It’s 11:44 PM on Wednesday as I begin writing this. At last I’ve reached my final destination after being on the road since Sunday afternoon in Walla Walla, Washington. I’m precisely around about 7,000 miles away up in the mountains in Pinos Altos, New Mexico above Silver City, the host town of the Tour of the Gila. It’s been a long voyage. The same voyage the pilgrims made long, long ago to reach the sacred hematecrit-boosting mountain air needed to acclimate for a workweek-long stage race at altitude. And like the pilgrims, I had plenty of help along the way from natives—to whom I probably passed on a cold virus, from which they’ll likely die.
Sunday: The first step of my journey was the easiest. Walla Walla to Boise. Luckily my teammate, Dan, had room for me and my gear in his former team’s truck and trailer (the Bob’s Bicycle team). After the final stage of Walla Walla (which our team completely demolished), it was a relaxing short five hours to Dan’s home in Boise, where we ate some quesadillas and watched Planet Earth way too late into the night.
Monday: Damn it I got off to a late start as usual. After my always long and leisurely breakfast I immediately realized I was going to be cutting things very close if I was to make my 10:35 am Greyhound bus on time. I still had to pack my exploded bags, put them and my bike in the car, get to the bike shop (which wasn’t open yet but the owner, Bob, was going to meet us there early to help pack my bike in a cardboard box), Dan had to drop his wife off at another bike shop so that bike shop owner could drive her to work, then Dan had to come pick me back up at the first bike shop and drive me to the bus station. It was a lot of logistics for a sleepless night. It all worked out just in the nick of time. And luckily my bus was late, because it was supposed to leave at 10:25. 10 minutes earlier than I thought. But reliable old Greyhound was true to their reputation and the bus didn’t show up until a quarter to noon. Perfect.
Rules for riding Greyhound:
#1 make sure to apply plenty of lube
#2 bite down on something so you don’t damage your teeth
#3 bend over and touch your toes
#4 go to a happy place
If you obey these simple rules, you can minimize the feeling of being raped, though in the end you’ll still feel deeply violated and angry at Greyhound and with yourself for not being stronger.
Because the bus was late we got into Salt Lake City late. A mere eight minutes late, but too late nonetheless, for my connecting bus to Las Vegas was just pulling out of the parking lot as we pulled in. Goodbye easy part of the journey. Hello “Holly shit you’ve got to be kidding me!!” part of the journey.
Normal Calm Kennett took a violent transformation within point two one seconds of realizing what had just happened and Rampage Kennett tore out of his puny human-sized clothes, beat his chest and let out a blood curdling scream that shook the nearby snowy mountains, causing an avalanche that crushed the Las Vegas-bound bus in 10,000,000 tons of snow and rock.
I was furious as we unloaded from the bus. I wanted to let our bus driver know, and told myself to use my words and not fists. I mainly used four-letter words. I continued to use them as I stormed off to the ticket counter. Three other passengers were in the same boat as me, and they too rowed the sinking craft with F’s and S’s and B’s and CF’s (that last one is for you Spencer). We docked at the ticket counter and let loose our dirty tongues upon anyone and everyone who was in our path. But our onslaught came to an immediate halt after receiving slips of paper worth their weight in gold. A free voucher for a night at the Quality Inn Airport Motel down the street!!! Our anger turned to contentedness (short-lived) and we boarded a shuttle bus for a night in a crappy, I mean Quality, motel room. Continental breakfast was on the menu as well, so I was pretty happy despite smelling like an ashtray the next morning from sleeping all night in…an ash tray I think.
Tuesday: After a large portion of eggs, sausage, and 100% sugar cereal (the three American Breakfast staples) I joined the other three delinquents in the lobby to wait for our motel shuttle bus to take us to our Greyhound bus. One of the three was an overweight woman, about 45, who was missing considerable amounts of teeth, and who was probably one of the dumbest people I’ve had a conversation with. Imagine conversing with a toddler. Now imagine conversing with a toddler who is severely mentally disabled. Now imagine conversing with a mentally disabled toddler with a greatly diminished concentration due to being an alcoholic. Now imagine conversing with said toddler—who’s now on meth.
The next person I’ll describe was a middle-aged man, also overweight of course—this is Greyhound we’re talking about. He had a mullet, covered by a dirty baseball cap, which he rarely took off. He was on his way to fly a helicopter for a geologist down in Las Vegas to discover potential metal mines with “an X-ray machine” for $500 a week. The night before it had taken me five minutes to explain to him that our bus left at 8:30 AM and our shuttle bus to the Greyhound station left at 7:30 AM. It took five minutes to explain this to him again this morning. I feared for all human kind when I heard this man was qualified to fly a helicopter and that $500 a week was a sufficient pay for someone to operate that level of expensive and dangerous equipment.
