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Excerpt 5: Lions, tigers, and bears.

April 27, 2017

I checked my miles again and noticed I only had about five more miles before I’d see a rest stop. Right at that moment though on this particular ride the heat had drained me so badly the last few miles I had just covered felt more like twenty miles. With every crank of the pedals I produced a silent groan, and within that groan I moaned a prayer for my endless effort and pain would stop.  I swear to God, I thought I was dying from the heat.

It was at this most agonizing moment, as I was sure I was feeling my own life slipping away being melted by the heat, that I saw a dead mountain lion on the road. Its carcass was squished flat like more than one 18-wheeler had run over it. It had been run over so many times that it wasn’t much thicker than a fur coat, but the head’s features made it unmistakably a mountain lion. Even smashed against the asphalt like it was, the sucker was huge! From the tip of its tail to its nose, I’d guess it was at least five feet. More, maybe less? Who knows? It was big, and for what it was worth, I was glad I was seeing it dead.

Bicyclists are one of the mountain lion’s favorite food groups. That’s not a joke. More than one rider has died from a mountain lion attack! In 2004, one such unlucky cyclist, a 35-year-old riding alone in the foothills of Orange County, was attached and killed by a 110-pound mountain lion. He had been missing for several days when authorities found his mauled body. Authorities surmised that he was probably in a crouching position, fixing a flat, which may have attracted the mountain lion. They pointed out there really isn’t much difference between a cyclist crouching to fix a flat tire and a small animal.  I could just imagine that thing ripping into me. I wouldn’t stand a chance. I wondered how it managed to get hit. You would think a big cat like that would be able to avoid vehicles. But maybe someone hit it on purpose.  I had seen people do that with house cats.  Perhaps it was just like any other cat in that respect. Who knows?  After a quick survey of the surrounding area, I decided it would be best to be on my way. No sense in tempting fate.

Finally, around noon, I completed my 26 miles in hell and was richly rewarded: I made it to the service station and restaurant.  I parked my bike, and I dragged myself inside. The waitress looked at me like she was witnessing the arrival of an alien. I probably looked at her the same way. She looked to be in her early forties, but was trending towards the matronly. Her “uniform” consisted of an apron over her skirt and t-shirt, and cowboy boots. The boots pushed the outfit over the top. I’m sure she saw me ride up on my bike. She looked me up and down, with one hand in her apron pocket while she leaned on the lunch counter, and said the obvious, “Pretty hot out there, ain’t it hon?”

“Yep.”  I was short with her. I didn’t want to talk; I just wanted to absorb the cool air.  I wanted to suck in every BTU of coolness.  It was as if I had jumped into a swimming pool.  It was so wonderfully cool.  I found a booth and looked over the menu, while my cowboy boot waitress watched from a distance. She tapped over to my table after a few minutes and asked what I’d like to eat.

I ordered a ham sandwich with Swiss cheese and extra crispy French fries for lunch.  Washed it down with a diet Coke.  It was one of the few times in my life in which I drank an entire beverage serving.  I had chocolate cream pie for dessert.  After lunch, I began to feel a little friendlier and struck up a conversation with my cowboy boot wearing waitress.  I asked her if Snowville had a motel. She said yes.

“Should I make reservations?”

She started laughing. “No honey, it’s trashy and no one ever stays there. Not even truckers.”

This was not the best news. I had been hoping for a cool place to spend the night. In a disappointed daze, I thanked her and left the coolness of the restaurant for the blistering heat. Just as I was about to get on my bike, the waitress came running out.

“Don’t you want these?”  She had my water bottle and hat in her hands. My brain was still fried; I was already tired and starting to make mistakes. This day couldn’t be over soon enough.

I started riding again. As soon as I was on the highway I saw a sign that said: Next Services 38 Miles. That would be Snowville.

“Damn!”  This was turning into a tough ride.  I hadn’t expected it to be this hard.   I never thought that it would be a cake-walk, but a nearly forty mile follow up to the twenty-six-mile outdoor oven I had just ridden through was outside of my comfort zone.

