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Posts tagged ‘friends’

water in the desert

water in the desert

A few years ago now, my friend Joe Parkin guest-edited Dirt Rag magazine, and he asked me to write a story for it. With Dirt Rag sadly gone and the story likely to disappear into my magazine pile forever before long, I decided to put it here for safekeeping.

This is a story about bikes and friends and recalcitrant trails, and the ways that our worlds collide in ways we never quite expect.

I have included Joe P’s original introduction, because it made me laugh at the time, and it still does. I reproduced this thing from my original file, so any errors belong to me. Don’t blame Joe. He’s totally innocent. The Oxford commas, for example, all mine.

My friend Jen See has a big brain—as in Ph.D. big. Despite that, she writes a lot of stuff about bikes. When she’s not writing about bike-related things, she surfs. A couple of years ago, she gave me a copy of Chas Smith’s Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell, which is a totally awesome read, by the way. [Jen: Heh, that’s where my copy went!] Recently, she went on a media trip that included a trail that I don’t like at all. She didn’t either. Mostly. Though she ended up finding something positive. I asked her to write a piece that felt like Chas Smith [Like I could really ever ghostwrite Chas!] but was still completely Jen See [That part, I can do, for better or worse]. I think she did it. —Joe Parkin

We’d driven out to the desert with mountain bikes and beers, the necessary ingredients for a weekend of trouble making. Up a muddy road, the campsite sat high on a mesa overlooking the torrid landscape of southern Utah. We pitched tents and pulled cactus thorns from our fingers. Clouds billowed overhead, promising a future storm. I didn’t like the look of that, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Sometimes I regret my life choices.

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the stories we tell

girlsonbridge

I wrote a pair of essays for Adventure Journal about an adventure in the forest. There were bikes. And a mischievous van. Also, whiskey, a thing I highly recommend for adventures. Here is Part 1, about a van and Part 2, about a long trail by a big river.

A Long Story for a Rainy Day

It’s definitely not sunny out anymore, so I suppose I’d better be updatin’.

Happiness is a clean bike on a rainy day on the trainer? Not quite doing it for me, I have to say. I think I need a few more surf videos.

While, I’m waiting for my pod to charge, how ’bout a story from the way back machine? I was chatting with a good friend over email yesterday, and we got to reminiscing about the time we drove across country. A bit of a cliche, the best friends drive across country story. I think someone once wrote a book about it, but I might be mistaken.

I’d been living in Washington DC at the time, doing graduate work at Georgetown University. She drove out with a soon-to-be ex-boyfriend. Tall and skinny, he looked like he’d just walked out of one of those early ’90s films set in Seattle, complete with flannel shirt and ripped jeans. He even played drums in a local band. He had the nickname, green bean. But he isn’t altogether relevent to our story, since he flew home almost as soon as he appeared. Exit stage left.

After closing out a bar in the District, which for those of you who know anything about DC is quite a feat, because there’s no last call, we piled into her Nissan. I’m forgetting exactly what sort of Nissan it was, but she’d had it since high school. It was tiny, and made tinier still once we stuffed all my odds and ends in the back and our tall, gangly selves in the front.

We passed over the mountains into West Virginia, surrounded by the deep green of early summer in the south, and headed toward our first stop in Dayton, Ohio. We had a friend in Dayton, where we planned to stay the night. Alissa had met him in a chat room on AOL. He inhabited a very white, very plain condo in a tidy, carefully mowed lawns sort of suburb of Dayton. We pried into his cd collection. So not punk rock. We went out for drinks in old town Dayton. We didn’t close the bar.

Fuled by the bottomless coffee cups of a Waffle House – do they have Waffle House in Ohio? Maybe it was a Denny’s – we hit the road toward Chicago. Our goal? The Art Institute of Chicago. A parking meter offered the only space to leave the car. We stuffed the meter as full as it would allow, and headed off to the museum. Time flies when looking at fabulous paintings, and in a panic, we ran through the museum to make it back to the car, imagining ourselves stranded in Chicago with our car in some impound lot. A blur of Kandinsky canvases flew by, the colors streaming together in a way not even Kandinsky could have imagined. Our meter had expired, but apparently it was our lucky day. Not only had the museum admitted us for free, but the parking police had ignored us.

The traffic did not smile upon us, and we sat for hours on a gridlocked highway leading out of the city. We found a bed outside Iowa City late that night, and ate a country breakfast with the local farmers, like a pair of politicians canvassing for votes. Another bottomless cup of coffee – we were still far from the land of espresso – and we set out for Nebraska.

On the highway across Nebraska, our story slowed to a crawl. Crossing Nebraska longways requires commitment. Unlike the gridlock of Chicago, the cow pastures of Nebraska had no radio stations. Eventually we even strayed beyond the reach of NPR, whose consideration of all things wacky and random had kept us entertained when the cows could not. Road stops stood few and far between and we finally braved a truck stop cafe just off the highway. Picture a movie set diner, and you’ll know the place. I opted for the always safe, grilled cheese. I forget what exactly Alissa ordered, but it came with this white, glazelike gravy that looked like the product of some alien life form. Alien spoo, over easy.

At last putting Nebraska behind us, we reached a rainy Cheyenne late that evening.

Hmm, nice thunderstorm out there. Internet connection dies, in 3-2…?

Back to Cheyenne. We slept in a motel with pseudo-rustic wood panelling. Like so totally western. At least it was cheap. Determined to make Utah by the end of the next day, we didn’t devote much time to Cheyenne. Somewhere along the 80 in Wyoming, the emergency broadcast system started squawking. Naturally, we changed the station. Like, as if we wanted to hear the standard, this is only a test message. Meanwhile, the sky turned black and chunks of asteroidsized hail pelted the car. A rest stop appeared through the murk. We pulled off, and joined a parking lot full of truckers and assorted extras staring at the horizon, watching a not-too distant tornado. I guess sometimes those emergency broadcasts have something useful to say. A trucker helpfully informed us that getting struck by lightening is a bad idea, and driving through a tornado even worse. Thanks, we were a little unclear on that, because like, we’ve never seen Wizard of Oz or anything.

The tornado headed off on its merry way, and we hit the road to Utah, arriving early that evening. We saw many mountains with much snow. We stopped in Park City and got drunk on 3/2 beer at 7000 feet. Good thing about that altittude. We paused for a few days to sip espressos on Main Street. We slept in a half-dilapidated Victorian, on its way to restoration. But nothing much funny happened. It’s hard to be funny on 3/2 beer.

I’ve done the drive from Utah to San Diego a few times. It’s like Nebraska without the cows. At least we had air conditioning, unlike the time I drove it in my veedub one summer. That trip, I wore a bikini, because it was hot and stuff. We stopped at the Barstow McDonalds in the train car and drank milk shakes, because that’s what one does in Barstow. We descended Tejon at sunset, the valley already in shadow, a thousand points of light just blinking on. We reached San Diego late that night, never really wanting to see the inside of the Nissan again.

Holy Crap, this is some kind of rain.
And this post definitely needs a picture. Far, far too many words for no pictures. Back later…