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Carlos Gutierrez

Day 34 – Monday, August 8th – Conejos Campground to Antonito, Colorado

USA | Saturday, 13 August 2011 | Views [1301]

My clothes weren’t totally dry because they were frozen – it was a cold one last night and I woke up about 7:00am to see frost on everything! I didn’t put the fly on my tent because I wanted to enjoy the moon and the stars while dozing off, and the night’s steep temperature drop caused lots of condensation on my sleeping bag – it was a little bit icy on the outside when I woke up. Normally the condensation is on the tent fly…but that was packed away so the condensation was on me.

A short five miles to Horca, a hamlet with a few tourist services, where I lunched on a burger + fries. With all my maps laid out on the table, I decided to make a detour to Antonito, the eastern terminus of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, America’s highest and longest coal-fired steam narrow-gauge railroad. The fare is $103 one-way from Antonito (Colorado) to Chama (New Mexico) and takes me over several passes, and includes an all-you-can-eat lunch at Cumbres Pass and the $10 fee for taking my bike + trailer. Then from Chama I’ll ride about 60 miles down Rt. 84 to Abiquiu where I will rejoin the Great Divide Route.

The ride to Antonito was downhill plus I had a strong tailwind – I basically coasted the whole way! Once in Antonito I spent some time watching the 1925 Baldwin Locomotive Works steam engine being serviced for tomorrow’s run – loading 5,000 gallons of water and a tender of coal. Then I rode around town and looked for a place to camp, which ended up being the mini RV park behind the hotel next the train depot. I scored a 59 cent burrito at the grocery store for dinner, then went to the restaurant/bar next to the hotel for a beer before bedding down.

The restaurant was empty except for two impossibly cute college guys – Justin, from Antonito (his mother runs the restaurant), and his boyfriend Basti, from Bremen, Germany. Justin fixed me up some nachos and served them at the bar, and after he closed the restaurant he came by for a chat, along with Basti. Justin studies biology and German in Colorado Springs and spent last semester in Germany on a State Department scholarship; Basti studies personnel management at a German university. They met at Hanover Pride and quickly fell in love, so Basti came to Antonito two weeks ago for a visit. I really liked these guys and I relished the time we spent talking over a couple of beers. Justin asked me where I was staying and I replied right next door, camping in the mini-RV park behind the hotel. I told them about my trip and how cold it got the other night at the Conejos Campground when I woke up to the heavy frost. Justin took pity on me and invited me to spend the night at his mother’s house, and of course I accepted!

We left Boris (I decided to name my bike “Boris” because although it’s an old Trek bike it’s made from butted steel tubing and therefore strong like a Russian tank, and with no suspension it’s rigid in character, like most Russians I’ve met) in the restaurant and headed to Justin’s mother’s house on the outskirts of town, riding in Justin’s old Honda Accord with 350,000 miles on it. Unfortunately we had to get up early because they were driving to Denver tomorrow (4 hours by car) to meet up at Water World with Justin’s mother and sisters.

I was impressed with these two guys and appreciated our serendipitous meeting – not so much because of Justin’s million-dollar-smile and Basti’s ready-for-modeling-physique – but more so because of their authentic presence in very small town America, their trans-Atlantic quest for love and emotional fulfillment – and most of all for taking in a total stranger (me). I invited them to Prague where I promised that we’ll have more fun than should be allowed!

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