The third person left behind was an 18-year old named Thomas who happened to be a cage fighter on his way to Tucson. He’d only fought twice, so I think he was pretty new to the sport. Plus he still had all his teeth and his ears weren’t giant bulbs of cauliflower. Thomas’ back-story goes like so: he had a child when he was 14 years old, dropped out of high school and traveled around the country (as a thief it sounds like), got his GED at 15 or so and started taking college classes, got married to the girl he got pregnant, spent most of the next couple years locked up in juvenile hall and got divorced, got out of jail and started going to a college in southern Idaho, then went to Tucson to live at his deceased father’s condo, then went back up to Idaho to get back together with his former wife and child, decided he didn’t like that after a few weeks when she got mad at him for hooking up with a girl at a party, left her a note on the fridge saying goodbye, got on a bus heading back to Tucson to start chef school at the UofA. Most people riding Greyhound have a worthy story to tell and Thomas was no exception. Thomas was probably also the most normal and sane person, aside from me of course, on any of my buses. We were to become good friends over the next 48 hours.
Just to keep us on our toes, the shuttle van from the motel to the Greyhound station was late. It finally arrived 30 minutes before our bus left SLC. We got to the station with 20 minutes to spare though, so no worries. None of us tipped the driver though. Not that we would have anyways. The night before, Thomas and the other two spent all their cash on beer, cigarettes, Lunchables and beef jerky from the convenient store down the street (no wait, they stole the Lunchables and beef jerky by simply running away with it). And I spent my money on Chinese food, unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) missing out on all the action that night.
We all made our way to the ticket office, me still lagging behind them not wanting to be grouped in as an acquaintance (yet). I still had a shred of questionably deserved pride. I wasn’t one of them. After all, I don’t think anyone with more stains on their shirt than I do is someone anyone would want to be seen with, let alone hang out with.
They all checked in, presenting their old tickets instead of their ID’s, and, surprisingly to me, they weren’t given new tickets. Crap. Immediately I knew I was in for trouble. I left my ticket back in the motel room. The woman working the ticket desk asked for mine and I told her I didn’t have it. “Well we can’t let you on the bus without it,” she said. The next few paragraphs aren’t appropriate for this blog. I’ll just say that I was mad enough to not be making any sense. Another Greyhound employee came over when he heard the commotion and attempted to aid her in her argument about why issuing new tickets wasn’t possible because someone else could find the old ticket and use it since they’re good for a whole year. I told him to shut up and I went on cursing at them both about the shitty company that they worked for.
Eventually she called the motel to see if one of the employees there could find the ticket and drive over with it. I knew this plan was pure bullshit designed to get me to shut up and leave them alone because there were less than 15 minutes before our bus was to leave. I kept rampaging at them, looking for something to kick over, smash on the ground, or strangle to death. Finally someone with a brain and some authority came over and just printed out a new ticket for me. Jesus H Christ. I got on the bus not one minute before it left. Cortisol levels jacked. After sitting down at the first open seat, the driver boarded and told me to move because I had “violated his bag.” I had moved a bag out of the seat since, after asking who’s it was, no one had said anything. “Oh are these seats not for passengers?” I asked. I was in no mood to be screwed with at this point. Not that I ever am. He muttered something about it being for handicapped patrons…“because there is a fire extinguisher under the seat”. This made no sense to me, but instead of arguing further, I just got up and said, “No, I guess this seat’s not for people. Just bags,” and went to the back of the bus by the bathroom to fume and pout. The bathroom seat immediately presented itself as a good choice though, since I was able to stretch my legs out in the aisle in front of me. This small luxury outweighed the smell of urine and the constant flow of people tripping over my feet as I slept.
With my Mount Everest-high blood pressure popping vessels in my eyes, I settled down for the long drive ahead to Las Vegas and the two-dozen rest stops in between. I was able to doze for a lot of the 6 or 8 hours or however long it was. My left knee (the one I most recently crashed on at Walla Walla) was beginning to ache at this point in the trip after a full day on the bus, so I had to move around a lot to stretch it out.
I woke up as we pulled into Las Vegas at around 3:00 pm. It was warm out. Walla Walla was cold, Boise was cold, Salt Lake City was cold, Las Vegas was warm. Remind me why people live in the Northwest? Oh yeah, because it isn’t full of bums, crack attics, and prostitutes. I got off the bus and drug my bike box, duffle bag, food bag, and backpack over to the benches to sit out the 5-hour lay over when two security guards came to make the rounds. They wanted to see everyone’s ticket, or you had to leave. They stopped at a man who was slumped over on the benches and asked him for his ticket. He was unconscious though, so he didn’t say anything. They began banging the metal bench he was on and he still didn’t wake up. Someone suggested that he might be dead and everyone in the room chuckled at first. 30 seconds later when he still wasn’t moving after being shaken, I saw the eyes of one of the security guards bulge as he realized this could be true. He shook the guy more and he still didn’t wake up. It took them about three minutes of banging on the chair and yelling “SIR!” at him to revive him. That’s how drunk or stoned he was. And yes, he did have a ticket so they left him alone afterwards.
