I’ll admit I have dipping my toe into the cycling world lately. Even that might be an overstatement since I’ve been riding only once a week. But that small bit has brought back a lot of stories I’d filed away in the back of my memory. Bicycling used to be a big part of my life – not as competition but transportation.
A couple of weeks ago Cyndi and I enjoyed dinner at Abuelo’s with long time friend Rickey Woody, and in the course of reliving our high school days Rick reminded me of a bike trip I took. I believe what he said was, “I can’t believe you guys tried to do that.”
I said, “I can’t believe my mother let us try it.”
It happened one summer, either the summer before our sophomore year in high school (1972) or the summer before our senior year in high school (1973). I don’t remember which. We were living in Hobbs, New Mexico.
My friend Doug White and I had spent the summer riding our 10-speed bicycles all over town, and somehow along the way we decided to take an epic bike trip across the state. After discussing all our options, we decided to ride our bikes to Cloudcroft, 168 miles from Hobbs with a 5,000’ increase in elevation.
Looking back I realize this is the sort of over-the-top challenge that usually is the result of too much bragging mixed with too much alcohol, but there was no alcohol involved in any of this. Rather, it was just the youthful yearning for epic adventure.
I don’t remember exactly what type of bicycles we had other than they were standard-issue 10-speeds. I’m sure they were heavy, especially in today’s terms. I think my bike was a Volksycle purchased at Mack’s Sharp Shop down the street from our house. I have no idea what Doug rode.
I’m sure we wore Levi cut-offs and T-shirts, the official summer uniform in the 1970s. We certainly didn’t have any performance cycling clothing, and probably didn’t know it existed. Of course, we didn’t have helmets, either. I guess it was safe back then. I don’t remember gloves, either. I’m also sure we wore whatever tennis shoes we had for the summer, and certainly no toe clips on the pedals.
We traveled with sleeping bags, change of clothes, food, water, and tools for roadside repairs. All of that was tied onto our bikes. I’m sure we also took money but I don’t remember how much … probably not near enough since teenagers always underestimate how much money it takes to do anything.
We don’t have any photos of the trip in my family’s collections. Maybe Doug’s family has one or two, but I doubt it. Before digital cameras people didn’t take as many photos. Nowadays I’d be uploading photos minute-by-minute from my phone, but not in the 1970s.
We left Hobbs early one morning just when it was getting light enough to ride. We rode to the southwest part of town and took US Highway 62/180 west toward an intersection of roads called Arkansas Junction where we joined NM Highway 529 and rode and rode and rode. We stayed on the narrow shoulder of the two lane highway, hanging on to our bikes as oil field trucks whizzed past.
It was a long lonely highway and we didn’t come to our first town until we reached Loco Hills, NM, 52 miles from Hobbs. We were grateful for a place to stop for lunch. In the small café there was a chalkboard that said, “Today’s menu: Bowl of chili or Hamburger.” We had hamburgers.
We rolled out of Loco Hills after lunch and headed west on US Highway 82 toward Artesia, another 20 miles away. Our original plan was to ride through Artesia and on to Hope, a tiny town with population less than 100, were we would camp on the ground for the night. There was an abandoned gas station beside the highway and we figured we could set up under the awning.
We rode close together all the way from Hobbs to Loco Hills, but sometime after lunch we split up. I had been pedaling along with my head down – no iPod for entertainment, no mirror to check behind me – when I discovered I was riding alone. I had no idea how far back we’d gotten separated, but I couldn’t see Doug at all. I rode my bike up to an abandoned oil field supply warehouse that had a huge open door facing east, parked my bike in the shade, and sat on the ground to wait for Doug. When he rode by I thought he might stop for a break in the shade but he looked at me and kept riding. I think he was mad at me for dropping him. I didn’t do it on purpose, and never knew when it happened, but I probably would’ve been mad at him had the roles been reversed. It isn’t fun to be left behind.
I got back on my bike and caught up to Doug and we rode together all the way into Artesia. Once we crossed into town Doug got sick. I think he’d been suffering for a long time but wouldn’t talk about it. Once we crossed the city limits, however, he got off his bike and threw up into the bushes. It wasn’t a good sign for the rest of our adventure.
I think it was clear to both of us by now that we were in no shape to continue our trip, but being guys we’d have kept going anyway to the point of collapse, neither wanting to be the one to quit. However, now that Doug was obviously sick, it was over. He said, “This is it for me. I can’t go any further.” He had been recovering from a case of mononucleosis and thought it was all behind him, but 78 miles of bike riding brought it all back. Maybe it was a gift for both of us. It was better to stop in a town than alongside a deserted New Mexico highway.
Doug knew a family friend on the Artesia police force; we phoned him and he took us in for the afternoon. We slept for a long time in the air conditioning at his house. Doug phoned his parents who agreed to drive to Artesia and bring us back to Hobbs.
As it turned out, a huge thunderstorm rolled off the mountains than night and dumped 2” of rain on Hope. We would’ve been soaked in our sleeping bags had we spent the night there.
The call of adventure is a mighty thing. The urge to do something bigger than ourselves, to live our lives in the big story can be irresistible. Doug and I had ridden all the roads in Hobbs that summer and we needed something bigger to do. The fact we were unable to complete our trip was surely a blessing since we weren’t fit enough or equipped enough for what we were trying to do, but it is still one of my happiest memories. It was a time when my friend and I were brave and reckless and bulletproof and willing to try the impossible.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
To learn more about Berry’s newest book, “Running With God:” www.runningwithgodonline.com
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