knew where I could set up camp and he offered me his backyard, just a few blocks away. He was heading to Aspen for the weekend, but I was welcome to park in his yard, use his house and come and go as I pleased.
On Sunday, after an enlightening and inspiring all day Saturday workshop, I headed back to New Mexico, this time east towards Gunnison and then south on 149 past Lake City and Creede. Rolling out of Creede, I stopped to pick up a hitchhiker holding a sign for Durango. I wasn’t going that far west, but I could take him as far as Pagosa Springs. I pulled out fixings for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and told him to help himself. (One of my hitchhiker hostessing tips: feed them! Travelers are always hungry!)
Also named Steve, the hitchhiker turned out to be from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, about 20 minutes from where I grew up in Strasburg! We graduated high school the same year and knew some of the same people. Steve told me he’d been living on the road and rails for the past five years, ever since he read “Into the Wild” and decided to go Supertramping. In between huge bites of PB&J, he gave me a crash course on riding freights (the safest time to catch trains is in the morning, not at night). I doubt I’ll ever have the stones to travel that way, but I relished the insight into another way of getting around the world. I dropped Steve off in Pagosa, where I headed South and he headed West.
Here’s to all the trusty people in this world! May we meet again and again. Happy Holidays!