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Sifting through my memories of our ride, I realize that some worthy events, for one reason or another, never made it into print. Among those events:

The Lunatic at Walmart. This one I never actually witnessed. Mary told me about it.

We had just visited the Walmart in Salida, Colorado. I rode out of the parking lot ahead of Mary to check out a motel. According to Mary, when she took her place (on her bicycle) in a line of cars waiting at the stoplight, she heard the irate voice of a woman yelling something from a car in line behind her.

At first, Mary didn’t realize the epithets, emanating from a small SUV, were directed at her but when she heard

“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, A F*CK*NG CAR?” it dawned on her that she was the object of the woman’s ire.

Mary was nonplussed. After all, by patiently waiting in line, she was conducting herself in the accepted and recommended fashion for a bicycle at a stoplight. She certainly wasn’t inconveniencing any of the cars since no one was moving. Considering that the situation would hopefully be resolved any second once the light turned green and because she had no idea how to respond to such ranting, she patiently stood where she was. This was in no way good enough for the woman in the SUV who continued her tirade with ever more obscene language.

Once the light changed and the line of waiting vehicles, including Mary on her bicycle, moved onto the highway, the SUV with the irate woman, all but frothing at the mouth and wildly gesticulating by this time, passed her and sped on down the road, as if to demonstrate the “proper” speed for vehicles on the public roads.

Although this woman was an extreme example, she illustrates an attitude that is out there – namely that bicycles have no right to be on the road. Any bicycle tourist who rides the highways is sure to encounter this kind of intolerance. The most common form it takes is the speeding car that passes within inches of the bicyclist who is riding as close as he is able to the far right of the pavement.

My answer to these chauvinists is my pennant on a pole which demonstrates to the would-be harasser the minimum distance he should allow between his vehicle and the innocent bicycle rider. (We didn’t employ the pole much on this trip because we rarely rode on busy highways.) This simple device has the added benefit, should a vehicle come in contact with the fiberglass pole, of leaving said vehicle with a souvenir of the encounter – a paint-marring line along the side of his car. Several offending cars now carry this “Mark of Lief.”

P1030483.JPGTHE PENNANT ON A POLE

South Pass. Miles and miles from any identifiable concentration of human habitation lies a passage through which passed many thousands of Conestoga wagons on their way to Oregon and California – South Pass.

Bicyclists and pioneers on the Oregon Trail have in common an acute awareness of steep inclines since gravity presents such a very real impediment to both. The typical mountain pass, with its steep approach, is a sure attention getter to both groups. But unlike most mountain passes, South Pass, which crosses the Continental Divide in the vastness of the Wyoming prarie, is almost unrecognizable as a pass. Approaching South Pass from the east or the west, one could be forgiven for not even recognizing it as a pass, so gentle is the rise of the land thereabout.

This gentle grade is the reason the pioneer wagon trains chose to cross the Rocky Mountains at South Pass rather than assaulting the forbiddingly steep slopes of the Rockies north or south of there.

The pioneer saga has intrigued me at least since my youth when one of my favorite TV shows was Wagon Train. I well remember too a daydream of mine from my tender years in which I starred as a boy who rode his pony alongside the family’s covered wagon on our way to a new life in Oregon. How splendid it would be, I imagined, to explore new landscapes each day on my trusty pony, Blaze.

So it was with considerable anticipation that I scanned the horizon on the morning of September 9, 2015, knowing that I would soon ride my bicycle (alas, no pony) through the fabled South Pass. Rather than culminating in a particular memorable moment, however, as such occasions should, the ride through South Pass was a rather diffuse experience due to the gentle lay of the land. I scanned the nearly flat, sage-covered landscape looking for traces of where the pioneers had passed. There were several areas marked with signage that purported to be remnants of wagon tracks but even these had been marred by irreverent motorized vehicles.

I was determined, however, not to let this occasion pass without some personal observance of its significance. I stood there, straddling my bicycle, imagining what it must have been like for those pioneers – what hardships they had endured, what dreams they had about the fabled rich farmlands of California or Oregon. Did they too feel the tug of “the unknown just around the bend?” I suspect that adventurers, pioneers, nomads, and bicycle tourists alike share that character trait.

At that point in our journey, I still had many yet-to-be-explored discoveries awaiting me and South Pass, now that I had seen it, was no longer among them. Ever eager to visit new places, I put my feet to the pedals in answer to the beckoning call of the unexplored destinations further down the road.

P1030490.JPGMARY RIDES THE WYOMING PRARIE NEAR SOUTH PASS

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