I am standing on a corner in Gallup (not Winslow). I have in my grocery bag a nice slice of Gouda cheese ($9.95), some pita chips ($4.50) and an add-shot Starbuck's red-eye ($3.00). Ah, but what is money when the soul is on a quest?
People stare from the interiors of their dusty pick-ups, paint oxidized Nissans, and sway-backed mini vans. They likely wonder what the hell some old guy in a tie-dyed shirt, sandals, and bike messenger bag is doing holding down the curb in between Home Depot, Wal Mart, and Big Lots.
Only yuppies bound for Colorado are driving Subarus. Those Subies have racks with nice bikes, kayaks, cargo carriers full of climbing gear. They are the horses of my tribe, the means to the end of natural beauty seen through the eyes of endurance challenge. They are going by too fast to notice the incongruity of a stranded traveler on foot at a crossroads where cars rule.
My Suby is busted, in the shop, due soon for open heart short block, crank-case work.
In the meantime I wait for the pedestrian walk light that never comes. I can see a faint trace of a crosswalk that leads to nowhere on the other side of the six-lane road. Not many people seem to walk around here. When I do finally get a walk light, several trucks have to swerve to avoid me, never having before encountered a pedestrian.
What is it about this crossroads? It has to be one of the most God-forsaken strip malls on the planet. Franchises and corporate marketing hype rule. It's windy and dusty and only a few hardscrabble grasses poke their heads up out of the cracks. Ravens play on the wind.
Last year, at this very same place, I lost my wallet. Now, joining the ranks of street people is something I recommend from time to time, if for no other reason than to see there is scant padding between them and us, the busy, lucky ones.
I cannot hide my yuppiness on this corner, nor can I fully justify my reasons for being here.
Tomorrow morning, if I make it, I will ride from Durango to Silverton on my skinny-tired bike. The ride is a kind John Henry re-match, only we will be on bikes, racing the steam engine. We will ascend to almost 11,000 feet over two passes, Coal Bank, and Molas. I will do it on about four hours of sleep in three days. But that is the way a spiritual quest is supposed to go.
I have been training for six months. Hours of slogging up Mount Lemmon, near Tucson, rides in the Gila Wilderness near Silver City New Mexico, and fantasy-filled commutes to work.
The Iron Horse is one of the first items on my bucket list, that collection of things to live before I die. I am paying quite the price to get there, and others are helping me along with superhuman kindness and generosity.
Kate Brown, God bless her, has loaned me her truck. True, it needs brakes to be safe on the steep mountain grades between me and Durango, but it is transportation, the difference between making it and not. Strangers too, when they see me busted on the side of the road, have been kind, especially the folk in Zuni at the 24-hour Quick Stop. Friends have sent sympathetic texts that rain down sporadically when I find the rare cell phone hot spot. The Meeg-a-Beeg has given her blessing to my crazy pilgrimage. The gods are smiling.
I want to do this thing. And I am obligated by karmic debt to enjoy it, soak it in, remember it for the stories to come.
Andale! To the moon rising over the mountain ridge, the shriek of the steam engine as it leaves the station, the cold, long slog over Molas Pass, and wicked descent into Silverton. If this is a dream, let it continue. I never want to wake up.