Aside from a few conversations with random folk, it was miles and miles of pecan trees from El Paso to Las Cruses. I had only camped for one night before I was back under a roof and relaxing in the company of yet more kind and generous people.
This was the 5th WarmShowers destination I've visited and the 5th time that I was completely entrusted with their home. I showed up roughly five minutes before both John and Janette had to hit the road for an appointment and just as soon as I could say "Hi", they were off in the van as I was getting comfy in their house. I guess it's a cycling thing... even if I do look like a bum. John has been touring every summer for 30 years, so I suppose it's easy to relate with very few words. Anyway, these two "kids" were definitely characters and the most natural people I've ever met. It was a do-what-you-want, say-what-you-feel and be-who-you-are kind of environment... and the thoughts flowed freely. "Charlie and I are going to go chop some wood", John said at dinner. I looked up and thought to myself, "Hey, that's me! I'm Charlie." That's how it went. That's how events happened here; John cuts right through all the red tape. Such genuine interaction was a welcome change and will be missed.
Back on the road! Well, to be honest, I didn't feel like cycling. That feeling comes and goes from time to time. Usually I'm in love with the motion once again after a few short miles.
It's 2pm and I don't feel very good. It feels like it's taking far too much effort to go short distances and I keep thinking something is wrong with the bike. My eyes are itchy. I turn Shadowfax on his head to get a better look at the gearing and can't find anything wrong. Obviously the chain needs to be lubed, I think to myself. Drink up, horsey... mmm... delicious. I'm back onboard now but it's still very difficult to move forward. "I feel like poo. It must be my diet." Eight miles before having to climb Emory pass, I decide to call it a day and shell out some cash for a night at the Black Range Bed and Breakfast in Kingston.
My attitude had changed. After meeting the couple who ran the lodge, I hit the shower and moped around the lounge for a while. I kept looking over my maps and started to tally up how many more miles I had to ride before I got to Portland. "I wonder where the next pitstop is?" The last few days have been horribly windy and waking up to see the grass pointing due East is without a doubt the most demoralizing feeling in the world. I was tired. Biking was hard. Cycling when it's cold out is not something I easily enjoy at 8am. I looked in the mirror to realize I had pink eye for an unknown amount of time and finally realized why my eyelids felt glued shut every morning. Ughh... that's what happens when you're constantly dirty and tend to rub your eyes. I wanted to go home. I wanted to go home, eat a block of cheese and play video games for hours on end. Studying the maps a little more, I figured out why biking had become so hard; I climbed 2500ft and didn't even realize it. Oh! Well that makes a little more sense now.
In the town consisting of just 500 people, I was the only guest there that night and managed both a free dinner and a discounted stay. Pete and Catherine, the couple who ran the lodge, were celebrating his birthday and invited a few friends over to join in the meal. I didn't really feel like being social, so I just kind of ate and responded to any questions that came my way. After so many of the same questions over and over and over, it's a challenge to respond with shared enthusiasm to those who inquire. I feel like handing out a sheet of FAQs sometimes. This is a conversation I had with some dude in the middle of nowhere:
Me: "Yea, I'm doing some pretty serious touring."
Guy: "Oh yea? Where'd you start?"
Guy: "Main street?"
Me: "... Yup! Day #1 right here! Got a long way to go!"
Guy: "Where ya headed?"
Me: "Uh... No... I think it's in Washington."
Guy: "The state?! Ha! Is this a hobby of yours or something?"
Me: "No, actually I've never done this before."
Guy: "Well good luck, man, that's a LONG way from New Mexico!"
Me: "Yea... something like 2000 miles! I don't know if I can bike that far."
