The Kindness of Strangers


The Kindness of Strangers

February 15, 2017

And on the tenth day we rested. Having enjoyed warm welcome and delicious dinner c/o warm shower hosts Suzanne and Don (S&D) in northwest Phoenix, we repaired to our digs: their 40 ft trailer parked out back. I was in the front end sleeping area, while Barc preferred the large upper bunk in the rear, which perhaps recalled for him some happy youthful memories. But wait: our hosts (and their four dogs) insisted a second night would suit them, as Suzanne's mom Ellen, acquainted with my brother from past visits, had somehow been charmed by him. The next day featured relaxation, NY Times crossword, shopping at REI for biking essentials, coffee at Dutch Brothers Coffee, a chain featuring servers who have all drunk five expressos before facing customers very energetically, and first of the trip (homage to KJM), and pleasing in its sameness. S&D were champion hosts, and Ellen and Brian's welcome at their Architectural Digest home on a Phoenix hillside a great dinner. Amazing the generosity of people.

Phoenix is a poster child for the catastrophe of suburbia, spreading about 80x60 miles over the desert. We wound out of the city diagonally along the Arizona Canal bike trail, eventually passing ASU and its artificial lake, past the Cubs spring training facility, and out to Apache Junction, an exurb of this sprawling city. The Walmart there seemed a collector for the halt and lame, the downtrodden, tweekers, retired circus freaks, and us. Fairly depressing, but the litre of chocolate milk powered us onward to our night's hosts Betty Kay Betty Kay (not a misprint) and Robb. Once again we were pampered by these new friends, and camping on their patio, largely free of rattle snakes, was a pleasure. Their place is on the edge of the desert, and looked out to the eastern hills, the route for the next day's climb.

Valentine's Day featured no chocolates from Barc and a day of extreme climbing in glorious sun (btw, sunblock for lips, I've learned via pain and blisters, is a must). The first climb was a modest 6km or so, a steady but pleasant climb over a mesa's shoulder, and down and up again to Superior AZ. The next 16km, though, featured off-road cranking to avoid the death tunnel, narrow shoulders, and a climb that would fit in well on the Tour de France, but all amidst spectacular views and canyons. Lots of ups and downs after this, including a roll over a bridge favoured by jumpers (sadly true, as per the plaques). I stayed well clear of the railing and Barc. The ride finished with yet another long uphill into Globe AZ, and pizza with Cynthia (host) and Patti, two clinical psychologists who work with Apache people at the San Carlos rez wellness centre. Used to dealing with the likes of us, we had a jolly time sharing thoughts on the sociopath currently serving as the US president. Patti was among those who went to DC for the Women's March. Hope lives.

The next day hope died, though, as we headed east into a strong headwind. Barc's memory of this may be different, but three hours to go 30km was not going to get us to our goal before midnight, and camping out on the rez was not an option. After peddling with effort DOWNHILL to a grocery break, a pause featuring varied expressions of despair, Barc's false courage, and colourful language, we set out uphill after determining a rez bus was not an option. After cranking a couple of miles more, uphill into the stiff wind, Barc stopped to fix some wardrobe malfunction, which gave me pause to think: Why am I here? What is truth? Is Carl's Jr. better than McDonalds? But what was the white shape appearing on the horizon? A pickup! A pickup! I stuck out my thumb, our good Samaritan Robert stopped, and salvation of some sort was at hand. O wedding guest, let me fix you with my glittr'ing eye: are you one in three who will hear my story? We bundled the bikes and packs into his pickup, and sped the remaining 80 km to Safford, crushed into the front of his cab, as the back was filled with his massive speakers. When Cream started playing Sunshine of Your Love, my spine vibrating to Jack Bruce's bass line, I knew we had arrived, if not at salvation, but at least at the Safford Walmart. Robert, a born-again ex-addict and criminal, had felt a divine power urging him to stop for us. On this day, even Barc felt the healing power, whatever its inspiration. We awoke the morrow happier (not sadder) and wiser.



You know those news reports where they send some disposable reporter to the scene of a hurricane, and you see him reporting live from the scene and he’s all bent over, screaming into the microphone, old ladies and TV’s flying past in the background? Well, we cycled into that wind today. Dear brother Geoff has been a fair-weather cyclist for some time and forgot how, in certain conditions, if you don’t keep pedalling down that steep hill you will, in fact, be blown back up that steep hill. On Youtube, were you watching someone else try to cope with such conditions, it would be rather amusing.

So things are a little appalling from an eastwind point of view. It’s already taken us 3 hours to do the first 17 miles of an eighty-mile day. 12-14 hours of continuous cycling is suddenly on the table. While no one likes a challenging bit of fun more than the Dowd brothers, the wind had sandblasted our fey natures fairly early on; stoical grimness descended on Barc (me), while Geoff sported a kind of WTF shocked expression, combining disbelief with why-am-I-here-ness to an almost unbelievable degree. Complicating the situation was that 70 of the 80 miles were on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Why is that a complication you ask? Allow me to recount a snippet of conversation I had with a clerk last night in the Safeway grocery store in Globe, Arizona:

Perky Stock Girl: You cycling?

Intrepid Middle-Age Canadian Suddenly Sucking In His Gut: Yep.

PSG: You staying on the rez tonight?


PSG: Good.


PSG: Because if you did, you’d totally get murdered and burned.


Okay, I wasn’t really sucking in my gut the whole time, but the rest of that exchange is absolutely true. Apparently, there’s a whole lotta drug violence, gang violence, and general unhappiness violence goin’ on in those parts, and random camping overnight is strongly discouraged.

Naturally, I discounted the ramblings of the PSG as another example of horrible, ignorant, racist tripe of a kind practiced by clown-haired imbeciles everywhere. But that night we had dinner with two clinical psychologists who worked on the reserve and, unhappily, they agreed that the reputation for arbitrary mayhem was well deserved. Machetes were particularly popular. Yikes. Sooooo, the complication being that once we started the rez, we had to finish the rez - 70 miles  worth - or face almost certain hacking death, followed by a possibly respectful incineration. The next morning, we woke up merely fearing for our lives in a general, machete kind of way, then came the headwind…

An 80-mile ride that would normally take us a leisurely 8 hours is now looking like a purely miserable 12 -14, with the last several hours cloaked in darkness in a potentially, though surely not really, murderous setting. What will the Hardy Boys do????.  Here’s what “they” did: at about mile 25 Geoff suddenly pulls over and sticks out his thumb. Just as suddenly, a white pickup truck pulls over, disturbing the feng shui of a tanker-truck driver immediately behind, who angrily feared an unexpected and unconventional cremation-first, death-second scenario. Geoff spoke to the pickup truck driver. The pickup driver spoke to Geoff. An accord was reached and we threw our stuff into the back of the truck.


Robert, our Good Samaritan, drove us 55 miles to Safford. Please indicate which remark below, uttered by Robert, you believe to be true:

A)   I mean, I should have been locked away for 25 to life, but all they got me for was some DUI’s.

B)   You know how you put that thing around your arm when you’re shooting up? When I was seven I would put both my hands around my brother’s arm cuz he didn’t have any, like, elastics.

C)   So I drove an ice cream truck for a while and I used to, like, pull out an ice cream sandwich and say to the kids on the rez “You guys fight. Whoever wins gets the sandwich.” And they’d just go at it!

D)   Yeah, I tried all the programs and nothing worked. But six years ago, I don’t know how, God called me. My pastor said God chooses some but he only calls a few. I don’t know man, I just got called.

E)    All of the above.


Too eeeeeeeeeasy. All fun and games til someone loses a guy. More adventures to come. Peace out.