Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Day 3, or how I spent my afternoon in Ft. Collins, Co.

6:30AM in Colby, Kansas is unholy cold. Well, at least to someone who just left hot, humid North Carolina. When I back up the Subaru, I notice a pizza-sized oil spot under the car. Crap. I cross the street to fill the gas tank and buy a few extra quarts of oil while I am at it. I roll out and cross my fingers.

A couple of hours later, I approach Denver. Until this point, I had seen nothing but corn fields. But the corn fields end at Denver with the Rocky Mountains rising straight up out of the ground. The little bit I can see through the brown air looks impressive. I take E470 around Denver so I miss downtown's rush hour traffic. But E470 is a toll road. No big deal, right? Well, every 3 miles is a toll plaza. It costs me $10 to go 17 miles. And everytime I stop to pay a toll, my car becomes enveloped in smoke. Still, better than being stuck downtown at rush hour.

The other thing I notice about Denver is the sprawl. Pretty soon suburban Denver will go all the way to Salina, Kansas. Lots of ticky tacky little boxes (note: subtle reference to the brilliant Showtime series "Weeds").

Leaving the Denver area, I notice on the map that there is not much between Denver and Boise, some six hundred miles away. Which is to say there isn't much between Denver and Portland. Outside of Denver I stop at a rest stop and the Subaru is dripping a ton of oil and smoking like Snoop Dog at a NORML rally. Which is to say it is smoking a lot.

So I pull off the highway in Ft. Collins, Colorado (just north of Denver). As luck would have it, Smokey (my new name for our Subaru) leads me right to a place called "Nice Car," which fixes nothing but Subarus. The mechanics take one look at Smokey, all laden down with the duffel bags on her roof, and they know what has to be done. They feel sorry for us, and commit to putting us back on the road ASAP. The guys at Nice Car shuffle Smokey to the front of the line and put her up on the rack.

One look confirms it: Smokey's front crank case seal is a goner. Maybe another seal farther back in the engine is gone too, but there is so much oil splattered on the bottom of the car that they can't see. The guys set to work fixing Smokey and I head up the street to downtown Ft. Collins.

I love Ft. Collins. What a cool little town! It has lots of old brick buildings, tons of people on bikes and driving Subarus. In short, it is like a little, dry Portland. Definitely a "10" when it comes to towns to be stuck in on the road.

I quickly find a coffee place called "The Bean Cycle," which roasts their own beans on an Ambex roaster up front. I grab a large coffee and settle into a soft couch and proceed to kill off the rest of the morning with a good book. Second best cup of coffee I have ever had (Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland is the best coffee in the world). They even fire up the roaster and I am treated to the sweet black licorice smell of roasting coffee beans. What heaven!

I have a couple hours yet to kill before the car is ready, so I walk around town a bit more. The warm hominess of Ft. Collins is such a stark contrast to all of the rest stops, corn fields and gas/McDonalds freeway pit stops. I could live here.

After a bit, my nose leads me to Coopersmiths, a brewery. Since I am stranded here, I treat myself to a couple of pints of a nice tasty IPA. Not a bad way to kill an hour or two.

But soon enough my car is ready. I hop on the road $450 lighter, but Smokey isn't so smokey. 100 miles later, after crossing into Wyoming, I pull off the road and check the car. Smokey isn't smoking or dripping. Good sign. I continue on and during the late afternoon I stop to get some gas. The second I turn off the ignition, Smokey starts smoking. And dripping oil. Not as bad as before, but obviously there is another bad seal. Damn. I now have to stop every hour to check the oil level.

Now a word on Wyoming: It is beautiful, with brown grass fields, dramatic skies and beautiful rock formations. But it is desolate. In fact, they have barely any rest areas. Instead, they have what they call "parking areas," which are rest areas without a toilet. I guess they figure that out here in the middle of nowhere, who really cares where you pee?

By 8pm I roll into Ogden, Utah and find the obligatory Motel 6. I am dead-dog tired. Despite a 4 hour layover in Ft. Collins, I make 758 miles today, a record for the trip.


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