Blowin' with the Wind
Having now taken the time to read my brother's earlier posts regarding this trip, it's a little frightening to imagine the thoughts he is not actually writing down. His delight in apocalyptic scenarios not coming true reverses Jack Reacher's credo ("Hope for the best, plan for the worst"). Barc's version: Imagine the worst, take perverse delight in normalcy. Perhaps rolling every day for hours on a bike seat has interfered unduly with the blood flow to his thought centre. He is good company, though, and his prior experience along this route has been essential to our efforts, for which I am thankful. Plus he usually makes me laugh. What we've both appreciated are the joys of the tailwind, which made the 85km from Deming to Las Cruces along the I-10 a pleasant roll.
Unexpectedly, I am enjoying audiobooks more than music as a road companion, and this ride completed Operation Mincemeat for me, an account of MI-6 deceiving the Nazis regarding the Sicily invasion by floating a dead body in to shore in Spain (a more accurate version than The Man Who Never Was, an earlier book). Considering the tribulations of WWII will make any cycling discomforts easy to take, by comparison. My other find (c/o Barc) are podcasts. Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, As It Happens, The New Yorker..this new-only-to-me technology is PVR for the ears.
As we neared Las Cruces, we passed first a desert speedway on which insecure men were compensating for their shortcomings by driving Porsches at high speed around and around the circuit...Barc and I compensate at more modest speed, but at least with a destination in mind. Closer to town was a firearms range: the sound of gunfire just off the highway served as an accelerant for us toward the long, fast downhill to Las Cruces (elev. 3,900'), where our warm showers host had literally left the door open to us to join two other men already encamped at her home, one for a few days, and the latter a few weeks(!!). Our hostess was off touring with a fifth itinerant cycle tourist/guest that weekend, showing remarkable trust in us and particular warm hospitality to him. John (resident there for only a few days) had left Florida in the fall, when he quit his job as a carhop and decided to pull a kids bike trailer stowed with his gear to Oregon, via San Diego. A talkative fellow, John was certainly on an interesting voyage of self-discovery and physical challenge, but remained chipper four months in. We will not take the same endurance test, thankfully.
Brother Barclay--while not a fraternity man, religious adherent, nor Freemason--is most certainly a man of many rituals. On this "Not My President's Day" holiday Monday, we needed to breakfast at the same Cracker Barrel at which Seb and Emer had both dined with him in 2015 and 2016. Both boys presumably also avoided the "gravy" served with the requisite biscuits. For the experience, I sampled a taste of this congealed, lukewarm mess-in-a-bowl, its beige colour as bland as its taste. A side of baby vomit, anyone? Monday's sun, west wind, and balmy temperature were perfect, so we were making good time toward the Texas border and El Paso when we were overtaken by a small truck driven by Ray, who ostensibly wanted to talk about cycling with us. Barc saw in him a potentially deranged person, and Ray's offer of freshly picked kale from his garden was no incentive to my brother, a meat and potatoes man, for whom the veggie offer from Ray was equivalent to a lighted Bates Motel sign. I nonetheless accepted his invitation to pick fresh greens out back of his junk-strewn hovel, while Barc remained at the rusted gate, providing our coordinates to his son so that the police could be notified about where to find our bodies, or at least some forensic evidence, when we disappeared. I believe Barc's wacko-meter is more sensitive than mine, calibrated to the norms of southern Ontario and the mini-putt population. While odd, Ray really only wanted an audience to talk about himself, cycles, his yard full of rusted cars, and more of himself. Turns out he may have invented and built the first Fat Bikes, but made only dollars rather than millions because of those darned Alaskans and the Chinese. This rationale no doubt sounds reasonable to a Trump voter, but Barc was alert to the potential for exaggerated claims. The kale patch, though, was verdant and a potentially delicious hostess gift for Erica, I thought. Turns out Barc was wrong about Ray's sinister nature, but correct in presuming Erica would be lukewarm to this gift, regardless of its provenance.
The last leg of the day followed our rest break at Barc's official El Paso Starbucks (the day's second ritual) in the fashionable west end of town, and our shortcut for the last ten miles was along a freeway closed to traffic, a fact pointed out by only a small minority of the workers sharing the road with us. Most waved to us in a happy way.
Our hostess Erica (www.ericagamet.com) lives near UTEP, earns a living as a master IT trainer, and is a total Anglophile. Despite her tall pile of tech projects-on-the-go, she was generous in sharing her time, good humour, and apartment. Barc Ritual #3 of the day was dinner at Kiki's, an institution apparently famous for its chicken machaka(roast chicken smothered with cheese and salsa). Washed down with bottomless Arnold Palmers, the dish itself was delicious and calorific, the day's exertions creating barely enough room. We decided to spend another sunny day in El Paso (yes, "the pass"), a city with good free museums, great Tex Mex food, and as a bonus the home of the AAA Pacific Coast champs, the Chihuahuas. That evening we took in a couple of innings of a high school game played at the Chihuahuas home ballpark. Even at this level, Barc and I agreed that baseball involves more macho posturing than even football. Somewhere in the midst of this we did decide to alter the standard, planned route (and Barc's ritual) by cutting out some barren south Texan desert (and many miles of wear and tear on us) by renting a car and looping up to the spectacular Carlsbad Caverns for some caving (report to follow). We'll consequently need to adjust our diets temporarily until we get back on our bikes in Austin on Friday. Kale, with a side of ribs? Adios.
