Telluride and France are running neck-to-neck as my second home. I've spent two to three months the past seven summers in France attending the Cannes Film Festival then following The Tour de France, while spending nearly a month in Telluride the past 19 years helping to pull off the Telluride Film Festival.
My history with Telluride goes back even further, to the mid-'70s during my ski bum days, when I gave it a several day ski one winter and fell in love with this remote former mining town as so many do. I returned the following year intending to spend the winter skiing its Plunge and other stupendous slopes. I wasn't able to find a reasonable place to live, so fell back on Salt Lake City, where I had lived the previous winter. Lucky I did, as that was the Bicentennial winter of 1976-77, when there was no snow until after Christmas and the ski resorts of Colorado were declared a disaster area.
I've returned to Telluride every year for nearly two decades now, not only for its second-to-none film festival, but also its national park quality scenery and the many friends I have made among the locals and the out-of-towners who return every year as I do to work for the festival. Telluride may have the highest concentration of people leading fascinating and fulfilling lives during this month than any place on the planet. Many days my jaws feel as weary as my legs after a hundred mile day from the many fabulous conversations I've had hearing about other's extraordinary experiences the past year and sharing my own. There is Esther the yoga teacher who lives in Thailand nine months of the year who I visited one winter, Ian the rigger of Cape Town who also hosted me in my travels, Eric the karate expert, David the artist who writes a weekly column for the local daily newspaper, The Daily Planet, and who I'll be biking with in Turkey later this year, Hunt the veteran ski-patroler who had the most rescues this past winter in Telluride and many, many more.
Over the years I have made my annual 1,300 mile migration to Telluride from Chicago by car and train and jet and bicycle. The bike, of course, is my preferred means of transportation. Only once have I made the trip entirely by bicycle, via Seattle no less, but several times I have combined either car or train with bike to get here. This was the fourth year I've taken the train to Grand Junction and then biked the remaining 130 miles up to Telluride. For the first time the train was less than full and I had two seats to myself enabling me to get a little more sleep than usual during the 28 hour trip.
This year's journey was prolonged by five hours, however, due to high water in Iowa. Ordinarily the train arrives in Grand Junction shortly before five p.m., allowing me enough time to reach Delta, forty miles to the south, just before dark, where I wild-camp behind a vocational college a mile beyond the city. I didn't need to fret too much though about arriving in Grand Junction well after dark, as a bicycling friend in Chicago had arranged for me to stay with his sister who lived in Grand Junction. She had followed my travels for years and was eager to meet me.
Having a place to stay when I somewhat needed one was another of those serendipitous strokes of good fortune I continually experience when I'm off on my bicycle, almost proving that there is a beneficent force looking after he who travels by bicycle. The title of my memoirs will be "In the Bicycle I Trust" for that and quite a few other reasons.
I wasn't certain that Cheryl and her husband would be able to meet the train with it arriving so late, but I wasn't concerned. I almost looked forward to the challenge of finding a place to camp in the dark, either behind a school or business or in a clump of trees. I always find a place to camp, even in the most dire of circumstances, and am always curious where it will be. Cheryl and her husband didn't arrive at the station until I had nearly completed assembling my bike and was ready to set out, as the train arrived a few minutes before the latest estimated time of arrival they had been given.
I had hoped I might be able to simply follow their car on my bike to their home, but it was too far away, seven miles out of town on dark, narrow roads. We'd barely introduced ourselves when Cheryl blurted, "How could you keep riding after you were attacked in South Africa?," a question that had been bothering her for more than a year-and-a-half.
I told her that I wasn't sure if I should or not, but that I had ridden in many dangerous places over the years from rebel infested areas in Laos to Harlem in New York and Colombia in South America that I was strongly urged to avoid and had always been glad to have visited them. I figured this assault in South Africa was just an aberration, though I well knew by then, after two weeks in the country, that it was a truly dangerous place. Never before had I been inflicted by such unfriendly, truly menacing, hateful looks from people along the road. Still I was willing to take my chances and place my faith in the bicycle to win me the favor, or at least defuse the hostility, of whomever I encountered, as it always had. I had a few frights in the month-and-a-half it took me to complete my circuit of South Africa, but largely of my own imagining. I was very happy not to have abandoned my travels.
Among the many questions Cheryl peppered me with was what country would I most like to return to. People often ask what is my favorite country, so this was a refreshing twist. If she'd asked which was my favorite, I would have said France, considering the many months I have spent there and how well I know it and how many friends I have there and how many momentous experiences I have had there. Plus it truly is a cyclist's paradise. France would have been a quick and easy answer to the favorite question, and China was just as easy an answer to which country I'd most like to return to, though there are many, many close seconds, just about every country I've been to.
China was fresh in my memory, having been there less than a year ago. It was a revelation and a joy. I was overwhelmed by the generosity and graciousness of its people and the great new roads being built all over the country without much traffic. My friend Stephen I met up with in China after he was over a year into an around the world trip said it was his favorite country of his travels and the one he would most like to return to. I felt the same. We both knew that we better hurry back before it becomes over run with traffic and the people become used to their sudden prosperity and rather than just enjoying it as they are now, start becoming greedy for more and more and less inclined to share.
Cheryl was surprised by my answer, as she only remembered some of the hardships I endured--being detained by the police when I ventured into a Forbidden Zone and the language difficulties and the difficulty of wild-camping in such a densely populated country.
I was too late for the dinner of spare ribs and corn on the cob and more that Cheryl had prepared, but I was able to enjoy some luscious locally grown peaches and plums while we talked and talked as if we were long time friends well after we all should have been asleep. I was eager to know about their life in Colorado after moving out from Chicago over thirty years ago. Cheryl raved about the neighborliness of those in their subdivision at the foot of Colorado National Monument, a National Park of towering canyon walls. She said she took a count of the neighbors she passes when she gives her dogs a walk who she knew well enough to ring their door for assistance if she should fall and twist her ankle and need to be driven to the hospital. She c came up with 86. No where she has lived has she felt such neighborliness.
We chatted some more over breakfast and as Cheryl and I biked for a couple of miles before I had regained the main road into Grand Junction. With luck we can get together again while I'm in Telluride, as she and Eric own a cabin at Trout Lake a few miles outside of Telluride and are due for a visit.
My ride to Telluride was made complete when I scavenged a blue neckerchief along the road. I was running low, having lost one myself in Europe this summer and wearing out another. It'd been a couple of years since I'd had a good ride out West, where I have harvested most of my bandannas. I was counting on being able to restock, so wasn't surprised at all to find one--jut another instance of my simple needs being taken care of when I remain devoted to my bicycle. I am looking forward to my ride back to Chicago to find even more.
Which way I go remains to be seen. My first destination will be Durango, a hundred miles to the south to visit a cycling friend and pay homage to this cycling hotbed and home of many cycling legends--Bob Roll, Ned Overend, John Tomas and more. Its been quite a few years since I've paid it a visit. I enjoyed bicycling through Texas several years ago and have wanted to return ever since, but that last visit was later in the fall when the temperatures had abated. I may prefer to head north to where it will be cooler.
Whichever way I go, I will have plenty to reflect upon after my month in Telluride fully revitalizing my sense of adventure and faith in man and faith in cinema. Who will be here and what films will be screened remains a secret until next Wednesday, two days before the festival. The few in the know brim with excitement for what is on tap. As always, I know I will not be disappointed. I know I will experience an exalting, transcendent moment or two that rarely come along, thrilled by a movie or a director or actor at a seminar giving some extraordinary insight.