We pedaled on to Kingman, Arizona. In the middle of the desert, as we sweated our butts off, a man stopped Bob and me and said, “What would be your highest wish out here in this blistering heat?”
“I could use a gallon of lemonade,” Bob said.
“Me too,” I said.
The fellow, an Austrian visitor to the USA, walked over to his trunk, cracked a cooler and brought back two, ice-cold cans of exquisite lemonade.
“God bless you!” I said. “You’re an angel!”
“Enjoy boys,” he said as he jumped back into the car and sped off.
“I swear the world is full of angels,” Bob said.
“Man, humans make the most intriguing creatures,” I said.
Upon reaching Kingman, Bob, always the intrepid traveler, parted with us as he needed to take care of other commitments back home. Then, on to Route 66 for a trip through memory lane and what a few memories that route provided! Old ‘57 Chevies, old gas stations with .19 cents for a gallon of gas, with pictures of John Wayne, Jane Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe alias Norma Jean, the Beatles, Dale and Roy Rogers, Everly Brothers, Clint Eastwood and so many more! Amazingly, in 1958, my mom and our family drove an old ’53 Chevy from Chicago to Pier 59 in Santa Monica on our way to meet our dad in Hawaii! At the time, this 11 year old did not have any idea that he would be also traveling this same road on a bicycle over 50 years later! Who woulda’ thunk it!
In my journal, “Often, as I see this country spinning ever faster, ever more frenetic, I wonder where our ‘high speed’ lives, work and living will lead us. How can we continue on such a pace as to race through our existence? To what end? Makes me wonder.”
Thoreau said, “We need the tonic of the wilderness, to wade sometimes in the marsh where the bitten and the meadow hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.”
On to Grand Canyon with its vast panorama of 1.7 billion years socked into one grand vision sunk into the desert in northern Arizona, the Painted Desert colored with brush strokes only known to God’s creative angels, the Petrified Forest where trees turned to stone, and Antelope Canyon where water turned rock in sculptor.
On to New Mexico through her majestic mountains to Ft. Sumner and Billy the Kid Museum. Denis departed as he suffered a family emergency in Quebec. And, Scott headed north toward interviews in Oklahoma and at his old college. www.fightobesityride.com
Sandi drove down from Denver and we shared dinner, conversation, and the museum. Nice to rest for a day and talk about the ride and all the exciting things Sandi enjoyed back in Denver.
After Sandi returned home, I faced three days of 30 mph headwinds. Horrible, miserable, mind numbing pedaling and not too many miles. Yet, I continued with tenacity because that’s what bicycle touring requires. Climbing, dropping, climbing, dropping. Hard play! Up that mountain! Down that other side! Legs churning the wheels as if flying. Finally, over the last set of mountains, the wind died.
In my journal, “I stopped by a guard rail and sat down with great consternation. All around me, wind raged from the east. I had been battling that wind for five hours. How can a man yell at Nature? How can I beg for a tail wind? How can I scream that I’m sick of these head winds? Okay boy, calm down! True grit! Either you got it or you can break down and cry. Who me? Cry? Man, I would hate to have someone stop along the road to see a grown man crying. But just then, a pickup stopped and an old man stepped out with a 10 gallon hat. He drawled, “You look like you’re about to cry.” I said, “These head winds won’t let me ride my bike with any kind of a break. They punish me! They beat me unmercifully and they won’t stop. I’m crying because I’m a baby in adult clothing.” The cowboy scratched his head, pulled down his hat, “Listen son, quit feeling sorry for yourself. Ain’t nobody cares about your iddy-bitty feelings. If’n you ain’t tough enough for life’s hardships, then find yourself a mule and ride him and let him suffer, or git yourself a good pickup truck and let the engine do the work…but don’t sit out here in the middle of nowhere crying. Did Genghis Kahn cry? Did Napoleon cry? Did Audie Murphy cry? Do you think John Wayne cried? Hell no! Quit feelin’ sorry for yourself. I don’t feel sorry for you! You got to ‘cowboy up’ ya hear me?” I looked up to the old cowboy, “Yes sir, I’m gonna’ cowboy up and get down the road.” And, so I slipped my feet back into the toe clips and headed into that nasty headwind. It still sucks, but I won’t let that old cowboy see me cry! Besides, if John Wayne didn’t cry, I better ‘cowboy up’! As I would find out later that day, the old cowboy gave me much wisdom and an even greater gift.”
