Saturday, May 31, 2014

The People I Meet

It’s crazy to me to think that 99% of the people I meet on my trip I won’t ever see again in my life.  Yet on a day-to-day basis, they are the ones that go out of their way to help me, take care of me, and make my trip memorable.  They are total strangers and if it weren’t for this trip we probably wouldn’t have ever met.  However, at any given moment, they become my support, motivation, and a big part of my life. I’d like to think that we’d be friends if I were to stay put and lived in the same place, but for now, I live moment-to-moment, and completely in the moment!  You never know what the next 5 miles will bring!

Sometimes I can’t think more than a few kilometers ahead of me.  My main goal becomes betting up a massive climb that seems never-ending.  Reasoning, thinking logically, or making plans becomes a daunting task.  I can’t  worry about where I’ll even stay or eat dinner because for the moment, I have to concentrate on what lies directly ahead of me.  On Thursday, it was a what they call a “false flat”  in the world of cycling; a road that appeared to be flat but that actually goes up continuously for miles with a very low grade.  There was an unpleasant headwind, it was hot, really hot, and I had been riding for nearly 60 miles (95km) without any services. 

Alison and her grandpa traveling by motorcycle and a sidecar offer me water
Just ahead of me, something catches my eye.  A bright yellow motorcycle that had passed me with a sidecar and trailer pulls over to the side of the road.  An older man and a little girl are on the shoulder waiting for me.  I stop.  Just talking to them gives me a break from the awful conditions I’m battling.  It turns out the older man has cycled across America years ago and he can relate to what I’m dealing with.  He offers me water.  It’s so cold it has frozen in his cooler, but you can’t imagine how much I appreciate it.  The half-liter of water I have left is so warm I could boil pasta.  I look down at the little girl and tell her she’s pretty lucky to have a Grandpa who takes her on the road in a motorcycle with a sidecar.  I thank them, they give me another water, then carry on, and I’m like a whole new person,…..except for the legs! 

Five minute later I’m riding and another car whizzes by and then pulls off.  A young lady hops out and so I pull off.  She obviously wants to say something.  She asks, “Are you Melissa?”  It’s Margo, my host in the next town over, for my stay in Zion.  She’s been hiking with a friend and headed home.  For a moment, I think,  I could just hop in her car and be at Zion in an hour……but no, I will continue to pedal the 90 miles and make it there tomorrow!  She gives me a homemade energy bar, gives me the low down on the route and roads, and sends me on my way.

A half hour later, the motorcycle and the sidecar has returned.  They’ve been all the way to town and have come out in search of me to invite me to camp with them.  I gladly accept, it is one less thing to worry about and I figure a grandpa and granddaughter couple has to be pretty fun (and harmless)!  It takes me a good hour to pedal the 10 miles downhill, but I finally arrive.  They have set up their tent already and invite me to stay in theirs, which is enormous, but I don’t want to intrude. 

This is their setup for traveling

Their tent really did look luxurious compared to mine

Hoover and his granddaughter, Alison, get along extremely well!   I can seen they have a special relationship and all I can think is how lucky Alison is to have a grandpa who takes her camping.  It turns out it is their first time camping, as they usually stay in hotels when they travel.  But they’d been preparing for weeks, setting up the tent at home to practice, making meals that would work on the camp stove, and planning their time at a volunteer animal shelter which is where they will spend the next three days before heading to Zion and Bryce National Park.  Alison, as it turns out had just finished second grade, my favorite age.  Hoover said she was a strong student and had made principal’s honor roll just about all year.  I could tell she was a clever and bright young girl just by my first interactions with her.  She had a special personality that earned instant respect.  I told Alison that she was so lucky to have such a cool grandpa who spent time with her on vacation and took her camping.  That is when she tells me she lives with her grandpa. 

Alison giving her grandpa a classic fun and sarcastic look
Her comment catches me completely off guard.  How can this be?  Later Hoover tells me that his life changed dramatically 2 years and 3 months ago when Alison came to live with him.  I don’t want to pry, but obviously I’m curious.  Why is her 60 year-old grandpa raising an 8-year-old girl?   Did her parents die?  Are they sick?  Meeting Alison and Hoover gave me a completely different perspective on a kid’s childhood.  You think they’d want pity for their situation, but that is the exact opposite of the way they roll. Alison is an incredibly mature and independent 8 year-old.  The way she jokes with her grandpa and by their interaction you’d think she was more like a young adult.  She jokingly scolds her grandpa for picking a scab, bumping into things, eating her last Oreo.  They have pets galore at home and Alison shares with me how she cares for them and entertains me with stories from their other travels.  She and grandpa bake and cook a lot at home and have brought some delicious oatmeal chocolate chip cookies on the road.  They share with me and also make me dinner.  I’m delighted to have their company, inspired and admire their relationship; they are like two peas in a pod. My heart goes out to them.  I learn that Alison’s Mom and Dad are alive by a comment Alison makes later.  “Grandpa, how would you feel if you hadn’t seen your Dad since you were 2 and only get to talk to him on the phone.” When I tell her she’s an amazing young lady, she tells me that when her Mom finishes visiting her, she always says, “Alison, thank you for being such a good little girl.” 

