The visitors

We’ve all got them. They’re the twisted branches and limbs that have been grafted onto our family trees. They’re the Bible Belters you met at Thanksgiving in the early 1990s, the distant relations who work in the “textiles industry,” and the third cousins still trying to convince you Bill Clinton was the devil incarnate.

And it just so happens that this is the magic time of year when many of them pick up the phone and dial your number. “Howdy bud, it’s Hank,” a drawl sounds through the phone. You page through the memory banks, remember the drunk guy at your great aunt’s funeral and muster a warm hello. “How ya doin’ you old sumbitch,” Hank calls back. “I know ya ain’t heard from us in a spell, but Vera and me’s comin’ up there to ride your choo choo this summer.”

You avoid jumping on the panic button, offer up a nicety or two and then politely start suggesting lodging options.

“No need, bud,” Hank replies. “You gotta a Sam’s Club or a Wal-Mart Supercenter, right? … We’ll good, ’cuz we’re bringing the motorhome and will be spendin’ our nights right next to the groceries.”

Two months later, the appointed day arrives. Hank and Vera call you from the road and set up a meeting close to the D&SNGRR depot. “Darn nice McDonald’s,” Hank bluthers through a mouthful of McMuffin. Vera, sporting a new get-up purchased that morning at the local super center, is silent throughout the meal. The two polish off breakfast, move into a pair of ’fore noon Pepsis accented by Kool Filter Kings and then board the coal-fired chariot. Secretly and quietly, you offer praise to the train and give thanks for eight hours of alone time.

The eight hours pass in a blink, and Hank’s back on the line again. “God damn,” are the first words out of his mouth. “If I’d known that ride would be so frickin’ expensive, I’d a bought my own locomotive.”

To his credit, Hank then adds, “Emersom nice mountains,” but quickly recants, “but ain’t nothin’ worth that amount of ass-time.”

Reluctantly, you agree to meet Hank and Vera out to dinner at the restaurant of their choice. You’re less than surprised when you get your driving directions. “This Applebee’s is darn near as good as the one we got back home,” Hank says through a mouthful of boneless buffalo wing. The super-sized man then wipes his greasy fingers on his new, bright orange “Got Elk” T-shirt, his only major Durango purchase.

Again you tap the inner saint, asking your distant relatives if there’s anything else they’d like to do on their visit – maybe play a local golf course, raft the Animas or dabble in a little fly fishing.

“Nope, we’re all done,” Hank chuckles. “Vera wants to see some of them Indian houses at Mesa Verd, and then me, Vera and Winnie (their RV) are pointing it straight for Vegas and Caesar’s. Maybe we can win some of that train money back.”

Hank plants a greasy hand in yours, squeezes way too hard and welcomes you to visit the Heartland whenever you like. Vera, in yet another new get-up from the Mart, says her first words of the trip. “Bye, now.”

Ah, the rites of a Durango summer.

Luckily, it’s not all Hanks and Veras for the Sands clan. Our antidote is just a few branches closer to home on the family tree. They’ve never seen the inside of an Applebee’s, their closest contact with a Winnebago was on a scary road ride, and my aunt and uncle are part of a legion of Americans who happily spend all of their disposable income on cycling. The two have always toyed with the idea of coming and riding the Iron Horse but opt instead for a July date, when the kids are out of school and safely imprisoned in snowboarding camp at Mt. Hood.

The puddle jumper flight behind them and luggage in hand, their first stop is a local bike shop, where they kick down for a week of high-end mountain bike rentals. Jim buys a jersey and Amy spies a pair of riding shoes and splurges. The pair then checks into a locally owned downtown hotel, gets into hot water at Trimble and takes the whole family out and picks up the bill at a local brewpub.

The next morning, Jim sports for burritos and Americanos at a local coffee shop, realizes he spaced a water bottle and picks one up en route to the trailhead at another local bike shop. The old fart then tries to hang on during the ride over Blackhawk Mountain. Instead, he’s nearly forced to make a hefty and unexpected local investment at Mercy Medical, bruising his urethra during a nasty spill on the downhill. Magically – thank you Durango brewers – Jim’s ultimate soft spot feels better after a couple pints of local ale.

The cycle repeats itself for a couple more days, with plenty of California green jumping into Durango coffers. Midway through their trip, Jim and Amy watch from a local patio as the sun drops behind Perins Peak and pronounce, “I wish we’d known about Durango years ago. Crested Butte, Fruita and Moab don’t have anything on this place.”

The two toast their newfound getaway, call me “S.O.B.” instead of “sumbitch” and then whisper, “By the way, it’s high time for a rest day. Tell us a little bit about this train ride.”

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows