Thursday, September 11, 2008

Episode IVX: The Mormon Empire Strikes Back

Robin and I said our good-byes in Gunnison and I watched her roll away in her car with Gyro sticking his head up and watching me through the back window as they passed out of sight. I sat down on the front porch of my sister’s house and cried. I had never cried so hard in my life. I spent the next couple days in Gunnison with my sister rafting on the river, bicycling the rocks, getting drunk, and watching movies. When I was ready to leave I packed up all my gear onto my bicycle and said goodbye to my sister. I made my way east, determined to bicycle back to Colorado Springs. As the day wore on I found myself peddling through the plains as the sun rose higher in the sky heating up the earth. Early that afternoon I arrived at the foot of Monarch Pass. Drudgingly I peddled one foot after the other and made my way slowly up the mountain. Rain sprinkled down on me providing a refreshing temperature as my muscles were straining against the pedals. After about three hours of climbing I reached the top. I turned around and looked at the gorgeous valley below me grateful that it was behind me. I stopped off for a snack then started coasting down the other side of the mountain. After only about twenty minutes or so I was off the mountain and out into the valley on the other side of Monarch.

As I made my way through the second valley the sun was beginning to set behind the mountains and I set out to find a place to sleep. I happened upon a house that had been put up for sale. The windows were dark, the inside furniture was gone, the doors were locked, and there was no sign of anyone coming in or out for awhile. Around the side of the house I found a small awning which I set up camp beneath. I slept fairly well to awake the next morning as the sun slowly climbed above the mountain range to the east of me. I got back on the bike and continued on my way. While riding along the highway I noticed hundreds of prairie dog holes on the side of the road, each with a prairie dog poking its head out or standing up to watch me as I rode by. I could swear that while riding past one even waved to me with its little paw. I spent the whole day climbing as I ascended the hills of the next pass. Coming down out of the pass I arrived in the South Park Valley. In a car it takes about thirty minutes to cross this valley. On my bike I spent the next three hours rolling along the flat plains fighting the wind coming at my face and trying to stay hydrated without finding any shade providing relief from the sweltering sun. On my way up the pass out of the valley I heard intense thunder from the storm clouds rolling in behind me. I glanced behind me to see the thunderclouds threatening me. Nearing the top of the pass it began to rain. I continued on until I reached the visitor center at the very top and as I was riding under the cover hail started to pelt the ground around me. I had made it to shelter just in time. I waited there as a majority of the storm passed. I called my mom to let her know I was ok and she offered to meet me in Divide, a small town about thirty miles away. I agreed to that and made my way out into the dwindling rain. Three hours later I arrived at the proposed meeting place and she arrived soon thereafter. Two days and one hundred fifty miles after I had left Gunnison I was exhausted. We got back to my parents’ house and I subsequently passed out.

I spent the next couple weeks with my parents doing various odd jobs around the house until it was time for me to head up to the Denver area for my friend Nieve’s wedding. I got a ride with my friend Amanda and we arrived in Thornton five days before the ceremony. Over the course of the next few days people were arriving left and right to stay at the house culminating with twelve people staying in a three bedroom house. We spent the days preparing for the wedding and the evenings already celebrating with alcoholic drinks freely flowing. The bachelor and bachelorette parties were held Thursday night (no nudity involved) with the rehearsal Friday morning. We all woke up very reluctantly Friday and figured out what we would do for the ceremony itself. After the rehearsal Sara (the maid of honor), Nieve (the bride), and I (the Will-of Honor) went to a nail salon and each had manicures and pedicures. I had never known the secret women were hiding behind those perfectly, pedicured toenails. Having my feet massaged I basked in the scents of heady nail polish aroma. The little Vietnamese woman massaging my feet applied green and blue nail polish to the big toes of each foot and covered the rest of my toenails in bright green. I had the same color for my fingers as I figured with an Irish groom I should have some green accents.

That night we had the rehearsal dinner consisting of pizza and wine for forty people at Nieve’s family home. The next day we returned to the MontaƱo family household for the bridal shower during which I lost the contest for prettiest bride in a toilet paper bridal gown. After the shower we finished some last minute preparations and made our way to a hotel. I shared a room with the other four members of the bridal party (all women, thank you very much). We woke up in the morning jumping up and down on Nieve’s bed shouting, “YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED TODAY!!” and proceeded to get ready for the wedding. Kiki, the cake baker, put my hair into two French braids so that I resembled Legolas from Lord of the Rings. We dropped Nieve to have her hair done while we raced to put together any last minute details. We picked her up when she was done and rushed to the event center where the ceremony was being held. After a lot of commotion and running around it was time to begin. Despite certain complications with music and microphone inconsistencies the wedding went well and was extremely beautiful. Nieve looked amazing in her dress which her grandma had made by hand. Michael looked spiffy in his tuxedo with green converse.

After the ceremony came the reception. It was one of the good ones, with lots of dancing and drinks flowing. Nieve then tossed her bouquet to a group of waiting women who tried to act as though they weren’t interested in being the next to get married. It turns out the flowers fell into the hands of a fifteen year-old whose mother wasn’t thrilled at the idea of a proposal any time soon. Then it was the guys turn. We all watched as Michael, blindfolded, removed a piece of his new wife’s undergarments. As he stood up with the garter in hand and still blindfolded he snapped the elastic and sent the garter flying. It hit me square in the chest and fell into my hands. Crazy rituals. Soon after the party died down we all went our separate ways. I and a few other party members remained around for the next few days as we said good-bye to friends and family. Then, I myself said farewell and boarded an airplane.

I was bound for Alaska. One of my best friends from high school, Steph (pronounced Steve), is stationed way up in Fairbanks and I decided to pay him a visit. I arrived in Anchorage late Thursday night and stayed with a guy thanks to Friday morning he took me out to the highway and dropped me off wishing me luck. I was hitchhiking my way up to Denali National Park where Steph was going to meet me. I managed to hitch a few rides and eventually made it to the visitor center where I saw Steph sitting on a bench out front. We found a place to camp, set up our tent and went for a hike around the area. The next morning we awoke and made our way up into the park. On the way up we saw several cars stopped on the other side of the road. A few seconds later we realized why. On our side of the road, right in front of us was a medium-sized grizzly bear eating berries and digging at the roots along the ditch right next to the road. We stopped and took a few pictures before moving on. We parked the car and went for a hike down a path near the Savage River. Along the way we came across a group of Ptarmigans, a bird akin to chickens and quail. About nine of them stood blocking our path and we had to weave our way through nearly kicking them out of the way. We saw a heard of Daal sheep on the ridge of a mountain that appeared as little white puffs with horns. Near the top of the path we saw a funny looking grey and brown creature that resembled a large groundhog. It was a marmot and as I got closer to take a closer look it stuck its head up, looked at me, and charged my way diverting at the last second without touching me. I was nearly mauled by fifteen pounds of relentless, furry, claws and sharp, pointy teeth.

After our hike we drove up to Fairbanks and went to a party at one of his Air Force friends’ house on the base. I arrived with pigtails and painted finger nails. The clean-cut military guys had no idea how to react. We played beer pong and Halo and just had a good ol’ time. While Steph worked I stayed at his place playing video games, riding a bicycle, and touring around North Pole, Alaska where he lives. We went to my uncle’s house for dinner one night as he lives in Fairbanks as well. I lost my vegan status for a day because he cooked us King Salmon on an open bit barbecue with smoked Alder wood. It was so incredibly tasty. The night before I left Steph and I went to some beautiful hot springs and had some great bonding time that we haven’t shared in many years. The next day I got a ride back to Anchorage with two girl friends of Steph’s. Through the car ride we told jokes and I played music. I think I’ve got the start of an entourage now. I hopped on my plane and took the red-eye back to Colorado.

I’m back in Colorado for a couple more weeks before returning to Salt Lake City. I have decided to postpone the bicycling trip to South America, at least for the time being. It wasn’t shaping up the way I was hoping it would and I think I could do this trip a lot smarter sometime in the future, especially after improving my Spanish. For now I will return to the beautiful city by the salty lake and find a job. I’m really hoping to do some form of social work, particularly in the adoption field so if anyone has any advice or hook-ups please let me know. Salt Lake City, here I come… again.

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