The afternoon sun hovered over the distant mountains and Sean checked the Inferno Bar’s clock. The hands were stuck on 10:24 and the bartender said, “It’s been broke for years. The regulars like that time. Mid-morning or three hours till closing.”

Sean held out his hand to the gap between the sun and the shining peaks.

“I reckon it’s for about 5 O’clock.”

“Sun sets around 8 this time of year.”

“Three more hours of sunlight then.”

AK tapped his shoulder.

“What’s up?”

“Take a look.”

he early evening rush of hard-faced farmers in dirty overalls crowded the Inferno Lounge. They sat with a weariness born from decades of hard labor. Johnny Cash’s version of SUNDAY MORNING COMING DOWN was on the jukebox.


“We’re getting outnumbered.”

“And what?”

“It’s time to leave, unless you want to stay.”

Three middle-aged ranchers at a corner table stared at them, as if they were to blame for Watergate. This was Nixon country.

EASY RIDER country too.

“No, I’m cool with splitting.” Sean signaled the bartender for the check. “You go find Pam.”

“You leaving so soon?” asked Jake.

“We want to reach the Rockies tonight.”

“It’s doable.” Jake was happy to see them go, since the Inferno Bar supply of trouble easily met demand after his more ornery customers sank deeper in their drink.

Sean placed a $20 on the bar.

“Keep the change.”

“Thanks, you heading west?”

“To the Rockies.”

“Best to take 14 to Fort Collins. There are no police are on that road. You should reach the Frontline in about ninety minutes, then head to Big Thompson Canyon. Try the Big Bear Lodge. The owner’s wife is an excellent cook. Better fetch your girl quick or else my son kidnaps her.”

“Billy. Buck. Now I make the connection.” Sean straightened up on the stool. “Will he be a problem?”

“Billy’s a gentleman unlike some of these fellas.” The bartender nodded to the nearest table of cowpunchers. “He won’t do anything weird.”

“I’m sure that he won’t. See you next time.”

The New Englander exited from the bar trailed by the ranchers’ muttered insults. Back in Boston he might have said something, but Sterling, Colorado wasn’t his hometown.

Sean stopped a few feet and reflected on Jack Kerouac traveling this prairie in the 40s. Nothing had really changed since and he walked to the station wagon more than ready to hit the road.

AK stood by himself.

“Where’s Pam?” Sean asked AK.

“Over there.” He pointed to the crapped-out Chevy pick-up.

The two people inside sat very close. The view of the Rockies was a better show than a drive-in movie, but their heads were locked to each other.

“I think she might have lost track of time.”

“Same as the clock in the Inferno Bar.”

Sean looked back at the bar.

Several men behind the window watched them with an unhealthy interest. Sean handed the Torino’s keys to AK.

“Start the car and blow the horn. If that doesn’t get her attention, then I’ll go over and knock on the window.”

AK sat at the wheel and started the station wagon. Its V8 throbbed with 386 cubic inches of Detroit power. He blew the horn once, waited a few seconds, then blew it twice. The pick-up’s passenger door opened for the blonde to slip out of the truck, arranging her clothing on the walk to the Torino.

The faces in the bar window followed her exit. Girls like Pam came around once a generation in small towns like Sterling. Billy emerged from the Chevy, buttoning his shirt, and ran up to the station wagon.

“Pam, are you leaving just like that?”

“Just like what?” She knew full well what.

“Without a good-bye.”

“We want to make the Rockies tonight.” She motioned for Sean to open the back door of the Torino.

“I wish you could stay.”

Buck’s son had fallen hard for the nursing student, but most men on this trip had succumbed to blonde, including AK.

“In some ways neither do I.” Pam kissed his cheek and settled into the front seat. Sean got in the back. AK revved the engine.

“Write me.” The young cowboy hastily scribbled an address on a piece of paper, which he passed through the open window.

“I’ll try.” Pam accepted the note.

“I really like you.” Billy stood like he expected Pam to get out of the car.

“You ready?” AK asked from behind the wheel.

“Yes.” The blonde nursing student lowered her head to keep from seeing the cowboy’s sad face. AK stepped on the gas. Buck’s son waved good-bye.

Sean felt as comfortable as yolk running from a cracked egg and Pam said, “Sorry about that.”

“Nothing to be sorry about. We’re on the road and don’t have to be who we are or who you will be once you reach to the coast.”

