Hell and heaven

I woke up for the first time ever on Thanksgiving in a ditch. And it was not just any ditch, it was a very, very cold ditch. How cold was the ditch? Well let’s just say that my bottles froze.

As you might expect, I had a lot to be thankful for, but as you might also expect, I was not feeling very thankful when I had to take care of my morning business with ice water. There is some thing that is not very invigorating about cleaning your parts with ice water, wait a minute, yes it is, it is extremely invigorating, and that is the problem.

Jared, who spent the night in his mesh tent with the fly off did not appear to be cold at all. I conclude that my REI sleeping bag, which is rated down to 32°, is actually not worth a shit. Of course the great thing is that after using it on a daily basis since July I can still take it back and get a full refund. I’m not sure that’s going to help because as the temperature drops the further I go up into the mountains in New Mexico, I may well freeze to death, which will make the whole refund issue moot.

I was off and riding by 7:50, and although it was bitterly cold, the sun did its job and warmed me up so that by 9 o’clock I was able to take off my jacket, my wool underwear, and my gloves. Nonetheless, there was a steady headwind blowing cold the entire day.

As I came through one of the small Apache towns that line US 70 on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, I saw a young man climbing down a steep embankment toward the road. I stopped and asked him if he was okay. He said that he was, but he looked cold and I wasn’t exactly sure where he was coming from. I asked him if he was okay for cash, and he said he wasn’t, so I gave him ten bucks. At first he was suspicious because it is kind of a strange question to ask, and because I look pretty short on cash myself, but he took the money gladly, and his whole attitude changed. He thanked me and he wished me a happy holiday. It gave me a great feeling and I pedaled on.

With about 30 miles to go to my destination, I ran out of gas. Riding in the winter is much harder than riding in the summer, at least for me because it seems like a lot of energy is expended simply staying warm. As usual, I didn’t know where I was going to stay. I got to the town of Safford and stopped at the Safeway. Everything went great until I had to get back on my bicycle and ride to the RV park. The man who had answered the phone, Victor, sounded gruff but said that it would only cost $10 to stay there. $10 seems to be the magic number for this trip. But before I could continue, I flatted. I thought it would be a simple matter to change the flat, but it wasn’t because my tubes were too large for the tire. It took me an hour to change the flat, using up my only CO2 cartridge and all of my spare curses.

About halfway through the tire change a big man walked up and began asking me all kinds of questions about the flat, why I couldn’t change it, why I didn’t have the right tools, why my pump didn’t work, why I was so slow, and whether this happened to me often, and if so did it did take a lot of time? I didn’t get angry at him, but I didn’t get happy at him either.

I got to the park and Victor met me. Unlike his voice, he was a very gentle and kind man. It was a spacious place and looked like good camping although it was going to be cold again. The day was late and I was going to have to hurry to set up my tent and cook dinner because I had bought pork chops again. Jared had decided to stay at a park nearby and save the money.

“Where should I set up camp?” I asked Victor.

“I am going to put you in the recreation room,” he said. “This is not a safe place to camp. We used to have a big group of cyclists that came here every year with a van full of bicycles. One morning they got up and all of the bicycles had been stolen out of their van. So I am going to put you up here.”

The recreation room was amazing. It was the exact opposite of a ditch. It had heaters, a kitchen, a refrigerator, a bathroom, a shower, a washroom, and a TV.

Before he left, Victor talked to me about Jesus Christ. He told me that he prayed every day and that when he thought about the sacrifice of Jesus it always brought him to tears. I told him that I thought of Jesus Christ as a wonderful example for how to live on earth, not judging people because of what they owned or whether they were sick or kind or anything else, but rather treating them first as people. I told him that some of the kindest people I have met on my trip were homeless people.

Even though I am not a Christian, I still felt like it was okay to talk with Victor about his religion and to think about it in human terms if not necessarily religious ones.

It’s funny because I fully expected to have another cold night in the tent, and had not the faintest expectation of finding that there was room at the inn. I started the day not feeling very thankful but I finished it feeling thankful indeed. I told Victor about my friends who had given me money and told me to pass it on to those in need. I gave him 10 bucks and asked him to please share it with someone who needed it in his community.

“Would you like a receipt?” he asked.

I laughed. “No, I don’t think I need one.”


11 thoughts on “Hell and heaven”

  1. I don’t remember if I shared this intel with you or not. The rating on a sleeping bag, first of all, assumes that the bag is being used atop a fuckpad. That is first and foremost. Second, the rating on the bag is such that if the outside temperature reaches the bags rating, you won’t sleep so well, but you also won’t freeze to death. 32, I am thinking is a wee bit on the high side of what you will need the rest of this trip. It’s a great bag for cool evenings, but you are going to need a 0 at some point. Much better to be warm at night, and not want to unzip your bag, than to be cold, and not care if you unzip. Being warm, also works out for those many pee events at night. As long as the wind isn’t blowing, being warm lasts long enough, unless you are a tinkler like me, to empty the bladder and return to that great comfort of warmth.

  2. Folks in your photo journals present rough hewn faces. They possess a calm, regal fierceness marked by trials and tranquility. Look for more wanderers wearing sporting team apparel. Bulls, Wildcats, Longhorns, Dodgers, 76ers, Suns, Diablos, Rangers, Indians and Cowboys. Not sure why. Perhaps they are beneficiaries of Goodwill and outlet store consignment. Wishing for a safe journey… Good Luck to Dorothy, to Scarecrow, the Tin Man et al. Watch for Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My… If you stay on the prehistoric frequency… You will be fine.

  3. william derosset

    Re: sleeping bag.

    The old saw among the AT through-hikers back when I spent time in SW Va was, “If you don’t need to sleep in your clothes to stay warm at least once then you carried too much sleeping bag.” Having sweated out a 20degF bag through my teens and twenties, this advice resonates. You are carrying a 4lb coat. Why not stay warm in it?

    The fastpackers are a more recent crowd, and i have heard from a couple of them that they sleep in all their clothes every night so that they can get away with a sub-pound sleeping bag. Add an overquilt for winter use when you start shivering regularly. That approach feels a little too close to the edge for my middle-aged bones, but I also don’t spend 50+nights a year on trail, either..

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