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Day 6: Salida, CO To Poncha Springs, CO

5 miles - Walk Along Highway 50 in Salida; Snow Flurries & Bitter Cold Winds - April 6, 2010


Downtown Salida

Salida, CO

Salida, CO

I envisioned today's five-mile excursion would be a leisure walk. I looked forward to strolling through quaint Salida neightborhoods. I pictured myself with a large thermos in hand, brimming with coffee, acting as carefree as possible. I also intended to eat at one of the many restaurants located on Highway 50, perhaps lunch at Los Girasoles Mexican Restaurant in Poncha Springs. To show how casual I planned today's hike, I even made an appointment to see my hairdresser at 11 a.m.

The worst was surely over, I thought. After all, my destination is Poncha Springs. And I will be walking on sidewalks and pavement, which means my ankles (which recovered nicely overnight) won't take a pounding. These were my expectations as I embarked on this sixth day of my Chaffee County walk.

The Hike Begins - Downtown Salida

It is 27 degrees at the F Street traffic light when Omar Richardson shuttles me in the heart of Salida.

The cold weather feels harsher than usual, and strong inhospitable winds are blowing from the west. A weather report early in the morning called for 30+ mph winds and intermittent snow flurries throughout the day, with the higher mountain elevations to receive plenty of snow.

F Street, commonly the most busy street in downtown Salida, is oddly deserted on this weekday at 8:45 a.m. Not another person is walking on the sidewalks, and vehicles are scarce.

Massive gusts of wind roar like a freight train through the street. The winds blow so hard that litter and debris whip across the roads and sidewalks. I quickly step inside the entrance of an old-style storefront to regain my bearings. So much for a casual walk in Salida! My legs, covered only with the thin layer of my hiking pants, are shocked from the cold. I am not wearing my cycling pants underneath today, which I frequently use as long johns, because I didn't think I would need them. They are in my backpack, however, and I will put them on as soon as possible.

I battle the wind for another block and reach Alpine Park, a square block with trees, a basketball court and swings for young children. Usually this park is filled with the sounds of teenagers playing and mothers and their small children entertaining themselves. But today, there is no one but me.

I guard myself behind a thick tree trunk to briefly escape the wind. From my backpack, I add a third shirt to make it three layers for my upper body. To put on my cycling pants would require me to strip down to my underwear, and I will have to do that in private.

Salida, CO Neighborhood
Photo Above: A lovely neighborhood on E Street in Salida.
My pace is brisk. My hands are shoved in my jacket pocket as tightly as possible. I don't take many pictures because stopping is a nuisance with this ridiculous wind chill factor. Also, it would require that I remove my cumbersome gloves to grip my camera, and exposing my skin to these winds is not happening right now. Reaching Highway 50 as quickly as possible is the only thing on my mind.
Approaching E Street and Highway 50. Methodist Mountain (alt. 11,706 feet) is on the left.
Highway 50 Salida, CO
Highway 50 - Salida, Colorado

My cheeks are stinging from the wind. Stepping forward into the blistering winds is annoying and weakens my morale. I am not having fun, and this was supposed to be my "easy day" of hiking in the county. My frustration turns inward: This is a really stupid day to be walking. What am I doing?!?!

The elements prompt me to make a decision. I will have breakfast at the Country Bounty ... anything to be inside. Forget about rewarding myself with lunch in Poncha Springs. Just get inside now!

Country Bounty

Breakfast Food

The view from my booth is toward the highway at the Country Bounty Restaurant. The wind howls and snow flurries fly horizontally. I think I made the right decision to eat here. Maybe if I stay long enough, the conditions will temper itself later in the morning. I put on my cycling pants beneath my hiking pants in the restroom; this will surely help when I return outside.

I order a pancake, eggs, sausage and toast. My coffee is hot and steamy - so much that it's hard to taste the coffee's flavor. Maybe it's because my nostrils and smelling senses are in distress from the weather.

I make phone calls. I create audio files by speaking into my cell phone that describe the morning so far. I continue having refills of coffee with my inadequately small coffee mug. The cup is too small and requires the waiter to refill it many times. I don't mind though, and neither does he. We exchange conversation, but I don't tell him about my long walk.

