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Thursday April 19 — Joey Goes West

After an incredibly hectic week (fifteen hours of overtime even with taking off Thursday and Friday), I dropped by work for my mid-year review before starting west. I put on sunglasses, set the cruise, and pointed my car along the ribbon of pavement heading into the setting sun for the incredibly boring and uneventful long haul across Iowa and Nebraska.

As everyone that does not drive a jalopy knows, cruise control is a life saver for interstate driving. Until a couple weeks prior though, my car lacked that helpful option. My primate behavior was much closer to a code monkey than a grease monkey, so alleviating that deficiency was outside my abilities. To make up for my shortcoming, I enlisted the help of an auto guru from the office in installing an aftermarket cruise control. (I mostly watched him do that majority of the work). The system functioned extremely well and propelled my car at a constant velocity through the Midwest’s endless cornfields.

My trip continued late into the Nebraska darkness until I was too exhausted to safely keep driving. I parked at a rest area within nose-shot of a pungent cattle ranch and slept in my car. That smell, however, was not isolated and permeated much of Nebraska.

Friday April 20 — Stop! Mountain Time

I continued my western travel along the unnaturally straight interstate. A car with perfect alignment would not even need a steering wheel. The wheat fields and cattle ranches of Nebraska gradually gave way to the arid planes of eastern Colorado, on which many large sections people did not even attempt to raise crops.

Signs were posted along the highway in Colorado warning bicyclists to share the road. These seemed out of place since I thought non-motorized transportation was forbidden on the interstate. In Colorado, however, it appeared that bikes were permitted in rural sections. Although these roads would create many miles of biking routes, anyone attempting to use this right away, even on the extreme right shoulder, would have to be absolutely crazy. The large wake created by oversized semis and relentless cars flying past at 80 m.p.h would assault a rider and make staying upright very difficult. As it is, two-lane country roads with minimal traffic can be hazardous enough. Even ignoring the large danger, a ride adjacent to all that traffic and pollution would not even be enjoyable. I never saw a cyclist though and kept motoring though Colorado’s uninteresting half.

Rocky Mountains

The top of the pass

A small, nondescript hill interrupted the country side, and as I crested it the Rocky Mountains suddenly appeared on the horizon. It is always exhilarating for a flatlander to see snow capped peaks towering into the sky. Their sight once again made me wonder how long I could last in Iowa. The mountains majesty brought a thrill, but the surrounding land was still flat and boring. With the carrot of the Rocky Mountains dandling before me, I impatiently continued through the sea of boredom. As suddenly as the mountains appeared, the nothingness of Colorado’s plains also transformed into Denver’s urban sprawl — I preferred the nothingness. Endless, identical track housing surrounded by cookie-cutter big box stores was a painful sight in my quest for wilderness respite.

I killed time in Denver before completing the last leg to Grand Junction. The scenery on this side of Denver was the exact opposite of my approach. The interstate snaked through the mountains, eventually cresting at over 10,000 feet. This stretch was gorgeous (taking into account I was still on a four lane road) — mountain lakes glistening in the sun, lush evergreen forests, and pure-white snow were commonplace.

I was not a skier, but continually passing famous ski resorts — Aspen, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge — induced a little Hollywood type awe and enhanced the anticipation of arriving at my own destination. Each of these areas lay one directly after the other along the interstate. I did not know so much prime powder was packed into such a condensed area. Their long season extended even into mid April, as people still skied runs that retained sufficient snow.

Although I enjoyed the scenery, my car did not appreciate the steep climb through the thin mountain air. Its little engine held tight though and survived to fight another day. The coast down the other side of the summit gave it a much needed break.

Race Registration

After too many hours cramped in a small car, I finally arrived in Grand Junction which housed the race headquarters for The Spring R.A.T.S. Desert Ultra Trail Festival. I retrieved my packet and tried to socialize with other runners, but a pounding headache caused by a lack of sleep and the long drive left me comatose in the hotel lobby’s chairs. Despite the distraction I still enjoyed other peoples’ company and received an education in ultra marathoning. Their antics and accomplishments make them unashamedly a different breed from the rest of us. Their stories were actually intriguing though, and planted a seed that may one day blossom into me joining their ranks.

My headache subsided by the time the pasta dinner started, and I loaded up with carbs. One of my dinner guests was a local that offered me his spare bedroom for the night after learning of my plan to sleep in my car near the starting line. His gracious offer once again reinforced the stereotype of runners’ generosity, and I enjoyed a full night’s sleep at his house. The comfortable bed was a great asset, and I had many nights of rugged sleeping arrangements ahead anyway.