The station was small, muggy, and crowded and the TV was blaring a daytime court show. I had to get the hell out of there. I risked it all (this was Vegas after all) and arranged all my belongings in the baggage line for gate #3 heading to Flagstaff. People were standing in line already for the bus. Not standing but sitting with their stuff. Most people just left their stuff there unattended though. In normal circumstances I would never leave my bike alone in a place like that. But no one knew what was in there–the cardboard box—or how much it was worth—more than my life. And I had transformed into a Greyhound person by then anyways and any sense of logic I had before was long gone. Greyhound had drained me of substance and integrity, soul, and morality, brains, focus, and foresight, strength, love and self-respect, compassion for my fellow human being, hope, imagination, courage, pity, sorrow and shame. It stole from me what made me human. Gone were my dreams and aspirations of being a pro bike racer. The void was filled with animalistic desires for a cheap thrill, a laugh at another’s expense, a greasy meal in my belly, and a peek at a trashy showgirl.
So, content with my new Greyhound persona, I abandoned my life at door #3 and set out to appease the simplest human cravings of fast food, entertainment, cigarettes and booze (well maybe not the last two). Good thing we were in Vegas. Thomas lined his stuff up as well and we both headed out the door into the sky scraper-shaded streets of Vegas, hoping our stuff would be there when we got back.
We walked South, or maybe North. I wasn’t sure. I didn’t care; we were out of the bus station and the smell of throw up was becoming a thing of the distant past. It didn’t take us long to find our way to a huge casino plaza. I’m not sure if that’s the right word. Plaza. It was basically four city blocks-long of casinos, clothing stores, souvenir shops, and restaurants with a giant metal arched canopy five stories high spanning across the large walkway (or plaza) in between the buildings, which was filled with tourists and pretzel stands. As we weaved our way through the throngs of the thousands of people my eyes darted around at the flashing lights and shiny pieces of metal. Ooooo, shiny… Unlike most people though, my attention wasn’t diverted to the slot machines, expensive showcase cars, or people dressed up like famous actors. The only thing I saw was: “$2 hot dog and coke. $1.50 pizza by the slice. $3 hamburger and fries!” Holding strong though, mainly because Thomas didn’t stop walking or talking long enough for me to buy anything, we made it through there without spending a dime. Out on the other side and back out into the sunlight, we entered a slummish section of town with vacant lots and buildings with broken windows. Typical. The illusion of wealth and happiness is what America is built on when in reality 90% of it’s a dump, full of poor people and stray cats begging for a mere scratch on the back and a pat on the head. For some reason the people I passed didn’t seem to appreciate the pat on the head as much as the cats did.
An hour later we upped our pace as we circled back to the bus station. I suddenly came to and remembered that I had left all my worldly belongings there sitting out in the open for a thief to steal. Damn it how could I have been so dumb and careless??? “If it’s still there when I get back I promise I won’t leave it alone again,” I pleaded with the god I don’t believe in.
It was all there. Phew. “OK, lets go find that Chipotles, Thomas.” I had been calling dozens of people at home to look up a Chipotles in Vegas online, since Chipotles never seems like junk food but tastes just as good. Thomas had called about five people too (using my phone since he dropped his in the toilet the day before). We now had directions to the nearest location, which was across the street from the Belagio or some famous casino like that. According to a guy we asked outside the Greyhound station it was “a long ass ways away. Well, not too long I guess. Actually, man, it aint that far now that I think about it. People jog from here down there every morning if you don’t got a car.” In fact, he decided to walk a block with us and point us in the right direction. After walking the block, he asked us for $15 so he could purchase a new bus ticket and “get home.” “Do you believe in second chances?” he asked us. “Uh, not really, I said.” “Well,” he continued, “I just got out of prison for getting caught with 500 pounds of marijuana. I was in the room when the police came in. Wasn’t mine, just in the room. Anyways, I’m trying to get home to blah blah blah.” I can’t remember what else he said, but after his little performance I showed him my empty wallet and answered, “Sorry no cash. You take debit?”
