This is an essential truth: we can only know things by comparison.
Little did I know when I left Lordsburg yesterday for Silver City that I was about to experience real misery. The ride itself should not have been difficult. It was only about 46 miles from my campsite to downtown Silver City. There was about 20 or 25 miles of climbing but it was all gradual and nothing especially daunting.
Throw in cold temperatures, a steady, chilly sidewind, and the cumulative depletion that comes from not having eaten enough for the last two weeks, and you have a genuinely terrible day in the offing. At one point I was stumbling along at about 6 mph, and I only averaged about 8 mph over the course of the day.
Even crossing the Continental Divide was a disappointment because though there was some downhill, there was also a lot of uphill until Silver City. With temperatures overnight falling again into the low 20s, I checked into the Palace Hotel, checking in my bag as well as my last shred of dignity.
The Palace Hotel is “homey.” I could have stayed in a chain motel, but grit has a charm that new can’t match. The hotel was built in 1880, cleaned once in 1881, and allowed to gracefully decay over the next century or so. But when you are cold, exhausted, and mentally spent, there is nothing as beautiful as a roof, a bed, a heater, and a bath. And what a bath!
In 1880 they knew how to make baths. A bath was something that was deep and in which you submerged yourself up to your chin in scalding hot water. There is no ill on earth, there is no raggedy carpet, there is no down-at-the-heels appearance that cannot be completely remediated with a deep hot bath, and I took one.
I was the only guest, and the manager Robert was utterly accommodating. The place had a warm and comfortable feel to it, one of the nicest places I can remember having stayed, and much nicer than a gravel pit in a KOA campground.
Memory is a funny thing. From the moment that I left Lordsburg I began humming to myself, “Silver City Bound” by Lead Belly. This was another of the Folkways songs I listened to as a kid, Lead Belly’s tribute song to Blind Lemon Jefferson. And when I walked up on the sidewalk to the Palace Hotel I imagined those two giants standing on the corner making some of the best music this world will ever know.
Silver City bound, indeed.
I concluded that what has been ailing me is food deficit. I need between 6000 and 7000 calories a day in order to keep this shit show moving, and by my calculations I’ve been taking in 4000 every day or less. That would explain why I am flatter than a worn out old shoe.
Generally, the fastest way to get larded up is on Mexican food, so I stopped at a cantina but it was closed. There was a grocery store not too far away, so I went there and bought a pound of fried chicken tenders, a pound of potato salad, a half gallon of milk, a pint of ice cream, and a box of Oreos. I am only an amateur ornithologist but would someone please explain to me what part of the chicken is the tender? I have butchered a ton of chickens and can pretty much name every part but I have yet to see the tender. Wherever it is, it is breaded and deep-fried.
This chicken had been fried contemporaneously with the erection of the hotel so it had a thick double layer of soggy breading and thick grease to chew through. I alternated bites of chicken with bites of potato salad with gulps of milk to wash out the nasty taste until eventually it was all gone. My stomach hurt something fierce, worse than when I ate that pound of rancid hamburger meat, but I lay in bed and thrashed, figuring it would either get digested or thrown up. Happily it was the former.
The bed was old and sagged worse than a century ride but it felt like heaven to me. The sheets were reasonably clean, the pillows were a lot softer than the ground, and the radiator pulsed out heat. Best of all, I didn’t have to put up my tent And no matter how many times I got up to pee, I never froze.
This is why rambling around the country on a bike is such a beautiful thing. You stop taking creature comforts for granted, and you begin to see them for the extraordinary luxury that they are, not simply to you but to the great majority of humankind.
When is the last time you submerged yourself into a bathtub and I felt like you were king of the world? When is the last time you lay down on the bed and thought it was the most luxurious comfort you had ever felt? When is the last time you saw a roof over your head and considered yourself to be the luckiest guy around?
It’s one thing to make a virtue out of necessity, but it is a whole other thing to make necessity one of your virtues.
By day’s end I knew that one day in Silver City wasn’t going to be enough so I extended for another day and went to bed feeling pretty darned good.