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Tomato Patch: Scratching a few more off the bucket list

Posted on Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 11:42 am

By Greg Glassner

H-P Editor Emeritus

As I indicated in the first part of this two-part Tomato Patch, a principal objective of my recent adventure out west was a reunion of the 519th US Army Transportation Battalion, which I served with in Thailand in 1969.

After a week in Arizona I finally set off for Colorado, taking a lot of other back roads through additional Apache and Navajo reservation land in Arizona and New Mexico.

I had read about this harsh but interesting area and small towns along the way in the late Tony Hillerman’s novels about Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn.

By this stage of my journey I realized southwestern states are bigger than the ones I am used to on the East Coast. (Delaware would fit in the Grand Canyon!)

I underestimated the distance to Mesa Verde National Park, another pre-bucket list item, and had to rush my sightseeing among the impressive cliff dwellings there. I also missed out on Durango entirely in my effort to motor through the small town of Ignacio before nightfall.

I once inquired about buying a small newspaper in that rural community way back in the 1970s. By the time the owner got to me with price and particulars, I had blown my nest egg on a boat. Without the benefit of my stewardship, The “Four Corners Chieftain” died a year later. (There may have been other factors.)

Who knows how my life would have been different, had I taken that road less traveled? A casino operated by the Southern Ute Tribe now pumps cash into that impoverished area, but it is a recent addition to Ignacio, Colorado. The older businesses appear to be bars and liquor stores.

Finding a room for the night in Pagosa Springs, I was on the road again at daybreak and made it to my Army reunion in Colorado Springs.

A retired pilot who flew 240 missions out of Thailand and used more than a few of the rockets our trucks delivered to Nakhon Phanom (NKP) over Laos and the Ho Chi Minh Trail, gave us a tour of the Air Force Academy.

The rest of the day we told and retold a lot of old war stories and had a pleasant banquet that was conspicuous in its lack of spilled drinks and raucous behavior. (Hey, we are all pushing 70 and have slowed down some.)

The morning after my Army reunion banquet I bailed out of bed at 6 a.m. and set off for the fabled Peak of Pike, arriving at the starting line before the first racer tackled the daunting 156-turn, 20-kilometer climb from 9,400 to 14,111 feet above sea level.

The course is the same two-lane road tourists trundle up during the week, so it lacks many of the safety barriers and runoff areas you find at other racetracks. In many places if you slide off the pavement you leave the mountain.

As an East Coaster I was “feeling the altitude” at 9,400 feet and confined myself to strolling the paddock, which appears to be hacked out of the forest each year, and to watching from the start line and at the timing line just around the first turn.

This hill climb is better known in Europe and Japan than in the U.S. An eclectic assortment of professionals, dreamers and schemers bet their life savings on one run up the hill each year. Only 130 cars and motorcycles made the attempt June 29. One entrant came from Reunion Island off the coast of Madagascar. Many others make the trip from Japan and Europe.

The timing was right and I was able to scratch another item off my list.

On the way back to Virginia, American Airlines diverted me from Denver through Dallas-Fort Worth, instead of Chicago. This allowed me to “see” another state, if you count looking out the terminal window at runways and jet aircraft.

I was told this change would get me to Richmond an hour earlier. Unfortunately I spent that hour waiting for my bag, which never showed.

Just as well, though, they cancelled the Chicago-to-Richmond flight that night. I was glad my bag spent the night in the appropriately named Windy City rather than me. My bag showed up 36 hours later.