About Richard
The Journey
World Friends

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Report: #27
Date: 01/25/03
Location: Tahoe California USA
Subject: Stange Combinations

One of the greatest places I've ever had the privelege of having a puncture, was on the rollercoaster Slick Rock mountainbike trail at Moab, Utah. You know, giddying views into shear sided ravines, whilst perched on a wild red hump amongst a confusion of humps of crazily bent rock. As hard core boys and girls from distantly flung places on the earth, bounced past me on their full suspension, knobby tired, ultra modern MTBs, seemingly velcro'd to the impossibly kiltered slopes of this Mecca of the off-road world, I just had to thank my lucky goat-head thorns that I was forced to linger in such a divine place. I'd been nursing my totally rigid worldcycle, with its pumped solid tyres, through this obstacle course, by carrying it a lot anyway, so the puncture was also a good excuse to let a lot of people overtake me. But I did get up some of the scary walls that looked totally unassailable, but usually only just pulled up the final bit by the pure worry that I wasn't going to make it. It was adrenalin popping FUN!!

Most of you will know that I don't often indulge in jargon and writing much about biking itself, being happier to write about the collateral experiences that are just strung together by the line I am bicycling around the World. But this place, Moab, appeared solely created for extreme velocipede antics. And route 128 out of the area, towards Colorado state was one of the most awesome pieces of bitumen that I have ever treadled along. I hugged the Colorado River again, and with it, was hugged by stupendous, brazen cliffs on both sides.

I camped near where the road crosses the river, before it takes off on its own course to escape the canyon and rise up to show me snow tipped mountains. A driver stopped to check out the camp site, or the boat ramp nearby, and we got chatting. Boy did he have some amazing stories! He'd travelled through Afghanistan and Pakistan in the seventies, I think it was; been trailed by a secret policeman, and witnessed a shooting of a local he'd sat next to and befriended on a busride. He'd been to Cuba and Argentina, and all sorts of other exotic places. And we chatted until dark and he decided bivi down there at the same place I set my tent. Another amazing meeting on my never-really-lonely trail. Just us two camped far from everyone else. Talking far-away travel, by the roar of his kerosene lamp.

I went on up to Paonia, Colorado, after that, and played over the toes of the Rocky Mountains, plus met up with a friend I'd met in Darwin, Australia. But before that, somethings happened that I really must tell you......

The Grand Canyon. The Big Hole. A striped, red, white and brown cavity into which proportion and scale flow, and are lost. A vertical mile down into its throat, Yosuke, [Japanese cyclist met in Williams] and I, some squirrels, lizards, bushy-tailed foxes, ring-tailed cats, big-eared dear and a few other ravenous diners, campers and guests, were back in time 250billion years, geologically.

The largest full moon of the year blazed. When we had been at the rim, we had had the gross fortune to see it rise over the cliffs still glowing from the sunset. Once in 250billion years is lucky. Now it turned one side of our sunken world to silver. Value also fell casualty to this abyss. Perhaps Prickly Pear cacti, precariously clinging to rocks of all ages, seemed the only life capable of having endured so long. Next day, our young, biking legs were more than a match for this time-trap, and we walked out.

Near the top, some Americans introduced us to a surprise combination; Apple with peanut butter spread on it. Much appreciated.

So what is there after this? For me, The Canyon had been an objective and driving force for what may well have been 250billion years. And here it was; view within view within view within infinite views. How could I possibly blow my comprehensively blown mind ever again?

Yosuke and I decamped and cycled eastwards, swinging away from the Grand Canyon's gravitational field with difficulty: pulling into every look-out point we could.

A distant glimpse of the Painted Desert helped pull us on, and a purposefully dipping road completed the job.

A high arid ridge up to our right sloped across the road to gentler plains away to our left. Except we could see the yawning jaws of a groove in the landscape that was the canyon of the Little Colorado, which feeds into its mighty brother.

However viewed-out we were, a sign for a viewpoint made us take a left off the main road. We tethered our mounts near an Indian crafts stall, the only thing there, and ambled along a stony track and past signs exhorting visitors to control their pets and children, because of a shear 800foot cliff. Big Deal! The Grand Canyon is MUCH deeper. We swaggered towards the edge. Whoa!!!!! Hold on!! The metallic grey and brown granite, opposite wall, seemingly almost touchable, reared up and showed us intimately what wasn't below out feet. It re-presented scale with a punch. This facing face both made us cower and exerted a greater pull than would the height alone.