The walk seemed to be taking longer than the guy had said it would. 45 minutes later we asked someone at a bus stop and he informed us that it was another three miles. Well, there goes that. Neither of us felt like doing a 10-mile round trip hike for a burrito. We went into a casino and thought about sneaking into a buffet. My brother, who had been on the phone shortly before had suggested doing this, much to Thomas’ liking. I chickened out when we got there though so we wandered around upstairs in the casino, which turned into a mall, which then turned into a movie theater. We escaped once again without spending anything.
On the walk back I broke down and stopped at a Thai place that looked cheap and got some stir-fry. It was good but didn’t fill me up. Thomas didn’t get anything and looked longingly at my plate of food. “I feel bad for eating all this in front of you,” I lied. I wolfed it down like a ravenous sheep. I mean wolf. It was lunchtime and I hadn’t eaten since the continental breakfast! (Other than about five apples, some sardines, oat bread and jam, oranges, and whey protein). We discussed how we’d kill the next couple hours and planned on attempting the buffet option again. Now that I had some food in my stomach I had a lot more courage. Plus we were still about three miles away from the Golden Nugget—our planned buffet-sneaking location.
We got back to the bus station to check our stuff, saw that it was still there somehow, then walked down the street again to the huge casino plaza area. It was dark out now and the plaza was packed with people. Loud music from every direction and dancing girls on stages distracted us for a good 20 minutes until our groaning stomachs reminded us of our objective. We wandered in and out of casinos and buildings searching for a buffet before we tried the Golden Nugget. It was our best hope, and therefore was left till last. It didn’t let us down. We made our way past the senior citizens, cigarette smoke, and slot machines. Past the restaurants, where Thomas literally poked a large cheese cake with his finger to see if it was real, past gambling tables and to the elevator. I pressed the button on the elevator that said, “The Buffet.” We were in luck.
I didn’t consider this stealing. Or if it was, I didn’t feel bad about it. How can you feel bad about taking food from an industry that bases its business plan off of deception, greed, and lies? No I’m not talking about a car company or congress. The fact that people are OK with casinos existing in this country is pretty disturbing…that is until you go into one and see all the fancy contraptions, bright lights, and girls in thongs.
The elevator door opened and revealed an entire floor devoted to the buffet. Immediately I felt joy and depression set in at the same time. It was a huge place, yes–joy, that looked like it had tons of good food, but at first glance there seemed to be no way in except right past the greeter and cashier—where a long line of people were waiting to be seated. All is lost, all is lost! Abandon all hope, all is lost!
We approached cautiously, casually, but mainly awkwardly and sneakily. A few short sentences were passed between us before we made a quick decision to just walk right past the line of people and into the food coral. I held my breath and tried to look as un-guilty as I could. It worked! One second we were an infinite distance from the expensive spread of delicacies, the next we were quickly scrambling to find plates to pile it on by the pound. The first thing I came across was shrimp and a mix of steamed seafood. Yes sir. To my right there was a line for the fried catfish and other seafood, which I passed since I couldn’t be bothered to wait. I also passed the line for the ham and meat cuts, and went straight for the build your own fajitas section, which had no line but a delicious-looking assortment of fajita mixes, beans, rice, and toppings. There was pizza, which I grabbed a piece of, a Chinese food section, pastas, bread, thanksgiving type food, other fried stuff, and an entire other half of the buffet that I never saw, which according to Thomas, included desserts such as cheesecake, chocolate cake, pie, ice cream, cookies…basically everything I ever craved and in endless amounts.
My plate was already full though, so I stopped with the small piece of pizza, fajita, and seafood. I started eating it standing up, cortisol and adrenaline levels still jacked up from sneaking in a minute before. I had overheard the greeter say, “Your table is almost ready,” to one of the people waiting in line as we passed by. This meant they kept track of tables. Carp. There were plenty of open ones available, but Thomas and I nervously discussed our options while standing up eating our food. Sitting down at a table meant someone might come over and discover we weren’t supposed to be there. We could sit at a dirty table or a clean one. Which would be the safer bet? Should we just stand and eat? That would look suspicious. We ended up sitting down at a clean table right in the middle of everything, which was a bad choice. But we couldn’t concentrate with all that food right there on our plates begging to be eaten. We took our seats and I got the pizza and the fajita burrito down in a little under 40 seconds before we were caught.
“May I see your ticket please?” a voice asked from behind. I had told Thomas that if anyone asked about us sitting there we should say we just moved from another table. Thomas replied to the guy, “Yeah, we had one over there. We moved though, I can go see if it’s still there.” He got up and walked over to the table he had pointed to, looking confused. I got up, walked past him and whispered, “Let’s just go!” and took off. I bolted for the elevator, looked behind to see Thomas still talking to the guy, and repeatedly pushed the button for the doors to close. If he was stupid enough to stay behind and get caught, so be it. This wasn’t the Marines. No man left behind had no weight in a Greyhound person’s conscious, such as mine.
