Ouray is an old silver mining town at the head of a box canyon at the headwaters of the Uncompahgre River, and at the base of the San Juan Mts. It is named after one of the last Chiefs of the Ute Indians, who is celebrated for “delaying the inevitable”, according to the local tribal museum. I wonder if such an accolade might also be available for Neville Chamberlain.
Ouray is also one of the most beautiful towns in America. Waterfalls spill down 1,500 foot cliffs. The main street is 25 yards across, and slopes precipitously across the street, such that the sidewalk on one side is 30 feet lower than the other. Trucks and cars routinely slide across the road in the winter, crashing into the properties on the downhill side. The place is fiercely idiosyncratic, and currently populated equally by refugee hippies, refugee hedge fund managers, and local ranchers. This is the second time I’ve been to Ouray, (the first was on the RTR in 1988) and I had forgotten how much I liked this place.
The ride to Ouray was as pleasant and easy as the day before was miserable and difficult. The ride was down wind and gently uphill the whole way. There was only one downhill of any significance which was straight, good pavement and fast. Blue bird weather completed the spectacular, if unchallenging ride.
I felt the vigor early in the ride, and caught a guy wearing a Tour of Okinawa riding shirt. I drafted off the guy, and started to talk with him. It turns out that he is a 48 year old Sergeant Major in the Special Forces, based in Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. We rode along for about 15 miles, enjoying the route along back roads through Mennonite farms. He warmed up to either the conversation or the exercise, because he talked more and more, he pedaled faster and faster, ultimately dropping me like a bad habit.
He answered three direct questions, and I thought that the answers were well reasoned and based on a perspective hard to duplicate, and I’ll pass them along:
1) Are we winning in Afghanistan? We won the anti-terror war long ago. The Afghanistan people have no capability of exporting terrorism today, that capability is all in Pakistan. Today we are trying to change their culture, e.g. equal rights for women in a democracy, which we will lose. Much of this work is pushed down to his units, which he did not feel was appropriate. They weren’t designed for that purpose. He rated the Afghan military as well trained and up to the job.
2) How is the withdrawal going in Iraq? The withdrawal is going fine, but afterwards we are leaving a large Special Forces contingent without the medical and logistical support that it receives from the regular Army. He rated the Iraqi military as OK. Watch out.
3) How did he feel about the 5.56mm cartridge? He felt that it was entirely inappropriate for a counter terrorism mission. “We really need a 7.62mm alternative for counter insurgency” was the response.
Tomorrow is a fierce climb from the start to 11,00 feet, and a three summit day. The highway out of town is the “Million Dollar Highway” also of WPA origins. The last 26 miles are all downhill, and may produce a new person land speed record.