S4:E9 – Western Colorado Ups and Downs

Come along in the Bobs on an extra-eventful week of our life on the road. Join us as we explore Western Colorado and end up not buying a house, even though last episode I was pretty sure I was going to be telling you this time that we had bought a house. Instead, we did plenty of mountain biking, crying into our cups of cider, dodging rainstorms, and crossing paths with all kinds of interesting people.

For photos from this episode: visit our blog, Driving Inertia

This episode was written and produced by Lisa McNamara. 

Theme music by Michael Kobrin from Pixabay. Ride Along With the Bobs intro music by Michael Kobrin from Pixabay.


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(music starts)

This is Road Tripping in America, a podcast about life on the road. I’m Lisa and I’m Paul.

We’re exploring the US in a pickup truck with a camper – we named our setup The Bobs. We’re in search of off-the-beaten-path adventures and new experiences. Join us as we share our stories from the road.

Today, we’re going to do something a little different. Usually, when we talk about where we are or where we’ve been, we either hit the highlights (and lowlights) from a month or so, or we go into deep detail about a single day. Today, we’re going to bring you along on a full week of our life on the road that was especially eventful. From Friday to Thursday, come along with us in the Bobs as we explore Western Colorado and end up not buying a house, even though last episode I was pretty sure I was going to be telling you this time that we had bought a house.

This is series four, episode nine: Western Colorado Ups and Downs

Fall always makes me feel ready for a change. My birthday is in September, and back when I was growing up, school always started on or around my birthday, so I both aged a year and started a new grade at the same time every year. Seasons change, fashions change, plants die, leaves fall. Even long after finishing school, I still find myself feeling antsy for change every fall.

This year, as we undeniably approach fall and inevitably, winter, I’m feeling some urgency to get ourselves situated in some sort of Colorado home base for the cold months. I want to get our life settled bureaucratically so that we can vote this November. I want somewhere to go in the in-between times, where we can plan for or clean up after our adventures. I want to have a community again.

Last episode, I ended with a question – how do you know when it’s time for a change? It was almost time for a change for us, because we almost bought a house. But we didn’t buy a house and now, like so very many times over the past few years, we’re trying to figure out what our plan b is. But that’s enough spoilers. Let’s go.


Friday, August 19th

We woke up to a gloomy, cold morning at an elevation of 9,500 feet in the national forest southwest of Montrose, CO. Yesterday, we had had an inspection on a house we had under contract in Montrose. And it was not great. It turned up all kinds of problems that we stewed over all night – a badly unevenly settling foundation, asbestos siding, drafty windows and doors, and so many more issues that it started to feel like we’d need to fix every single thing in the house, that nothing could stay as-is.

Yesterday afternoon, after the inspection, we drove part of a gravel road that runs through the forested hills southwest of Montrose to Norwood to get to the campsite where we woke up today. We were just scratching the surface of a huge network of dirt roads, trails, and aspens that will be wonderfully yellow in a few weeks.

Today, after packing up camp, we drove the rest of the gravel road into Norwood. It was a good quality road with amazing long views of Lone Cone and the mountain ranges near Cortez and over in Utah. It started raining as we drove.

But it wasn’t raining when we got to Norwood, so we headed up to the Burn Canyon trailhead west of town. This is the other, newer network of mountain biking trails in the area that the ranger we met at the Thunder Trail system last year (we call him Eric) told us about and that we’ve been excited to bike. But once we reached the trailhead and its higher vantage point, we saw a huge, menacing bank of storm clouds to the southeast. We decided to make lunch in the parking lot while we waited to see if the storm was coming our way.

And it was coming our way, of course. Thunder rumbled and lighting flashed. The Burn Canyon trails would need to wait for another day. We decided to look for a place to camp for the night, thinking that the storm would pass over while we searched.

Even if it was just a regular rainstorm, not a thunderstorm, we still wouldn’t have ridden the trails. The dirt in the area is a sandy clay that forms ruts really easily, cakes the tires, and is incredibly slippery. When it’s wet, it’s bad for biking and it’s bad for driving. As we drove down the road beyond the trailhead, looking for potential campsites, the road turned from a nicely maintained gravel surface to a deep red clay. With dark clouds overhead, that meant it was time to turn around, rather than risk getting stuck.