The elevator door opened when I reached the bottom floor and I briskly walked through the casino to the exit, taking my jacket off and removing my sunglasses from my head in case the cameras had spotted me earlier and were now searching for a guy wearing a black sweatshirt and a pair of yellow sunglasses. I’d watched too many casino-type movies where they have 1,000 people upstairs monitoring sophisticated surveillance equipment, ready to push a button to release five men in dark suits and dark glasses to escort you to a dark backroom somewhere to be interrogated by a 260 pound street thug. I think most of those people upstairs are watching the poker tables and slot machines though, not the buffet, because I made it out alive.
I walked to the other side of the plaza across from the Golden Nugget and waited for Thomas, half expecting him to burst out the doors in a full sprint cramming his mouth with French bread and fried catfish with 10 security guards in pursuit. A few minutes later he appeared. Just walking with a nervous smile on his face.
Apparently the guy had bought our story, which was partially backed up by another table-clearer who had said she had seen a ticket at that table for two but couldn’t remember who was sitting there. Thomas had left though, since it looked strange that I had just left like I did and he didn’t want to take any chances. So we both spent the next 24 hours banging our heads in frustration over all the food we missed out on. It was almost worse getting a taste for it then not being able to go back for seconds than it would have been to not have had any at all. It was like eating a single potato chip. Except in Thomas’ and my case a single potato chip was a full plate of food.
We stopped to watch the dancing girls on stage one last time and I think Thomas stole a belt buckle from a vendor, then we made it back to the bus in time to wait in line for half an hour, because the bus was late. Again.
The bright lights of Vegas dimmed into blackness behind as we drove off into the desert. I couldn’t sleep at all. Once again I was next to the bathroom at the back of the bus, but this time I was sharing a seat with someone and I didn’t have that back row seat with the three seats in a row—where I had been sitting before—so there was considerably less room. I had chosen the aisle seat so I could stretch my legs out occasionally, where someone tripped over them every five minutes, helping to keep me awake. Though, I don’t think it was that that was keeping me awake. Maybe it was sleeping too much during the day or the high level of excitement just a short while before in Vegas. Who knows? But I sat there with my eyes closed for hours listening to Arcade Fire on my ipod trying to drift off.
Eventually we took a stop at a gas station and McDonalds sometime late at night in Arizona. Thomas and I got out and walked over to the gas station, where Thomas said he got a cool hat once. They had a bunch of souvenirs and stuff I guess that he wanted to check out. I later realized by “checking out” he meant “sneaking into his pockets.” As we walked across the parking lot, we heard a slight rustle in the bushes right next to us. Thomas jumped, thinking it was a rattlesnake. I looked over and saw an old man with his pants around his ankles taking a piss. I think he was taking a piss. I hope.
I wandered around the gas station looking for something to eat. Chips sounded good. A lot of bad calories though. Whatever. I grabbed a bag and went to the cashier and saw that there was real ice cream. Ice cream is better than chips if you’re going to ruin a diet, so I got a waffle cone. Double scoop. It was only $2.71 and the scoops the gas station attendant gave were huge. I was very happy. As we exited the store, Thomas seemed very happy too. He had stolen a pair of sunglasses and a little scorpion encased in an orb of plastic. He gave the scorpion to me. I told him I didn’t want it but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. So now I had helped commit crimes in two states.
A couple hours after finishing my ice cream cone back on the bus I finally fell half asleep. It didn’t last long though. All was quite. The baby behind me wasn’t screaming. The guy a few rows up was no longer snoring. No one was talking. It was dark inside and outside the bus. No city lights shone, as we were way out in the desert. Then, like a demented, rabid badger, the guy next to me jumped out of his seat from a dead slumber. He stood up in his seat, did a quick 360-degree turn like a dog and crouched down, still squatting on his feet, clutching his knees to his chest staring straight forward. I looked up at him in bewilderment, “Are you kidding me?” I asked out loud. Was I really sitting next to this guy? Of all the seats on the bus…
After a few minutes of him perched on his seat like a vulture, not moving or diverting his piercing gaze at nothing in front of him, asked if he needed to get out of the seat, maybe walk around or something. He didn’t respond. I asked him again, louder and let him know I was pissed off now for having to sit next to him. Still no response. I tapped him on the knee and he recoiled and pressed his forehead against the window and hissed, “I don’t like to touched!” He literally hissed. No, I’m not embellishing. The words came out like those of a half snake, half Gollum creature. I was dealing with a genuine crazy person.
