I departed Enid, OK this morning for the long trek across a long state towards New Mexico and then ultimately, Del Norte, CO, a little mountain town of 1200 people (counting dogs and chickens) where I went to high school 36 years ago.
There aren’t many interestates in this part of the country, so I rode most of my miles on four lane and two lane state highways. There also aren’t many places to fuel up, either: At one point, I clocked 100 miles between gas stations. I finally came across this little gem in Slapout, OK, where there were four pumps — only one of them actually in use and none of the people parked in front of any of them was in a rush to let me in for my turn. I whiled away the time by taking pictures:
When I finally had a chance to fill up, I learned that in Slapout, you can have any kind of gas as long as it’s regular:
I will not forget the moment the snow-capped peaks of Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo mountains (“blood of Christ” because of the spectacular red they turn during sunrises and sunsets) came into view. I thought, “Home.” Home to me will always be the San Luis Valley — an enormous plain nestled in between two mountain ranges, one of which is the Sangre de Cristos.
When I was a kid, we lived in the valley, in Del Norte, for five years, which was the longest I lived anyplace until I was 40. So if I have a hometown, Del Norte is it. My friends and I were good kids but there’s not a lot to do in Del Norte, and so we did what teenagers do: we got into trouble. I was reminded of this when I rode my bike and parked it actross from the house where we lived. It looks much the same and I bet there is still a basement window in the back that’s perfect for sneaking out in the middle of the night in pursuit of mischief.
After this brief but unexpectedly moving stop, I rode out to the Del Norte airport and met up with my old friend, Dr. Dale Berkbigler, whom I hadn’t seen in some double-digit number of years. He has a hangar there where he parks his bike (and, of course, airplanes), so I pulled mine in beside his and he drove me to his very lovely mountain home for the night. Later, my brother, Clive, met us there and we cleaned up and headed into town for dinner. The three of us will be making the 10 day ride that starts tomorrow.
We wound up at the Windsor Hotel. This hotel was originally constructed in the 1870’s and was known as the “Old West Hotel” when I lived in Del Norte. It was shuttered for many years and was eventually saved from destruction when an old friend of mine named Barbara Culp came across the demolition crew by accident and literally stepped in front of the wrecking ball and refused to let them proceed. She then persuaded her husband to purchase and donate the hotel for renovation and it is now a first-class property unlike anything that has existed in Del Norte for many decades.
Dinner was fantastic. As we ate, I told the group that when I was a high schooler, my friend Ben and I used to sneak out at night, climb to the top of the hotel and throw water balloons at passing cars. We did this many times and were never caught — we simply waited out the cops who drove around the building with spot lights, never considering that someone had climbed on top of it. Our slogan (I am not making this up) was, “They hardly ever look up!”
On one of our “bombing missions,” we noticed that in the courtyard of the old hotel, management had installed a fountain and populated it with several large fish. This presented a new challenge and we responded by returning the next night with a “Pocket Fisherman,” a Ronco gadget sold on late night television in that era. We spent more than an hour trying to cast into the fountain and could not catch a fish despite our best efforts. We finally fled when we noticed a woman peering out at us from one the windows of a room across from us and, once again, were not caught.
I decided to visit the courtyard to see how it had changed and it’s now beautiful — live music, crowds of people and no fountain. But I did come across my friend of 36 years ago, Kevin Off. Kevin and I worked in the local lumberyard one summer and rode our motorcycles like crazy people. Kevin still lives there and is a very highly-regarded and well-liked local artist and craftsman. He was always the type to march to his own drummer and he frankly hasn’t changed a bit.
I asked him to take a selfie with me and he said, “Sure — this will be my first one.” So, world, I present to you the wonderful Kevin Off’s first-ever selfie: