Coming out of Conifer, CO I meet Joe the Trooper. The heat this morning has given me a taste of things to come in the days ahead. We chat briefly at a roadside stop about my journey and I learn that he has 28 years of military service with two tours in Afghanistan. Joe will escort me down a sketchy section of the highway through the canyon, to an exit I need to get to, courtesy of the Colorado State Patrol. I realize as I descend, that I will not see these Rocky Mountains again for a very long time and it saddens me. The fresh, clean air, the smell of the pines, the cool summer mornings have revitalized me in the same way warm summer rain can turn the grass green in a few short hours……As I approach my exit I motion Joe to stop and come up to me. He deserves the honor of placing this young Marines Flag and accepts and we salute together….there is a moistness, a sadness in his eyes and I sense his duty, his time, has been difficult. Joe is gratious and appreciative and walks back to his car. He rolls away. As he served from afar, he serves now, a protector to us all.
In the days to come I would pass through Golden and Boulder and move on to Loveland and Fort Collins. Each step taking me closer to the plains of eastern Colorado and on to Nebraska. It is near Loveland, coming down an overpass, that I see the older couple standing by their car, in the shade, waiting for me. He is Bob and she is Maryanne. They have been married 65 years. Bob served in New Guinea and the Phillipines in WWII. They remind me again of what love should be, valued and preserved each year and growing richer even as the body and mind age. Maryanne holds their tiny, brown dog Cocoa then hands him to Bob and pulls out a piece of paper. It is the story of the “Guardian”. You see, in my story, the Guardian is their son Dick and they wanted to share that with me. She pulls out pictures of her son with the rail yard he has created. Complete with a working steam engine, train cars and tracks and trestles, his skill with replication is magnificent. They are very proud and their faces, like Joe the Trooper show much gratitude.
As the sun climbs higher the temperature rises and as I get closer to Fort Collins I see my next encounter. He is parked just off the road in a maroon SUV and as he steps out, he proudly places his black 1st Calvary hat on and greets me on the road. Army Sergeant Blake Harris was his son and was killed in June of 2006. I placed his flag in Teton National Park last month. Like his father, he too was 1st Calvary……… His father shakes my hand and thanks me from the heart. He gives me a picture of Blake, one that I will take across the plains that lie ahead, all the way to the Atlantic.
Many, many days I am alone on the road with only my quiet thoughts to entertain me but it is the chance encounter, fleeting and far between that refuels me and makes the miles as short as the breadth I take, as pavement disappears under my feet and my day draws to a close.