Thomas had been watching the whole thing from his seat across from me and asked if I wanted to move over and sit next to him since he was one of the few people on the bus with an open seat next to him. I said no. “I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of getting my seat.” I had been sitting there before this guy got on the bus and it should be him to move first if anyone was going to move. Yes he was crazy and he never sat back down for the rest of the bus ride to Flagstaff, but still, I had my principles. This is the one and only code a Greyhound person lives by: you must guard your seat and the one next to you with your life. Win the armrest immediately. Spread your knees out wide and win the legroom. Make it seem like a huge chore if someone who gets on the bus after you asks “is that seat open?” In fact, if they made it that far you’ve already failed. You should have had your bag in the window seat, laying down on it pretending to be asleep with your headphones on. I had failed to do this when the crazy guy got on the bus earlier, so I wasn’t going to give up my seat now after I had already failed once. I couldn’t lose to this guy twice.
He got off in Flagstaff an hour later and I had two seats to myself and finally some good sleep to Phoenix. Not good sleep, but somewhat half sleep. There’s no such thing as good sleep on a cramped bus filled with people coughing up cigarette phlegm.
Wednesday: Phoenix was warm when we arrived early that morning. It was still dark out at a quarter to 5:00 but it was shorts and T-shirt weather. Thomas and I decided to go on another voyage to stretch our legs and use up some of the three hours we had until the next bus came. We took a short cut through a parking lot and ended up scrambling over a barbed wire fence since the parking lot dead-ended. There was nothing around, just the raised freeway on one side and the airport on the other. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as our Vegas walk was. But we had the same thing on our minds: food. In search of a free hotel continental breakfast to sneak into, we plodded on. By the time the sun came out we’d found our way into a Holiday Inn. There was no continental breakfast, but there was an attached breakfast restaurant. We ordered biscuits and gravy, which was the special. It was good, but not very much food. Thomas thought it was a lot. I think my stomach is about 150% larger than the average person’s. We walked back to the bus.
We parted ways when Thomas took the bus to Tucson. I was also passing through Tucson, but my final destination was Lordsburg, NM, so I had to wait for another bus. I sat in line for another 45 minutes before the final stretch of my trip came.
Aside from the first leg from Boise to Salt Lake City, this next one was probably the most pleasant bus ride of the week. I had my own seat for almost all of it, the bus was finally warm, and the sun on my face through the window put me right to sleep. Just another short five hours to Lordsburg.
After a brief stop in Tucson, our bus driver started driving away while a passenger frantically ran after the bus yelling for us to wait. The other passengers on the bus began yelling at the bus driver to stop, but he kept on going until the guy running after the bus tripped, rolled down a wheel chair ramp, got back up and continued his sprint after the bus waving his arms. The driver eventually stopped, but didn’t apologize to the battered guy as he got on the bus, panting and looking emotionally hurt. In fact, the driver made several later announcements mocking the guy about making sure to be back on the bus in time.
Back on the road, I fell asleep again in comfort as the warm air drew my eyelids down. The bus was warm because the air conditioner was broken. The driver stopped four or five times on the side of the road to get out and fiddle with it. Everyone on the bus was dying of heat. It was 80 degrees inside, 81 degrees outside. It felt good to me, but I looked over at the man and woman across from me and saw beads of sweat pouring down their faces. The driver stopped again and opened the top hatches on the ceiling to let in air. I was worried he’d stop us permanently and call for a bus to come pick us up, which would certainly take five or more hours. We were just 40 minutes from Lordsburg at this point.
But we made it. I got out at Lordsburg and argued with the driver about my luggage since he didn’t want to let me leave with it since I didn’t have my baggage receipt. I said I was going to take my stuff anyways, grabbed it out of the bus and was finally done with Greyhound. Hopefully for a long time. From the time I spent at the station in Boise to the time now in Lordsburg I had spent 52 and a half hours traveling by Greyhound.
This would seem like the end of my journey, but it’s not. I called Danny, a friend of mine whom I rode with a few times last year in Tucson, and he picked me up in his van and drove me back to his house, which was only a few blocks from the bus stop. In fact, his house was only a few blocks from everything in town. It was a ghost town. There was a grocery store, some Mexican restaurants, a gas station, some houses, and a bunch of empty buildings. It was hot out, flat, no vegetation, just dirt for miles and brown mountains off in the distance. Probably the least inspiring place to ride, which is why I guess he drove three hours to Tucson every Saturday to do the Shootout.