“That boy asked me to stay with him and for a little while I became Billy’s girlfriend, thinking we’d marry, have kids, and turn old looking at those mountains.”

“Living someplace like this isn’t the worst thing in the world.”

They came from the suburbs and the open range was scarier than a Boston ghetto.

“We’re not from here.”

Pam gazed over her shoulder.

The Inferno Bar drifted into the prairie.

“You could have stayed.” AK slowed down a little.

“No, one day I’d feel like Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ and I’d click my heels to transport me back to Washington or New York or some big city, but it was a nice dream.” She tossed Billy’s address out the window and her hand tapped the dashboard. “Could you step on it before I change my mind?”

AK gave the engine more gas and three seconds later he was driving over the speed limit for the first time on this trip.

“The bartender said there were no cops on this road.” Sean repeated Buck’s information.

“I hope he’s right about that.”

The New Yorker was holding pot and possession of marijuana was a felony throughout the Union.

Neither of them had any intention of spending the summer in jail.

“This road cuts through farms and ranches. The map shows no towns between here and Fort Collins.

We have another two hour of sunlight and seventy miles till the Rockies.”

“What are you saying?”

“Faster, faster.” Sean stole the line from Russ Meyer’s sexploitation film FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL, however that movie’s girls wouldn’t have been caught dead with hippies in a station wagon.

“I second the motion.” Pam wanted distance between her and Billy.

AK acted on the vote and the Torino tore down the road at 90.

14 traversed the prairie and the frosted teeth of the Frontline loomed larger with each minute.

Pam stared out the window without any focus. A man should never ask a woman what she’s thinking, but Sean didn’t have to be a mind reader to divine the blonde’s thoughts and said, “Stop beating up yourself about Billy. It was Cinderella’s last dance.”

He couldn’t recollect her ever dancing with her fiancée.

“Hopefully not the last.” Pam was amused by the fairy tale comparison. “And that sitting in that truck was more like a wrestling match than a waltz.”

“Okay, not the last, but I won’t say anything about this to anyone. Not Jackie or Harry.” Sean had little chance of running into her roommate or boyfriend.

“Me neither.” AK was glad to be rid of a rival for Pam’s attention. “Two days ago we left Boston and now we’re almost a mile high. By night time we’ll be even higher.”

Sean checked the map.

“The passes through the Rockies top out at 9,000 feet.”

“I’ve never been that high.” Pam was excited by the prospect of high altitudes.

“The highest I’ve ever been was the top of Mount Washington and that was when I was a little boy. My father drove our station wagon up the toll road to the summit. At the top the wind rocked the car like it would be blown off the top. The Abenaki Indians called the mountain Agiocochook.”

“What’s that mean? Home of the Big Spirit?”

“I think that’s it, but Mount Washington is only 6000 feet high.”

“Was it hard to breathe?”

“A little.”

“The Rockies are much higher.” AK glanced over to Pam to make sure she was listening to him. “The way you feel atop the continent is called Rocky Mountain High.”

“I love that song.”

Pam sang the opening verses. AK and Sean joined her for the chorus.

“Colorado Rocky Mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky.
The shadow from the starlight
is softer than a lullaby
Rocky Mountain high,
Rocky Mountain high.”

Pam knew the lyrics to John Denver’s hit. Sean didn’t mention that the singer’s real name was Henry John Deutschendorf, since she already disapproved of his disdain for the Beatles. When she finished, AK sang John Denver’s COUNTRY ROAD’s first verse, but then stumbled through the second verse and the two of them broke into laughter.

According to ON THE ROAD Jack Kerouac had traveled by bus down from Cheyenne. His friend Dean Moriarty wasn’t in Denver, but the beat writer connected with kindred spirits for wild revels. Sean didn’t know anyone in the Mile-High City and asked AK, “Do you have any friends in Boulder?”

“Helen used to live here.”

“Helen from San Diego?” Sean didn’t know any songs about that city.

“Only her. No one else. You?”

His question was directed at Pam, who answered, “The only person I know in the West is Henry.”

“In Mendocino?”

“One in the same.”

“Then we have no reason to go to Denver.”

Sean kept heading west.