Remember a couple of posts ago when Geoff grew tired of a slight breeze in our face, impulsively stuck out his thumb, and instantly secured us a bowel-withering ride in a pickup with Charles Manson's meaner, more unstable brother? Well, we have a new example of...
...Geoff's willingness to fully embrace all peoples and places, leading to potentially marvellous experiences.
...Geoff's fantastic, possibly-pathological inability to discern right from wrong, good from evil, and dark from light. Put Forrest Gump on a bicycle, add a few IQ points but subtract an equal amount of judgement points, and you have my brother.
Like this: we're rolling happily down a secondary highway about halfway between Las Cruces and El Paso, wind comfortably on our stern quarter, when an old Toyota pickup comes up from behind, zooms past me, and slows up to cruise alongside Brother Geoff about 50 yards ahead. Something about the scene reminds me of one of my fun scenarios, the one where a gangbanger lethally targets Geoff for choosing elevator music over rap, so I quickly switch my song selection to Notorious B.I.G. and await developments.
What develops is Geoff pulls over and a wiry, wizened garden gnome of uncertain years gets out of the truck and starts talking rapidly and very enthusiastically, accenting every third word with an arm swing or a head jerk - think Dennis Hopper as the photojournalist in Apocalypse Now, but less reserved.
Gnome: WOW! YOU GUYS WERE REALLY ROLLING!!!! I CYCLE TOO!! WHERE ARE YOU GOING???? ARE YOU HUNGRY???
Geoff: Well, we...
Gnome: WHERE ARE YOU STAYING TONIGHT?????!!!!!! I CYCLE TOO!!!!! I RUN BIKE TOURS IN MEXICO!!!! ARE YOU HUNGRY????
Gnome: SORRY THAT MY HANDS ARE SO DIRTY!!!! I WAS PUTTING AN ENGINE INTO ANOTHER TRUCK AND I SAW YOU GUYS GOING BY SO I JUMPED IN THIS TRUCK AND CAUGHT YOU!!! ARE YOU HUNGRY????
At this point I'm trying to catch Geoff's eye to indicate that, much as I enjoyed One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, it's time to disengage from this live performance. Geoff fails to catch my eye.
Geoff: I'm a little hungry...
Gnome: GREAT!!!!! DO YOU LIKE KALE?????? I LIVE JUST A HALF MILE BACK, THE PLACE WITH ALL THE CARS OUT FRONT - IT'S A BIT OF A MESS - BUT I'VE GOT AMAZING KALE!!!! (turning to me) WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT?????
Barc: I couldn't kale less.
Gnome: (turning back to Geoff) YOU WON'T BELIEVE IT BUT MY WIFE OF 30 YEARS MOVED OUT LAST YEAR TO A HOUSE A MILE DOWN THE ROAD!!! CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT??? WE'RE STILL MARRIED BUT SHE LIVES THERE AND I'M HERE!!! WHATEVER WORKS, RIGHT????
Geoff turns to me like the idiot-child in a horror movie who decides to pull back the drapes and, blank-eyed, says
"I could use some kale."
Oh... My.... God.....
The gnome calls himself Ray. Ray's place is... troubling ; two acres of overgrown, junked cars in front - overgrown thanks to the remarkable fertilizing properties of body parts stuffed into trunks, glove compartments, and cup holders. Unknown acres of psychosis inside the two structures looming behind, probably the skinning room and drying chamber.
Ray: THE KALE'S JUST BEHIND THE BUILDING!!!! C'MON!!!!
As I watch Forrest Dowd disappear behind the building, I'm still straddling my bike at the end of the driveway. I pull out my phone and call home. My son Seb answers. "Seb." I say, "Your uncle may die shortly, and I may be next." I proceed to tell him where we are, approximately, and that I love him, specifically. Death is in the air. I'm waiting to hear Ray's voice. "BARC!!!!!!! GEOFF FELL DOWN!!!!! COME QUICK!!!!!!
Quiet. Too quiet. Then... sucking wound sounds? After enough time to harvest seven kidneys, let alone four heads of kale, Gump and Ray return. Ray is still talking. Geoff is not. The why-the-hell-not shine has left Geoff's eyes, replaced by a rare hint of awareness. Twenty minutes too late, he's realized that getting away from Ray will require unusual effort. Ray's got game.
Geoff does what he has to do. He throws his brother under the bus. "Barc's really into bikes." he says. Suddenly, I'm shielding my eyes from Ray's manic energy. "REALLY?????? I INVENTED FAT BIKES!!!!!! LOOK AT THESE RIMS!!!!!!!! LOOOOOOOOOOOKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!
Later, much later, we carried on down the road, hyperactive chatter ricocheting off the cacti behind us. The fire had cleansed me. I was at peace. I had accepted my role. My brother turned to me:
"Lieutenant Dan!" he said. "We've got kale, Lieutenant Dan!"
"I know." I said. "I know, Forrest. Good for you."