Looking at the radar and forecast, it looked like the Thunder Trails to the south of Norwood might be missed by the rain. These types of storms are usually so localized and once they pop up, they typically rain hard and fast and wear themselves out quickly. Sometimes the water evaporates before it even reaches the ground. The mountain ranges force the clouds in unexpected directions. The rain is usually so light that we don’t bother putting on the rain flies on Bob the camper. If any rain happens to get inside, it evaporates as soon as the intense sun pops back out of the clouds.

So we headed over to the Thunder Trails. It wasn’t raining over there, but the trails were disappointingly wet and muddy from the previous days’ rain. Still, we went in to our favorite campsite. As soon as I pulled into the site and turned off the truck, a huge boom of thunder crashed overhead and it started pouring. Not a normal light rain, but an intense downpour. Quickly, a small stream formed under the Bobs and puddles pooled all over the surface of the ground. The road into the campsite had already been a giant, watery mud pit. I could see it getting worse, quickly.

Last summer, we didn’t have any cell service at the Thunder Trails. This summer, a new tower must have gone up because we had LTE service, which we used to look at the radar. In the short half hour drive from the Burn Canyon trailhead to the Thunder Trails, the small, individual thunderheads we had seen had merged into a huge, slow moving storm filled with a lot of rain that covered the region. As the rain poured down, I knew there was no way we’d be able to bike the Thunder Trails for days. That had already been wet, and they’d need a lot of time to dry out. And I didn’t want to risk getting stuck in this mudpit of a campsite with nothing to do for days.

I suggested to Paul that we abandon the area and go south, to Cortez, where the chances of rain were lower and the trail surfaces more forgiving when wet. Paul really did not want to spend a few more hours driving, but eventually agreed that it was the best move. I found a good looking campground north of Dolores, CO and we made for it. Along the way, it poured. The rivers and washes were flowing with thick, brown, muddy water.

We drove all the way around the stormy mountain range and popped out on the southern end, where it was sunny and dry. The Bradfield campground was not busy – only four others campers were parked in two big, well-spaced loops in a deep valley along the Dolores River. We picked a spot by a small stand of trees, for shelter from any wind, but it ended up being a quiet, peaceful, and dry night.

Saturday, August 20th

We decided to stay at the Bradfield campground for two nights, to slow down a bit. Today was sunny and warm with threatening clouds passing quickly overhead, but it didn’t rain until the evening and then not enough to worry about.

It was nice to slow down and relax. We worked on the last podcast episode. In the afternoon, we walked around the campground and along the Dolores River. The river bed is lined with perfectly smooth river rocks and we imagined our nephews spending hours throwing the endless supply of rocks into the muddy river, alternately skipping them and trying to make the biggest splash.

A few more people showed up that night, but it still was not busy and there was room for everyone to spread out. Including over to our loop’s pit toilet, where a little kid absolutely destroyed the one clean stall. While we were in camp a few sites away from the toilets, a white SUV sped over and a kid, maybe six, jumped out and ran into the bathroom. A few minutes later, we overheard him telling (we assume) his mom that he was OK, that he just hadn’t wanted to get anything on his shoes. Strange, we thought. Then the SUV drove over to the other loop and set up camp next to the other toilet.

We didn’t think any more of it until Paul went over to the bathroom a little while later. (Grossness alert!) Where he found that the kid had somehow managed to poop all over the bathroom. All over it. There was a pile of poop on the toilet seat. Poop dripping down the sides of the toilet. Poop on the wall. On the wall! Two feet off the ground, a few feet away from the toilet!

This is our life, we often say to ourselves. Sometimes it’s said with a tone of amazement, sometimes disbelief, sometimes resignation. This time it was resignation.

That night, we kept thinking about the Montrose house we currently had under contract. Serious doubts were starting to creep in. We were intentionally buying a project house – that’s all we have the budget for, and we want the challenge – but the list of projects was getting so long that we were worried we wouldn’t have any time, money, or energy left to travel – to use it as the home base we intend it to be. The list of projects was growing so long that we started to feel that we were paying way too much for the opportunity to deal with them all. Still, we wanted a home base. Maybe it would work out? It was a restless night, worrying over the issues.

Sunday, August 21st

This morning it was time to move on – cleaner toilets lie ahead. We looked at a campground nearer to the town of Dolores, but it was too expensive for the lack of amenities. Like, I need a minimum of a flush toilet for $36/night. So we delayed finding a place to camp and went into town to find lunch. Most of the places that were open on Sunday closed by noon, so we found ourselves at a newish cider place at the eastern edge of Dolores called EsoTerra Cider. There we found a Greek food truck, creative and delicious cider on tap, and a band on the sunny patio.