When they reached Fort Collins, he gassed up the Torino and drove down to Loveland. Turning into the mountains the station wagon wound through the narrow defiles of the Big Thompson Canyon. Steep evergreen forests climbed the towering mountains whose peaks formed an uneven crown beneath a jet-black sky filling with stars.

The Big Bear Lodge was located about fifteen miles up the canyon with a dozen wooden cabins scattered along the fast-running creek. They pulled up to the office and a man in his fifties stepped onto the porch.

“Looking for a room?” His accent came from Back East.

“The bartender back at the Inferno Lounge suggested we stay here.” Sean watched the rising moon, which seemed bigger this high in the mountains.

“Buck comes here in the fall for a long mountain hikes. It was kind of him to suggest our place. I’ll give you the big cabin for the price of the small one. My name’s Ralph.” He was in good shape for a man his age.

“I want my own cabin.” Pam wasn’t sharing a room after two days in the car with AK and Sean.

“Then it’s two for the price of one.”

He led them to a two rustic cabins near the rushing stream.

“I’m sure you’d like to freshen up before dinner. Our specialty is fresh trout from the creek and apple pie for dessert. We also have beer and wine.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.” Sean was talking about more than the food.

“Then we’ll see you shortly. The small restaurant is next to the office.

“I’ll meet you there.” Pam hurried to the Torino and yanked out her bag. “But this shower might last forever.”

AK and Sean stowed their bags in the cabin. Their showers lasted a minute each and they sat on the porch admiring the fresh scent of spruce trees. AK had changed into his finest hippie attire and lit up a joint.

Sean coughed on the first tuff.

In the next cabin Pam sang a song, which they couldn’t make out over the tumult of the creek.

“She seems happy.”

“Maybe, but Pam’s pissed at her boyfriend. He hasn’t answered a sine on of her phone calls.”

“She’s probably thinking the worst.” AK passed the joint and asked, “You think there’s any chance for me and her?”

“On this trip. Zero.”

“What about the cowboy in Sterling?”

“He was a harmless fling, plus she knows you have a girlfriend.”

“How she know? You tell her?”

“No. Women know about things like that. The odds are stacked against you.”

“You’re probably right.” AK shrugged off the disappointment. “At least I have my weed.”

They smoked the joint to the bone and Pam emerged from her cabin cleansed by the long shower, wearing a peasant skirt and blouse without out any sandals.

“Nice to be clean again.”

“And even more so to be out of the car.” Sean stood up. “Hungry?”


The three of them walked to the restaurant, where Pam excused herself, “I have to make a call.”

“Good luck.” Sean entered the rustic dining room. After AK sat down Sean asked, “Are you calling Anne-Marie?”

“We don’t need to communicate all the time.”

“If you say so.” Sean ordered a bottle of cheap California wine, which was a welcome change after this afternoon’s beer festival.

A minute later Pam entered the dining room and they ordered trout from Ralph’s wife. Sean cleaned his plate. Dessert was a heavenly slice of apple pie. He ordered seconds and another glass of wine, which he carried outside and sat on the steps.

AK and Pam returned to the cabin. They sat on the porch. A match flared and AK passed the joint to Pam. The black silhouettes of the Rockies loomed around the valley and the river roared with snowmelt.

“I drove past the Queen City many times on my way to the North Country. I even remember the town motto. Labor Vincit.”

“Labor conquers became a joke after with the closing of the Merrimack River mills, which was the reason I joined the army.”

“And you never returned home.”

“After two tours in Korea I mustered out in San Francisco and hitchhiked home from the West Coast. Some hunters dropped me off a few miles up the road. I hiked down to here and stopped for the night. The cook was the boss’ daughter. I loved her apple pie.”

“I can understand why.” Sean had eaten two slices.

“He hired me as the assistant manager. The boss’ daughter and I fell in love. We had kids. The lodge provided for us all. I know it sounds a little wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am’, but I skipped more of the downs than the ups.”

The fifty year-old smiled at his wife in the kitchen. Her joyous eyes exposed that they had survived for better or worse with flying colors.

“I like happy endings.”

All Sean’s romances had one, except someone else enjoyed them.

“Who doesn’t?” Ralph went to the beer cooler and brought back four Coors. He handed Sean two.

“Mind if I join you?”

“You’re certainly better company than me.”

“It’s tough shutting off that voice inside your head, but up here it’s not easy to hear yourself over the sound of the water,” Ralph suggested that they move to a picnic table. Sean followed him and they sat on a bench with the beers.

