Finding Comfort on the Prairie
Making adjustments after the sudden
disappearance of mountains.
By Geoff Roes
To me one of the strangest geographical oddities on this continent is that place where the prairie meets the mountains on the eastern edge of the Rockies. If traveling from the west you have the experience of seemingly endless mountains which then out of nowhere just stop. No smooth transition into prairie through miles of gradual, less intense mountains. Rather the mountains just plain stop and the prairie begins. In many places you could define the exact point within a few feet. Traveling from the east you of course get the exact opposite view. You begin to see the Rocky Mountains from 50, 70, or 100 miles away on a clear day, and as you get closer and closer you begin to notice the Plains just pushing right up to the base of the mountains. Suddenly the plains end and almost instantly you feel as though deep into the mountains.
A few days ago we went through this transition. For us it was the west to east edition. One minute mountains and the next minute prairie. Even traveling at our pace of 10 miles per hour the transition seemed to occur almost instantly. One second we were screaming down out of the Snowy Mountains toward Centennial, WY and then around a corner we came and there was town, and on the edge of town there was the prairie. We stopped over in a small café for lunch, partly to warm up after the long cold downhill ride, but also without knowing it at the time I think we were stopping for a bit to let the instant change sink in a little slower. I don’t think I was quite ready to let go of the mountains that had been our companion for so many days.
Now though here we are, a few days into the prairie. The change has sunk in completely and I’m just beginning to find comfort and companionship in the flat, windy, dry lands that are the Great Plains. Sometimes at night the wind does actually stop blowing but the rest of the time it’s always there. Much like the sun in Utah in July or the clouds in New York in December. It’s not always a sharp, driving wind but a steady consistent flow of air is always with you during the day. The problem though with biking in the wind is that much more often than not the wind is working against you rather than for you. Headwind is of course the worst, but a stiff side-wind can be nearly as bad. If it moves back just a bit so that it’s coming a little more from behind than from the side then things just begin to click and next thing you know you’re cruising along at 20 miles per hour without hardly pushing on the pedals. The best though are those rare moments when the wind is directly behind you: uphill at 15 miles per hour and on flats and downhills you don’t even bother pedaling. The wind does half the work for you and then you can just relax and enjoy the prairie.
There’s always something to find comforting about the prairie, it’s usually just a matter of knowing or remembering where to look. Sometimes it’s a herd of pronghorn grazing off in the distance, or it may be watching all the different flowers along the road side – especially the ever present sunflowers, or often it’s nothing more than appreciating how far you can see and all the space that is yours. Of all things though, the most comforting is the feeling created by the prairie at dusk.
Nearly each day as the sun begins to set the wind stops, sometimes as instantly as the mountains ended and the prairie began. Suddenly everything seems so quiet and so still. You look around and in every direction you see only completely stillness. Even the vehicles on the roads are far enough away at times that they don’t even appear to be moving, just painted on the landscape in utter stillness. With the stopping of the wind the air gains a bit of moisture really quickly and the temperature seems to drop from dry and scorching to perfectly comfortable in just a moments time. Out of nowhere you feel in a completely different place and although you had just begun to find comfort in a full day of wind and sun you become at once completely content with the change. You hear a truck moving closer and a dog barking off in the distance, perhaps 5 miles away, but these things don’t even seem real. The entire scene becomes part of your imagination because you feel nothing around you. The temperature has dropped and the wind has stopped and now you feel nothing. Not hot, not cold, no wind, and seemingly no noise. The truck is really close now and as the noise gets louder and louder you hear it less and less. Eventually everything you see and hear seems to become only part of your imagination. The last light of dusk drops over the horizon and stars begin to glow overhead. Nightfall is here and slowly you begin to come back to reality. The moon lights the sky, somehow brighter out here on the prairie than anywhere else. The air is somewhat chilly now, but after the heat of day the coldness is completely welcome. Eventually you drift off to sleep, eager to search for an even more comforting experience the following day.