Originally posted November 20, 2007.
FAR NORTH VALLEY--I was sitting at a picnic table near the old Alameda Bridge when Frank C. came riding down from the bikepath. I could tell by all the stuff hanging off his bike that he was on a road trip. I waved. He rode over.
He didn’t exactly look like any long-haul biker that I had ever seen...yet that seemed to be exactly what he was. His gear was tied to his bike with twine and hung from some homemade racks. A pair of briefcases were tied to a rack over his front wheel. A huge plastic tarp was folded over the rear of the bike. Except for his helmet, he wasn’t wearing anything one could call bicycle clothes.
“Where you headed?” I asked.
I looked at his bicycle. He was riding a Huffy.
People approach long bike rides from many directions and interests. It was pretty obvious that Frank was not a biker first and an explorer second. This man had a dream...a big dream...and the bicycle was only a way to fulfill it. I doubt that a serious biker would have selected this particular brand.
Frank C. looked at the river. “Actually, my dream is to go all the way down the river to the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve been looking into levee roads along the Rio Grande. I want to take my time and bike through the bosque all the way to the Gulf.” I looked again at that Huffy.
“My first choice was to take a canoe. But you have to wait for the spring runoff, and then the river gets pretty dangerous.” I knew the Rio Grande could be dangerous, real dangerous. In fact, 6 months ago I almost had to jump off a railroad trestle south of Socorro into the middle of it. I’m so glad that didn’t come to pass.
“So after giving up on the canoe, I decided to bike it.”
There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
--Robert Service, "The Men That Don’t Fit In"
Frank was currently rehearsing for the Big Trip. He had been out for the last three days, riding and camping along the river. “I’ve ridden about 30 miles. Some of the levee roads are just as solid as the ground we’re standing on, but some are nothing but sand...a lot of pushing the bike. Now I’m going home.”
He said he lives here in Albuquerque. And he was wearing a wedding ring. That led me to ask him what he did before he started biking the bosque. “Oh, backpacking and hiking. And I was a computer repairman for about 5 years. Then property maintenance for another five.” I looked at the homebrew set-up holding his gear together and believed it.
“I made the racks from old trailer parts.”
“Any problems with that Huffy?”
“Not really. Somebody gave it to me. The only thing is...it weighs 46 pounds.”
“And my gear weighs another 45. I could do without some of my stuff, but I will always take my insulated coveralls. Those pants weigh 5 or 6 pounds but I need them. I like to crawl out of the sleeping bag at night and just look at the stars.”
The Wanderlust has blest me...in a ragged blanket curled,
I’ve watched the gulf of Heaven foam with stars;
--R.S., "The Wanderlust"
I saw him take out a little pill and put it in a half-full bottle of cloudy water. It was a neutralizer pill, used to take the strong chemical taste and orange color away from water he had previously treated with iodine pills.
“I’ve been drinking water from out of the clear ditch.”
I could only nod.
“These pills take 5 minutes to work,” he said, giving the bottle a good shake. He took out a can of Sterno, some bagels, a ‘Cup O’ Noodles.’ He lit the Sterno. By now, the water had cleared somewhat. At least the color had changed. He put a little pot of water on the Sterno stove. The lid had a bolt and nut for a handle.
I doubt if Frank had more than 10 bucks invested in his whole outfit. But I’ve never seen anybody that looked more content. It is a little scary to think of Frank C. There are so many ways to get hurt, so many ways to surrender to even more grandiose dreams. But there is a passion in some that truly does burn like a fuse. A lonely passion.
Wanderlust. Itchy Feet. Rolling Stone. Call it what you will.
Bid good-by to sweetheart, bid good-by to friend;
The Lone Trail, the Lone Trail follow to the end.
Tarry not, and fear not, chosen of the true;
Lover of the Lone Trail, the Lone Trail waits for you.
--R.S., "The Lone Trail"