Day 44 – Using a pickup instead of bikes to Mesa Verde; bad move

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Monday, June 25, 1984
Durango, Colo.
00 miles

Locator map

I’m reprinting the day-to-day journal entries of a cross-country bike tour my friend and I took in 1984. More about the TransAmerica Tour 1984

Gene’s Journal

Cliff dwellings

Note to self: If you’re touring by bicycle, stay on the bicycle. We’ve just returned from a strange and troubling adventure involving our reliance on a pickup truck we borrowed for the day. We’re all safe and sound, but it could have turned out much worse.

Bruce and I had planned to take today off and take a $25 guided tour to the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, about an hour’s drive away. The woman who ran the youth hostel where we were staying said we could do it cheaper if we rented a car. And what’s more, a German hostel guest, Christiane, could go with us and make it back by her 4:30 bus ride out of town.

Clay, a guy from across the street who hangs around to drink the coffee here, did that one better. He offered us the use of a pickup truck he had just purchased from a local mining company. We took him up on the offer.

When we turned to wave goodbye, it appeared to me that he had a worried expression on his face.

Bruce trying to crank the engine as Christiane looks on

We made the park entrance quickly, but the drive up to the ruins on the winding road seemed to take a long time. This surprised me. Being passed by thousands of speeding cars on our bike tour, I had the impression that car travel was instantaneous. It’s not, especially in an old beater of a pickup.

We stopped at a number of stunning prehistoric dwelling sites, where we walked in and out of the centuries-old rooms. We imagined what it must have been like for the first cowboys to stumble upon these cliff cities.

But returning to the truck, it was the same old story: the engine wouldn’t turn over until we clicked the ignition 10 or 15 times. We took turns, trying to figure who had “The Touch.”

With this hinky pickup, we decided to cut short our visit and head back to Durango. Passing through a tunnel leaving the park the engine died. I yelled at Bruce to turn on the lights, he said they were turned on. We quickly discovered that the entire electrical system was kaput (thanks to Christiane for this description), and we were sitting in a dark tunnel with no lights. Christiane took the wheel and Bruce and I jumped out and pushed the truck out of the tunnel. No doubt 2,000 miles of bicycling helped our horsepower.

We left the pickup at the side of the road, caught a ride to the ranger station, called our benefactor in Durango, and set out to hitchhike home. We stood out on Route 160, the road to Durango, three thumbs waving in the breeze. We finally got a ride to Manco, then waited another long time before a guy named Butch stopped to pick us up.

Butch gives us a lift

Butch was just returning from a bluegrass festival in Telluride and was in the mood to be helpful. He was just in time. Huge thunderheads were brewing up all over the valley and it was raining snakes and lizards all over the Four Corners. He drank beer and smoked a little pot as he drove along, and Bruce talked nonstop to him to try and keep him from getting drowsy.

We made it back to Durango, returned the keys (the guy apologized to us), Christiana missed her bus connection, and Bruce and I walked around town and had dinner. At one point, Butch stumbled right past without recognizing us. I’m glad he picked us up earlier in the day before he was too far gone.

Headline: June 25, 1984
Secretary of State George P. Shultz said today
that governments opposed to terrorism
must do a better job of infiltrating terrorist groups
and be willing to take ”appropriate preventive or pre-emptive actions.”

Bruce’s Journal

An eventful day. Bis, Christine [the solo German traveler] and I took Clay’s ’72 Ford pickup to Mesa Verde. He explained that he had put a new fan belt on a few minutes before, and that the engine didn’t always start right away. And that he didn’t think we would have any problems! Then he said he did have towing insurance if we needed it, and he also remembered to tell us that he had no spare or jack.

Stormy weather among the mesas

And so we were on our way. I drove and it was fun driving an old beat-up blue-white V-8. We made it to the park entrance in no time. But from there it was 19 miles to the museum and there was road construction on many of the switchbacks. The truck seemed to be OK.

We toured the incredible pit-houses and pueblos of the cliff-dwelling Anasazi. They were remarkable in the manner of their living [literally on the sides of mountains; for purposes of defense, we were told–their enemies could not get to them]. We also got to see some of their ceremonial “kiva” rooms that have been there for 700 years or more.

Motor dies

It was a fine day of touring. But on the way home we had to watch the clock so Christine could make her 4:45 p.m. bus to Gallup, and, of course, the truck died in the middle of a tunnel [carved through one of the mountains]. No motor, no lights, nothing. And there we were, in the middle of the pitch-black tunnel, with cars approaching.

We pushed the truck out of there fast and off to the side of the road. We hitched a ride to the ranger station, called Clay, who answered the phone and, after I told him who it was and what had happened, said, “Oh no.”

He was no help.


We got permission to leave the truck overnight and we hitch-hiked home. We made it in two rides, the second of which was from a guy named Butch who was returning from the bluegrass festival this weekend in Telluride. He was drinking beers in his 4-wheel drive Bronco and offered us one. We accepted. After a while he lit a joint and smoked it. We all declined.

He was turning off the main road 11 miles before Durango but he was nice enough to take us there. He was trying to stretch the long weekend out.

We said goodbye, and 45 minutes later–no longer–we were walking up Main Street Durango to the laundromat and Butch walks by. I yelled to him “hello,” and he stopped and looked at us and didn’t have the faintest idea who we were. I think the weekend festival had taken a toll on his cognitive powers.

Back on the road

We ate while our laundry was in, and it was nice to get clean clothes, although my sleeping bag did not dry entirely and some of the down is matted. I will re-dry it in the morning before we leave.
… I’m sitting here on the hostel bed, relaxing, getting ready for sleep. I missed riding today and am looking forward to it in the morning. We hope to see Sante Fe inside of a week.
Incidental: Clay will have to retrieve his truck tomorrow with no help from us. He was sorry about what happened. So were we. But we all maintained good spirits and laughed our way through it. What a pathetic truck it was!


Day 45: This drink tastes better than Gatorade

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