We ordered pitas and a flight of cider to share, found a table on the patio, and the band eagerly started up for us and one other guy and his dog. The band was good. The food was good, the cider was exceptional. EsoTerra uses old, heirloom, and local varieties of apples and their processing ranges from simple and traditional to just slightly messed with – like aging in oak barrels, or adding a hint of hops. No crazy flavors or weird, overwrought processing. This is my favorite type of cider, with tons of character and a good story.

As we settled into our food and drinks, the band started playing a cover of Wagon Wheel. Paul looked at me and we both just started tearing up out of nowhere. This is not a thing that happens on a regular basis. I can’t remember the last time it happened. But there we were, trying to eat our pitas and dab away at the tears oozing from under our sunglasses without anyone noticing what was going on and feeling more than a little silly.

The band, Ravensong, was fronted by a woman with a great voice who also played guitar. A John Kerry lookalike played bass and another guy played the keyboard and sang occasionally. The lead singer made Wagon Wheel so sad, bittersweet, homesick. It made me think of the time my cousin, Zach, played this same song around a campfire at a family reunion six years ago. Back then, Paul thought the song’s title was Mother Russia. If you know the song, you can hear it in the chorus, right?

Back then, my Aunt Rosie was still around. My brother’s first kid was a baby. My cousin Bri had brought her new boyfriend to meet the extended family for the first time – the boyfriend that is now her fiance. My other cousins were able to make it in from across the country that year. Covid wasn’t yet another thing added to the list of things my family members disagree about, but paper over a few times a year when we get together to enjoy everyone’s company, share old photos, and play pitch and spoons late into the night while drinking down a keg of Michelob Ultra, usually. Even then, six years ago, the weekend felt ideal and precarious. And now, thinking back on that time through this song, it felt so far away and the impossibility of ever going back was heavy on my heart.

The very best live music does this. When Gregory Alan Isakov sang “I’ll never say I love you dear, just to hear you say it back” in Thalia Hall in Chicago, years ago, that simple description of unconditional love hit me so hard that I still tear up thinking about it. There are a couple live Lord Huron songs that do this to me too, and other artists that I can’t remember right now. It’s different than hearing a recorded version of the song. Great live music punches you in the feelings when you least expect it, and it’s one of the things I have missed most over the past couple of years and it was so good to get back to it.

The next song brought us back to the present. We ordered another flight of cider so that we could taste everything on tap. We listened to the band until they took a break for lunch. Even though we wanted to, we couldn’t stay there all day; we needed to go find somewhere to sleep for the night. We left looking forward to a future visit or two or a million.

North of Dolores, there’s a large area of national forest where dispersed camping is allowed. We had no trouble finding a bunch of sites and no one else seemed to be camping in the area so we had our pick. After checking out a few areas, we chose a spot far down a side dirt road, underneath some tall red pines. As soon as we popped the camper top, it started raining. But it was just a normal Colorado rain. It blew through, the sun came back out, and any water that had condensed inside the Bobs was quickly sucked back into the dry air.

That afternoon, we finished up the last podcast episode. No one came down the road, though we did find a tent at a site a bit farther along, with no car or bike around. The tent was either abandoned or the people dead inside. We didn’t check. I was creeped out but not creeped out enough to move. The tent looked more abandoned than the scene of a terrible crime. People leave their crap in the woods all the time, you’d be surprised.

The night was still and quiet with incredible stars. I slept terribly again though, stressing about the house. This wasn’t normal stress – I started to become convinced that it was the kind of stress that I should take as a warning – the kind that was telling me that I shouldn’t ignore that something was wrong, that I wasn’t making a good decision. We decided that we were going to exercise our termination option if the seller wasn’t willing to reduce the price of the house to account for the new issues that had come up. Thinking this would settle our minds, we went to bed, but I lay awake for hours re-reading our contract terms and googling horror stories of real estate transactions gone wrong and processes for evicting sellers who overstay the closing date. Not having cell service would have been a blessing that night.

Monday, August 22nd

First thing in the morning, we heard back that the seller was not going to budge on the price, regardless of the valid concerns we raised. We decided we were done – we were terminating. It was such a bummer, but also such a relief.

We went into Dolores and worked at the library for a couple hours. I published episode eight and took care of many system updates. Paul researched future camping options and found a John D. MacDonald novel on the free book shelf.