How is it that the adults need coffee and the young one is perky with hot chocolate?
We rise early and I get us hot coffee and hot chocolate before we said good-bye.  They are headed to the animal shelter and I start pedaling towards Zion. I’m optimistic and hope to encounter them on the road again, but the reality is, I probably won’t!  I feel lucky and thankful to have met them and been given a different perspective on a young girl’s childhood.  When we depart Hoover says, “You know Melissa, they say things happen for a reason.  We were suppose to arrive here a day earlier, but had some trouble getting an early start.  I guess it was because we were suppose to meet you!”

They are off to work at the animal shelter

Previous to meeting Hoover and Alison, I got to cycle with Ian, an Australian for two days.  In the nine months I have been pedaling, it has only happened once, where I have coincided with another cyclist going my direction.  Remember the story with Hamut in Laos and the feery?  Traveling with Ian was a lot less complicated.  We had the same pace, similar personalities, and a common destination: Page.  We also didn't mind pushing through and doing longer days, which is what we did on the day we met.  I proposed traveling on another 50 kilometers after the 90 we'd each done on our own out of The Grand Canyon, to a small town.   Although it didn't have a propoer campsite, it would put us closer to Page the following day, meaning more time for sightseeing.  I don't think he'd ever wild camped before meeting me, but he was up for trying, and I felt safer with a companion.  We found a Native American community center, and pitched our tents behind.  Dinner was delicious: pizza pockets from the gas station, followed by pb and j sandwiches, which had been a donation from some hikers when we met, all washed down with chocolate milk!

We were both in awe with the picturesque "Looney Tune" desert backdrop

We visited Antelope Canyon and Horsewhoe Bend together

A trip to the supermarket with our panniers was even a memorable adventure...too many choices
The next day we made it to Page quickly, between alternating leading, the tailwind, a massive downhill, and the time zone change, we had completed the 40 miles (60km) by 10:30am.  We had the entire day to see the sights after setting up camp at a real campground!  What fun it was to have good company.  Little things like going to the grocery store and talking to the locals were more entertaining, especially since we couldn't stop sharing stories.  Ian was headed to New York and only had 2 months left to complete the trip due to the visa requirements in the United States.  The next morning we went opposite directions, but for the two days we had together, I cheerished his companionship!

Continuing on with the people I meet that very same day, I encounter Jeff, the manager at the Subway sandwich at the junction for Zion National Park.  He gives me fresh cold water going into Zion and the low down on the route I am facing.  He was so nice that I visited him again, on the way out of the park, to get insight into the best town to stop for that night and free camping.  That is when he gives me a footlong sub “on the house”, dinner for the night which I truly appreciated!

Subway never tasted so good! Thanks, Jeff

I make it to my destination and see an RV park.  I was going to try my luck for buying a hot shower.  I couldn’t be bothered to pay 20 dollars for a tent site.  Even though it seems cheap to others, do you know how much food I can buy for 20 dollars?  I didn’t even make it to the office of the RV park because at the door was an older couple who greeted me by saying “Finally! You made it! We were hoping you would stop here! We first saw you finishing your hike in Zion, then climbing oit, then at the junction if this road and now here you are! We have so many questions for you!”  Honestly answering a ton of questions was the last thing I wanted to do after a long day of hiking and biking, but they were such a lovely retired couple, I let them fire away.  After all, I had made it to my destination.  They were fascinated to hear about my trip and asked me where I was staying, which is when I told them I was going to try to shower here and go find a place to camp in the wild.  The lady went into the office while I continued to talk to her husband.  She came out and told me that she had asked the lady behind the desk if I could shower and they would let me shower for free, even though they usually charge 5 dollars.    You can’t imagine how good that shower felt.  I ate my Subway sandwich outside the office on a picnic bench while charging my phone and using their free wifi.  I found what seemed to be a restaurant and lodging option a mile down the road and my idea was to buy a beer there in exchange for pitching my tent.  I pedaled on down to press my luck, not before getting a snickers bar donation from the elderly couple!

Ron and his helper at the Buffalo Bistro

The Buffalo Bistro was still open and looked like a nice quaint establishment.  I should have known they were going to be cool people with a sign at the entrance that warns, "Warm beer, terrible food, lousy service.....But people jeep coming back!!". There was an older couple working and I prefaced my proposal to the man by saying I have an unusual question to ask you.  You just never know until you ask……Ron, the owner offered me a shower, which I already had and let me sleep in his “Man Den” on the futon, a little cabin out back. He would have fed me dinner hadn’t it been for the Subway sandwich and offered to cook me breakfast the next morning, but I didn’t want to bother him too much.  He also treated me to a tasty Heferveisen and loaded me up on fruit and candy for the morning and following day.  He told me the candy was for the big climb ahead, but unfortunately it never saw that climb; I ate it that night in the man den!  What a kind and fun older man with a warm heart.  He actually offered that I come back and work for him after my trip as he’s looking to retire.  Tempting, really, especially because of its location!

The simple pleasures in life......  My bike is in the background by the "Man Den" is off to the right

You see all of the above people were complete strangers, who I didn’t know just two days ago.  People tell me to be careful on the road, especially here in The States traveling as a solo female.  They always want to know if I get lonely.  I think you can answer those questions yourself. Maybe I exude trust and respect, I don’t know for sure. But there is one thing that is certain, people across the world have gone out of their way to take care of me.  Maybe they aren’t going to be friendships that last a lifetime, but for the time being, and the present condition that I live, they are the most gratifying and appreciated interactions I have.

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