Suddenly a man in his 20's with short hair close to his head approaches me.

"Excuse me, are you Steve?" he asked, "I'm Rob and I know you from Twitter. My name is @r0bmarine."

"Oh my goodness! I know you!" I exclaim.

Rob lives in Buena Vista and we've tweeted occasionally. His profile is empty with no background photo, avatar or short biography, but he's directly replied to me a few times that indicate he enjoys my Colorado website.

We talk for another minute and he returns to the booth with his wife, young child and friend.

Salida Chamber of Commerce

Salida, CO Chamber of Commerce

Upon exiting the breakfast place, the weather isn't much better. I don't even bother making a step toward Poncha Springs. The Salida Chamber of Commerce is across the street and I take cover again. Maybe this is one of those "meant to be" moments where the weather is holding me back so I can experience whatever it is I need to experience. I also realize I have never been to the Salida Museum, and this might be a nice thing to photograph for this journal.

I enter the chamber and feel like a wild man as I take off my hat and gloves. A woman is sitting at a desk in the corner, and a man with silver hair and a thick mustache approaches. I inquire about the Salida Museum, and he regretfully informs me that it's only open during the summer.

When I learn his name is John, I introduce myself. It turns out we have already communicated by phone and email in the past, as he is acquainted with my websites that promote the region.

We warmly connect. I tell John about my Chaffee County walk, and how I had hiked on railroad tracks for five days from Granite to Salida. I begin to complain about today's winds and wind chill factor when he interupts me.

"Change your outlook," he said matter-of-factly.

"No, you tell the weather to change it's outlook! It's cold and crazy out there," I said, as I pointed outside. Right then, the wind was blowing so hard that some of the smaller trees were shaking violently.

"Come on, this is Colorado. What do you expect?" he asked.

I put my head down and quietly laugh. "Yeah, I know. You've just got to believe me, for five days it's been cloudy and windy each day and all I wanted was a peaceful walk in Salida. Just one day."

We talk more about what I'm doing, and it's refreshing to see he's supportive.

"How many people say they want to do what you're doing, but never do?" he replied, "That's cool."

The conversation reverts back to today's weather, and John maintains Colorado has become "wimpified." He said he uses this word a lot to describe how whinny many Coloradans are about winter weather compared to the old days.

"There was no such thing as snow days when I was growing up," he said, "I've lived here for 50 years. It's different now. Kids don't play in the snow anymore. Before children would go outside, wear as many layers as needed, and they played for hours."

I suggest this is more the case on the Front Range, as I constantly read online comments from friends in Denver or Colorado Springs who complain about snow.

John agrees. "It's worse there for sure, but Salida having snow days was unheard of. Now if we have a few inches of snow, they're closing the schools. Come on."

John makes me laugh. He's so endearing -- the kind of guy you want over your house for a poker game on Friday night to make things interesting. It is fun to listen.

It is time to leave and I request a picture with him. Again he encourages me, like an older man offering a blessing before I resumed the journey. "So many people would love to do what you're doing, and you're actually doing it. Remember that," he said.

Salida, CO

Salida, CO

Finally, the sun is out. It only lasts for five minutes, but at least it's something.

Walking on the edge of a busy highway makes me feel humble and small. I am a minority as a pedestrian.

Across the highway, a man is walking with a large backpack in the opposite direction. I wonder about him. Who is he? Is he a hobo? A wanderer without a home? Naaaaah. Maybe he is a skier or snowboarder. Whoever he is, I feel a bond with him.

I stroll on Highway 50 and reach a stretch of hotels, motels and shopping malls in proximity. An array of signs on the right fill the view, and I make effort to photograph it just right. This section of road is what is great about America: You can go bowling, buy whiskey, get your taxes done, have your dog groomed, get saved, have an espresso and buy firearms ... all within one block of your motel room! :)

Hairdresser Usually when I see Amber, my hairdresser, I drive from Buena Vista and look like a normal person. Today, my face is dark pink from the effects of the wind. I am completely bundled up. I tell Amber about my long walk, and she is impressed. Also, a woman in the next booth listens in and shares encouraging words.

Amber grew up north of Buena Vista in a home close to the railroad tracks during my walk on Day Two. I thought about texting her on that day, but I shyly did not want to bother her.

"We didn't play near the tracks," she said, "The trains were running when I was a kid and my parents didn't let us go near them."

Amber washes and examines my hair for split-ends. This young woman is my trusted hairdresser; I don't allow anyone else to touch my hair! Last year, I made a decision to get serious about growing my hair long. I have long, naturally curly hair, and it requires much work to maintain on a daily basis. Amber's best advice was to refrain from using elastic ties to make pony tails, which I did not realize damaged my hair. So far, her help has equated into substantial hair growth. It is difficult to notice much of its growth when my long curls are down. Only when it's wet and straight can one notice its length.

Amber and I go to the front counter so I can pay her, and we both look outside. More snow flurries are coming down. Honestly, the cold is bearable, but the wind has a haunting whirling sound. Loose debris and sand sweeps through in the air. It looks chaotic! Yet I must go. My car is waiting for me in Poncha Springs anyway.

On the edge of Highway 50. I walk on soft grainy sand and grass.
Cattle and I mutually surprise each other by our presence.
Graveyard A graveyard for pets across the highway.

When less severe, the wind is a nuisance that makes the cold feel colder. When it is intense, it is wild and wreaks havoc.

Ahead a large circular bowl of rotating wind, the circumference of the entire highway, is coming toward me. Sand is swirling within it, which outlines the size of this monster. The wind grows stronger and I turn my back and walk backward. Then I can feel this crazy dust devil hitting me. It is a fierce 20 seconds of scratchy sand hitting me. I scrunch my head down and close my eyes tightly to avoid being ambushed.

Poncha Springs, Colorado
Poncha Springs, Colorado

I reach the Poncha Springs sign and pull out the tripod. I am not sure if the wind will blow over the tripod, and so I wait for a 30 second period when it is not terribly strong.

I take one photo. Then a second. I go back and check the camera and realize the pictures didn't turn out well. A nervous voice within me says I shouldn't be too picky. Something could go wrong. It's too cold and windy and the thick white sky above indicates it will probably snow again at any moment.

Then I hear a woman's voice.

"What are you doing?" she shouted.

A woman in a white vehicle is stopped in the turning lane of the highway.

What am I doing? I can relate because that's been the question on my conscience all day. I look at her confused. I am not sure who she is.

"Are you okay? Do you need water or food?" she shouts.

Then I recognize her. She is the woman who works with Amber at the hair salon!

"Oh my goodness," I exclaim, "I'm fine. I'm just getting a picture."

"It's so cold and windy," she said, "How much farther are you walking?"

"I'm done for today. Really, I'm fine." I said with a smile.

I don't know if she can hear everything I say because of the wind, but I make it clear through my body language that I'm okay. I appreciate that she was willing to inquire about my wellness.

The winds grow stronger. I can hear them rumbling in the mountains. And so I snap one last photo of the me at the Poncha Springs sign. I don't bother to check its quality. Now is not the time for perfectionism. Just take the picture and go!

Poncha Springs, CO As I cross the highway, the snowfall I anticipated comes down. Again it isn't sticking to the ground, but mother nature is expressing her animosity today.

I capture the view of Los Girasoles Mexican Restaurant and the Shell station, and my camera doesn't capture the snowflakes.

Poncha Springs, CO

Poncha Springs Town Hall

Inside the small perpendicular grid of streets in Poncha Springs, I am relieved. My hike is practically over.

TOP: A neighborhood in Poncha Springs.

SECOND: The Poncha Springs Town Hall building.

Jackson Hotel My car is parked at the Jackson Hotel on Highway 285. To bring a sense of closure to the day, finally I capture a shot that shows the snow coming down.

Inside my car, my windows are up and the heat is on full blast. Such common luxuries haven't felt this good in a long time!

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