The friendly folks of Gateway
By Jason Lathrop
September 14, 1996
9:30 a.m.: I step out of the Gateway Hut onto squishy red mud. Last night the rain dumped hard, yet again, and the ground all around us was soaked and muddy. In fact, the very ground the hut stood on had actual running water over it. Lucky the thing didn't float away. Still, the morning smelled right nice and the huge old dogwoods gave our little corner of the pasture a comfortably sheltered feeling.
10:15 a.m.: After quick breakfast of cold cereal and coffee, I ride into the town of Gateway, Colorado, about a half-mile down the road. Mark and Paul are there finishing up a big cafe breakfast and shooting the breeze with the locals--and trying to find out the skinny on the road up to John Brown Pass and across the La Sal mountain range. We still have one hard ride--4,400 feet of gain over 22 miles and road grade nearing 20 percent at times--to get to the La Sal Hut before the long descent into Moab on the other side of the hills. Complicating the ride, though, is the fact the hard rain of the past five days has repeatedly washed out the road up to the hut. Paul reports the road is still officially closed, but some auto traffic is getting through. The condition of the path is apparently awful--muddy, rugged, and slippery. Our outlook is uncertain.
11 a.m.: After milling about waiting for everyone to get their stuff together, Keil reports that Elaine, the cook at the Gateway Cafe, has volunteered to throw our bikes in the back of her pickup and drive us up to the hut. Given the road, the storms and long day ahead of us, the offer sounds tempting.
11:15 a.m.: We decide to go ahead with that plan and are then able to spend the rest of the afternoon in Gateway relaxing and enjoying ourselves--which, though not on the itinerary, the group needs badly given the difficult weather of the past few days. First, I go horseback riding around the parking lot and up the street a ways on Shadow, a horse owned by Elaine's youngest daughter. Shadow's an amiable old quarterhorse, long in the tooth and forgiving of this Seattle rider. Later, Keil, Annabel, and I tear off looking for some singletrack. The previous day's riding had been long on rain and gravel road, short on technical bomber runs. We really enjoy the couple of hours of bumps we're able to fit in.
2:30 p.m.: The three of us return to the cafe where Mark is enjoying a cup of coffee and jawing with Pastor Ed and Tomas. Pastor Ed stewards the spiritual life of most of Gateway's 100 or so residents and oversees the high school graduation, which last year only had two graduates. Both graduates' parents gave speeches.
Tomas is a local cowhand who hails from Mexico--though he claims he's Spanish, an assertion all the other locals dismiss as bullpuckey. He loves dressing the part of drifting caballero. He, his broad hat, floppy chaps, large sorrel, and three Australian cowdogs rode into the cafe for lunch an hour or so ago. It seems Tomas is a local institution, famous for his on-again, off-again friendliness.
3:35 p.m.: Mark, Keil, and I head to Elaine's house just up the street from the Gateway Cafe. Her dalmatian chewed through the VGA cable on her PC's monitor a week or two ago. Mark, a software executive, and Keil, an engineer, are more than happy to pitch in, splicing the cable ends together. VGA cords have more internal parts than I do, so it takes a good hour of knife work to have it all sorted, stripped, twisted, and taped. Their work does the trick, and the PC is up and running again.
4:20 p.m.: The rain clouds have begun looking ominous again so we start loading the bikes and hightail it up the road to John Brown Pass. A few of us ride in Elaine's Bronco II while her oldest daughter, Lisa, drives her pickup with the bikes. The road snakes straight up a sandstone desert box canyon. The washouts are incredible in places, but our drivers negotiate them handily.
5:50 p.m.: We arrive at the La Sal Hut. The terrain here is bizarre--at 9,000 feet it's all pinion and other scrub pine, cows, and patchy grass. The road is getting slick and the rain dumping so we bail quickly to allow Elaine and Lisa a chance to get back down. After quick thank yous and good-byes, they take off. We race up the quarter-mile to the cabin, stunned at the generosity and friendliness of the people we met in Gateway.
6:45 p.m.: The La Sal Hut is, next to Big Creek Hut, the nicest we've been in. It's large and open, with a big window over one bed. The rain stops after an hour or so, and we spend the evening around a fire outside--a big, warm fire. Joe, in his continued effort to make amends, has stocked the hut nice with two six-packs of Negro Modelo and fresh fruit and veggies. The difficulties of the past few days seem awfully far away already.