This is a story about how we came to spend a day in a town populated mostly by actual skeletons...
I know. There are already... SO many questions. Did this buffalo just... die here? On this... dilapidated cart? In this rural scrapyard? Did someone put it here? Was it whole when it was put here? Is that its pelvis nearby in the grass or does that belong to some other creature? What IS this place?
BUT we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's go back to the morning.
So, we hole up in Cañon City on night 51, and it's the right choice. Some days are spiritually hard rather than physically, and when it comes time to do 10 or so more miles out of Cañon City to a campsite out in the hills somewhere, with the sun already falling fast, I just don't have it in me. Instead, I get to have some more beers and some tasty Indian food (what a find!) in me, and nobody's mad about that.
We get up early on Day 52 to try to beat the wind (spoiler alert; you can never beat the wind) and roll out into the hills as the sun rises. Our plan is just to make it to Guffey, which isn't a long ride — only a little over 30 miles — but, we've been warned, it's all uphill, and is some of the most arduous climbing on this section of the tour. The Rockies climbs aren't short and steep and bacon-y like in the Ozarks, or windy and steep like in Appalachia. They're just loooooooong slooooooow straight lines. Usually somewhere between a 4 and 7 percent grade. And they just. Go on. Forever.
It's striking country, though, and the sunrise is dramatic behind us. I put on the Beatles and settle into low-gear spinning mode. It's not so bad, really. Up, up, up, but quite beautiful. Rugged and autumnal. Oh, and windy. Yeah, we never get a tailwind. (Eastbound cyclists, I don't even wanna HEAR it!)
Along the way to Guffey, we pass through a place called Royal Gorge (it was where we'd been thinking about camping the night before). The big ol' suspension bridge over the titular gorge was closed since we were coming through so early, but the area had a kind of semi-rundown, mountain-tourism charm. It reminded us of Horse Cave back in Kentucky. Possibly because there were also DINOSAURS.
The whole ride to Guffey (and onwards for quite a ways) is on Route 9, which is a mixed bag of a road. On the one hand, it's scenic AF. On the other, Colorado can't seem to make up its mind when it comes to road shoulders or surfaces: should there be plenty of room on the side and relatively smooth asphalt, or should there be zero road after the white line and a bunch of crumbling potholes and cracks and shabbily patched bumpy strips? OH YOU KNOW, let's flip a coin! Route 9 is no exception to this logic, and it's also fairly highly trafficked for a winding, scenic mountain route. We got "coal rolled" twice, which is a particularly shitty type of vehicular asshole-ery apparently popular in these parts. Jags.
But soon enough we made it to the turn-off to Guffey, where we were greeted by the first of several charming signs for the Guffey Garage, in whose "Rustic Cabins" we were intending to stay the night. The Guffey Garage has participated in TransAm hostelry since the very beginning of the Route in 1976, and its owner, Bill, has a bunch of cool old road bikes set up as wayfaring posts.
Of course you've got to struggle-bus your way up a long final hill to get to Guffey itself, and by the time we did that we were definitely ready for a rest. Thirty miles of windy climbing is... well. Thirty miles of windy climbing.
Guffey is a surreal place. On its best day, it's a semi-ghost town — there are two cafes and a bar and a few houses and a few of of the "Rustic Cabins" apparently set up and maintained by the Garage. Which isn't a garage; it's a strange, overflowing antiques-and-junk-and-rag-and-bone establishment. The center of town is filled with old car carcasses, and actual carcasses, and sculpture projects that are half hilarious and half terrifying:
It's a Sunday, and when we arrive, the town seems even ghostier than normal. The bar is closed and stays that way. We hit up both cafes before they shut up shop early in the afternoon, and we can't find Bill. We do, however, find his white-bearded, floppy-hat-wearing, extra-from-a-John-Huston-movie associate, Ted. (Seriously. Bill ain't here, he's gone down to Florence fer the weekend. I'm Ted. Oh, Wyld Stallions, is THIS what's become of you?!)
Ted has an "I'm only half conscious" manner that might be genuinely out of it and might be canny in an old-timer-y way. He gives us the key to our Rustic Cabin, which is as advertised: Logs, no electricity, no heat, bunk beds, an antique fridge that doesn't work, and a bunch of junk shop paraphernalia — from animal heads and 1960s newspaper pages on the walls, to empty tin containers probably from the 1940s on the kitchen shelves. We ask Ted whether the heater can be made to work. He mumbles some response about something else entirely. Oh, Ted. We never do find out where we're intended to pee. We pee outside. Hiding between the fence and the dead buffalo.
The thing is, after we've sampled all the cuisine that's to be found in Guffey, we realize that it's still pretty early in the day, and that we both have more miles in us. And that staying here means, essentially, camping indoors as a cold front moves through. But just as we start to research whether we can get to Hartsel or Fairplay (the next two towns on our route), the cold front arrives. We see our first snow of the trip! Light and gusty, but snow nonetheless. Our reactions are... mixed. Sunny snow! Pretty! Ohhhh, we have so much farther north to go... (SIDE NOTE, THOUGH: I have absolutely HAD IT with every person we come across who gloats or chuckles or hems and haws and says "Ooooh you guys are late" or "Ooooh it's gonna get cold on ya" or "Ooooh it's already snowing in [insert whatever place ahead of us]." JUST KEEP IT TO YOURSELVES, OKAY? How is this helpful to us? Get back in your heated car and take a hike. Unless you want to offer encouragement, we've heard it before. THANK YOU MOVE ALONG.)
Ahem. Anyway. The flurries make us decide to spend the night in Guffey as originally intended. There's not much to do, so we both pass out for a while. After our nap, we scratch some dinner together and discover an old paperback copy of The Count of Monte Cristo in the cabin. As the sun lowers and the chill sets in, we put on layers, stuff all the clothes we'll want to wear the next day into the bottom of our sleeping bags to keep them warm, and cozy up to read to each other about the adventures of a promising young Frenchman who is cruelly betrayed. We know we've got a BIG day coming up tomorrow: we'll be climbing Hoosier Pass, the highest point on the whole trail. So, in our strange little rustic cabin surrounded by skeletons, we snuggle in for a weird night's sleep. Fingers crossed for the morning — hold the snow, please!
Day 52: Cañon City to Guffey, CO, 31.9 miles, 4275 feet of climbing, 0 Bills, 1 Ted, some snow, some dead things.