By the time Jasmine Reece of Columbia, Mo. rolled into Panny’s Pizza in Ridgway, Colo., she had bicycled over 2,000 miles. It was September 28, and Reece, an amateur cyclist, had been on the road alone, accompanied only by her dog, Fiji, since May.
She had started bicycling in New Brunswick, N.J., and continued east across the plains, cycling to raise money for the Missouri Lions Eye Research Foundation (where Reece had volunteered while still a student at the University of Missouri), to lose weight, and to have a big adventure. “I didn’t want to be 24-years-old, stuck in my own bubble and not travelling,” Reece told a reporter at the Maryland Cumberland Times-News last spring. “And after I finish, I’ll be able to say I can do most anything.”
Reece is an aspiring violinist. She keeps her instrument strapped to the top of her 125-pound trailer, which she pulls along behind her bike (Fiji runs alongside, or rides in a doggy buggy). She also keeps an iPad with her, programmed with an eclectic mix of the South Korean R&B combo Big Bang and the boy-band Shinee, electronic club-music beats from Rameses B, and the Second Movement of Korngold’s Violin Concerto, played by Anne-Sophie Mutter and conducted by Andre Previn. Reece had listened to the Korngold concerto on her ride through a long, dark tunnel during an earlier part of her trip, but even gorgeous music couldn’t help her over the Rockies. Monarch Pass “almost killed me,” she said. Now, a trail rides group that shall go nameless had suggested this amateur cyclist head through Ridgway, up over the Dallas Divide and, eventually, over Lizard Head Pass. Her ultimate destination: Route 50, dubbed the Loneliest Road in America and undoubtedly not the most welcoming of spots for Reece, who had not packed a tent, and instead been relying on the kindness of friendly strangers, benevolent churches, welcoming motels and even the Salvation Army to shelter her and Fiji each night. A sign on the trailer she pulled behind her bike said, “Cycling across America!! To save eyesight! We need food, money and places to stay…Thank You, Fiji and Jasmine (www.fijabam.com).”
Every weary road warrior needs a guardian angel, and Reece found one that late-September afternoon in Ridgway resident Julia Johnson, who was just wrapping up lunch with her friends, Judy Darwick and Judy’s husband, Jimmy, at Panny’s Pizza. Johnson invited Reece and Fiji home to her place on Log Hill for the night; Jimmy drove them up in the back of his truck. In Johnson’s spacious living room overlooking the Sneffels Range, Reese entertained her hostess and Johnson’s visiting friends with fiddle tunes such as “Ashokan Farewell” and “Orange Blossom Special,” as well as classical selections from Mozart’s Concerto Number Three on her violin. One of the friends offered to drive Reece and Fiji – and her bike and attached trailer – to the top of Lizard Head Pass. From there, Reece could glide down (more or less) on the way to Cortez, where another friend of Johnson’s would meet her and take her in as she made her way west. And so the chain of little kindnesses went: a friend of that friend drove her to Moab, where Reece hoped to hitch a ride across the desert with a tourist driving a big RV. (Johnson had, via email, helped convince her to give up the idea of riding across it by now, as had a story she had just heard from a fellow rider, also travelling solo. Like Reece, that woman had been travelling with a dog loping alongside, when a driver deliberately veered into the animal with his truck.)
Eventually, Johnson helped persuade Reece to rent a car (at Johnson’s expense) and drive, rather than pedal or hitch a ride or series of rides with strangers across the big empty.
And so, at press time, Reece was set to head off with Fiji to Sacramento in a rental vehicle courtesy of a local benefactor who not only made her journey more pleasant, but more importantly, kept her safe. At Sacramento, Reece reported, she would leave the rental car behind, and bike with Fiji to San Francisco. Then she would pedal south down Highway 1, the Pacific Coast route, to San Diego – her final destination. She called Johnson “my road mama.”
“I’ve been so taken care of during this trip,” she added. “People have been so, so wonderful.” For her part, Johnson says she found the past few days nerve-wracking and upsetting. “I was so worried about” the thought of Reece on the high mountain passes and out on U.S. 50 all alone, she said. “Oh my God, is she brave. I really, really liked the gal a lot. And I loved that dog.”
To see more of Reece’s adventures on the road or to make a donation, visit fijabam.com or Jasmine and Fiji’s Facebook Page. To hear her play, visit the You Tube page Violinfanatic.
Ridgway Artists’ Exhibit
The Ridgway Library often welcomes artists who are friends or partners to exhibit their works side-by-side. Now the library has done it again: artist David Cary and photographer Natalie Heller, local neighbors, have a show up through November. He makes lamps out of contorted red willow, fallen branches, and driftwood dredged from the Uncompahgre River, then hand worked and waxed. The lampshades are fashioned from luminous handmade rice paper, which he often water colors to reflect the color of the setting sun at the 7,700-foot altitude where he resides. The lamps are larger than what you might expect; a few seem to loom and glow like the giant planet Jupiter (minus the Giant Red Spot) or the surface of a star. “Nature is the artist,” Cary has said. “I just joyfully go along for the ride.”
Heller’s photographs are mainly of working cowboys and ranchers. In this way, just like Cary’s, her works reflect the local milieu. She is acutely aware that the people who collect her extremely realistic photographs – you can practically smell the searing flash in one, as a glowing brand touches a cow’s side – are not the folks who do the work. Most of the photos were taken at the Centennial Ranch; the ranch’s owner, Vince Kontney, keeps a parcel of property near Heller’s home, and they met “and bonded over horses, brandings and cattle” at a homeowners meeting. Since then, he has invited her each year to observe and photograph the working cowboys at his ranch. Heller is acutely aware of the irony: “Ranchers are usually not the audience for my photos,” she says. “They’re the people living this life.” Yet earlier this year, one ranching family – the Potters, who pasture their cattle on Hastings Mesa – did contact Heller and asked her to come photograph. Heller was glad to oblige. “Vince Kontney and his family are what I would call gentlemen cowboys,” she said. “They can take half a day” to round up the cattle by horseback, and, in the process, help her set up a shot just so. The Potters, by contrast, are working ranchers: “They’re doing as much from trucks and all-terrain vehicles as they can.” They can’t mosey along. “They have hay to bale and cattle to sell. They must do this the efficient way.” She was intrigued with the contrasts – the “eye candy” of horses versus the horsepower of ATVs – and she is trying to document it before it is gone. “This is more than just my passion,” she said. Ranchers like Mike, Henry and Christine Potter, who have owned and worked a homestead for more than 75 years, “are a dying breed.”
The Heller-Cary exhibit will be up through mid-November. To see more of Cary’s work, visit lighshipart.com. Heller’s photos can be found on cards at Lupita’s Bazaar in Ridgway; her prints are available online at loneconephotography.com.