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Biking Across America With Bob: Accidental Intersections

On the road again.

Editor’s Note: Here’s our third report from Bob Kaspar on the road, as he rides coast to coast from California to his hometown near Boston, Mass. As Bob wanders, so does his mind.

I’m not the least bit shy about asking for information and/or directions. So while biking around Flagstaff, Arizona, on a layover day, I noticed a group of baggage-laden touring bikes parked outside a restaurant and thought this may be a good way to get some information about the highway conditions on I-40 east of Flagstaff.

I went inside and picked out the likely group, speculating that it must be the ones wearing tight, brightly colored clothes covered with road grime. I walked over and and asked if they were the cyclists parked outside. We all laughed because it was obvious and therefore, basically a stupid question. In any case, we got to talking about various things and as I was about to leave someone asked where I was from. I generally respond that I’m from the Yosemite area because most people don’t know where Oakhurst is.

Sunset near Gallup New Mexico. ‘Nuff said.

A woman in the group said that she was from San Francisco and so I added that I was actually from Oakhurst, figuring that she might know where that is. “I know where that is,” she said. “I have two friends who just bought a golf course up there.”

I replied, “You mean Reid and Charlie who run Sierra Meadows?”

Explaining their venue was only about a quarter-mile from where I live, and that my friend Robin co-sponsors musical events with them in which I often assist, I said that, in fact, we had done just such an event only a few days before I left. We were all amazed and made the obligatory comments about it being such a small world, etcetera.

I have a theory about  coincidences. A coincidence, I suppose, could be described as an intersection of one sort or another between lives. But the intersection between my life and the woman from San Francisco was only recognized because I happened to add the last detail, that I actually live in Oakhurst, to the conversation. Otherwise, the intersection would have never been recognized.

Taking a break at the Naschitti trading post in Navajo country between Gallup and Shiprock, New Mexico.  A dowdy looking little place on the outside, I must say this had the most immaculate bathroom I have yet seen on the trip. I didn’t take a picture however.

I was once nearing the end of a three-year relationship with a woman when we happened to have a conversation that led us to discover, to a point of absolute certainty, that we had actually met in passing on the other side of the country seven years earlier. Had we not had that exact conversation we would have been forever unaware that we had met years before we realized. It’s only these intersections that we become aware of by stumbling upon accidentally, that we recognize as coincidences.

It follows that, for each one of these intersections we stumble upon by accident, there must be countless ones of which we remain forever unaware. They must be happening all the time. I guess this is similar to “six degrees of separation,” a theory which postulates that everyone is connected to everyone else by a maximum of six steps which can be determined by asking hearsay or “friend of a friend” type questions.

This has been analyzed statistically by numerous mathematicians in an apparent attempt to prove, well, something. It’s a very human thing to want to study the mystery out of stuff and I suppose I’m as guilty of that as any.

But, I digress from my digression.

In Durango, Tom and Stana Galbraith put me up (and up with me) for two days during inclement weather in their lovely place directly overlooking Durango and the river.  Tom, an avid ultralight cyclist and backpacker is in his seventies but can whip off a 100-mile day no sweat.

The point is that the “six degrees of separation” theory is an ultimately clumsy and unnecessary attempt at quantification limited, like most research, by its own fundamental assumptions. Not surprisingly, I like my “occasionally stumbling upon one of what must be countless intersections” theory better, basically because it’s just so much more fun.

It doesn’t require lapsing into hippie wisdom about the inter-connectivity of all things or indulgence in statistics. It allows for much more daydreaming and curiosity about the people you see or meet. Have I connected with or crossed paths with that person before? Conversely, will I connect or cross paths with that person in the future and not recognize it? It’s a simple non-mystical fact that the world must actually be much smaller than we perceive and that these unrecognized life intersections must be happening constantly. For me the fascination is that it can’t be proven but it must be true.

Found heavily strewn on the road, apparently not uncommon.

I’ve made exactly two emergency-911 calls in my life. The first was several days ago when my friend whom I’ll call, with nothing but affection, “Meathead,” waved a gun at me and took a shot. See article below for more on that.

The second one was two days later, about 10 miles east of Flagstaff on I-40.

I was riding along on the shoulder and was passing through an area of shiny things which I thought were AAA batteries. On closer examination I saw that they were ammunition rounds.

The highway had been strewn with nine millimeter and 7.62 millimeter rounds. The 9mm is a handgun round and the 7.62 is the standard Warsaw Pact, AK-47 round. Some empty boxes indicated that they were manufactured in Romania. There were also some magazines and ammo boxes. Knowing this wasn’t exactly a 911-type emergency, I called anyway, for lack of a better number to call. The Arizona Highway Patrol responded and cleaned it up. One officer remarked that this was not an entirely uncommon occurrence.

Twin Arrows, yet another defunct business along old Route 66. Yes, I know this is a cliched photographic subject. At some point commercial decay became photo-worthy. Just down the road was Two Guns, Arizona.

The Southwest is festooned, in a good way, with national parks and monuments. Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert, located midway between Holbrook, Arizona and Gallup, New Mexico.

The well designed and maintained courtyard at the Petrified Forest Administrative Center offered a welcome respite from the prevailing winds.

Window Rock near Grants on the Arizona – New Mexico border. The face on the left is about 200 feet high. The Rock is pockmarked with holes (“windows”) of various sizes — hence, the name.

Shiprock is a gigantic 1,600-feet tall remnant volcanic plug in the desert of northern New Mexico. First climbed in 1939, it is notable as the first climb in North America on which now-ubiquitous drilled bolts were first used. It is on Navajo land and is currently illegal to climb. The cross winds and blowing sand were so strong when this picture were taken that the highway was closed to trucks.

North into Colorado.

North of Farmington, the La Plata Mountains, part of the Rockies, come into view. At this point, I’m not only heading into the mountains but also heading into an unseasonal winter weather pattern that will result in extremely low temperatures, snow, and moving farther eastward, will result in extensive flooding in the Midwest. For me, this means delay and the careful calculation of weather windows in which to travel. Fortunately for me Durango and Pagosa Springs are big cycling towns and there are generous people willing to offer accommodations to a wayward cyclist.

Durango, historically a mining and oil town, is now a center for outdoor recreation. The Animas River runs through the center of town and is crossed by numerous well-designed and aesthetic pedestrian and cycling bridges.

I really tried to get a picture of this wearing my baseball cap but it wouldn’t stay put so you’ll just have to imagine it.

Read earlier installments of Biking With Bob:

Biking Across America With Bob Kaspar: Into The Desert, And Trouble


Biking Across America: Bob Kaspar Goes Home




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