I was gassed and had pulled over to eat a salted almond. I’d been riding, mostly uphill, for seven hours. Now I was stuck in the desert + mountains, hungry and beaten. There are only 400 mountainous miles to go, though.
“Hey!” a voice called.
I looked back. Then I looked again. It was a guy on a bicycle, charging hard. “Is this real?” I wondered.
Jared had seen me off in the distance. “At first I didn’t think you were touring because from your profile I couldn’t see any bags. Then I thought, ‘What nutjob would be out here riding around?’ Then I got closer and could see your backpack, so I chased hard.”
I was still too trashed to do much but mumble, but simply having a companion livened me up. He was riding from Sebastopol to New Orleans, and he was fast.
I matched his pace and suddenly we were at Jake’s Corner, a bar. “Burger?” I asked.
We burgered up and pounded on to Punkin Center, where we got lost but eventually found the grocery store. Then we bushwhacked in a ditch, had dinner snd coffee, and took in the moon, stars, and coyote song.
He is 23 and smart as a whip. We talked about so many things, open and honest conversation between strangers. It got cold as hell sitting in the dirt under the moonlight as a distant owl began to hoot.
I reflected on the homeless man I’d met this morning leaving Phoenix, and on the man I’d met the day before. The guy today was named John and he thanked me profusely for the ten bucks, which is a ton of money when you are homeless.
But the man the day before impressed me even more. “God bless you,” he said. “And thank you for caring.”
This summed up much, that what people want is to be acknowledged and cared about. Me, too. And you. The way we get there is through talking, breaking bread together, like Jared and I were doing in a ditch at 4,000 feet.
The sting of the day’s 90 mile beatdown receded as I stood stiffly and repaired to my tent. Chance meetings, I thought, are only possible if you are willing to take a chance.