Greg Katski describes the most memorable trash he's picked up while visiting Colorado in two words: "drunken and kinky." One of six members of Pick Up America, a group devoted to collecting trash across the United States, Katski and company have stumbled across some "seriously freaky stuff," he says. Aside from a can of Surge, his most recent prized discovery was one of his biggest surprises to date: the remains of a sex doll.
"I was walking by, and I saw the head of this blow-up doll and said, 'What the hell is that?'" Katski says. "Then I saw the hole, and I was like, 'Oh, shit.' When I kept walking, I found the two boobs."
In the twenty months since March 2010, the Pick Up America crew has walked 1,850 miles and collected more than 150,000 pounds of trash between Maryland and Colorado. This weekend marks the close of its second year spent cleaning the country's public roads -- and although Colorado is cleaner than most other states, Katski says, the trash here is often R-rated.
"There were a shit-ton of beer cans, first off," he says. "Eastern Colorado had the most beer cans per capita of anywhere I've seen so far. For the first time since southern Ohio, we found some freaky, freaky stuff. We've found a lot of porn magazines and DVDs, and Mark found a dildo again -- out in the middle of nowhere, too."
The word "again" is key. Every day, the group spends at least eight hours picking up trash outside of the 35-foot school bus in which its members have traveled west. The bus, which was altered to feature bunk beds and a fridge, still has no bathroom, though it recently gained more space heaters. As the weather grows cold, it becomes difficult for those who live in it to spend their days outside of it, and members take a break each year for the winter to pass.
"We probably could have kept going, but it's just so damn cold," Katski says. "The weather turned on us really quickly, and in these small Colorado towns we've been in, it gets hard to function."
The Pick Up America crew drove from Kansas into Colorado November 1 and started with a stop in Joes, population eighty. Most of the cities the group has experienced are small ones, in large part because the guys are purposely avoiding I-70. ("It can be dangerous, and there's so much trash on it we'd never get anywhere," Katski says.) Since their entrance into the state, the volunteers have spent most of their time on or near Route 36 in towns like Last Chance ("a Dairy Queen and a park") and Cope ("so tiny"). Although the group is ending its stay in Denver this weekend, it will continue by cleaning the city's streets when it reconvenes in March.
"Eastern Colorado was probably the most desolate, sparsely populated place we've walked through," Katski says. "We keep ending up in these towns with no one in them, but they're fun and their people are amazing."
Funded mostly through sponsors and private donations, Pick Up America depends upon fundraising events like the one it will host tomorrow. At the Marquis, the group is kicking off the end of its trash year with a party appropriately titled a "trash bash." Because Colorado's cleanliness meant the group traveled faster than usual through the state, the crew has spent the last ten days walking twenty to 25 miles every day, and Katski, for one, welcomes the break. It will be his final weekend with Pick Up America.
"When I joined Pick Up America, I always had the intention of only doing it for one year, but I'm starting to get sad about that," he says. "When I leave, I'll never think about trash the same way again. I'll probably also never run into trash this interesting."
More from our News archive: "Extraterrestrial life: White House claim that it has no proof clearly false, says Jeff Peckman."