That evening at dusk, I followed a dirt road to camp in a quiet area among a jumble of gray rocks. The wind died. The sky slowly turned to strawberry hues and streaks of clouds resembling horse tails ‘whisked’ across the gathering eastern sky. The sun, just beginning to dip below the horizon burned with a pink intensity too amazing to describe. I had faced a hard day in the saddle. I pitched my tent. But before I set up to cook my dinner, I saw a large hawk ‘fluttering’ quietly above a spot not 50 yards away. I decided to investigate.
Suddenly, he lowered his wings and dove straight down toward the ground. I hurried to where he aimed his body. I stealth-fully crept up on where I figured he might have landed. When I pulled myself just over a large rock about six feet above a small clearing before me, I saw the hawk confronting a three foot long rattle snake. The snake, coiled as tight as springs on a 1954 Ford Pickup, unleashed a strike at the hawk, but the hawk stepped back in a blink. The rattler recoiled. Kicking up a little dust, the hawk flew up a foot and dared the snake to strike, which it did! But the hawk dodged the strike with ease! This dance of “air predator” versus “ground predator” continued for ten thrilling if not magical minutes.
Each time, the hawk dared the snake to strike. And, the snake complied as was its nature. By now, the last rays of the day limped across the heavens. The strawberry sky turned pale pink while clouds turned gray, but just enough light kept the drama before me incredibly clear. I watched in amazed, but quiet excitement. In the last few strikes, the rattler clearly lost his ‘zip’. But the hawk appeared fresh as Muhammad Ali dancing around the ring.
After another ten strikes, the rattler failed to recoil quickly. The bird hopped and flew over his head. The rattler made two more strikes, but on the third strike, the hawk snatched the snake right behind his head. He pecked the snake on the head as he held the snake securely within his talons. Almost without effort, he lifted into the sky with a limp rattler dangling beneath him. Within seconds, he flew into the sunset and vanished into the night.
“My God,” I muttered to myself. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
“How many hearts with warm red blood in them are beating under cover of the woods, and how many teeth and eyes are shining! A multitude of animal people, intimately related to us, but whose lives we know almost nothing, are as busy about their own affairs as we are about ours.” John Muir, 1869
I returned to my campsite. I pulled out my tripod seat and planted myself upon it. I lit my one burner cooking stove and threw on a pack of rice and pilaf. As it cooked over the heat, I dipped a slice of my new loaf of bread down into the broth. I looked up at the stars. I gazed at the gray rock all around me. I watched the very last ‘tone’ of the western sky surrender to the onslaught of the darkness. The tasty scent of my dinner wafted toward my nostrils. Soon, the rice/pilaf dinner and my loaf of bread made their way into my hungry mouth.
How can a man be so lucky as to see a sight like I had just witnessed? What grace of the Great Spirit brought me to that moment? While adventure is not always comfortable, it allows for pure moments of untainted amazement unavailable to city dwellers.
“Time means nothing now. It slips away as easily as grains of sand on a beach. But those grains only trade places. On my bike, I change the same way—new locations in the passage of time. The pedaling becomes incidental now—like breathing. No conscious effort—only flow. The hills and mountains come and go—my legs powering over them in a kind of winsome trance. Grappling with headwinds only brings determination, while riding a tail wind brings ecstasy. I transform into a state of bliss, much like a seagull gliding over the waves or floating on updrafts. I see them standing on the beaches or soaring over the surf. Just living. Just being. Me too!” Frosty Wooldridge, on the road.