Flat Tired

Blue Skies, Grey Highways

February 11


There are at least fifty shades of grey asphalt and its cousins, all once proud blacktop, but aged and beaten down by the years and tire wear into grey middle age. At our leisurely pace, I have become a particular student of the shoulder lane, to which sensible bicyclists must hew. Whether riding the wide sort found on the interstate, or the narrower variations on the secondary highways (our principal routes), I've been interested to see every few miles or so burnt asphalt outlines on the shoulder. These rectangular effigies are likely cars abandoned and left to burn. Why so many in the Southwest? Insurance? A settling of accounts? An alternative theory is that hill-weary bike tourists have self-immolated (Buddhist monk-style), unable to face one more long climb.

The ride out of Quartzite took us past the many gem vendors peddling crystal rocks to the apparently robust market of new age adherents and lazy souvenir seekers, then up another long but gradual climb up the I-10 until we could get back on Rte. 60 and into the desert. What struck me was the straightness of the road: at least twenty miles dead ahead with no bends, but very gradual ups and downs. Two surprises in Brenda (pop. 676): a salad bar for only $4.99, and it was good. I channeled my inner Greg Scruton and loaded that one plate heaping full! This day featured a headwind and record high temp for this date (87F), so the road ahead to Hope (pop. 0) was longish. Once there, the question for our plucky team was whether to camp out and save a long climb for the next morning, or get it out of the way before dusk. We thus chose the road beyond Hope--sorry--and got as far as Salome (in AZ the biblical reference is lost on most and the town name rhymes with comb, a tool I may need to obtain should I not get a haircut soon). Don's Cactus Bar provided us a campsite out behind the trailer, excellent burgers, cool Bud Lights served by the affable Jeff, and a perch for us to watch Duke upset the Tarheels. A good day and a free campsite, although one scented with creosote. As grandson Jonathan and I both like trains, he would have been as excited as I to sleep just 30 feet from the train line, which allowed me twice that night to awake screaming, just like J, as the freight trains roared past. Or was that Barc screaming?

After a fine breakfast at Don's, Barc found his rear tire flat as we prepared to leave. In his previous two cross-country trips, he had a total of one flat, but today was to be a special payback for his atheism. In changing tubes, his zealous efforts punctured the replacement tube #1, so #2 was installed successfully while I reminded myself how to--and not to--patch spares. Barc will no doubt recount in his blog the subsequent flats, caused (in part) by a ghost wire that had penetrated his Kevlar tire. It turns out the subsequent flats (day's total: 5) were caused by another agent (the goathead thorn), and he stopped every two miles to pump up his tire, a slow leak on the remaining 20 miles to Wickenburg AZ. Poor Barc feigned good spirits as he sought to catch up to Grant from Ottawa, a fellow biker and true mechanic going our way whose company Barc now regretted eschewing earlier (author's note: Barc is selectively anti-social). After a grinding climb, we were able to cruise mostly downhill into Wickenburg to avenge our father's death (no, that was Wittenburg), blew through this Sodom celebrating its annual "gold rush days" with rodeos, brightly-lit rides, and Trump voters, and coasted a couple of miles past town to a truly friendly welcome at the "Horspitality RV Park" (yes, horses are welcome) as the daylight was waning. Key score: $5 off our campsite fee with my military veteran discount (the hospitable Sue did nor probe the exact nature of my actual service record, a scant few months in the militia in the summer of '72). Thus, a warm shower, PB&J sandwich (Barc's specialty), cheese, sausage...a good toothbrushing is always the right dessert following this menu...and reading before a good sleep.

This morning began with a slow descent into a mild headwind all the way to Phoenix (85 km) where Barc and I are now sharing a table at his favourite Starbucks. We had a coffee and donut holes with Sue at her office to begin the day, where we were relieved to discover that the Trump bobblehead and life-size cutout (except for the hands) in the office were not her idea. Originally from Vermont, she lives now as a political minority in RV land, where groping women is presumably standard practice. I will treasure the picture Barc took of me and the current Prez's effigy, the cardboard about as deep as Mr. T. Himself. Pity the fool.

Lunch today was an homage to our parents, Betty and Ainslie, who were known to take advantage of the Golden Corral's tasty buffet offerings, just as we did today. As Barc passes for a senior and I actually qualify, we saved $1.80 US on our bill, of which mom would approve. The food was actually pretty good and varied (both healthy and deep-fried), if unsurprising. The only disgusting part was how much food was being put away by the numerous walking dead working on their Type-2 diabetic preparedness. The small plates are a hurdle, of course, but not a discouragement. But never mind: I finished off with mint chip ice cream, a final nod to our late mama. The final 35 km (of the day's 90) will work off at least the ice cream, and two of the onion rings. Tonight we'll be guests at a warm showers host Barc knows well...nice to have a friendly place to land that we know in advance. Did I mention the desert and cacti are beautiful? They are. Adios.

Flat Tired, A Poem of Sorts by Barc


A tent behind Don’s Cactus Bar

Smelled like sweaty tube socks trapped in a jar

Old men made unpleasant noises inside

Suggesting all filters had shriveled and died


Finally one old man emerged through the flap

The younger old man, the one without clap

A glance at his bike showed the rear tire flat

He muttered a word, it might have been “drat”


The tube was replaced, air pumping began

He pumped very hard, as only he can

In hour or so on, he finally twigged

That the new inner tube, was also frigged


The tire levers had pinched, a jagged hole

Like greed and avarice pinched Trump’s soul

A second tube was installed with care

Unlike Trump’s soul, we carried a spare


That tube lasted, thirty-two K

Just long enough for hope to say

“Thanks for setting me up you prick

I thought tube two had done the trick”


The tire was re-examined, now that it mattered

Now that sanity was frayed, and scorched, and tattered

The young old man found a wire

Hiding like cancer, deep in the tire


The surgeon’s knife, dealt with the scourge

Redemption music began to surge

Flat number three would be the end

The fabric of happiness, would begin to mend


Flat number four, came one hour later

The young old man became a hater

A darkness descended on the Arizona plain

A darkness unrelated, to a chance of rain


The last new tube was, duly inserted

All hope of success, duly perverted

That tube went, on the thirtieth mile

Five flats, one day, taste the bile


The old men still had, twenty miles to go

It was desert, no services, only ravens and crow

The young old man hatched a plan that was sad

He pumped up the tire and pedaled like mad


Every two miles, he pumped again

A kind of fever seized his brain

Interval training, how hard can it be?

Ten reps of two miles, no stops for pee


And that’s what he did, the pathetic freak

All the way to the campground, seemed like a week

The young old man, when he finally stopped

Had eyes like a tweeker, frantically hopped


The old old man, talked him down

“It’s cool, man.” he said “We made the town.”

“We’ll fix the tire tomorrow” he said

The young old man nodded, and went to bed


The next day they found, a goat head thorn

Diabolically embedded, its top half shorn

New tubes were procured, new hope oozed out

And all that day, troubles were nowt


But the young old man, was a bit of a wreck

Karma had stomped on his head and his neck

Like a swarm of evil, memory gnats

He’ll never forget the day of five flats