All across eastern Colorado yesterday everyone was celebrating the first significant rain fall in months. The inch that was recorded in Denver was the most it had received since last October. I wouldn't have minded the rain so much if it hadn't brought along a head wind that reduced my average speed to a mere ten miles per hour, five miles less than the day before. Pushing into the wind all day, not once did I exceed fifteen miles per hour.
The rain also dropped the temperature thirty degrees to the mid-50s. Rather than guzzling 32-ounce cold drinks whenever I came upon a service station oasis, my fingers were so cold I could barely pull off my cycling gloves the first time I stopped for some food after the rain started. I had to switch to my wool gloves to keep my hands warm. When its hot those super-size ice cold drinks are my saviour. I won't want to go touring through New York City in the summer months with the just passed ordinance forbidding the sale of soft drinks larger than sixteen ounces.
When I left the mountainous terrain in Canon City the landscape was desert chaparral fit mostly for cattle. It was one hundred miles before I descended to terrain that was marginally suitable for agriculture. Then the effects of the drought were clearly evident with miles of brown, withered corn and occasional pastures of sunflowers gone dead. The most alive vegetation were occasional "volunteer" wild sunflowers at the road's edge. They were all facing east in the direction I was headed, so I couldn't fully appreciate their shining yellow faces. Janina had told me what a hardy plant they are. She knows of a patch in an abandoned industrial site near her home in Countryside outside of Chicago. When she recently made a detour to pluck a few to brighten her house, she was followed by a police car suspicious of her activities.
Perhaps the most striking evidence of the drought was the Black Canyon reservoir in Colorado. It was fifty-eight feet below its normal height, the lowest it had been since 2002. It is expected to drop at least another thirteen feet before the winter snows. During yesterday's rain a farmer hanging out in a small general store in Haswell said he was eager to go home and sit on his porch and enjoy the smell of the falling rain.
As withered as the crops, so were many of the small towns I passed on 96 across Colorado. There were often more boarded up or abandoned homes and businesses than ones in use. With the rain still coming down steadily last night near dark when I was ready to camp I slipped into an empty service station in Eads, right across from its laundromat. Its roof was badly deteriorated. Rain dripped in all about me, but I was still able to stay much drier as I set up my tent than if I had been out in the open.
I chose route 96 as it was midway between the main east-west routes in southern Colorado, Interstate 70 and State Route 50. There wasn't much more than minimal local traffic on 96 other than the occasional "Wide Load" trucks. The French designate such trucks as "Convoi Exceptional." "Wide Load" implies obesity, something that isn't so common in France. "Exceptional" is typical of the French inclination to take pride in even their "over-sized loads."
One of the aspects of touring in the US that I prefer to the French though is the self-service large cold drinks with as much ice as one would like. The French have no such thing, nor does just about anywhere else in the world except Thailand. The Thais may appreciate ice more than Americans. Even small cafes without refrigeration would have coolers full of ice cubes.
The towns along route 96 were so small, only two in nearly two hundred miles had libraries, and I passed through both during hours when their libraries weren't open. Neither were Carnegies. I've only encountered two in five hundred miles, one in Salida and the other in Canon City. Both had had additions but still maintained their charm and majesty. The addition to the one in Salida even included pillars to its new handicapped-accessible entrance to match the original pillars at its former entrance, now closed as it was up a set of stairs. Both libraries fully acknowledged their benefactor. Carnegie was chiseled into the facade over the entrance to the Salida library, while the Canon City library had a plaque over its fireplace reading "This building is the gift of Andrew Carnegie." It also had a sign over its computers warning "Use of profanity = loss of Internet privileges." Thanks to the warning, I restrained expressing my frustration with the slow and, at times, uncooperative computer I was on.
I was lucky to be the first one on the computer, as I didn't read the sign that the library didn't open until ten am. I walked right on in at 9:45. The librarian explained that they opened earlier when there was a farmer's market out front, though few people realized it.
I have had just a single one hundred mile day in my first five days on the road. I now need to average one hundred and ten miles a day if I hope to reach Bloomington by next weekend. If the winds return to normal its not impossible. I do end my days exhausted, but I'm adequately recovering with ten hours of sleep to keep at it. It helps that I've been out of bear country the last few days and can once again stock honey and can make a sandwich in the middle of the night when I wake up hungry.