The last few feet we got on our bellies to inch our heads over the precipice. Loose shale underneath us and a slight downward slope were unnerving. I almost spat my stopped heart out of my mouth!! An impulse to fly into the chasm and join the Little Colorado, inaudible below, made me distrust myself. Yikes!!! We'd found the exhilaration we'd needed to show us that life could go on after the Grand Canyon. Here at a place ignored by the tour buses. A reason to carry on. To carry on cycling.

Yosuke and I camped together between two buildings behind the post office in a transport services station, called Cameron. Then we fought the wind to Tuba City, where our roads parted, because I wanted to go through Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations to reach Monument Valley, rather than the direct road.

But with the wonders of e, we will never be very far apart, and will be able to reminisce about sharing fig bar cookies, taco chips and salsa, dinosaur footprints, and rims to the rim of the world, until the cyber cows come home.

News Flash: Yosuke's Trek bike, "Lady", was just stolen in Knoxville, Tennessee, four fifths of his way across the USA. Let's hope that Yosuke finds a good way out of that hole.

Dust storms played Tuba City a couple of days, and then turned to rain storms on the blustery road to the Mesas. Flat top mountains. Mesa is Spanish for table.

My desert-adapted body went numb at the extremities with the drop in temperature. "Table" may bring to mind feast, or at least meal, but these were high inhospitable, barren and rocky outcrops, with difficult access, these strongholds of Native American tribesfolk.

Friendly Navajo and Hopi readily gave me space in their humble houses, and warmed me up with fry bread and stew. But conditions are tough for these peoples, eeking out an existence dry-farming, with land, but with barely the money to fence it, let alone stock it. Rolling into Steamboat Canyon, I passed a small black furry bundle on the road. I stopped and went back for a double-take. Sure enough, there was my first sighting of a tarantula spider, medium size (2inches) out for an afternoon stroll. COOOOOL!!! I cajoled it in off the road.

My eyes were really opened in another dust-blown town called Chinle, Apache County, Arizona. It funnels tourists into famous Canyon de Chelley and is served by multiple-star hotels. A supermarket gave shelter from the wind and provided a stream of locals to consult as to affordable accommodation. One relatively well dressed, Native American Indian man, with a woman companion, said that his cousin living alone "nearby", would be pleased for company (with a little contribution). It turned out to be quite a trek, including dragging the bike through furrows of sand across a dried-up river bed, through an area where they said kids would rob me if I wasn't with locals. I said I was glad that I'd found someone I could trust, and that through my travels, I seemed to have developed an uncanny knack of finding trustworthy people. Later, they pocketed the $10 which I had given them to offer to the cousin, even though I'd bought them a small gift. Sometimes I'm so green!

Cousin, as I will call him, to protect his identity, was a friendly and generous guy, who hadn't needed money to persuade him to take me in. He was fixing up derelict bicycles in his basic lounge. Much in his small house was either broken or decrepit, but he was one of the few in the neighbourhood to have running water. So friends kept dropping by to fill up containers. And for something else, it seemed, but I won't go into that. I gifted him some of my packets of instant noodles. And some milk.

A couple of callers decided to hang around to chat with me, then others were drawn in just by the gathering, and soon a small party was happening, seated around Cousin's table. In most places, this would have been cause for alcohol. But Apache County was a "dry" county; "By Federal Law", they said, but other people have told me that it's a Tribal Council rule. Anyway, can you guess what their solution was? These Navajo showed extreme imagination and resourcefulness. What they did was to mix hairspray with water and drink it!!!! They punctured an aerosol spray can and decanted the contents into a three-litre, plastic can of water, and shook it up. Then they passed it around the group, taking swigs in turn. They did this openly in front of my very own blinking eyes, and as a matter of ordinary process. Each time I looked, I was astonished. However, my nose was more believable; When I smelled the concoction I nearly threw up! It was real enough.

"My God!! This stuff will kill you!!!" I thought and said. They agreed, but didn't seem worried. They called it "Montana Gin" or "Ocean", after the first brand of hairspray used. They didn't badger me to give it a go like might happen in some places I know. All the more for them. That's one experience I'm very content to leave untried. I passed around my packet of fig bars.

