The Last Part of Last Winter

I’ll get back to bike stuff next post. We’re two weeks into touring around New Zealand, and writing about last winter’s trip- man, it was so rough. Right now is much better.

After my skateboard accident, my butthole was on the mend, the Rabbit was finally plated and legal, so we hit the road. Over McClure pass, past the low Panonia Reservoir mud and water-stained rocks. Somerset, a tiny town with a hulking coal mine and rusty roofs that looks it was ripped out of the West Virginia hills and plopped down in Colorado. Dry farms in Hotchkiss, wind on the plain in Montrose. Deep sandy gash of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Sweet mango rice for lunch at a little Costa Rican place. Up 62 from Ridgeway, the Rabbit puffs a little trail of black smoke. I hitch hiked up this road a few years ago, caught a ride the bed of in a similarly tiny pickup. I think it was an old Datsun, maybe a Chevy Luv. It ran out of gas before we got to Telluride, the truck was a recent purchase and the guy wasn’t intimate with the quirks of the old fuel gauge yet.

Wilson Peak, the mountains on the Coors can. They’re bluish, plenty cold. So are we with no heat in the truck, I can’t wait to get back to the desert and warm up. Summit of Lizard Head Pass. I can’t help but be proud of the little Rabbit like it’s alive, root for the little guy to carry is up and over the mountains.

Down and down, Rico, Dolores. More wind in Cortez, the mountains unbunch, smooth out. No snow now, not that there’s much up top this year either. Into the brown desert at sunset, which turns the dirt red, then deep purple.

Stars. Fry bread and bean soup for dinner at a little diner on the Navajo Rez. Keep rolling, past the dark Shiprock, which looks like it’s called, a Titanic in a sea of dust.

Finally have to stop for gas past the Grand Canyon. I do the math, 55 miles to the gallon, damn we could go forever in this thing if nothing else breaks. Start to climb again, up the rise towards Flagstaff. We pull into the pines and set our sleeping pads in the bed of the truck. Cold metal, cold light. Wrap up in sleeping bags, Mexican blanket, blue comforter from Target.

View this post on Instagram

Little truck on a big mesa

A post shared by Montana Miller (@montana__miller) on

Splurge the next night on a crappy motel in Flagg. I try to skate around the bike path in town, I’m so pathetically bad at it, and super afraid I’m going to hit a sidewalk crack, crash and make a fool of myself.

Finally, we wind down Oak Creek Canyon into Sedona. Rip some familiar trails, dodge cactus, drive out of town on dirt roads to camp every night. A guy at the gym lets us shower for free. I convince Colleen to come up to Hangover Trail one day. Doesn’t go well (it’s one of the scariest mountain bike trails out there), we turn back. Dry, dusty camping. Dry, crackly desert campfires. We’re there two weeks.

View this post on Instagram

🌵

A post shared by Colleen O'Neil (@colleencolleen_) on

View this post on Instagram

I like this place in the winter.

A post shared by Colleen O'Neil (@colleencolleen_) on

“You ready to get out of here?” I ask Colleen.

“Yeah.”

“Let’s go to the beach.” We’re gonna go to Cali, finish this cross country trip, then get home and get back to work. Or something.

Down through Black Canyon City, Arizona. An icy cold beer at the Javilina Crossing. All dark wood and tan desert shriveled people. Maybe one more beer. The saguaros are huge, but don’t do much for shade.

A quick right on the outskirts of Phoenix, through a joshua tree forest, little tufty green heads on forked trunks.

The steering is feeling a little tight. Maybe I’m imagining it.

I pull off a couple hours later, crawl under the car.

“Ok, turn the wheel!” I tell to Colleen.

The rubber boots are all torn, and the teeth on the rack and pinion are coated in sand. The whole thing clunks back and forth. Son of a bitch. That’s not good.

There’s a VW shop a few miles away in Kingman, we’ll have to stop there.

View this post on Instagram

Big, big western sky

A post shared by Colleen O'Neil (@colleencolleen_) on

The shop is really helpful, and they get us in and out as soon as they can. But between waiting for the part, getting the work done, and all the rest, we’re stuck in Kingman for a week and a half. It’s a tired, dusty, windswept desert place. Old Route 66 runs through.

We ride a couple times at a pretty nice trail system in the hill above town, but then we have to leave the truck at the shop. And it starts to rain, and I come down with the flu.

So there we are, sleeping in between RVs in our Tarptent, all the other KOA residents keep giving us the stink eye, thinking we’re some vagrants that might try to steal something. And this repair is going to wipe the rest of our savings. We’ve hit a solid low point in our voyage. I roll around in the tent feeling like I need to barf.

View this post on Instagram

Cruisin old 66

A post shared by Montana Miller (@montana__miller) on

A few days and a 1200 dollar repair later, we’re back on the road one more time, it’s Cali or bust. We’re going to get there this time, nothing’s gonna stop us. Then immediately turn around because we’re broke.

Out of Kingman and up Old 66 through Oatman, which is surprisingly full of wild donkeys.