I watched a couple hours of DVR’ed cage fighting in Danny’s cool, dark living room and got up enough motivation to go ride for an hour on the two wind-swept streets next to the freeway that Lordsburg had to offer. I built my bike, kitted up and, headed out the door. And you know what? I felt surprisingly good! Amazing. Three days on the bus right after a stage race and I’d be happy if I could pedal at all, but I actually felt somewhat descent. I stopped at the grocery store and bought my staples: apples, oranges, bananas, watermelon, papaya, strawberries, mangos, and a few vegetables. I also bought some chicken liver, which I’ve been eating lately, and a big bag of frozen green chili peppers, which New Mexico is famous for. I brought my real food back to the house and finally had a healthy meal. A few hours later I packed up everything in Danny’s little 1989 Geo Metro for the drive up to the mountains above Silver City, called Pinos Altos, to the guest house I was going to be staying at—owned by two nice people who decided to let Dan and I stay there for the race the following week.
You might expect things to go badly during the 50 miles I had to drive that night when Danny had to show me how to start the car with a flat head screwdriver. Or the fact that the car had close to 300,000 miles on it, that he had only paid $500 bucks for it three years ago, that the rear door was opened with a wire hanger, or the fact that nothing in the car worked. But I wasn’t worried. I was actually very happy to be heading up to the little cabin for some peace and quiet and a bed. The car was pretty cool in my opinion. It was simple (except for turning it on), and I like old junky things like that that keep on working when they’re not expected to.
I ventured out to the empty highway towards Silver City, no streetlights or cars anywhere, just the Geo’s fading headlights and the groan of the engine puttering along at 45 mph up the slowly ascending mountainside. I braked to miss a jackrabbit. I slowed and swerved to miss a deer. Then another deer. I hoped I was on the right road. The attention I had given to the directions that Danny had given me had been minimal. I was running on about six real hours of sleep in the last 52 hours. Plus I’m bad at listening to directions anyways.
Whatever. I was moving forward. I was off the bus. It was still an adventure. I’d most likely get there without any weird incidents, but I could always hope…
The headlights went out.
They came back on, went dim, went out completely. The car was dying. I kept driving and pushing the starter button. The lights came back on again just in time for the only other car on the road that night to see me. Fingers crossed, I continued on, now hoping that the gas wouldn’t run out and that the lights would stay on.
I pulled into a gas station on the outskirts of Siler City to fill the tiny tank up. I didn’t know what side of the car the gas was on. I couldn’t open the window to look out and check since there was no window knob. I couldn’t open the door since there was no doorknob. I parked the car, taking a guess that the gas was on the passenger side of the car. It took me five minutes to figure out what wires to pull to open the door. I stuck my head out the door and saw that I had guessed wrong, the gas was on the other side. I stuck the screwdriver in the ignition and flipped the starter button. Nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing happened. I tried different variations. Starter button first, then the screwdriver. Nothing happened. It was past 10 PM. This was not good. The gas station was closed; no one was around. There were no stores or anything around, not that they’d be open anyways. I called Danny for advice and he suggested something was wrong with the battery connection. I popped the hood and looked around, puzzled of course because my knowledge of cars is about as low as my knowledge of the opposite sex. “Where’s the cheese for the mice?” was my first question. “Wait, where’s the mice and the running wheels?” was my next. This was going to be as futile as resisting the Borg.
After a good amount of time, I located the battery. I grabbed the red wire and it began sparking and hissing, lighting up the engine and sending a weak shock through my hand. I jumped and let go of it. It continued sparking. I shook it and it stopped. “It must have disconnected from its place,” I thought. “Hmm, what should I do now?”
I grabbed it again. No sparks this time. I touched it to some other piece of metal under the hood and it sparked again. I jumped a second time and let it go. I repeated this process twice more just to make sure…yep, the red wire makes sparks when you touch it to certain pieces of metal. “So…that means…the mice…get shocked if they stop running on their wheels?” I guessed. I called Danny again.
Twenty minutes later, with all my bike tools spread out on the roof of the car, and after asking a guy in a truck to point out where I should re-attach the red wire, I had cut away some of the rubber coating on the cable, intertwined the wire strands around the starter wire (where it had been attached earlier before it fell out), and was trying to start the car again. Oh yeah, and I had disconnected the other wire from the battery so I was no longer getting shocked.
The car sort of started. But didn’t. It sort of started again, but didn’t. I spent another 20 minutes fiddling with things before it finally really started, but there was smoke spewing out everywhere. I thought about letting it run for a while to burn off the plastic coating on the wires, which is what I thought was causing all the smoke. Luckily two people, a guy and a girl, pulled up to the gas station and suggested that I shouldn’t do that. They took a look at the engine and the girl said I couldn’t drive it like that. After a quick discussion they offered to drive me up to Pinos Altos, which was only about seven miles away. They were two very sketchy looking people. The guy looked like a gang banger and she looked like a crack whore. I’m not trying to be mean, this is just what I assumed they were. And they seemed really eager to give me and all my stuff a ride. This felt like a classic robbery scheme. I had seen movies where variations of this happens to unsuspecting suburban simpletons, like myslef. But I was bigger than both of them though, so I said sure and thanks!