Making it a little tougher just ahead of was my first mountain pass. It climbed to a little over 5,500 feet, which really is not too bad.  In fact, I was surprised by how easy it was.  When I saw the sign announcing the summit I thought, “You call that a pass? Huh! I spit upon your pass!” But I didn’t really spit, because I think spitting is gross and disgusting.

It was a nice ride down:  I did about 40 mph for over a mile. By now it was late afternoon and I had another tail wind. Boy, I liked that!  I had only travelled a little over 200 miles since the beginning of the trip, but the desert was really beating me up, especially because I was lugging all my gear, so I enjoyed any break from the drudgery of riding that I could get.  I also started hoping that the waitress was right about no one staying at the motel.  Though I had my tent and sleeping bag, I really wanted a room!  Oh yeah, and even  wearing the three pairs of shorts, my butt was killing me. I kept squirming on the saddle trying to find a position that didn’t hurt. I’d shift all my weight to the saddle back for a while. I’d get tired, so I’d place my right thigh across the saddle, awkwardly pedaling.  It was sort of like riding side-saddle on a horse.  That could only last so long and I’d get tired again, so I’d shift my left thigh across the saddle. Then get tired again and shift my weight to the saddles’ front. Honestly, nothing really helped. Once you have blisters, riding is just pain in the butt.  Literally!  I knew that going into the ride.  I just had to accept that it was going to hurt.  But everyone has limits and I was approaching mine. I was fast approaching a milestone too; I was nearly to Utah.

When I was two miles from Snowville, I crossed the border into Utah.  There was a rest area there so I pulled in and took a break.  The temperature seemed to have dropped a bit, and that in conjunction with the shade, made for a pleasant stop.  To say it felt heavenly is an understatement.  I was ready to drop.  I sat there, contemplating my navel, to borrow an expression that my dad sometimes used, and I thought about my Parkinson’s.

Allan Watts wrote a book entitled The Wisdom of Insecurity. In it he basically encourages people to accept the moment, whatever it is. Change is inevitable and instead of fighting it, he argues, we should embrace it. I accept his philosophy in dealing with my Parkinson’s, but tonight while accepting the moment, I really just wanted a bed. It had been a long ride, and all I could hope for was that the hotel in Snowville was cool and had a reasonably comfortable bed for me to get some rest.

I couldn’t sit in the shade all day, so I reluctantly got back on the bike and started cranking the pedals.  I could see the exit ahead of me. I just wanted to stop riding. This was not fun. Every time I saw a car or truck get off at the exit, I worried they were going to take the motel’s last room.  In fact, I was sure they were going to take the last room. Which would really have been no big deal; I had brought along a tent and sleeping bag, and I knew Snowville had a city park I could camp in, but I wanted a shower and soft bed. I’m getting on in my years and a bed does not seem like too big of a concession to Old Man Time.

I rode into Snowville, passing a “Flying J” truck stop and then a burned down building. A sign outside the burned building said “Motel”. I cursed my bad luck! The only motel was burned down! Why hadn’t the waitress warned me?! I went back to the truck stop and asked a woman if there was another motel.

She pointed to the burned building saying,

“Go back there. They still have a few rooms open. There’s a plastic box by the office, take a key out, fill in the registration, and put it in the office drop box.”

I could understand why the motel’s business was slow. Nothing says Not Open like a building that looks like it had a major fire. While I wasn’t sure, the lure of a bed, any bed, and a shower pushed me back to the burned-out hotel.  The price was right, twenty bucks a night.

I rode back to the motel and she was right, there was a box full of keys and applications. I pulled lucky room number seven from the box. No air conditioning, no phone, no cable, no remote-control TV. The TV was so old it had knobs for UHF and VFH. The beds were pretty worn out too, the springs having bounced their last lovers to nirvana a long time ago, but the linens were clean. The room was clean and the shower wonderful!

After my shower, I walked across the street and ate at the “Ranch House.”  More than a few flies buzzing around inside, but the owner was doing her best to kill them. Swat! Swat! Swat!  She proudly counted her kills.  I just hoped the bodies did not go into the food.

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