Day 65 (2016-10-30): ~65 miles from Fennar gas station to Golden Shores, AZ. Route 66 and I-40 the whole way. Welcome to Arizona!
I don’t expect to see any cyclists on the road, let alone touring cyclists, but a group of a dozen middle-aged riders on an ACA tour pass me this morning. I chat with some, learning of shitty road conditions ahead. Perfect. The winds were fine most of the morning, but as I turn south they start to blow in my face. Glad I am almost to Needles!
Fuck you Needles. First the road is shit, then there are no signs for the library. I figure I pass it when town disappears behind me, so I turn around and ask a middle-aged man for help. He knows were the 99 cent store is but not the library – he would never go to the library. I find an Amtrak Station lobby, but it is only open 11pm-2am (yes, you read that correctly).I finally get directions to the library and climb a hill with a massive headwind to find the library. I connect to the wi-fi but it’s not actually connected to the internet. The PUBLIC library is a place for the PUBLIC to access information. Why the fuck is the internet turned off when it is closed!? Fuck you Needles. I’m not angry at all.
The one upside in this town is the cute old couple at the 99 Cents store – I give up the last half-gallon of fruit smoothie because it’s too big, and the woman thanks me and tells me how her husband has cancer, said screw chemo, and is healthy as ever three years later with the help of a very healthy diet. Their doctor is amazed.
Shit, heading out of town on I-40 I hit headwinds. Strong headwinds. It takes forever to get the 5-6 miles I need to begin turning east again. I am going downhill under 10mph. This sucks. I’m losing motivation fast. I’m trying unsuccessfully to not think about how the desert sucks, and how maybe I don’t want to ride all the way to Santa Fe and NOLA. Maybe I want to quit early or skip some of it. Ok Kevin, just keep riding. The wind cannot always be a headwind.
Wohoo! I know moving from California to Arizona means little in terms of riding, but damn it feels good. It feels like progress. Especially after that damn headwind. And screw that phone… Arizona has a pretty cool “Welcome to Arizona” sign that would be sweet for a photo, but I cannot.
I see the great Colorado River below me, oblivious to the dry harsh environment all around. Look! That kid has no shirt, no shoes, and a towel around his neck. HE WAS SWIMMING! Just past the start of 66 in Arizona I make a beeline for the kid standing in a gravel parking lot between I-40 and a railroad bridge. I drop my bike, grab my valuables, and set off on the path the boy’s father just emerged from. It leads to the water – to the first proper river I’ve seen in a long time (later, a quick Google search suggests the Russian River a few days before SF).
I set my things down, rip off my shoes, and don’t even bother peeling off my sweaty clothing. I spy the rope dangling from below the railroad bridge. Yes. Yes! I shuffle around the narrow ledge circling the massive concrete support like a secret agent man. My mission: Get the water! I leap, and a rush of cool water blasts my hot body. I come up and unleash a boyish yell. Woo-ee! I have been waiting for this for so long. I use my washrag to rinse off in the shallows. I smell better & feel cleaner, although I have taken on that slightly fishy, earthy scent that reminds me of summers long gone jumping in Blue Marsh Lake back in Pennsylvania. Man, those were fun times.
I hop back on my bike after watching the sunset and peddle under the colorful sky, unfortunately without that southerly wind that would now be at my back. I feel refreshed in a way you can only feel after a long, hot, sweaty day of physical stress followed by a dip in a cool river under a beautiful sunset. This is it. This is the best feeling. The sun’s rays blasting the sky with pinks and purples. I have no idea where I am going to sleep tonight but I don’t care. I keep riding through dusk with not a care in the world. Elation. I ride through the small strip of Golden Shores looking for the library or a place to stealth camp. Maybe the fire department? Who knows. Everything is perfect as I roll up to the Silver Dollar Chuck Wagon.
P.S. Actually, it was humid and full of mosquitoes. I guess nothing and nowhere is perfect. Now, two days later, I have bumps all over my ass and arms, and I think some of those bites took my butt discomfort to actual saddle sores.
I saddle up to the bar and order a pint as I observe the locals. The bartender Kelly knows everyone, and everyone knows Kelly. I watch the Cubs score 2 in the bottom of the 4th against the Indians in Game 5 – they need this to stay alive in the series. Someone turns on the Eagles game. Fuck the Cowboys! Duh.
Everything is perfect as I drink my beer, watch the game, and enjoy the simplicity of small town America. Everything is perfect except…except I am alone. I feel the wave of perfection crash down around me leaving a void of solitude. As I write this I am suppressing tears, somewhat effectively. Soft, twangy country music plays in the background. I look around, seeing simple people living simple lives, and I cannot help but wonder why it would not be better to live more simply. Just then I am pulled from my thoughts from someone on my shoulder. I am turned away, towards the TV’s, and I assume someone is just a bit drunk and uncoordinated. But it persists, and when I turn around a woman is leaning on me with a smile, looking over my shoulder.
“I was just watchin” she says. She introduces herself as Debbie (I’ve changed her name) and, in her drunken way, tells me all about her trip to the Cardinals-Seahawks game last week. Apparently it was epic. She continues to chat and tries to show her boobs a few times but is upset I don’t have a camera. Damn. She take my notebook, flips to a new page, and proceeds to draw boobs. Not just once, but twice. I guess the first ones weren’t big enough, so she made them bigger. Then she needed to add the whole outline of a woman, so she did that too. She left her name & number too. Ironically, she is married but is super flirtatious and apparently has done this with several passersby before. Thanks to her, I am pulled into conversation with several people and before I know it both Debbie and Dave offer to host me for the night. In the end I decide to go with Dave – everybody seems cool with it and, despite my honest intentions, I fear a bit for my safety if I go home with a married woman…
Dave and I continue talking while I show him my bike and tell him about my ride. I become his DD (definitely the best choice) and I drive his truck to his small home in Topock, just down the road. Fuck, this is exactly what I wanted to experience in these small towns. This is what I dream of – to walk into the local watering hole, swap stories, and end up with friends and hosts. Yes!
I shower (FINALLY) and we share a Digiorno Pizza and my chips while listening to Rage, Beastie Boys, and the Chili Peppers. We talk for hours about life, travel, politics, choices, and so much more. I think to myself, “People should not hate on small town people. They may be different, and live different lives, but they’re good people.” I am surprised to learn that Dave and I share some political beliefs, he being a Libertarian and hating Trump in his own way. He tells me of his family in New Mexico, south of Albuquerque, where he knows someone with a green chile farm. Apparently, I must get green chile in Mexico! Eventually we call it a night and I pass out in a big, soft, warm bed. Success