Frosty Wooldridge

CONNECTING THE DOTS

More About: Entertainment: Outdoor Recreation

PART 6: BICYCLING COAST TO COAST ACROSS AMERICA--TEXAS

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.
 
At Clovis, New Mexico, the road flattened! No more hard ‘play’!  Never hit my granny gear for the rest of the ride!  But a new challenge awaited: heat and humidity.
 
We pedaled into Texas for seven days crossing the Old Chisholm Trail, other cattle trails, Pecos River, Rio Grande.  Nothing too much exciting about Texas!  Lots of working oil wells and thousands of abandoned wells dotted and blighted the landscape.  Additionally, I witnessed thousands of abandoned cars, trucks, tractors, trailer homes and junk of all descriptions along the roads I traveled.  Really ugly! Sweat soaked my jersey and shorts every day from ten minutes into the ride until stopping around 7:00 p.m. at night. Shower!  Yes, a Godsend, but only three minutes worth from my shower bag! Still, clean, dinner, sleep! 
 
In my journal:  in 150 short years—the new citizens of this continent that the Indians had kept pristine for a thousand years—have trashed North America.  I witnessed hundreds of thousands of junked cars, trailers, tractors, metal, plastic bags, bottles, cans, glass and abandoned buildings thus far.  We Americans have turned America into a giant junk yard.  No personal responsibility, no personal accountability,  no one cares enough to lift a finger! Our rivers run with chemicals and floating bottles and plastic.  I’ve canoed the Mississippi and it’s a junk yard replete with unending chemicals.  At its mouth, it features a 10,000 square mile ‘dead zone’ where vertebrate marine creatures cannot survive.   I saw junk cars, junk trailer homes, junk of all kinds on the main streets of many little towns across the south.   It’s almost like the residents ‘can’t see’ the ugliness and therefore, ignore it and do nothing to change their environment.  Even in Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Death Valley, people throw their crap out the windows of their cars.  I swear that plastic proves the worst invention of humanity.  It spreads like a plague across the planet, killing and destroying the natural world.   While I have picked up over a half million pieces of trash in my life, humans continue to trash the planet faster than those of us who care about our surroundings—can pick it up.  In a word, it makes me sick to my stomach.”
 
In a small Texas town, I stopped at a Subway near dusk for a sandwich and lemonade. A tall, lean teenager, about 18, stepped into line with me, “Are you riding that bike with the sign ‘Coast to Coast’?” 
 
“Yes, sir,” I said. “That’s my bike.”
 
“Can I buy you dinner?” he said.  “I’d like to hear how you made this ride.”
 
For the next hour, this young man, named Davis listened like a sponge  on how to live a life of adventure.  He asked penetrating questions and declared that he didn’t want to live a ‘normal’ life and that he too wanted to travel the world.  He planned on college and then, on to an exciting life of his own. I applauded his spirit and his energy. When I walked out, I felt tremendous encouragement that every human being enjoys potential for a fulfilling life.
 
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