Next, we went to the small grocery store down the street for a limited stock-up and water refill. The water refill station was probably the busiest place in town. The grocery store was cute, prices were all over the map. The guy at the checkout’s shoulders sagged when, on our second trip in, I paid for our water refills and a postcard with cash and didn’t have twelve cents, causing him to have to give me 88 cents in change. There’s still a coin shortage in Dolores.

The problem was that we, once again, couldn’t find anything quick, easy, and cheap for lunch and we hadn’t been able to buy enough at the grocery store to quickly satisfy. On the way out of town, we stopped at the gas station at the top of the hill that overlooks Dolores. The gas station had a big sign advertising Hunt Bros. pizza, which is our fast food of last resort on the road. It doesn’t feel like something you should eat often, but it really hits the spot when you want something warm and there’s nothing else around.

As we walked in to the gas station minimart, we were hit by the sweet smell of pizza and almost knocked over by an inexplicably large number of teenagers. They were everywhere in the tiny market – gossiping by the soda machine, hovering around the pizza case, just awkwardly standing around like teenagers do. A woman waved at us from behind the pizza counter.

“Hi,” she said eagerly, “do you want some pizza?”

I mumbled something about, I don’t know maybe?, and circled around the store looking at the other potentially edible food items for sale. My loop confirmed that the pizza was the most promising option. We cautiously approached the pizza turntable. The woman was still behind the counter.

“Here!,” she said enthusiastically, “get some pizza!”

She helped us clumsily shove a couple quarter pizza slices into boxes. And this is not an insult to pizza lady, but pizza lady reminded me of the junk lady in The Labyrinth movie, the one who is so insistent on giving Jennifer Connelly’s character tea and random stuff, like she wants to make her happy but she’s also trying to trick her into leaving the labyrinth? After the sweet woman helped us scoop our slices into boxes, we stood in line with the teenagers to pay. And pizza lady came to our rescue, once again. She waved us over to the checkout on the liquor store side of the minimart to pay.

We must have looked like aliens. Pizza lady felt she needed to explain. She said, “that’s the high school lunch rush for you! They eat so much pizza! I just really wanted to make sure you could get some pizza! And then I figured that you wouldn’t want to stand in that line.”

We cracked up. I said, “thank you so much,” and “you must have to make sooo much pizza.”

“I’ve been working on it for hours,” she admitted, laughing.

We took the pizza slices a few miles down the road to one of the Phil’s World bike park trailheads at Simon Draw, outside the town of Cortez. Simon Draw is one of the newer trailheads and trail systems in the park, with trails named after the characters from Edward Abbey’s Monkey Wrench Gang – Abbzug, Seldom Seen, Doc Sarvis, Hayduke. The trailhead has a really nice little pavilion with changing rooms, a bike tool station, a port-a-potti, and a picnic table in the shade. There we ate our pizza slices. They were fine.

Then we were on the trails on our bikes. And damn – these trails were much too hard for me. Especially with a bellyful of questionable pizza and a bubbly orange soda. Heat radiated off the ground, the rocks were hard and unforgiving, the hills steep, the corners tight. This was one of our first bike rides back at Colorado elevation since June, and I gasped for breath. After a very short time, I burpingly told Paul that I was done. Thankfully, the Hayduke connector was there to save the day and bring me back to the trailhead quickly. After a short 2.5 miles, I limped back into the parking lot and sat at the picnic table with my head down until the urge to puke passed.

These trails are supposed to be some of the easier ones of the Phil’s World system. It was a great illustration of what we call Colorado easy. They were not easy, except in comparison to everything else, which was much harder.

Finally, we went into the town of Cortez and got a shower at the rec center. Out west, rec center showers are as good as it gets. This one was $3 for unlimited hot water in a private locker room shower. On a water usage streak, we decided to do laundry next. Then we finished our grocery stock-up, filling in the gaps of what we couldn’t find, or bring ourselves to spend $8 on, in Dolores.

At the grocery store, I overheard an earnest 30-something guy talking to an acquaintance he had met in the aisle.

“Would you believe that it was tiny wild horses that were eating my rosebushes?” he asked her, with a mixture of disbelief and amusement. “Tiny wild horses – what do you even do about that?”

The views from Cortez are always amazing. This day, Mesa Verde and its mesa ridge were highlighted with low angle sunlight, backed by dark storm clouds. They were the Renaissance painting-type clouds – big poofy white thunderheads crossed over at the bottoms with thin purple wisps.

