Following the Grand Canyon Connector from Ash Fork to Prescott
I felt like I had won the lottery when I rolled out of bed this morning. The winds in Arizona usually come out of the the Southwest, but today they would be blowing out of the North all day. That meant my Southbound ride to Prescott would be smooth sailing.
As much as it saddened me to say goodbye to my hostess, her pug, her beautiful horses and her Amazonian bird that I had spent the evening whistling at, the road beckoned. I rolled out of Ash Fork and headed South on state road 89.
The breeze carried me into the Prescott National Forest. The feel of this forest was similar to the Kaibab, though unlike the Kaibab I spotted several cacti rearing their prickly heads. I was heading towards the desert, and the scenery was beginning to transform.
Around mile 20 I stopped to take some pictures of the vast mountain scenery. While doing so a Northbound cyclist equipped with panniers and camping gear approached me. We shared a friendly wave and he dismounted his bike to chat on the side of the road. His name was David, a fellow of long silvery hair that was fulfilling his lifetime dream of riding cross-country, from San Diego to DC. We shared stories and I told him all about my cross-country experience, which for me was a discovery and celebration of the American way. He let out a sigh, then began detailing how he had just spent the last 15 years living in Europe and Latin America and when he came back to the States he couldn't believe the poor state it was in. The faltering middle class, widespread disenfranchisement, lack of social safety nets; his time abroad had opened his eyes to the U.S.'s shortcomings.
I explained to him that I had sort of had the opposite experience as him, that my international experiences made me more appreciative of the opportunities and possibilities of life in America. Though it seemed that ideologically we were moving in different directions, David and I had very much in common and it was stimulating to hear the thoughts of a fellow touring cyclist's mind.
Before departing, he gave me one piece of advice. "Live just below your means. You never know when you'll want to get some time back or to do something like this." Note taken.
And so we continued on our different paths, he heading Northbound into the winds and I heading Southbound with the current. As I merrily peddled off, enjoying the boost provided to me by the affable breeze, I knew that my pleasant state was only temporarily. Soon a day would come when the wind would forsake me, leaving me in the same state of tension and conflict that David was in as he muscled his way North.
I sat tall in my seat to allow my body to be the sail that powered my vessel forward. I was in a state of bliss, gazing at the dry mountain scenery buttressed by crystal clear skies. This was the second day of my bike tour, and all was ideal, until...
My fall from grace; a flat. I spent the next hour in a ditch fixing my tube as cars rushed by me at 70 miles per hour and my dear companion, the wind, hissed and blew my things all about the dehydrated Earth.
After fixing the tube I was back on the road to Prescott. Five to ten miles outside of town I began to see beautiful red rocks lining the paved road. Passing an Indian casino across the street from a Veterans Affairs hospital brought me into town. Before doing anything, I had to get lunch. I found a mediocre-looking, 24-hour Mexican restaurant on the side of the road called Filiberto's. Perfect.
While making my order, the attendant asked where I biked from, to which I responded Ash Fork. She couldn't believe that I had ridden 50 miles and described the feat as "amazing." I felt the urge to correct her, to explain that 50 miles wasn't that much, especially when biking with tailwinds, but I refrained from doing so. She was paying me a complement, and the best thing to do was take it. And by taking it, I was giving myself some credit for the fact that perhaps I had done something impressive, not by my own standards but certainly by someone else's. I don't think it's good to make a habit of undermining myself, so I didn't.
"Thank you!" I responded.
After lunch I took a lap about Prescott. As I rolled into the town's central area I noticed a box-shaped precipice in the backdrop. My eye couldn't help but to be drawn to its undeniably rigid shape. This was Thumb Butte, the iconic formation that towers over the municipality of a few thousand people.
It just so happened that the Whiskey 50 Mountain Bike Race was taking place on this weekend, so the town was full of great bike vibes. There were riders galore, live music and interesting vendors displaying all-things-bike-related. I passed through the lively festival, being sure to grab a few samples on my way.
That evening I wound up in the home of Russ, a passionate cyclist and caring father of two boys. Despite the age difference, I felt like I was hanging out with one of my homeboys. We worked on my bike together, which was in need of another tube repair due to a slow leak, devoured a vegetarian pasta bake, then unwound about a fire in his antique furnace.
We chatted through the evening and into night. He shared lessons, not just from his experience as a cyclist but from his experience as a father. Much like my chat with David, I found inverted parallels between Russ' story and my own. Russ shared an insight that stuck with me; his perception that his oldest son had taken up skateboarding instead of bicycling in an attempt to differentiate himself from his father.
I felt an urge to laugh as he shared his paternal reflection, though the laughter was not directed at my host, it was directed at me. His simple observation, which made good sense, caused me to have a similarly simple realization. Russ' son had made the shift within the realm of extreme sports from biking to skateboarding in a grand attempt to differentiate himself from his father as I had made the shift within the realm of travel from international to domestic in my grand attempt to differentiate myself from my mother. Though the defiance of parental expectations made our changes feel monumental, the fact of the matter was that our underlying orientations were unaffected; the changes were superficial. Bike or skateboard, he was still a rider; international or domestic, I was still a traveler. The exterior was given a new layer of paint but the underlying structure remained intact.
We got pretty deep on this Saturday night. It's hard not to when you meet a fellow as genuine as Russ. It was an ideal Saturday night, in my book.