We loaded all my bike gear and duffels in the car and we pushed the Geo off to the corner of the parking lot. I took they key (the screwdriver) with me and put it in my pocket. I also put a pair of scissors and my multi tool, which has a one and a half-inch knife blade, in my pockets. I was armed and prepared for the imminent mugging.
The guy, named Jaun, couldn’t find his keys. We spent the next 15 minutes searching for them. We came to the conclusion that they were locked in the trunk with all my bags. The girl, whose name was really hard to pronounce and I can’t remember, had to crawl in the trunk through the backseat among all my bags, where she found the keys. I made sure, or tried, to keep an eye on where her hands were digging. If she had opened my bag, all she would have found would have been a bunch of dirty chamois with scabs on the left leg. But they were important to me of course.
I demanded the backseat even though the girl argued with me about it. She wanted me to sit up front because there was more legroom. I gave the excuse that I’d feel bad for her having to have all my wheels and bike in her lap. Now, keys in hand, we were off.
Loud rap blasted from the crappy backseat speakers and conversation came to a dead hault as we exited the gas station parking lot. A mile later we took a left turn before the correct turn onto highway 15 to Pinos Altos. “This isn’t the right street,” I said. “Yeah, we need to make a quick detour,” the guy said. “Ah, here it comes I thought.” “We need to stop at home real quick for a minute to get a dollar for some gas,” he said. “OK, bring it,” I thought, as I got my screwdriver ready. Hopefully they didn’t have friends waiting for me wherever they were taking me. I could manage the two of them with my screwdriver and pair of dull scissors no problem, but five other dudes? That could be bad, especially if they had their own pair of scissors…or a knife or a gun. I wasn’t going down without a fight, though, and I’d be damned if anyone was stealing my practically brand new Blue Axino road bike (the best bike I’ve ever owned). We pulled onto a dark street and came to a stop in front of a crummy little house. She jumped out, ran inside real fast and vanished into the darkness. I clenched the screwdriver in my pocket, ready to thrust it through the guy’s neck and burst out the door dragging my bike and Powertap wheel with me the minute I saw something fishy.
The girl came prancing back out of the house with a dollar in her hand and a smile on her face. She got in and we drove to a gas station around the block. “Hmm, maybe I judged them wrong,” I thought. I gave them a dollar I had found earlier that day for an extra couple ounces of gas. They both went into the gas station after filling the tank with two dollars and sixteen cents of gasoline, and got a bunch of gas station food with her food stamps. She told me to get anything I wanted, but I’d had my fill of gas station food for the week so I said no thanks. Plus I didn’t want to take my eyes off any of my stuff for even a minute. They had recently commented about how many “bad people” there were in Silver City and how lucky I was to run into them—“probably the only two nice people in town.” Were they hinting at something? Maybe they had originally thought about robbing me but the circumstances weren’t right. Maybe she needed the backseat for it to work by pulling a knife on me from behind. Maybe they saw that I didn’t have anything worth stealing (other than my bike, which they probably had no idea of the value). Was I too intimidating? Was my lumbering six-foot frame and 162 pounds of vicious quad muscle too much for them to handle? Was that a screwdriver in my pocket or was I just happy to see them?
Whatever the reason, they didn’t rob me. Maybe they were good people after all. We drove up the highway to Pinos Altos and I explained bike racing to them. They were both pretty interested and knew a lot about it already from watching the tour of the Gila each year. We found my cabin on the side of the road among some tall pines and I said goodbye and unloaded my stuff, them not even wanting to touch any of it in case I might think they were trying to jack something. I thanked them for all their help. I thought of something I could give them to thank them, remembered they were living off of food stamps, and offered some fruit from my food bag. Ha. Yeah right. Like people want to eat fruit when they could be eating frozen burritos from Circle K. They politely declined, brows slightly raised in confusion in the darkness about why I would offer them fruit.
I walked in, found some cereal in the cupboard, poured a bowl, and began writing this. And that brings us to the conclusion of my journey to Gila. What did I learn along the way? I’m not sure. Maybe nothing. Do I have to learn anything for it to be a good story? What’s our infatuation with “learning” from an experience or for a movie or TV show to come to a conclusion with a few wisely-chosen sentences to state what the characters learned from their adventure or obstacle they had to overcome? I didn’t learn anything and don’t plan on reflecting on the experience at all! Oh wait, actually I did learn one thing: when stealing from a buffet, eat standing up. That’s all for now. Time to train up and rest up for the race.