After chores were done, we headed back north to Dolores. In this area, there’s nothing else that compares to the free dispersed camping in the national forest north of town. We found a campsite on the road that we camped on the night before, but closer to the main road and farther from the creeper dead guy tent. A few sprinkles of rain came out of a really noisy thunderhead and then it was a quiet night.

Tuesday, August 23rd

So many mushrooms grew up and grew larger overnight, fueled by the rain. Some were so big that it was hard to believe that they were real – they grew so fast that they pushed up a cap-load of dirt and pine needles thick enough to topple them over. Some were so small and delicate that it was hard to believe that they were real. Tiny little parasols with white lines running along their brown translucent sides. There were tiny bright white puffballs and a bright white slimy ground fungus that looked so gross. A hummingbird hovered around us for a long time, checking out the colorful parts of our existence, hoping for flowers but finding only bike pedals and Paul’s hoodie.

After coffee, we went back south towards Cortez, to the Phil’s World bike park’s main trailhead. There, we did a fun 6.5 mile loop that we had first done last fall and loved, to exorcise the previous day’s unpleasant ride. There were great views of Mesa Verde and Ute Mountain from the trail, but today everything was sunny and easy instead of sweaty and difficult. Swooping through the sagebrush on singletrack was incredibly fun.

Post-ride, we made lunch in the trailhead’s picnic shelter. The trailhead parking lot had mostly cleared out by lunchtime – the few people still coming back in from rides were hurrying to their cars, racking their bikes with quick, practiced movements, and I imagine, racing home for their afternoon videoconferences. That was the vibe. Good for them.

Yesterday, at the Simon Draw trailhead, we had chatted with a couple from Texas who had come to hike the trails, since they were so highly rated. And they didn’t think much of them. The Phil’s World trails are open to hikers. But they’re really mountain bike trails. A good mountain bike trail doesn’t go anywhere in particular and it’s best if it doesn’t have great views. Great views would make the rider feel bad, because it’s too easy to miss the view when dodging rocks and obstacles and making big, swooping turns. A good mountain biking trail is not a good hiking trail.

But we didn’t say that to this sweet older couple. The guy asked Paul what he was greasing our bike chains with and they bonded over preferred lubricants – who else knows the minutiae of Boeing-manufactured lubricants? Paul and this guy. The couple had come up to Colorado from Texas to escape the heat. We nodded, dripping with sweat.

Today after lunch, we made the now-familiar drive back to Dolores and headed north up the Dolores-Norwood road that we’d been camping on the past couple nights. This time, though, we weren’t planning to camp there. There was supposed to be a day or two break in the storms to the north, so we were headed back to Norwood, back to the Thunder Trails.

Along the way, we set up a couple more house showings with our agent in Montrose. Back on the market.

The Dolores-Norwood road runs from Dolores to Norwood, CO, but there are all kinds of tempting branches off the road leading to side adventures. To the north, the immaculately perfect peak of Lone Cone towers over the surrounding hillsides.

One of the reasons that I love Western Colorado so much is that it is the place where the stereotypical rocky mountains clash with the mesas of New Mexico and Arizona and the sandstone of Utah. All of these things can be found on the western slope of Colorado. So many layers of microclimates and plants and animals and rocks. And all of these places are being enjoyed by a tiny fraction of the people swarming the front range attractions. There’s just so much to do that it’s mind boggling. And it can be busy, don’t get me wrong. But people tend to crowd into the generally known places like Ouray, Telluride, Crested Butte, Durango, and the jeep routes in between. They’re usually not driving an hour west to Norwood to check out the Thunder Trails. That’s not what they’re here for.

But that’s exactly what we’re here for. It’s why we want to live here. To be close to great biking in Norwood and Gunnison and Fruita, to be a little farther but not unreasonably so from Durango and Lake City and the wild places to the north of Moab and Dinosaur and everything. It feels like the edge of everything.

But back to the Dolores-Norwood road – it was an easy gravel road through beautiful countryside, from national forest to private ranches that could be the sets for western movies. It took us a couple hours to get to Norwood and the Thunder Trails area. We were hoping for campsite #6, the last of the designated campsites, the one that’s by itself in a little meadow. Last summer, the meadow was shared with cows and #6 was our least favorite spot. But this summer, the cow watering trough is gone and the cow poo has fed some beautiful wildflowers.