Oh man... that was a fun one. I'm pretty sure the guy was on drugs. Where was I with this story? Oh right, the lodge. So anyway, food was consumed and it wasn't long before the sun woke me up on another chilly morning. I had just finished loading up the bicycle when Pete came by and spun a couple of the handles on the foosball table. I said, "I used to be damn good at that game way back when." I ended up telling him about how my life used to revolve around soccer and eventually faded into the more leisurely sport of Frisbee golf. His eyes immediately lit up. "Disc Golf?", he said. "Yea, 'Frolf', I guess you've heard of it." That was that -- Pete asked me to stay another night for free.
Unbeknownst to me, right up the road was his own disc golf course where he retired his lifelong passion of the flying disc. For three consecutive years, he was officially the "World's Most Accurate" disc golfer and is in the Genius Book of World Records for throwing a Frisbee over 350 miles in a 24-hour session with a friend. His eyes were wide open and every word out of his mouth was more energetic than the last. Now this is a conversation I can get into without having to feign the slightest amount of interest whatsoever. He went on to tell me about how he's a practiced "Frisbyterian", the "Discathon" championship, rivals, styles and an insane depth of Frisbee knowledge I didn't even know existed. "How many hole-in-ones have you shot?", I asked. He laughed and was at a loss. "I don't know, ninety... maybe a hundred." HA! I was all prepared to exclaim, "I just shot one a couple days before leaving Pennsylvania!" but laughed at my own astonishment to how ridiculous of a response he gave.
The course he made was right on the mountainside, right below Emory Pass and inside a maze of trees. Every shot he took sent me into laughter. His ability with a Frisbee was greater than my imagination. There was no point in keeping score, though I did beat him on one hole (he hit a couple trees). Pete was rolling his shots up hills and purposely bouncing around bends farther than I could throw mine in a straight line. After the round, we talked until nearly midnight about disc golf and actually found a way to play a few more holes inside his house... haha!
With the instant connection made through the magic of frolf, I got to know both Pete and Catherine much better than I did the first night. There is FAR more to the two of them than I would have guessed... and that's not even including the absurd Frisbee talent. Pete frequents campus in Las Cruses to share his knowledge of horticulture and Catherine is the author of The New Strawbale Home. The two of them met while volunteering to build a strawbale home and have been some of the foremost advocates in "green building" ever since. I didn't realize until they started to reveal themselves, but much of the lodge had strawbale in the walls and used radiant floor heating on the first level. They had solar panels scattered throughout the property amongst the most unique earthen buildings I'd ever seen. Intertwined between the Shire-like homes was livestock, drilled water wells and many gardens boasting over 20 species of bamboo that Pete grew to construct roofing. Attached to the back of the lodge was a greenhouse that I completely overlooked until Pete pointed it out to me. They grew everything in here using the compost from nearly all the scraps that came out of the kitchen. So many things I'd have simply overlooked had very practical and significant uses to them. Even the ash from the fire pit had a purpose. Check out some of these photographs...
I became more of a buddy/helping-hand than a guest at the bed and breakfast and gladly accepted to move some furntiture for Catherine's mother with Pete's assistance. On our way to her house (she lived in a strawbale house just a short walk from the lodge), I saw somebody on the path towards the home with a flashlight. Both Pete and I were surprised to see someone wandering the property at night and when I stopped to get a better look, Catherine just gave a tug on my shirt and pulled me along... which was really confusing. Just a few more steps though and we were in the house. "SURPRISE!!!" And voila... there was a room full of a people to celebrate Pete's birthday... again. Ha, I guess I was just out of the loop on this one. Either way, it was a great dinner and another opportunity to make new friends. Even Ground Chuck knew before I did :-)
The lodge was laughter therapy... I made some great memories there. I left in great spirits and the immediate eight miles up to Emory pass was a joke. It wasn't steep at all, it just took me a while to putt up there at 5mph. The summit was a tad brisk and the descent down was... well... insane. Thanks to the pants and gloves that Roy gave me back in El Paso, I flew down the backside for a good half hour and never once touched the pedals.
That's that. In the days to follow, the views would be beyond all words and the people that picked me out of my rut let me appreciate it that much more.
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