Standing on the Mountain

(For the complete set of 32 images head over to this Flickr album)

I found myself standing on the mountain.
Beneath my full moon heart.

~ Songs: Ohia

The sands of adventure are always shifting and a day off in Globe, AZ provided the perfect environment for reflection. My host was an intellectual. The conversation introspective and thought provoking. Charity, community, religion, and philosophy were the topics du jour. In the end Larry gave me a ride from his house to avoid a particularly dangerous section of highway 60 before we parted ways. He was due to start his own bicycle tour that very week.

Similar paths, his and mine.

While I'd always known that this tour wasn't about travel per se, it surprised me how much of a journey of self it was becoming. Days alone in the saddle are conducive to self dissection. I was probing the depths of my psyche, finding my own limits, and learning to rely on others. As I told one woman about this adventure, "In the end, it isn't really about the bicycle at all."

The descent through the Superstition Mountains and across the Valley of the Sun was cathartic. With the sun at my back, the incessant wind and cold of the previous month were a distant memory. Endless desert flora were at the height of bloom as I coasted into Phoenix to stay with my old friend Mike. A person who truly cares about his community and is one of the brightest people I know.

Where to sleep changed at least four times on the way into Aguila, AZ. As often happens I met Bob, quite at the last moment, at the local grocery. In a now familiar template the curiosity of a stranger followed the twists of conversation and suddenly I'd been invited to stay the night. Bob was the steward of a local church and within the hour I was given water, shelter, food, and great conversation. A Vietnam War veteran, truck driver, pilot, three time aircraft builder, and triple crown hiker, Bob was an endless stream of interesting stories. I nearly stayed an extra day but, as ever, the road sings its siren song.

Crossing the desert north of Mexicali was an exercise in extremes. The second day saw a transition from -34 meters and 43C with full sun to 1,288 meters and 14C with rain. I set a new record that day, drinking 11 liters of water, and in the end found myself in a wood heated yurt with the eminently kind Benjamin Blue, sharing vanilla porter and stories.

The surest way to entice me off the bicycle is with a sign that reads "ice cream". It was about time for second breakfast anyway so Day 40 saw me stroll into the convenience store at Lake Hemet just before the 600 meters climb to the summit at Idyllwild.

"How far away is Idyllwild?" I queried.

"You're riding your bicycle up there?" The woman working the register was aghast.

I used my most practiced tone of nonchalance, reserved for serious statements of bravado and attractive women. "Sure. Yeah."

"That's scary. All that climbing! And then the storm, too?!"

Shit.

Any kind of storm above 1,500 meters isn't an enjoyable experience. They are often accompanied by plummeting temperatures, gale force winds, and hail. I was committed at this point though, so I carried on. I could only hope I would cross the pass before the worst of the storm hit. Unfortunately I would find something more frightening than mere weather before days end.

Rain there was but it lacked hail. For that I was thankful. The temperature had dropped to 7C as I crested the summit at 1,900 meters, soaked to the skin, and began the chilling descent. At 50 km/h I heard a bang and the bicycle handling went mushy.

Shit.

My rear tire had exploded. It separated from the rim and the inner tube wrapped around the rear axle which seized the wheel. I was at speed, skating on the rim and wet pavement with a fully loaded bicycle, fish tailing wildly, and headed toward the outside of a turn that ended in a vertical drop to certain death. No guard rail.

Miraculously, I managed to keep the bicycle upright. Once.. twice.. four times I fish tailed, balanced on the only intact tire I had left, and came to a stop about 3 meters from the edge. Even now I can't explain how I maintained control.

And so I found myself standing on the mountain. Frozen to the bone. Questioning many things. After the adrenaline wore off I waved down a passing truck headed back toward Idyllwild. I dragged my shattered bicycle into the local shop and set repairs in motion. They gave me a beer.

In the end the experience was a blessing of sorts. I secreted myself away in a mountain inn, wrapped in the warm cloak of modern life as the weather continued to deteriorate. The rain and cold were forecast to continue for some days, in fact, and the solid walls of a cozy inn were a decided improvement over camping. Idyllwild is a crossroads of sorts, acting as a resupply point for PCT through hikers as well as a weekend vacation spot for cabin owners from the San Diego area. I am in good company and continue to meet interesting and inspiring people.

My brush with death has only served to strengthen my resolve and increase my love of this wandering life. I have no intention of turning back from the goal I've set before myself.

Thank you's:

  • Charles & Mari Jackson @ Superior, AZ, USA
  • Mike Baysek @ Phoenix, AZ, USA
  • Lynette Osborne @ Austin, TX, USA
  • Richard Paiva @ Aguila Bible Church, Aguila, AZ, USA
  • Wayne Pinkerton @ Blythe, CA, USA
  • Mark Drew @ Alpine, CA, USA
  • Bill & Theresa Meister @ Brawley, CA, USA
  • Benjamin Blue @ Julian, CA, USA
  • The Divine's @ Idyllwild, CA, USA

Justin Lott

Justin Lott

Adventure :: Photography