Friday, February 17, 2012

So This is Christmas





“Careful, the bike is pretty... Heavy.” The eighty pound bike dangling weigtless above his head, gripped by the nose and tail of Tuktuk’s frame. Gear and aluminium dangled above his head just long enough to cast his statue in my memory.

“What?”

“Oh, no worries.” I felt awkward and out of place, stumbling numb, snotty, and shivering on the soft shoulder of the highway.

The temperature dropped with the sun an hour ago, about the same time I pulled off into the soft gravel shoulder of a long strait highway with a nasty crosswind; I’d been riding since first light, navigated downtown phoenix, and its' striat-a-way outskirts lined with junk car lots and barking dogs. Just outside Phoenix is a land of circa 1980 muscle cars and amatour NASCAR drivers; not cycling friendly roads. It was about one hundred and twenty miles or so until I’d had enough.

Hitch hiking and touring go hand in hand—if you’re tired of riding or the riding gets tough, stop, put out your thumb—and the adventure will continue.

***

Dan muscled the dangling handlebars and awkwardness of it all super well, Tuktuk floated onto the bed of his truck like a feather while I stumbled around numbly in my tights.

“Get in.” I didn’t argue.


***


We talked about hunting mountain lions, women, and trucks. The cab smelt like tree sap and stale chewing tobacco. Glancing into the back seat, Dan had tools, tree clippers, and a GladWare food container with what looked like a chicken leg and brown rice next to a gallon jug of water. Cheap magnetic signs slapped on the side doors read: ‘Dan’s Tree Service’. I found it odd to have a tree service in the desert but appreciated the ride.

I learned Dan was heading to tow a friend whose truck broke down in the town I needed to be, about the same time he erupted: “Gadamn Truck.” Swerving off to the side of the road.

It’s dark now, and I can hear the wind still blowing as he climbs out of the cab.

Five minutes later he opens the door, wind flinging it open. I’m toasty warm and thinking about the first beer. He turns off the key, the SuperDuty Deisel hum sputters, looks over at me: “diesel fuel… Everywhere”

***

Turns out Danno blew a fuel injector: “Sorry bud, I’m gunna be here awhile. You’d better get gowin to wherever it is you need to be.”

Dan lifted Tuktuk from the bed like a small piece of wood, bounced her upright, and off into the darkness and wind we went.

I finished day one in the dark on a lonesome highway in eastern Arizona. There weren’t any cars. There wasn’t much sound other than the damn cross wind. I rolled into a town named Sloam; one hotel with a car on cinder-blocks out front; had to wake the weather faced office woman. No one else staying there—just me, Tuktuk, and a cold dirty bed.

***

The trip finally found rhythm—ride from sun-up till sunset, try to hitch-hike, check into the local hotel, go run the along the irrigation ditches, then pizza. I tend to rush through life as it is but on this trip I needed to ride over 400 miles in less than three days so I could join another tour that started in San Diego.

A thousand mile Google map Lollipop; the second half supported from San Deigo to Palm Desert to Ocean Side to San Diego and with company, the first half—solo, towing gear, and started in Pheonix. The quality of running at sunset on irrigation ditches back dropped by mountains I’d ride over the next morning, pastelled by night colors was a Christmas gift.

This was a Christmas Tour; December 23rd – January 1st.

***

“Hey man, hey… Hey you need some grass?” He pulled out what looked like sage, no bag. A gracious fistful--dropping a piece on the sidewalk it didn’t bounce, more so plopped.

I hadn't really talked to many folks in the last few days and just from below sea level, over a 6,000ft coastal mountain range from the desert, and had been racing the sun to the Pacific, dodging and swerving around homeless people in the dark on the bike-path that leads to Dog Beach (Ocean Beach, San Diego).

I thought about telling this to the young guy with skinny legs in cut-off jean shorts, but instead thanked him kindly, stared at the steps in front of me, and then followed them up to a group of guys swaggering on the porch.

“Is this San Diego Backpacker’s Hostel?”

“Hey man, nice tights.” The guy with sage getting impatient now.

Shouldering Tuktuk, we limped up the stairs into a dodgy black hole; the San Diego Backpacker’s Hostel on Newport Ave.

Check-in felt like a homeless shelter: old blanket, overworked front-desk-person with a huge heart, plastic wrapped mattress, and body odor. I got drunk and loud with misfits; this was Christmas, and it felt alive.

***

There’s another Hostel in San Deigo on the other side of town, and for forty some years they’ve been putting on a bike tour. Started by Pro-road racers who needed miles and wanted to bring family, the tour is now carried on by their children; it epitomizes why I like endurance. The accommodations are church floors and community centers and the food is a group effort, the price is cheap, and the company is world class.


Stand out characters from the San Deigo Hostel Tour:

Captain Steve: Did a lap around the planet in a sailboat he built himself, set a speed record and was bracing for media impact (2008); he arrived back in San Diego the same day Micheal Jackson died—robbed of recognition, all he has to show for it is stories and memories; worth more than money as far as I’m concerned. Steve lives on his boat in San Diego. He travels via human power.

Drew: Drew rides Time Trial bike. He is a scientist of cycling, no solid foods just homemade liquid formula while riding, shorter crank length, on a Power Crank, bigger gears, and ear-plugs so he can hear himself breath; I thrive on people like Drew who aren’t consumer hip, and constantly searching for the perfect ride—he laughs a lot and rides like we did after school on Fridays in the spring. Its guys like Drew that keep cycling fun.


The Irishman: Opening night of the tour we were to give a reason for being on a bicycle ride while we ought be with family: The Irishman, who now practices law in London, opened with story-teller’s welcome; he spoke of his beautiful heritage and the mother land, and offered: “When I come to the states people always like to tell me, ‘Oh, my great-great grandmother is from Ireland’.” He throws a vocalic pause in here, the crowed of sixty tired cyclist already riding the edge of their metal folding chair in the Pine Valley Community Center.

“And I just tell them, lady, I don’t give a damn.”

The Irishman and I got along. He wore no cycling specific equiptment the entire 400+ miles, part in statement to the redicoulessness of the scene and part hard-ass; literally, the Irishman was one of the original paddy cabs (people who tow lazy people behind their bike in the city) in London. I learned a lot about life and being a diplomatic business person from the Irishman; think tactfully outside the box, and be polite.

***

By the numbers: I ran and rode over a thousand miles in about eight days.

Heading down to San Louis Obispo in a few weeks to explore the trails, roads, and swim in the ocean.

click follow on the right side of this page if you're keen to hear about it.

Thanks for reading.

More to come.

Your pal,
Andrew

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