They scrabbled for quarters (25cent pieces) to send someone out to the store to buy more hairspray; a kind of clandestine operation; like underage kids buying cigarettes.

The local prohibition law is supposed to protect Indians from alcohol-related ailments they suffer more from than Caucasian people. But there are obviously some people who just can't be protected from themselves. Wouldn't it be better for them just to be able to go and buy whisky? Or was this just a tiny minority, while most were successfully protected? From the number of spirit bottles and spray cans littering the wayside along the highways, I wasn't so sure. But now I knew why there were so many aerosol cans.

The group became agitated. The hairspray seemed to have a kind of paranoiac effect. One guy asked me questions about what Britain thought of America's response to September 11th. The rest of the group thought he was out of order, though I wasn't bothered by his questions, and they ganged up on him. Language got strong. Tensions rose. I couldn't make anyone realize that I wasn't offended. Just when things looked as if they might turn ugly, the focus shifted to where the next supply of hairspray was going to come from. And who had been drinking it all. And why someone had been holding on to it.

That line seemed no less confrontational in likely outcome. But Cousin, though usually quiet, kept blood from boiling over with a few well timed threats of podial ejection from his house.

It got late and a couple of guys decided to stay the night. One of them, had been swearing for a long time, that I was the reincarnation of his all-time hero, deceased, star rodeo bull-rider, Len Frost, ["Why have you come back?" he kept asking. "Smile againc.Yeah, that's it!"], and had been a bull-rider himself until a silly accident with a rope. Mr BullRider decided that sleeping, right next to me would be more comfortable than the old sofa he'd been allotted. I must say that I was as concerned for my wellbeing then as I had ever been, short of, perhaps, encounters I had with buses in the Himalaya, or riding a bus in the Himalaya. OK then there was a gun-waving, drunk check-post guard in Uganda, and a night of automatic rifle fire in Kashmircc. but you know where I'm coming from. Especially after one point when Mr BullRider said, "Turn the light out before I rape you!"

I'd turned the light on hearing someone outside, upsetting dogs, though I'd wanted the light on for other reasons too. "It's a skin walker", he confided, "A man taking the form of a wolf to move around at night." Nothing to worry about, then, I thought.

I half-joked, "Do you mean that AFTER I switch the light out, you will rape me?" He launched into defending himself saying that he had two kids and had been married for a long time, though it wasn't super reassuring to learn that he had divorced a while back, and sorely missed his ex-wife whom he still loved. The marriage had ended when he'd admitted to her that he'd fathered two kids with another woman. Come morning, actually all I'd really needed to worry about was losing sleep and milk. The guy just kept talking. Till about 4am!! Plus he'd drunk all of Cousin's milk. Considering they'd been scraping around for quarters to buy hairspray, a dollar fifty worth of milk was very carelessly dispatched. I left quickly, tired and cheesed off; not ideally prepared for a days cycling. But I appreciated that my saddle could've been a lot more uncomfortable that day!!

Monstrously Merry New Year to You All


PS I have some explaining to do, as to why I haven't piled on many, or any, miles, since my last report. You see, I was about to go back to San Francisco from Colorado, and catch up with my friend Keoki Flagg (see, who I met in Kenya, 1991, when a message came from him saying that he was going to be out of town for a month or so. Well, I didn't absolutely have to ride all the way back to San Francisco (though I would have liked to), so I prioritised meeting up with him, and put my bike on a fast AMTRAK train to Reno, where I was picked up and driven to his place in Tahoe. Keoki is a great adventurer, both geographically and in his art, photography, and aswell as catching up with my long missed friend, I obviously had a lot to learn from him. So, forgive me, I dallied once more. Plus I did some excellent hiking to Twin Peaks and Mount Talak, in the Tahoe Basin. Then a big dump of snow hit, and I had more than enough good reasons to take myself back to Japan to see the middle of winter out with my good wife, Haruyo. I painfully tore myself away from her about two weeks ago, to fly back to my bike, here in Tahoe. Here I have some big chances to do some serious snowboarding and skiing for the first time in my life, while I also make preparations to cycle up to Canada. Please bear with me. My journey isn't all about getting somewhere. It's about experiences along the way.

Yours in Friendship, R
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