Opinion | Biff America: It takes all types
Two hippies, some guy with a gun, a sheepherder and a couple of unwashed bikers walked into a bar.
Truth is, there was no bar, only a hiking trail, museum and a diner.
For the record, my mate and I were the unwashed bikers.
We were on a two-week loop of Northern Colorado, Utah and Wyoming in our small RV. We travel with mountain bikes and hiking gear, and mostly spend the nights camped on public lands. We bike, hike, read and bath occasionally.
When traveling to more rural areas of the West, I’m reminded that our home community is fairly gentrified. Now that’s not to say the population is so. I would argue that there are lots more working class than there are gentry living in our county. But much effort is made to provide both creature and aesthetic comforts for our guests by the way of shops, events and amenities.
In Northern Colorado and Wyoming, a more Western — and perhaps conservative — attitude prevails. I find myself more likely to wear flannel and to remember to pronounce my Rs so as not to appear too much of a Boston/Breckenridge yuppie.
We began our bicycle ride that day on top of a paved mountain pass. We then biked uphill on a narrow dirt trail for almost two hours. Our high point was well above tree line. Being midweek and remote, we saw no other riders and only a few hikers.
On our way down, only a few miles from our camper, we came upon a strange looking couple. The gal was wearing an ankle-length, saffron-colored silk dress. It looked like she was wearing angel’s wings from a distance. As I got closer, I saw she was in fact wearing angel wings and sporting some sort of tiara or rhinestone crown. The dude was dressed in vintage clothing resembling a riverboat gambler with a string tie and derby.
We were descending, so trail etiquette suggests stopping for uphill traffic. But they stepped about 10 feet off the trail and stood with linked arms when they saw us approach. We slowed down and greeted them warmly; they only nodded and smiled.
We got back to our camper and drove down off the pass still unsure what we just saw.
The day was young so we decided to “do the town.” There was a small settlement nearby that contained both a museum and diner.
It seemed that the small museum doesn’t get many visitors. The two old ladies (probably my age) greeted us like we were visiting dignitaries. We asked how much was the entry fee and they pointed to a small clear box reading “donations.” When I put in $20 they looked at me like I was a Rockefeller. We were given a tour by one of them for the next hour that was both fascinating and easily overcame my short attention span.
The old gal knew everything about the area’s history, of Native Americans, mining, ranching and logging. She showed us historical crafts, tools, guns and arrowheads, and provided a glimpse of what life was like over a century ago. When I asked about her own background, she said she grew up on a sheep farm. As a young girl, she and her family would spend the summers sleeping in tents miles from home, tending their flock. She spoke of a remote, rugged-but-satisfying life, spending her summers in the wild and only returning to her rural town when school started in the fall.
We could have visited with her longer, but the only restaurant in town closed at 3 p.m.
We walked inside and noticed there were no servers, only a cook and counter where you ordered. It was rush hour; there was one other customer there.
I would have let the guy cut in front of me even if he did not have a handgun and two spare clips in a holster on his hip. The menu was on a chalkboard and I found it difficult to read. So rather than try, I asked the guy what’s good. He took off his hat, wiped his forehead with his sleeve and said, “You’d be crazy to order anything other than the hamburger.”
I followed his advice and the burger was in fact amazing.
I’ve always felt that this nation mimics Europe with the varying states reflecting unique cultures and tenets as if separate countries. In the course of five hours about seven hours from home, we encountered hippies, a sheepherder and some dude with a gun who recommended the meat.
They had absolutely nothing in common, yet everything in common. They were all Americans. Personally, I’d have it no other way.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stoplights. Contact him at email@example.com.
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