When you are an old man you pee a lot. Woe betide thee if you guzzle water before bed, which I did. This resulted in four tent exits, at 9, 11, 1, and 3.
The downside was standing with hand on nozzle in the biting desert chill. The upside was the stars! So brilliant as they danced across the sky that even my legally blind eyes could track Orion as he arced across the black, rushing to dawn.
After whizzle number four I got to hear the neighbor’s rooster crowing at dawn. But roosters also crow before dawn, so from three to six I was serenaded by Chanticleer.
We left the oasis of the bait shop and headed for Quartzsite. It sucked because Kristie had been recalled to this awful thing called Work. She has explained it often but I still don’t really understand. Has to do with sale of one’s soul and things like that.
In Quartzsite, where we were going to part after a hamburger, she said, “Did you see that guy on the off-ramp?”
“He was holding a sign that said ‘Anything helps.'”
“Let’s go see if he’s still there.”
He wasn’t but we saw him walking along the road. Some traffic passed and he was gone. “Where did he go?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe into that gully?”
We pedaled over. A long gully parallelled the road but there was no one. “He couldn’t have vanished.”
At that moment I looked directly over the concrete embankment that abutted the road. It was about ten feet down and there was a huge culvert invisible from the road. I saw two men, one our quarry. “Hey man, were you the guy with the sign?”
“Yeah.” He was dejected and looked beaten. “Here.” I handed him a ten. “Here’s one for your buddy.”
The buddy was a fat, jovial man. “Nah, give it him, he needs it more than I do.”
The guy’s name was Greg and he was gregarious. I clambered down the embankment to hear him better. The other man simply sat with his head in his hands, making little moans. Greg was from North Carolina and told us all about his life. “I’m a lucky man, blessed by God. You know why?”
“Look at all this beauty,” he said. “I wake up and all I see are these amazing skies. And you know what? At night I can tell time without a watch. All’s I do is look at the Little Dipper and watch it move across the sky. Once it gets to where it is kind of hanging down a little bit, I know that daybreak’s near. Every day is an amazing daybreak, a daybreak from God. Where are you guys going?”
I told him we were going to Houston to see my dad and he thought that was mighty fine. “Tell your dad I said hello. I bet he’s a good fella. I bet he is proud to have a son like you.”
“How old are you?” I asked him.
“I’m 58,” he said and pulled off his cap. Then he ran his hand through his shock of black hair. “Ain’t no gray hair here. I’m a young man.” He laughed.
We took a picture and said goodbye. As I scrambled out of the ditch I looked over at the other man who had stopped moaning for a minute.
The man placed his palms together as if he were praying to me and nodded his head and whispered thank you.I will tell you this, it is very trying to my atheism to be surrounded every day with God among the poor.
Kristie headed back to Los Angeles and I got onto the Interstate and rode for a long way. I got off after twelve fun miles and took Highway 60 towards Salome, which was my destination. About halfway there I saw a guy on a bike towing a trailer. I turned around and he stopped for me.
“What’s your name?”
“Where are you going?”
“California. How about you?”
“That’s a good place. I got my bike fixed there at the Bike Barn. I was broke, but they didn’t care. They got me going again, those are some good folks.”
“How are you for cash?”
“Here.” I gave him ten bucks. Like most people I had met, he hesitated.
“Thanks. I can sure use that.”
I told him my friend Dave had given me $300 in tens and told me to pass it on, so if he wanted to thank anybody he should be thanking Dave. “Tell Dave thanks, then.”
I got a picture of his rig and continued on. I finally got to Salome at the county park. It wasn’t that hard a ride but I was mostly out of water. The campsite only cost eight dollars and had electricity, but all of the water in the aquifer had been poisoned by nitrate about 15 years ago and was undrinkable.
On the wsy to my site a van was leaving with bike racks but no bike
“Hell yeah. Fucking hand pumps get old, eh?” His van was a traveling bike shop. He’d been on the road two years and … he has 100,000 followers on Instagram as @singletracksampler.
The park had a reverse osmosis unit to purify the water, but it was broken. Fortunately they had a few bottles of water they sold me cheaply.
“If you want the tree it’s at space number nine,” the nice lady said. I went there and pitched my tent. I had English muffins and peanut butter for dinner and for dessert I had a spectacular desert sunset.
You should try one sometime. It’s almost as good as cookies and milk.