I’m burnt and tired, eating a pretty big burger at the Big Burger. A group of teenagers walk over to my table and steal my ketchup and silver napkin dispenser. A few minutes later, I walk over to their table and steal it back.
Garrett rolls up to the table and takes his sunglasses off.
“Dude, welcome to town! I’m house sitting. I gonna go back there and watch cartoons.”
“That sounds rad.”
A week of riding town trails in Durango, hanging out at the Durango Cyclery. Colleen visits for a day, then heads home.
Driving down through a twisty canyon road in Arizona, almost midnight. Garett is singing.
“You don’t have to try, try, try.” Man I wish he’d stop. The song changes. He keeps singing the old song anyway. “You don’t have to try, try, try.” I try to tune it out.
Tires crunch over the gravel at the Picket Post Trailhead. I squirm out of my sleeping bag. A group of old ladies disgorge from the SUV, and swarm the flowering cactuses with cameras. I follow them, just in case they miss something.
Later that afternoon, racers start to roll in. I load my bike into a truck with a few dudes from Durango, and Mike the Geek on a bike.
“I’m embarrassed to say I live in Arizona. It’s the most racist, bigoted state- and I grew up in a state where the Klan was active,” Mike says, as he pulls his bike off the back of his little white motorcycle.
At the lake, we unload the truck and split again. I ride a couple miles to the trailhead, hang out there for a minute and have a big Tecate. Everybody is really quiet. The sun starts to set, and Rick Miller, John Fairborn and I start the fifteen mile spin down to the border.
Man it’s beautiful here. Pastel desert sunset, waving grass, tough scrubby trees. A border patrol truck rips past us, kicking up dust. I’m riding next to John.
“Man, I didn’t feel like I was the same after I finished the divide last year. I quit my IT job, and I’m working in a bike shop now. I like it. It’s really good work.” One more real job dropout, doing something that makes them happy. I make a mental note for the hundredth time to just skip the 9-5 phase.
Another border truck blows by. Then another. Weird that there are so many down here, we’re far from anything and there’s no crossing station. A while later, we roll to the end of the road. About a dozen people are already camped, the moon is bright.
“You guys know what was going on with all those border trucks?” I ask.
“They just picked up a group of eight illegals sneaking up a wash,” somebody says.
“Yeah, better luck next time,” somebody says, and laughs. Not much sympathy in this group. I walk down to the border fence, which is just a couple strings of barbed wire. Good for keeping cattle where they belong, but not much of a deterrent for people.
I step over the fence, just to see if I’ll be vaporized by a DHS drone. Mexico. Feels the same. Lights in Nogales glow a few miles off. Man, I want to go check it out over there. I step back to the US. Guess the border isn’t that secure yet, and the propaganda isn’t so accurate- I was under the impression that the whole thing was steel walls and machine gun turrets.
Back to my bike, and I crack open a can of Chef Boyardee raviolis.
“Montana?” Alice says, and steps out of some trees.
“What’s up, howave you been?” I say, we hug real quick. Since we rode together on the divide last year, she’s done two or three more bikepacking races. I haven’t done much.
“How long are you planning to take?” she asks.
“Don’t know, somewhere between nine and 12 days I guess. I brought a camera. I’m just excited to see some stuff. You?”
“Oh, I’ll be happy if I just break the record.”
I laugh. “I really don’t think you’re gonna have any trouble with that.”
“Yeah, but I’m really nervous. And I know that I’m not going to do any riding at night.”
“Oh, bullshit you won’t.” She said the same thing for 16 days in a row on the divide.
I start to pack everything up the next morning. Just a little more than 30 minutes to the start. Snap a buckle, cinch it down, unroll a roll-top, reroll a roll-top, forgot something, unroll again. These tortillas take up a lot of space.
Time to go. We push up the mellow climb away from Mexico, way faster than we need to. So here goes again. I’m gonna be so wrecked by the time I make it to Utah.
A few miles later, down a twisty gravel descent. I stick a foot out and slide around a corner. Man, that’s slippy. I look out at the green, rolling desert.
Then I’m sliding across the road on my side, handlebars turned backwards, I stop in a cloud of dust under my bike. Get up real fast, check the bike, everything seems ok. Big rip in my sleeve, damn and I really liked this shirt. I pull on the fabric. Oh fudge. Big rip in my arm too, most of the skin is gone, and the raw meat is packed with dust. And my left hand has a big hole in it. You idiot. What’d you go and do that for?
I start pedaling again, dull pain everywhere. I can’t believe I did that. 10 miles into a 750 mile race. Dumbass. I look down at the hole in my hand. Hell. I can barely grip the handlebars.
Roll into the trailhead, at the start of the 300 mile race. Dejay jumps in front of me lifts his shirt and rubs his belly.
“Dude, what’d you do?” he says, and puts his shirt down.
“Slid across the road a little.”
“I have some baby wipes in the van.” I follow him over to the van, and start scrubbing the dirt out of my arm. Man it burns. More scrubbing.
“Hey, if you need a ride back to Tucson, I’m not doing anything else today,” says Dejay’s friend Hunter.
“Oh man, that would be great. I might take you up on that.”
I know I’m not going to be able to finish the race. There’s still a bunch of dirt embedded in my arm, the whole thing will be festering by tomorrow if I ride all day and sleep in the dirt. I’ve done the scalpel it open, pack it with gauze staph infection thing before, and it’s definitely not worth doing again.
But I figure I can at least ride through the Canellos to Patagonia.
40 miles into the Canellos, one side of my left pedal falls apart. That’s ok, at least I have the other side.
Five minutes later, the other side falls apart. Fuck. I kick the stupid thing. I guess that just makes it easier to drop. Riding has been painful anyway, and I’m not having much luck trying to make these descents with just my right hand. Man, such a shame though- I’ve been looking forward to this thing all winter. And it’s cool here, the trail would be great if I wasn’t hurt.
I limp my broken stuff another couple hours into town. Order a stromboli and beer at Velvet Elvis, and call Hunter.
A few hours later, I’m at Hunter’s place in Tucson, scrubbing my arm with soap real hard in the shower. It hurts. A whole lot.
Later we have a couple beers, talk about grad school (which he’s working through, and I’m glad I’m not working through), cats, and bike rides. Then I unroll my sleeping bag on the floor. Sore all over.
The next day, I don’t know how I’m going to make it back to the Picketpost Trailhead. I guess I’ll ride out to the highway and try to hitch.
“Hey, if you want, I could take you up to Picketpost. I’ve kinda been wanting to ride that part of the trail. I just need to get a little reading done first,” Hunter says.
“Ah, dude, that would be perfect.”
“You like diners?” I almost want to ask him to marry me.
Greasy omelette at BoBo’s Diner. A thick girl in yoga pants flips potatoes on a flat top. The meat cook runs back and forth across the room with a sizzling tray.
“Hot bacon! Hot bacon!”
Back in Superior, we buy a case of Highlife and a styrofoam cooler. The sun sets on Picketpost Mountain.
I check Trackleaders. Dots barely moving. Kurt finishes, we have breakfast at the Buckboard, then buy a 30 rack of Tecate. The next group finishes.
The sun sets again. Hunter has to go back to the city. Thanks again for the ride man, incredibly helpful.
Kaitlyn finishes, crushes the women’s race. Breakfast at Los Hermanos. Late afternoon sun on Picketpost.
Text from Garrett “Want to pick me up in Kelvin?” I grab keys from the wheelwell, stuff my bike in the back of the Subaru, and rip up the road away from Superior.
Garrett jumps out of a truck, rolls his bike over to the car with a flat tire.
“Long story. Then I sat on a cactus,” he says.