I've been bucking the porcelain bronco the last few days and felt run down. I'm also preparing for a trip this weekend. In conclusion, just one chapter this week. Even as I write this stuff I'm struck with how different it will be after editing. Editing and revising is what takes boring rocks and makes them into pretty trinkets.
Part 2: The Beginning
Clarke and Louis headed Southeast,
passing through a number of towns as they drove away from the Salt
Lake City metropolis, eventually ending up on Highway 40. They'd
seen small groups of people as they passed, struggling but not giving
up. They waved, but didn't stop. They'd been cooped up for a little
over a year and it was nice to cruise along. The towns gave way to
hills, buttes, and flat desert. “I like big buttes and I cannot
lie...” Louis sang, mispronoung buttes. After a few hours they
stopped to stretch at Starvation State park. “Cheerful place to
stop. Lovely,” Louis said. Clarke tested the reservoir there,
and it was safe to drink so they filled up several empty bottles.
Clarke marked the reservoir as clean on his map.
Clarke had been marking a lot of
things on his US highway atlas. Salt Lake City was crossed out with
an X. Detours were noted when they left to highway to avoid pockets
of radiation, or dormant traffic pileups. The fallout was spread
unevenly, moved by wind and rain. It tended to settle in low areas,
but there were no hard and fast rules. Their Geiger counter was in
constant use as they drove.
Returning to their car with the water
bottles, Clarke and Louis saw three men and two women leaning against
their car. “Uh, hi. We just came for some water. Who are you?”
A man with dark sunglasses and a bow
slung over his shoulder smiled. “I'm a state park ranger here.
These other folks are on a long-term camping trip. Nice wheels,”
the ranger said, kicking the back tire. “Where you boys headed?”
Louis just shrugged. “We're heading
East, to see if Topeka still stands,” Clarke replied.
“That sounds safe enough. You two
stay away from the Navajo Nation on your way. They weren't hit like
most other places. Most of them are alright, but some of the
younger, angrier ones are venturing out to pick fights and settle old
“We'll keep that in mind,” Clarke
said. Louis, apparently bored with the conversational topics, was
drawing on the ground with a stick.
“Say, you wouldn't mind taking some
meat and fish to Duchesne for me, would you? It would save me
several trips on the bicycle, and my wife'll get you two some lunch.”
Clarke agreed and loaded the backseat with as much as there was
room. He realized that these people weren't really out here camping,
they were hunter-gatherers. Fish, forage, return to town to feed the
rest. A state park with a large reservoir could do a lot to help
support the town of Duchesne.
They drove the short distance to town
and unloaded the prize. The wife indeed gave them a hearty lunch.
While Louis argued with the wife about the best Romero movie and what
her zombie escape plan was, Clarke studied the maps. They were far
enough away from Navajo country that he wasn't worried about any
troublemakers there. He knew they'd have to avoid Colorado, and
Boulder, and maybe even Colorado Springs. Just how many nuclear
missiles had gone off? There was no way of knowing. They would stay
on Highway 40 for quite a ways, and then turn onto Highway 34 to go
through the mountains well North of Boulder.
The air vents for the AC, along with
the vents in the trunk to regulate battery temperature, had been
thoroughly cleaned. The AC was off, though. “I heard that nuclear
winter would decrease world temperatures by ten degrees farfignugen,”
Louis said proudly. Clarke knew he meant Fahrenheit. Louis
remembered hearing that climate change had risen temperatures by ten
degrees in the last century. Nuclear winter seemed to be,
ironically, the quickest way to reverse global warming.
Clarke and Louis pass through the town
of Roosevelt and Vernal, seeing more groups of people looking for
food, looking for water, and looking hungry. Most of the next few
hours are open country and big skies, the same scenery the boys have
seen all their lives. “What are we going to do when we reach
Topeka, assuming it's in one piece?” Clarke asked. “Settle down?
Start a delivery service?”
Louis ansered in his ussual fashion,
“We could be the fastest pizza delivery around! Way faster than
horses and bicycles.” The truth was, neither knew anything about
Topeka. They'd essentially picked a small city and figured the rest
would fall into place as it came.
They stopped for the day in Steamboat
Springs, Colorado. Population: 12,000. They followed some signs to
the Edgemont Ski-In, Ski-Out resort, where they found half of the
buildings frozen in the middle stages of construction. The completed
sections were large and impressive. No one was skiing. “I guess
it's not tourist season,” mumble Louis. They parked by the
entrance and went to see who was inside.
Juanita was insdie. She explained
that the place was going to be a ritzy place for skiing tourists, but
they'd run out of both construction supplies and tourists. Clarke
and Louis made a deal to fill several gallon jugs full of water from
the river a few miles away in exchange for lodging (in one of the
finished rooms) and some food. When Juanita found they had a
vehicle, she found more containers to fill and kept them busy hauling
water for hours.
Over a dinner of rabbit, pine nuts,
and wild mushrooms, Juanita told them a story. “This story was
told to me by a young man pasing through. He was looking for
adventure. He said there was a bridge across a river far to the
South. Cars piled up in a gigantic crash. Story goes, both sides
were too busy watching the mushroom clouds in their rearview mirrors
to see what was right in front of them.”
“Might be they couldn't see through
a duststorm,” Clarke offered, “Those blast waves stireed up a
mess of wind for months.” Juanita shrugged, “Perhaps, but that's
not very interesting.” She nudged some of the wood in the
fireplace. “The cities, the places we used to have stories about,
they're all gone. We need new stories now.”
Clarke and Louis chatted with Jaunita
as the fire burned lower. After the sunset, there was little reason
to stay awake, and they had just gotten up to go to bed. “Wait, “
said Jaunita, “If you two tell stories to others, tell them about
me, and tell them about the bridge. It might spark a rush of
tourism,” she said wryly, retreating to her own room.