Whenever we’re hoping for a particular campsite, we practically hold our breaths the whole way there, then let out a huge exhale of relief when we round the corner and find the spot open for our taking. Since we were last at the Thunder Trails last Friday, the ground had mostly dried – we saw only a few puddles along the road. No one else was camped at any of the spots, no one was parked at the trailhead. Campsite #6 was wide open. Perfect.

The sun was intense. We set up camp and had the afternoon to read, write, sun bathe. Not a single car drove down the road. One ATV, OK, but no cars. Somehow it was less busy than last year. We always worry that we’ll return to our favorite places and find them ruined. Somehow, this time, we found it better.

The stars were amazing that still, cool night.

Wednesday, August 24th

Lazy morning. Paul went for a hike in the woods while I drank coffee and wrote and got himself lost. He didn’t take his cell phone. He eventually accepted that he was lost and found his way back to the road, rather than trying to pinpoint the campsite, but then wasn’t sure if he should turn left or right to get back to the campsite. It was a good reminder that we were solidly in the middle of nowhere, and no matter how much we felt like we knew this place, that it is still very wild.

We started on a bike ride before lunch. We biked five miles up the gravel road to the top of the third of the four loop trails that make up the Thunder Trails system. The inner parts of the loops run through forests, cow pastures, and sagebrush, with some rough rock gardens here and there. The outer parts of the loops run along the edge of Naturita Canyon and are much steeper and rockier and far beyond my ability. The road cuts through the middle of the loops, so you can string together a bunch of different routes, if you can handle the rim trail sections.

Once at the top of the third loop, we excitedly started down the fun singletrack of the inner side. Only one other dirt bike had ridden the trails since it rained hard two days ago. Some sections seemed a little grown in since last year. These trails are not heavily used. The cows that were grazing in the area had stamped rough and rude bumps into the smooth surface of the trail and I cursed them for not understanding that trail etiquette calls for staying off wet trails. And I cursed the cows for even being there in the first place.

But whooshing through the woods, it’s easy to forget that all. We finished the third and second inner loops, then tore down the gravel road back to camp, my GPS telling me that I crossed 20 mph on that stretch even with rigorous brake application. It was an exhilarating end to the ride and made the tough uphill totally worth it.

Famished, we made lunch at camp. And then we sat out a very noisy thunderstorm that didn’t produce much rain but that made me want to go hide in a hole like a bunny.

The afternoon was rounded out with some reading, an attempted nap (failure), and writing. We poked around camp to look for signs of past human life – one of our favorite things to do. Rusty cans, broken bottles, old roads or drainage ditches. Maybe an old log cabin wall. All slowly melting into the woods.

Our bodies were really tired from three days of Colorado mountain biking. We went to bed early, eager to get some extra sleep.

As I lie in bed that night, working on my usual pre-sleep crossword puzzle, Paul already breathing deeply beside me, I heard some rustling underneath the camper.

Now, in the last episode, we talked about how we haven’t had any issues with creatures in the Bobs since last year in Gunnison and the days after that. We had gotten complacent – our rodent repellent long exhausted, no new sachets ready to deploy.

Lying there, the sound I now heard was pretty undeniable. I tried to ignore it until I couldn’t any longer. I woke Paul up.

“Paul,” I said, “I hear something.”

We both listened. For what felt like hours, there were no sounds. I started to think that maybe I was crazy, and to feel bad for waking Paul up out of a sound sleep. And then – there it was. Scritch, scratch, rustle rustle.

“Oh nooooo.” we said. “It’s a pack rat.”

Paul jumped out of the camper to look and sure enough, it was a pack rat, creeping around in the truck bed under the camper. Paul popped the hood of the truck, since we learned last time that that should prevent pack rats from nesting there and continuing to destroy our already rat-shredded insulation. But the pack rat was still in the bed of the truck. I jammed a couple dryer sheets in between the camper and the bed – they don’t really seem to compare in effectiveness to the rodent repellent sachets, but they were all we had that was smelly.

Then Paul figured out that the rat really hated the strobing light of his headlamp, and it really hated being sprayed in the face with water. He had grabbed our spray bottle as our only possible tool of defense, and he chased the thing around the bed and managed to spray it in the face with water a few times. Eventually, it seemed like it ran away.

We fell into an uneasy sleep. Around 4am, Paul woke me up.

“It’s back,” he said.