Into California, all of a sudden I can’t keep up with traffic anymore. Porches and Audis and everyone is driving 1000 miles an hour. We drive out of the mountains and down to the beach at Dana Point, and that’s it. Let’s go home now.

I figure that staying as far south as we can will keep us the warmest, and that we should be able to make it home in thee days. We cross the mountains again, start through the Anza Borrego Desert. It’s real serious dessert. Nothing but creosote and sand. The wind picks up.

Then it really starts to howl, we’re getting sandblasted in the little truck. There are people camped all around in the desert, spaced out like the creosote, and ripping around in giant trucks, on dirt bikes, quads, side by sides, anything with a motor and knobby tires. Bandannas for dust masks. Not my idea of a good time.

It doesn’t seem like it should be possible, but now there’s even more wind. It’s late and the Rabbit has terrible headlights. We find a terrible motel room in Imperial.

The next day is the same- blasting wind. We head across Interstate 8 towards the Imperial Sand Dunes.

I’m noticing little snakes of sand running down the road. And at 70 miles an hour, we’re barely overtaking them. Then we get to the dunes, giant white ridges. The wind swings around to our side, and then it’s a white out. 50 mph crosswind, grabbing and shaking the truck, can’t see, it’s like the worst blizzard but sand, sand trickles in through the doors, cracks in the windows. No where to stop, just slow down and focus on the tail lights ahead of us.

“This is terrifying,” Colleen yells over the roar of the sand. I’m fighting with the steering wheel. It’s awful.

Texahoma, out on the plains. No more sand, just piercing cold. I check the oil at a gas station. It smells like fuel in the engine bay. Christ. Not something else. I poke around, the rubber fuel lines coming off the injectors are cracked, wet with diesel. Maybe I’ll just trim the cracked ends off. God I wish I knew more about this stuff. I pull the lines and cut off the cracked parts with my pocket knife. Pop them back on.

Colleen comes out from the gas station.

“Everything ok?”

“Yeah, I think so. Hope so.” Shut the hood.

Leaving town, which is just a grain silo and a handful of sad buildings. Siren and lights. That can’t be for us. It is. Goddamnit. I pull off.

The cop takes a while coming up to the window.

“Sir, I pulled you over for your taillight. But I have to let you know this is a heavy narco trafficking route. If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you some questions and to search the vehicle.”

Fuck. I really just want to be home. I sigh. I probably will just get a warning for the tail light if I cooperate. “Sure, go ahead.” This is the third time I’ve been stopped for a drug search. Long hair and Colorado plates, I’m apparently begging to be pulled over.

I follow him back to his truck. There’s a German Shepherd barking, howling, slamming itself into the cage of the truck. The cop bangs his fist on the metal.

“HEY! Settle down! Quiet!” The dog backs off, growls at me through the mesh.

“Sir, are you transporting any guns, drugs, marijuana, nuclear weapons, or other banned substances?”

“No.” Nuclear weapons? Geez. Does the dog sniff for those to?

He asks a few more questions then asks me to follow him back to the Rabbit to search the truck. He asks Colleen to wait in his vehicle. I hear the dog go crazy again when she gets inside.

The cop starts going through Colleen’s bag.

“Sir, I’m getting a very strong odor of marijuana from this bag.”

“That’s weird. There’s nothing in there.” Which is the facts. “Oh, I think she has some essential oils, like lavender and tea tree.”

“No marijuana?”

“No.”

“It smells like marijuana.”

“It’s not. I promise.” Just let me out of here. And I’ll never come back to Texahoma.

He searches a little more, then finally lets us go. With a warning for the taillight.

Kansas. Rain. It starts to freeze. No heat means no defroster. Pretty shortly, I can’t see out the windshield. I exit the interstate as soon as I can, the road is like a skating rink, the sun sets.

I have to roll down a window and drive with my head outside to see. I might be crying, or my face might just be covered in freezing rain. More likely it’s both. Good lord I just want to get home. We’re still 1200 miles away.

We slide into another sad, beat down motel. Canned soup from the truck stop for dinner. The rain continues, by morning there’s about a half inch of ice on the parking lot.

Two more freezing cold days of driving, through the plains, into the friendlier Midwest. I’ve never been so incredibly happy to see the Ohio state line. Then Wheeling, West Virginia, and finally, Pennsylvania!

Not far now. We’re going to make it. Even if the truck breaks, now somebody can pick us up. And then we’ll light this damn thing on fire and roll it into the river.

Washington, PA, New Stanton, Greensburg, Donegal, Ohiopyle. The end.

The suns out, 60 degrees in Pennsylvania at the end of February. It’s the nicest weather we’ve seen all winter. Seven days of driving, which felt like a lifetime.

The weather is normal shitty PA in February weather in a few days. Grey and wet. But I’m so happy to be off the road. Never again. Not like that. Just stick to bikes.

View this post on Instagram

A warm and happy home

A post shared by Montana Miller (@montana__miller) on

Posted in .

4 thoughts on “The Last Part of Last Winter

  1. “Even if the truck breaks, now somebody can pick us up. And then we’ll light this damn thing on fire and roll it into the river.”

    That’s hilarious – although sounds like the adventure home was not.

Comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s