What Is The Melting Point of a Human? (USA Day 54)
A blond-haired man, top-heavy and topless, strolled into the lobby of the Sugar City post office, leaving his patient malamute panting outside. He was probably expecting to find the usual row of PO boxes, perhaps another Sugar City resident, but most certainly not two floppy cyclists (one lying on the floor) next to their overloaded bikes and the shrapnel of half a dozen empty water bottles.
“W…welcome to Sugar City,” he said.
“Is it always this hot?” I asked.
“Says 113 in my truck. Don’t know how you guys are copin’.”
“You stayin’ here?” the man asked, concerned.
“We weren’t planning to, but I’m not going back out there.”
“I used to race bicycles. Yeah, I had guys come into my house just across the way. Held me at gunpoint, said they were gonna take all my stuff, an’ they did. I call this place Sh**y City. You shouldn’t stay here.”
And with that, he pushed open the door, letting in a blast of furnace-heat, then waddled away into what I can only imagine was the heart of the sun, malamute at his side.
We’d come 85 miles of a 90 mile day. 5 miles left! Surely we could just pootle on down the road, and yet here we were, holed up in a post office as if we’d bungled a robbery, terrified of the outside. Despite starting at half past five and barely stopping, ‘cause of the flies, progress had been slow. After Eads, where we bought iced coffee and a pair of replacement sunglasses that softened in the heat and crumbled into three pieces within an hour, there was nothing for sixty miles, and during that stretch was when things began to get tough.
Colorado’s famous shortgrass prairie stretched out on both sides, with the looming shadows of the Rocky Mountains in the far distance. The sky was cloudless, the wind low, the world utterly silent except for the whirring of our bikes on tarmac. The ground shimmered.
“This isn’t just weather hot,” said Amy, “this is hot hot. Like heat hot.”
She attempted a sip of her bottle and recoiled. The plastic rim was lip-burningly hot and the water inside was an acceptable temperature for tea. Our second gallon was almost gone. The road bounced pure dry heat at our faces in waves. My headphones blared words into my ears that I simply couldn’t hear. There were no trees; there was no shade.
“What happens if we get a puncture?” I thought. Given that I had no answer, I decided not to speak the question aloud.
I’m being dramatic: a car rattled by every so often, and we had the (melted) calories and (steaming) water to last us for a while. But the road continued its steady false flat towards the Rockies, as it had done since late Kansas, and the heat steadily intensified, as it had done since early Kansas, and our legs did less and less good each pedal.
When we finally crested a knoll and saw Sugar City, there was no joy. A baking valley, eight miles long, lay ahead, each centimetre of it hot and dry. On these roads, towns hover just out of reach for a good forty-five minutes before you reach them. You’re constantly just a mile away. They never grow, they’re the painted-on backdrop in an old video game.
I had to count down the mile markers to keep Amy moving. There were hot tears between each one, frustrated words spoken in sharp tones. How had we timed this so badly? Why were we still outside during the hottest hours of the entire year? What the hell were we even doing here?
Sugar City arrived, but its only café was closed. Aside from houses, it had a town hall, two churches and a post office, only the latter of which was open, so there we hid, floppy, wondering how we’d make the five remaining miles.
It took us an hour and a half to get back out there. Time enough to recover from the heat, dry off a little and rehydrate, just in time to undo all those things again. Ordway arrived quickly, presenting a welcoming city park complete with jolly fountain-feature that children and dogs seem to adore and that we limply showered in, plucking handfuls of water from wayward sprays and doing our best to scrub down.
I wandered the main street, looking for food. A reward was in order, we’d decided, for such a hard day. As I peered through the window of an Italian restaurant, a voice chimed in,
I looked around to see three warm faces exiting their car.
“The lasagne’s amazing. You should get some!”
This was Debbie, Rich and Tracey, heading out for some dinner. I can’t imagine what they made of my appearance, drenched as I was by fountain water and dragging my flip-flopped feet down the street. They asked where I’d been, where I was going. I asked about the ominous-looking sprinklers around the park and if/when we’d get soaked if we camped.
And then before I knew it, they’d invited us to join them for lasagne. I ran back to grab Amy, who burst into tears of relief. The food was not only delicious and plentiful, but air-conditioned. The plan was to camp in their garden, but when we arrived at their self-built home, decorated with Rich’s stained glass and Debbie’s luxury collection of hats, they offered us the spare room. After that day, this was the kindest thing that could ever have happened, and I’m happy to report that our deep, dreamless sleep wasn’t interrupted by the sprinklers.