Of Life and Risk and Fun Too

May 11. We rode seventy-one miles and around 7,000 feet of climbing today on our single bikes. We were doing a Greater Arizona Bicycling Association annual event. We are finally getting some fitness, not bad considering how little we rode this winter. Claire decided to adopt a young guy who was attempting his first ascent of the mountain, and she paced him all the way up. (she equals me in climbing this year)
I sometimes rode ahead of them, but it was the not-getting-dropped-by-a-(43 year old) woman, that kept him going. He was full of appreciation for her for getting him to do something he thought he couldn’t do. Jack has a six year old, and a two and a half year old, and a job, and his wife works too, so the fact that he gets any riding in at all is amazing to us. Go Jack! You were great! If we do the ride next year, he’ll drop both of us easily.
Descending Mount Lemmon was fun as usual. I intended to take it easy today. A week ago I maintained 48 miles an hour for a mile or so through several curves, leaned way the heck over, using most of my lane. After the thrill wore off I realized just how much it would hurt to crash at that speed. Talk die. The fastest crash I ever had was probably 20 miles an hour, and I hurt for a very long time, and that was 20 years ago. The boy is still inside me, egging me on. I tell Claire (she hates it when I ride no hands for miles down the mountain) she shouldn’t complain about my testosterone levels remaining high; testosterone has some positive uses too!
However, today Claire was feeling frisky and I just had to pass her on the fastest part of curvy downhill. She was going 42, (go Claire!), and I, using the magic of superior gravity (I outweigh her by 40 pounds) passed her in the middle of a curve doing 47. Since I only had half a lane I had to put a lot of pressure on the front wheel to keep it from drifting over the center-line. I later noticed that I had a wobbling front wheel; I had broken a spoke with the pressure. It would take two or three spokes to cause a wheel to totally collapse, but the thought certainly gave me pause.
I’ll moderate my speed. Next time. Honest. Really. I will. I promise.
That brings up a curiosity I have increasing puzzled about as I go through life. Why are young people (sometimes) fearless, when they have so many years to lose if they die doing something risky, and older people (usually) so timid, when they have relatively few years left? I am not sure it applies to me fully, but I do think about consequences more than I did when I was climbing outrageous ice climbs in the Alps 30 years ago. I do take risks most people considerably younger are unwilling to attempt, but I am somewhat more cautious now. Perhaps it is because I have someone else to think about, Claire (no timid one she), and I appreciate each day more as I grow older. The dilemma is this: if I become more cautious, I take less from life, that most limited of resources, but if I continue to take risks, I might suffer consequences that would limit my ability to enjoy what is left of life.
Such is life, from first consciousness to final thought; choice. Perhaps it is choice that most fully defines our humanity.
The choices never end. Until we do.
Take a risk today, even if it is just a brave thought. You’ll feel more alive for it.
(The photo is one I took for a Sweat article of Claire’s. The young woman is Sam. She was so cute! And a good climber. The highway below is part of the Mount Lemmon highway we rode Friday; the view is from near Windy Point on the road.)
All the best,

A Norman Rockwell Kind of Place

May 9. A friend had just finished reading my last blog about Greenburg and our soda jerk Dick Huckriede, when she saw him being interviewed on television. She said he looked fine and promised to open the soda fountain again. What a relief. Looks like we’ll have to find our way back to Greenburg in a couple of years: I think I’ll have a plain chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream, and take another picture of Dick. I’ll be sure and print up the pictures of the old place for him.

I’m not one of those people who would want to rebuild in Greenburg or New Orleans. The world is full of places I could be happy. The idea you can recreate a way of life seems overly optimistic to me. Perhaps people want to rebuild because the idea of starting anew, among strangers, is even more daunting.

I’m not sure I understand their pride in the big hole in the ground they call their tourist attraction. We leaned Zippy against the big well, looked past the protective mesh, saw a glint of light from the sky, and … that was it, a big round hole in the ground.

Now Dick’s soda fountain was a worthy attraction, a Norman Rockwell tableau where kids stopped in after school to order a suicide, dangle their legs off the stool, maybe stick their worn out chewing gum under the bar.

Greenburg Kansas Connection

May 5, 2007 We are still in Southeast Arizona, but our hearts are in Greenburg, Kansas today.
Several years ago, Claire and I took a Zippy tour (our tandem) of Southern Kansas, seeking out traditional drug store soda fountains: you gotta have some kind of excuse to take a bicycle loaded with 80 pounds of gear and ride in an obscure corner of the great plains. One afternoon, we leaned Zippy against the window of Hunter Drug in Greenburg, drawn by rumor of a great old-fashioned soda fountain. What we found was our favorite of the scores of traditional fountains we visited across Mid America. All the fixtures were original, the cabinets all had original rippled glass, the booths backed by rippled mirrors, and the soda jerk could make every possible ice cream and soda delight popular over the past 50 years or more.

Hunter Drug, 121 S Main St., Greenburg, Kansas, Summer 2003

Dick Huckriede had been the soda jerk at Hunter Drug for 50 years. That’s right 50 years. We felt honored just to be served by him. He shared secrets of a great Green River and the proper wrist action to “jerk” the soda handle, just right, into the tapered glasses. We spend an hour or so with Dick. He was a quiet man, but his eyes twinkled, and a smile found the corner of his mouth, when he figured out that our interest was genuine, our enthusiasm real.

We rode off, full bellies, heads filled with new soda jerk knowledge and our love of soda fountains deepened. Claire has published several stories on soda fountains and several of them have used one of my photos of Dick.

May 6. I guess Greenburg was 95% destroyed. We have been trying to call Hunter Drug for two days; got a busy signal all day yesterday, it rang today, but no answer or machine. Who knows? Those soda fountain pictures might be precious to that town one of these days. If anyone can help me get through the chaos, I’d appreciate it. I think they might like copies one of these days.


Saguaro Blossom Time in Arizona

We seldom seem to be able to get out of Southeast Arizona before the saguaro bloom. Afternoon temps are passing 90; can 100 be far behind? The tops of the saguaro are crowded with dozens of buds, a month’s worth of blooming, white trumpets beckoning to doves, bats and bees. The green ribbed stems and arms, reach ten metres or more against the blue desert sky crowned with a ring of fat green buds and white blossoms.

By mid April the prickly pear buds swell, turn a soft peach, open and slowly turn lemon yellow. The mix of colors on the green (or purple) thorny pads is a joy. By now, early May, the cholla begin to bloom; my favorite combo is one with burgundy arms and bright bronze blossoms Our bicycle rides already begin early, to beat the heat and the afternoon spring winds.

Still, the nights are in the 50’s and evenings are just right: the scent of orange blossoms and barbeque mix. Gambels quail couples, he with the outrageous topknot, scurry across streets, surrounded by peeps about the size of your thumb, organized chaos, they manage to follow their parents soft exclamations. When they reach the opposite curb, the fun begins: the little balls of fluff throw themselves at the top of the curb, three times their stature, some make it the first time, most bounce off, some more than once, and finally arrive; no time to celebrate though, mom and dad are off into a patch of desert, looking for food, and a place to hide the night away from hungry coyotes, hawks and owls, all plentiful in the city of Tucson’s washes.

I’m always amazed when people seem to think that the Southwest deserts don’t have seasons. I don’t think we have been anywhere in the world that doesn’t have distinct seasons. It’s just that you have to spend a couple of years in a place to fully perceive and appreciate the seasons on offer. We bicycled past snowy patches on our weekly Mount Lemmon ride in late April, at between 7,000 and 8,000 feet about 20 miles from Tucson; we descended into high 80’s on our way home: vertical seasons are always available where there are mountains.