Steamboat Springs There's nothing like driving across the country in a souped-up four-wheel drive vehicle with power steering and a comfortable adjustable driver's seat. And if that souped-up four-wheeler is a lawn mower, there's really nothing like it.
For 122 consecutive days, Gary Hatter of Champagne, Ill., has put the pedal to the metal of his riding lawn mower, pushing the machine to its 9 mph limit. On Friday morning, his trek took him through Steamboat Springs.
Hatter, a stocky man dressed all in black, is trying to drive through all 48 states in the continental United States. He hopes the trip will help him pay for back surgery with donations and get his life "straightened back out." Along the way, he has cut grass along the side of the highway, broken world records (according to the Guinness Book), braved the snow in Cheyenne and even spent a lazy Sunday riding through Canada.
"It's an interesting way to spend a Sunday drive. Go to Canada on a lawn mower," he said. The Canadian border patrol let him in even though he didn't have a passport.
Colorado is his 34th state and, though he dreaded climbing the Rockies, he said the people here have made it a fun trip. He coasted into town Thursday night from Spring Creek and didn't have to pay a red cent during his overnight stay. Harwigs Grill treated Hatter to a free dinner, and the Super 8 Motel put him up for the night.
"In Steamboat Springs, they've treated me like a champ," he said. "People like that helping me out is what's kept me going on."
Hatter hasn't had to pay to stay in a motel yet, and, though he brought along a full load of camping gear, it has remained unused on the back of his lawn mower.
He sells checkered flags off the back of his lawn mower for $5 apiece and has spent much of the trip flat broke, relying on the kindnesses of strangers.
On the way, Hatter listens to local radio stations and talks to at least 15 people a day, some of whom ask him for his autograph. He has documented the trip with photographs and videotapes and records his status on a tape recorder at every stop. He spent his 204th roll of film photographing Steamboat.
Hatter has been featured in USA Today, on NBC, and may be part of a "Ripley's Believe It or Not" television special, he said. He shattered all the old lawn mower driving records miles and miles ago.
Hatter began his lawn mower odyssey in Portland Maine, where he bought the lawn mower, a green Kuboto Bx 2200 with a 22 horsepower engine. On the front of his mower, Hatter hung a sign that reads "Racing Across America."
And race across America he has.
From Portland on May 31, Hatter took off down South with his son riding beside him in a support vehicle. From South Carolina, he turned West and zigzagged across the country, staying on the shoulder of smaller roads for the most part. Although he got detoured onto Highway 70 for a few dicey miles, he has driven through much of Colorado on Route 6.
Hatter stopped at the Route 66 gas station to fill up with diesel fuel before heading out to Craig Friday morning.
He gets about 13 miles to the gallon and can drive 78 miles on a full tank. He's gone as far as 131 miles in a day, but his favorite moment in the trip was when he drove 150 blocks down Broadway in New York City. People there stopped him in the street, excited just to touch the machine.
"In a city where everyone's seen everything, no one had ever seen a riding lawn mower before. I just felt like I was a UFO."
As curious drivers came up to the gas station, some offered encouragement, yelling, "Let's go, You go." Others simply smiled and drove off.
"Colorado's been real good to me," Hatter said, twisting the cap closed on his gas tank.
Then he got back on his lawn mower, pulled slowly onto the shoulder of the highway and headed west.
To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org