“Don’t stay up late,” his wife shouted from the office. “I know how you New Englanders are when you run into your own.”

“I’ll be in bed before you know it,” Ralph answered with contentment. ”I’m a lucky man.”

“It’s a good place to end up with a good woman.” The Big Bear Lodge had a firm grip on happiness. Sean’s parents had been equally blessed by luck.

“Yeah, I see hundreds of young people coming up and down this road. Thousands of families on their summer vacations. People on the move, but I’ve never thought about leaving here.” Ralph opened his beer. “It’s the mountains.”

“They are special. Even in the dark.”

“I haven’t been Back East in ten years. My wife hates to fly, but New England was hard to get out of your blood. How are the White Mountains looking these

“Last June I camped beneath Mount Washington. People skied Tuckerman’s Ravine until July. There’s more cars and motels, but once you’re on the trails, you’re in the wilderness.”

“Just like here.”

“In some ways, yes. What do you miss about New England?”

“The trees changing color in autumn. The sound of skates on ice. Fried clams.”

“The best are from Tony’s on Wollaston Beach.”

“Thompson’s in Ipswich.”

The two New Englanders spent an hour jabbering about autumn along Saco River, the logging bars in Berlin, skiing Wildcat in below-zero temperatures, playing pond hockey, and the meat balls subs served at Manchester’s best sandwich shop.

Neither of them were happy about the Boston Bruins losing the Stanley Cup earlier in the month, but the Celtics had beaten the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games to win the NBA championship.

“I didn’t think hippies liked sports.”

“We are who we are no matter how hard we try to be someone else.”

“Now if only the Red Sox could win the World Series.” Ralph raised his eyes to clear cosmos.

“Some things aren’t meant to be.” The decades-old curse of Babe Ruth was stronger than the power of the universe.

“Time to call it a night. I have an early day tomorrow.”

“Thanks for the beer.”

“Sleep well.”

“It shouldn’t be a problem. This clean air is a powerful sleeping pill.”

After Ralph entered the office, the lodge’s lights were extinguished one by one.

Sean walked to the cabin, expecting his two companions to be asleep, but Pam sat on her porch, a blanket wrapped around her legs against the cool mountain air.

“Are you okay?” Sean pulled up the leather jacket collar.

“I couldn’t sleep.” Pam played with a loose shank of hair. “I finally spoke with my boyfriend. Harry said that he loved me. This afternoon was wrong.”

“Nothing happened, did it?” Her going all the way shouldn’t have been possible in the front seat of a pick-up truck.

“No, but I wanted it too.”

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting it. In fact wanting it is normal.”

“Not for women. A man wants a virgin on his wedding night.”

The Pill had liberated women’s bodies. Loosening the chains on their minds was a more difficult achievement.

“Is that what your boyfriend said?” Sean had met the intern twice. The lanky Harry was no Billy.

“Yes, and also that any girl who gives up her virginity before marriage is a whore.”

“I think most men want a little of both.” He had never slept with a virgin.

“Not Harry. He hasn’t even masturbated.”

“Impossible.” Sean had learned the art of self-abuse at the age of 12.

“He swears it’s true.”

“There’s nothing is wrong with you. Same as nothing was wrong with Jackie going back to her old boyfriend. People do what they want, even if that not what other people want. It’s called freedom of choice.”

He sat on the steps.

“Do yourself a favor. Stop thinking you did something wrong. It was only kissing, and even if it was more, then that wasn’t wrong either. The birds and bees do it and so do we.”

“The birds and bees.” Pam laughed at this reference. “My mother tried to explain sex with the birds and bees. Why you think they use that allegory?”

“Because that way you don’t know nothing, but what you learn yourself.” He held Pam’s hand and stood up on the porch. “C’mon, it’s time to sleep. We have a long day ahead of us.”

“I appreciate your listening.”

Her kiss on his cheek was as tender as a mother’s good-bye.

“Listening’s what I’m here for sometimes.” Sean watched Pam enter the other cabin. He went to his. AK snored in his bed. Sean spread a blanket on the couch and opened the window. The air was fragrant with fallen pine needles.

He opened ON THE ROAD. Kerouac was traveling into the mountains with friends from Denver. The book lowered onto his chest.

Several seconds later Sean fell asleep.

It had been a long day.

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