Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route.
We spent a quiet Saturday hanging around the roadhouse. Rami played pool when he could and we drank lemonade on our “tab,” and watched the comings and goings. The main event of the day was a gathering of Corvettes from Reno. They arrived driven by members of a driving club of sorts. The members pick destinations and then visit them en mass. Each destination therefore is carefully vetted (hehe). In some ways, this is a quite honorable thing to do. It is after all a group of humans sharing an interest–even if it is one that is quite noticably contributing to rendering the planet uninhabitable for other humans. It being satur-rest-day though we were in a good mood and I was determined to see the good in this sort of thing. I told Rami that in truth, I would probably go check out a Mini rally if such a thing were to happen near us, and he agreed. Plus, it was sort of cool to see so many–maybe 40 or more–of the same sort of car filling up the parking lot. We hoped to see a North Dakota plate, but no luck, and just to be contrarian, we devoted considerable time to walking around and admiring the one old white station wagon parked amidst all of ‘Vettedome. It felt Dada. We noted that in many ways this was no different than going to an art gallery (except of course the dust, the crushing heat, the smell of exhaust, and dodging the cigarette smoke). It is true though–these vehicles are at least some people’s epitome of design and that is indeed art. I know it when I see it. Jeremy Clarkson had this to say about Corvettes in general and the 2014 Stingray in particular. Interesting in a Clarkson way.
My good humor was crumpled a bit though when two ailing old guys in Corvette T shirts (let’s call them Hacky Nicotine and Man With a Tube Up His Nose) at the next table started talking about the speeds they like to attain, and were sharing tips on how to handle the road at 200 mph. I hope this was just posturing, but it is pretty distressing to think that these fuel addled consumer maniacs might be careening down a highway not too far from here. Tube was concerned about staying on the road on curves but Hacky assured him that it was best to always straddle the center line. Tube had never tried that he said–and let’s hope he never does!
Eventually, the owners of 40 odd ‘Vettes’ finished up their burgers and shakes, and the aged driving couples slowly and achingly reinserted themselves into their expensive environmentally destructive conveyances and rode off to seek the Fountain of Youth elsewhere. I assume it offers up both regular and premium. Old people today, what are you gonna do!
Later in the hot day though our friend from Friday rode up behind his five identical brown mules. His arrival caused quite a fuss and people came out on the porch to watch. Clarkson reads the ‘Vette as a symbol of a driver’s allegiance to the right of the American political spectrum (such as it is). He may well be right. How I wonder would he interpret a curiously worded messages of X-tian evangelical fervor block printed onto the canopy of a pair of horse wagons? By way of contrast–and I had to look this up–the average horsepower of a ‘Vette is about 575. The wagon had 5 mules and we can probably rate each at 1.25 HP per mule. That means that the ‘Vettes represented a total of 23,000 horse power, or 18,400 Mule power. To match its engine, each ‘Vette would need a team of 460 mules to pull it, likewise, the wagon would need a team of 460 mules to be as powerful as ‘Vette engine. That team would be about 4600 feet long, or .871 of mile in length–a mile of mules! Food for thought indeed.
The Mule Driver turns out to be a guy named Boehmer who began his wandering in Ohio and has not stopped in close to a decade. Fans surrounded him when he came out of his wagon and he had a little flyer he was sharing. He seemed to like chatting with folks–especially the kids–but he had to tend to his mules. They waited patiently for water and fodder and after a while Boehmer moved the whole party down to a dry paddock for the night. When we set out this morning, the mules were free ranging in good order near the wagon camp. Seeing Boehmer on the road was very heartening as I said–mostly in that it was good to see others moving along in a non-gas-powered manner. Boehmer remembered us riding with him on Friday andappoliged that he had not been able to reply to our greetings in good form–the passing cars were too loud. The point I think is that in this world of cars, drivers are all anonymous–just people speeding by in metal shells. You notice the others traveling at lower speeds though.
We woke early on Sunday and had a quick oatmeal, grits, and tuna breakfast. We planned to follow the 722 road since it seemed more scenic and had water. I am a bit gun shy after Dry Friday, and so the promise of water along the way was too good to pass up. And at first we were right. We had our first shade in a while as we entered one of the most beautiful canyons I have ever seen. Free ranging cows scampered onto the road while some galumphed away–the dead one at the road side though just stayed where she was though. But things began to go bad early–about ten miles into what needed to be a sixty-four mile ride. It seems that someone a Middlegate Station took it upon themselves to remove the two bolts that held Rami’s rear rack onto his seat post tube. It is hard to imagine that the bolts both decided to simultaneously loosen and fall out all on their own. No–this had to be someone’s idea of a prank. The two bikes had been locked up on the porch next to our window so I have no idea when this might have happened. But happen it did, and all of sudden Rami’s whole rear carriage was dragging behind him. Not good. I fixed it with spare bolts but was both pissed and feeling a bit violated.
The next problem was exhaustion. We started the day earlier than usual, and Rami was missing his beauty sleep. The fact of a small breakfast only made the matter worse, and so we paused in a lovely glade by a fresh running brook under some pines and cottonwoods. We napped in the cool shade and snacked a bit before heading up towards the summit. The problem is that once again we hit a long steepness that was too much to bear. We rode and walked, but then we saw the switchbacks–each dealing with more than 100 feet–and my soul died a bit. It was close to 2 PM and there was clearly no way we would make the fifty miles to Austin where the next water was. I hate these moments. What is the right thing to do? Forging on feels right in all circumstances. But at the same time, I can’t ask Rami to push past what is comfortable. But he will usually put on a bra even face making it hard to know the true story. There is always a tension between adventuring and parenting. In this case, my own despair at the steepness of the switchbacks and my water worries were thumbs on the parenting scale. We had chosen wrongly for today and chose correctly to head back to Middlegate Station and the roving bolt thieves. I re-rented our room and tonight we are keeping the bikes in it with us. Tomorrow we will stick to Rt 50 and hope for a better result – albeit in a far less lovely setting.