I had been in a deep sleep and insisted that no, it wasn’t. But as I fully woke up, it was clear that the rat, or one of its rat friends, was back. Paul jumped out of the camper and went round two with the pack rat, spraying it in the face with water until it gave up the truck. Amped up, we lay in bed trying to fall back asleep, and it started raining. The tapping of rain on the roof extinguished our dreams of getting up early and fitting in a ride on the Burn Canyon trails before it started to rain, as it was expected to do all day. An early ride for me was going to be like, 9am. Knowing we had no reason to get up, we fell soundly back asleep. We’ll be back, of course. One day, we’ll get to bike the new trails.

Thursday, August 25th

Cloudy, gloomy, cold once again. So not like a normal August. We checked out the engine this morning and the pack rat had run over every single surface – its little paw prints were everywhere, even on vertical surfaces, even on the belts. Having the hood up did seem to keep it from nesting or chewing though. All good there. Just a little pile of poop under the windshield trim as a gift. Paul opened up the air intake and checked it, just in case. Nothing.

We needed to be in Montrose that afternoon for a house showing. Somehow it didn’t feel strange that the last time we were in Norwood, we were just starting road life and thriving on the freedom, and now, we were contemplating something that would tie us down and give us less freedom. Because we had found that this is where we wanted to be tied.

After a slow morning and two coffees rather than the typical one, we started the hour and a half drive to Montrose. We stopped in Ridgway to eat lunch in the town park that’s been so good to us. In the park’s little picnic pavilion, the people at the table next to us, a serious vanlifer and a townie, were having a far-out, existential conversation while making an incredibly elaborate lunch that involved, among many other things, a giant pepper grinder, like what you’d see at the Olive Garden. The vanlifer’s mangy but sweet dog, which seemingly responded only to commands in Italian, roamed around looking for handouts from the other tables. Workers from nearby hotels and construction sites brought their lunches over to the other tables in the pavilion.

After lunch, we strolled around the tiny town and marveled at the incredible mountain views that can be seen from almost every street, at the ridgelines that are so spiky it’s hard to believe they’re real. Big storm clouds formed behind the ridges.

We bought a new box of rodent repellent from the local Ace Hardware. A woman in line ahead of us was buying a single screw. The cashier was amused that that was all that she had come in for.

Then we headed north, to Montrose. We drove all around the town, again, past all the houses we had seen listed online or were currently interested in possibly residing at. We checked into our hotel for the night for a much needed shower.

Once clean, we were going to slowly creep by all the houses we liked on foot, but again, so much rain was happening. It’s so good for the area, but it’s so hard to get used to here. So we drove into town, parked, and set off on foot on a much smaller radius.

And then we had some more time to kill, so we stopped at San Juan Brews for a beer to steel ourselves for the house tour ahead, which our drive-by had suggested was going to be rough. San Juan Brews, on Main Street in Montrose, serves coffee and beer – both beer that they make in-house and guest taps. I couldn’t help nostalgically ordering the guest tap from Funkwerks, a Fort Collins sour brewery favorite. As we sipped our beers, we tried to figure out if we really belonged in this town and if we really could turn one of the disaster houses in our price range into something livable and good.

Post-beer, we walked more town circles and saw a band setting up in the rain, then we drove over to the property we were seeing that day to meet our agent. The place was rough. It had potential. It needed such an incredible amount of work. We would need to think about it overnight.

Back at the hotel, over a dinner of Domino’s pizza and salad (for a fully balanced meal!) and a bottle of Zinfandel, we made our usual list of prioritized projects, pros, cons. We did laundry. We stressed. We needed to sleep on whether or not we’d make an offer, and for how much. Or not sleep.

What is the right place for us? We surely don’t know yet. Montrose might look great on paper, but if we can’t find a place to live, then we’re not going to be able to live there. And that’s where we found ourselves at the end of this week. Still working on plan b, but also formulating a plan c.

When you want something but don’t have it, it can be really easy to focus on not having that one thing and to lose sight of all that you do have. So we’re trying to keep things in perspective, but it’s an ongoing struggle.

(music starts)

What’s your favorite of our podcast formats? Do you prefer the micro-focus of one specific day in the life? The summaries of weeks of travel in one episode? The week-long journals like this one? The guest stories? Or do you like the random mix of all these things that is what Road Tripping in America has been so far? I’m curious. Let me know your thoughts at info(at)roadtrippinginamerica.com.

Thanks for listening.