I have been bicycling a long time now and have not seen one single solitary sporty bicycle rider. But today outside Centralia I was pedaling along and there came one. He was sporty indeed with a helmet to protect him in case there was a meteor shower, a computer to tell him how close he was to getting to ride the Tour this year, and a serious look that said, “I don’t see you because, wanker.”
We were both approaching the same intersection and saw each other from a long way off. He hurried to make sure the got there before I did so he wouldn’t have to greet me. At the intersection he turned left, which put him ahead of me about a hundred yards.
We were going into a headwind and it was a very nasty little hill, about half a mile long with two stairsteps in it. Sporty put his head down and pedaled his little heart out.
I sat about twenty yards off his wheel and waited until he started grabbing gears and huffing and puffing. I overhauled him and zoomed past.
“Oh, hello there!” he said, pretending that this was the first he’d seen me, and doubly pretending that I wasn’t in tennis shoes pedaling a Conestoga wagon.
“Hi!” I said brightly and zoomed up the hill. “Cyclists,” I thought, “are the world’s finest people.”
After about ten miles I got to my destination in Centralia and wheeled my bike up to the office. “I’d like to reserve a tent space for tomorrow night,” I told the RV park lady.
“We don’t do that no more.”
“Oh. It says here on the Adventure Cycling Association map that you do. Sorry.”
“It’s okay. We used to but we quit.”
“Oh. How come?”
“Uh, the homeless. Lots of homeless.”
“In an RV park?”
“And, uh, the toilets and bathhouse. We got to get them all remodeled and it’s, uh, too expensive. You know the RV folks use their own toilets.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Where are you coming from, hon?”
“Oh, goodness. How long you been riding that thing?”
“Twenty-five days now.”
“And you ain’t got no more beard that that? Lord, my husband don’t shave for a week he looks like Sasquatch.”
“Yeah, same with Manslaughter.”
“Never mind. Just a very hairy buddy.”
“And how long do you want to stay?”
“Just one night.”
“Well, you look like a nice boy even with that raggedy peachfuzz. But we absolutely don’t do no tent camping, zero.”
“But I guess I could let you stay one night.”
“Yeah but just one night. You can go back on the back of the property under the trees and pitch your tent there. You’ll see where all the tent campsites used to be.”
“Wow, that’s great.”
“Long as you don’t mind the trains.”
“We’re backed up against the tracks. It gets kinda noisy when the big ones come through.”
“Yes. And the mill. The mill is on the other side of the tracks.”
“What kind of mill?”
“Lumber, what else? The trucks unload and load at night and in the early hours and in the morning and afternoon and evening and they get real rackety.”
“Is there any time they don’t load and unload?”
“I guess I’m still a go.”
“But you gotta promise me one thing.”
“Yeah, all them trees is red oak, they are stiff as a board, I mean, they actually are boards if you think about it, or I guess boards is they, but anyway you know what a widomaker is?”
“Yeah, it’s a limb that falls on your head and makes your wife a widow. Those trees are chock full of ’em. One of them baby limbs weighs two hundred pounds. Sam had one fall his pickup and turned the bed into the most expensive taco in southern Washington. One of those things hits your head and you will not look good the next morning because you will be dead. We can’t get insurance for any of the sites back there and it’s too danged expensive to trim ’em. So we can’t do tent camping no more.”
“How am I supposed to not die?”
“It’s not that hard. Check the tree you’re under real good. Look for any limb that looks all rotten and hanging on like a baby tooth about to fall out of your gum. Stay clear of all those.”
“Are there a lot of them?”
“Most all of ’em is that way but there are a few spots that are pretty solid.”
“What do I owe you?”
I went onto the back of the lot and pitched my tent. It was quiet, splendid beneath the towering red oaks.
Later I walked over to the bath house. A guy was sitting in front of his trailer with a Father Time beard. I waved and he nodded back so I walked over.
“Don’t see none of them no more.”
“Them damn widowmakers, can’t get no insurance. You goin’ to the bathhouse?”
“Well you better have a code.”
“Them homeless used to cross the tracks and hop the bobwar and use the toilets. I kept tellin’ management to put a code box on the fuckin’ door but they wouldn’t. Then one night some gal goes in there dyes her fuckin’ hair pink and paints the whole fuckin’ place with pink hair dye. Now who in this fuckin’ place has pink hair? That would be fuckin’ nobody. So I tell ’em to put on a fuckin’ code box but they don’t.”
“There are worse colors than pink, I guess.”
“Yeah, and that would be brown. Because a few nights later some other homeless comes in and smears shit all over the floors, doors, walls, stalls, washing machine, windows, a regular shit party.”
“Yeah. You can bet they got a fuckin’ code box put on there 24 hours later.”
“So what’s it like now?”
“Ain’t nobody been murdered, if that’s what you mean.”
“That’s close enough.”
We said our goodbyes, and when I returned to my tent the oaks were still splendid, silent, sunshine filtering down through the leaves.
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