Hitchhiking Colorado- When Everything Burns

Date:  Wednesday, August 21, 2013  (Denver to Colorado Springs)

Time: About 6:30 p.m.

Wait:  About 20 minutes total


Kathy picks me up off of the Santa Fe light rail stop in her Harley Davidson motorcycle, her hair a mess and a huge smile on her face.  “You might want to put a shirt or something over the back of the seat,” she says, pointing to where she once took the leather off.  ” Or else your ass is going to be sore!”

My backpack is old and the zipper is falling apart, opening on random every now and then, as the teeth do not bite anymore.  I opt for reversing the pack and wearing it on the front, to avoid the catastrophe of things falling out as we ride down the highway at sixty miles an hour. 

We get going and we’re both laughing at what must be an odd picture to some passerby– a man on the back of a motorcycle, the woman in the rider’s seat.  “How was Mexico?!”, I manage to yell out to her over the rush of air as we cruise down Santa Fe.

“Oh, it was good!,” she says.  “Spent too much money, but outside of that, it was good!  Mucho cervezas!”  Kathy just returned from a week and a half excursion at one of the Mexican tourist areas.  Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Acupulco, one of those cities that feels it could be on a beach in anywhere-coast America.  Travel away from home to find all the people that also left home to do the exact same thing, to return to dreadful office jobs and bad hangovers that last for a week.

Kathy says she had a good time.

“You should have met this guy I picked up that was hitchhiking last week!,” she tells me.  “I guess I missed you, and had to find a replacement!” She laughs deeply.  ” They guy could sing though, check this out!”  With that, she grabs her Iphone and plays me a recording of the hitchhiker singing and playing “Folsom Prison” by Johny Cash on an acoustic guitar.  “Isn’t he good?!,” she says.  “If only he stayed longer, you guys could have jammed!  But low and behold, morning came and he was nowhere to be seen!”  Cash just vanished into thin air.

She tells me about one of her x-boyfriends, who she got along with famously until one day they got into what was “their only fight.” 

“Yeah, it didn’t turn out to good,” she says, laughs.  ” He bashed my car door in, so I blew his car up.”  Are you serious?, I ask her, laughing.  She doesn’t answer and just laughs, which I take as a way of informing me that this actually happened.

I always enjoy spending time with Kathy and she sets me off at Castle Rock, bypassing the usual snobbery that often exists off of the Lincoln exit.  (No offense to the Highlands Ranch area, but there is a truism I’m finding here.)

So I wait along the Castle Rock exit for what seems to be less than ten minutes when a guy pulls over in a black car.  He sports a pair of futuristic Oakley sunglasses and I thank him for the ride, and what follows are the initial acquaintances of hitchhiking etiquette.  I introduce myself, and he responds by grabbing a piece of paper on the dashboard that reads “Black Forest Restricted Area” and hands it to me.

“Alan Peters, that’s me,” he says.  ” Myself and my family lost everything in the Black Forest fire that burned back in June.  I mean everything, it was horrible.  Everything I worked my ass off for my whole life for, destroyed by the flames.  Lost a cabin that my Dad built with his bare hands back in the 30s.  When it burned to the ground, all we could see was the frame, and I remember him building that.  My whole family lived in Black Forest.  My sister called me on the phone and gave me the worst of news.  She told me, ‘ it’s coming Alan.  I can see the flames rushing in over the hills’… and then fifteen minutes later she called me to tell me that we had lost everything.”

The Black Forest fire burned in Colorado in early Junes, and it a heavily-pined forest area east of Monument.  I sit and listen to his story, trying to think of what it would be like to lose everything that you have worked your entire life for.  The sentimental value of everything that we hold and sweat for– it all can be gone without warning.  Insurance or no insurance, this is all temporary.  Still, Alan’s story is a bit more tragic than what most people will lose in their lifetimes, in terms of tangible things.

” I’m lucky I was able to move out two of our dirt bikes and some ATVs,” he said.  ” Almost everything else was lost though.  It all happened so fast.  I was stuck in traffic on I-25 while my house, my family’s homes, and my trailer, and all my belongings burned to the ground… three days later, it rained like a monsoon. Go figure, right? It was so hot when it burned over that all that was left of the trailer was the metal frame, and the metal was bent in all kinds of crazy directions.”

For metal to visibly expand, this implies that the material has been introduced to temperatures over 1,000 degrees Farenhiet and above.

“So now my family and I have been living with friends, in their basements,” he says.  “It sucks, it’s horrible, but it’s better than nothing.  I’m used to living in Black Forest all my life, with plenty of space and trees, and now we’re living in the crowded city… I can’t stand it most of the time.” 

Despite this, Alan has a smile on his face and he strikes me as someone who’s very essence is of endurance and resilience.  He has been tested, and it obviously continually being tested. I have an incredible amount of respect for this man.

Alan points to his left as we pass Monument.  “Just passed the highway connect, about ten miles out is where we used to live,” he tells me.  Alan says that they did get insurance coverage on many things, but some sentimental things that he worked on just can’t be replaced.  ” My Dad built that cabin with his bare hands.  My military uniforms, family pictures, everything you worked your ass off for.  Gone, just like that.  All that’s left of the pines is ash and black.  All that’s left of our homes is rubble, ash and maybe a frame.”

With that, Alan sets me off at Woodmen exit and I try to relate to him the best I know how.  I’ve had plenty things that I worked my ass off for that have been stolen from me, or lost, or haven’t amounted to what I thought they were– such is life, but nothing like the scale that Alan has had to deal with in the last two months.  I can tell that it’s given him some new perspective on things, and I’m thankful that he shared it with me. 

I suppose that in the end, all we really have are things worth burning.  Once you give them away, you are free.  Surely scary as shit and liberating at the same time.

I opt out of hiking the eight miles to Uintah, and hike back to the 25 South merge and stick out my thumb.  My orange sign works wonders in the dark of night as the sun has just slid underneath the jagged rocks of Pike’s Peak, which my cousin, two brothers, and myself plan on climbing this Friday.

In less than ten minutes, two dudes pick me up, and we’re off.  “We’re going to make a cake tonight,” one of the guys says, laughs.  “I’m McLuggage,” the other dude says.  Kind of sounds like McLovin’, I joke.

“Kind of like McDonald’s and an airport combined,” his friend says.

They drop me off at Uintah, and set off to purchase cake supplies.




Thanks to the great samaritans that not only picked me up a few weeks ago, but also returned my Iphone, here are some pictures from a few weeks ago:

IMG_0133[1] IMG_0135[1] IMG_0130[1] IMG_0138[1] IMG_0137[1] IMG_0134[1]

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