Crater Lake To Stanley, Day 7 : Curiosity

I’m on my way out of Wagontire. I’ve had a solid breakfast and a nice chat with the young girl who is granddaughter to Wagontire’s only permanent resident. (She brings the total population of Wagontire up to 2.) She’s in an unfortunate situation – her body is maturing much faster than her mind, and she’s rebelled against the trappings of womanhood and become a tomboy, and started hanging out mostly with boys, which unfortunately exposes her to a greater portion of the physical pressure and deceit that young boys can exhibit. I wanted to warn her about this, but couldn’t find a way to steer the conversation there without coming across to her grandmother as a creep.

Anyway, I’m back on the road, pedaling towards Burns on Highway 395. “Slim Westerns” is my theme music for this terrain, and I’m most of the way through the album. The water in my bandanna and gloves is almost entirely gone.

I stop at the top of a large hill and pee on the highway. It’s taken me a while I get used to peeing right out in the open; in high desert there’s no shelter to hide behind, and no trees to pee against, except perhaps the telephone poles. So you just stand any old where and let ‘er rip, and hope there aren’t any electric cars on the road, since you can’t hear those thing coming.

I get back on board and coast down the hill, and begin slowly climbing the next one, a long shallow incline several miles long. Near the top, I glance in my rear-view mirror and see a dark shape coming up slowly behind me along the side of the road. Immediately the Stephen King story “The Long Walk” elbows into my mind, and I laugh out loud at myself, then shove the vision back out of my mind. Just what I need – Death himself striding up the shoulder after me.

After a few minutes the shape slowly resolves into two shapes, weaving in and out of each other. I pull my headphones out and turn my head to listen, and hear no engine noise, and no farting of Harleys. It must be bicyclists. If they’re cycling out in this wasteland, they must be on an extended tour. Hot damn, my second encounter with fellow tourers!

Eventually they draw up alongside me. It’s two young men, in t-shirts and bicycle pants. They’re on upright bikes with what I would consider a light amount of gear strapped to them. One is bearing a gallon jug of water with a screw-top lid, bungee corded to a rack. With each stroke of his pedals the bike swings, causing the water to slosh around. They’re ascending the hill much faster than I am, because they’re standing up on their pedals. Ah the impatience of youth. Quietly I worry for their survival in this heat, with no helmets and a half-gallon of water to share.

I wave, and shout “Where ya headed?”



“And you?”

“Stanley, Idaho!”

They quickly outdistance me, on their lighter bikes and younger legs.

Hours later, I descend into the town of Riley. The entire town consists of one large general store, thrown together at a T-junction in a patch of cropland. I coast over to the entrance and discover that the two kids I’d seen earlier in the day are here, splayed out on a wooden bench, slowly eating ice cream cups. Each has purchased a bottle of spring water and drained it. Their bikes are laid on the ground near some bushes, and I dismount and kickstand my bike near theirs, behind a motorcycle. The owner of the motorcycle is sitting on another bench, chatting with the two boys.

“Fancy meeting you guys here!” I say. They laugh. “Of course, there’s only one road out of here, to the east, so it was kind of bound to happen.”

I pull my empty canteen off my seat and walk into the store. I purchase a root beer, some chips, and a couple of bananas, then hold up the canteen and ask, “Is there a place I can fill this with water?” The woman at the register directs me to a sink, and I fill the canteen and then soak my bandanna, gloves, and the arms of my shirt up to the shoulders.

Outside I place the canteen back behind my seat. One of the boys examines it with an expression like, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” I chat with them for a while, and take their picture.

Feeling less taciturn now, one of them asks if I can help him with the rack on his bike. A strut is broken and he’s had to apply copious duct-tape to it; and the bag still slides off. I hand him the large zipties I’d brought in my repair bag, wishing that I’d remembered to pack some actual rack hardware like I’d intended to. He thanks me sincerely and sets to work on the rack. Looks like I’ve made some friends.

It’s funny; the desire to help fellow bike tourers is curiously intense, and it even extends to other people on the road who aren’t touring. I find myself interested in helping strangers that I would usually ignore, and taking action for them that would usually seem like too much of an inconvenience. For example, what if my own rack breaks now? I have no zipties to field-repair it. But here’s a broken rack right in front of me. The zipties should be used; it doesn’t matter that it’s not my rack.

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