The hematocrit high ground, Part II
By Kennett Peterson
(Kennett Peterson is an Oregon-based road racer with the Hagens-Berman elite amateur squad that competes at national pro/am events around the country. He is currently in Silver City, New Mexico preparing for the 25th Annual SRAM Tour of the Gila. This is Part II of the story of his 52-hour Greyhound trip to get there.)
In Part I of Kennett’s 52-hour Go-by-Greyhound adventure, a late bus caused him and three others to miss their connection to Las Vegas. Greyhound gave them a voucher for a free overnight stay at an SLC airport motel before they eventually made it to Sin City. Kennett and his new friend Thomas killed time before their next connection by crashing a casino buffet and almost getting caught.
The bright lights of Vegas dimmed into blackness as we drove off into the desert. I couldn’t sleep at all. Once again I was next to the bathroom at the back of the bus, but this time I was sharing a seat with someone and I didn’t have that back row seat with the three seats in a row, so there was considerably less room. I had chosen the aisle seat so I could stretch my legs out occasionally, where someone tripped over them every five minutes, helping to keep me awake. Though, I don’t think it was that that was keeping me awake. Maybe it was sleeping too much during the day or the high level of excitement just a short while before in Vegas. Who knows? But I sat there with my eyes closed for hours listening to Arcade Fire on my ipod trying to drift off.
Eventually we took a stop at a gas station and McDonalds sometime late at night in Arizona. Thomas and I got out and walked over to the gas station, where Thomas said he got a cool hat once. They had a bunch of souvenirs and stuff, and I guess he wanted to check them out. I later realized by “checking out” he meant “sneaking into his pockets.” As we walked across the parking lot, we heard a slight rustle in the bushes right next to us. Thomas jumped, thinking it was a rattlesnake. I looked over and saw an old man with his pants around his ankles taking a piss. I think he was taking a piss. I hope.
I wandered around the gas station looking for something to eat. Chips sounded good. A lot of bad calories though. Whatever. I grabbed a bag and went to the cashier and saw that there was real ice cream. Ice cream is better than chips if you’re going to ruin a diet, so I got a waffle cone. Double scoop. It was only $2.71 and the scoops that the gas station attendant gave were huge. I was very happy. As we exited the store, Thomas seemed very happy too. He had stolen a pair of sunglasses and a little scorpion encased in an orb of plastic. He gave the scorpion to me. I told him I didn’t want it but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. So now I had helped commit crimes in two states.
A couple hours after finishing my ice cream cone back on the bus I finally fell half asleep. It didn’t last long though. All was quiet. The baby behind me wasn’t screaming. The guy a few rows up was no longer snoring. No one was talking. It was dark inside and outside the bus. No city lights shone, as we were way out in the desert. Then, like a demented, rabid badger, the guy next to me jumped out of his seat from a dead slumber. He stood up in his seat, did a quick 360-degree turn like a dog and crouched down, still squatting on his feet, clutching his knees to his chest staring straight forward. I looked up at him in bewilderment, “Are you kidding me?” I asked out loud. Was I really sitting next to this guy? Of all the seats on the bus…
After a few minutes of him perched on his seat like a vulture, not moving or diverting his piercing gaze at nothing in front of him, I asked if he needed to get out of the seat, maybe walk around or something. He didn’t respond. I asked him again, louder and let him know I was pissed off now for having to sit next to him. Still no response. I tapped him on the knee and he recoiled and pressed his forehead against the window and hissed, “I don’t like to touched!” He literally hissed. No, I’m not embellishing. The words came out like those of a half snake, half Gollum creature. I was dealing with a genuine crazy person.
Thomas had been watching the whole thing from his seat across from me and asked if I wanted to move over and sit next to him since he was one of the few people on the bus with an open seat next to him. I said no. “I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of getting my seat.” I had been sitting there before this guy got on the bus and it should be him to move first if anyone was going to move. Yes he was crazy and he never sat back down for the rest of the bus ride to Flagstaff, but still, I had my principles.
This is the one and only code a Greyhound person lives by: you must guard your seat and the one next to you with your life. Win the armrest immediately. Spread your knees out wide and win the legroom. Make it seem like a huge chore if someone who gets on the bus after you asks “is that seat open?” In fact, if they made it that far you’ve already failed. You should have had your bag in the window seat, laying down on it pretending to be asleep with your headphones on. I had failed to do this when the crazy guy got on the bus earlier, so I wasn’t going to give up my seat now after I had already failed once. I couldn’t lose to this guy twice.
He got off in Flagstaff an hour later and I had two seats to myself and finally some good sleep to Phoenix. Not good sleep, but somewhat half sleep. There’s no such thing as good sleep on a cramped bus filled with people coughing up cigarette phlegm.
Wednesday: Phoenix was warm when we arrived early that morning. It was still dark out at a quarter to 5, but it was shorts-and -T-shirt weather. Thomas and I decided to go on another voyage to stretch our legs and use up some of the three hours we had until the next bus came. We took a short cut through a parking lot and ended up scrambling over a barbed wire fence since the parking lot dead-ended. There was nothing around, just the raised freeway on one side and the airport on the other. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as our Vegas walk, but we had the same thing on our minds — food. In search of a free hotel continental breakfast to sneak into, we plodded on. By the time the sun came out we’d found our way into a Holiday Inn. There was no continental breakfast, but there was an attached breakfast restaurant. We ordered biscuits and gravy, which was the special. It was good, but not very much food. Thomas thought it was a lot. I think my stomach is about 150% larger than the average person’s. We walked back to the bus.
We parted ways when Thomas took the bus to Tucson. I was also passing through Tucson, but my final destination was Lordsburg, New Mexico, so I had to wait for another bus. I sat in line for another 45 minutes before the final stretch of my trip came.
Aside from the first leg from Boise to Salt Lake City, this next one was probably the most pleasant bus ride of the week. I had my own seat for almost all of it, the bus was finally warm, and the sun on my face through the window put me right to sleep. Just another short five hours to Lordsburg.
After a brief stop in Tucson, our bus driver started driving away while a passenger frantically ran after the bus yelling for us to wait. The other passengers on the bus began yelling at the bus driver to stop, but he kept on going until the guy running after the bus tripped, rolled down a wheel chair ramp, got back up and continued his sprint after the bus waving his arms. The driver eventually stopped, but didn’t apologize to the battered guy as he got on the bus, panting and looking emotionally hurt. In fact, the driver made several later announcements mocking the guy about making sure to be back on the bus in time.
Back on the road, I fell asleep again in comfort as the warm air drew my eyelids down. The bus was warm because the air conditioner was broken. The driver stopped four or five times on the side of the road to get out and fiddle with it. Everyone on the bus was dying of heat. It was 80 degrees inside, 81 degrees outside. It felt good to me, but I looked over at the man and woman across from me and saw beads of sweat pouring down their faces. The driver stopped again and opened the top hatches on the ceiling to let in air. I was worried he’d stop us permanently and call for a bus to come pick us up, which would certainly take five or more hours. We were just 40 minutes from Lordsburg at this point.
But we made it. I got out at Lordsburg and argued with the driver about my luggage since he didn’t want to let me leave with it since I didn’t have my baggage receipt. I said I was going to take my stuff anyways, grabbed it out of the bus and was finally done with Greyhound. Hopefully for a long time. From the time I spent at the station in Boise to the time now in Lordsburg I had spent 52 and a half hours traveling by Greyhound.
This would seem like the end of my journey, but it’s not. I called Danny, a friend of mine whom I rode with a few times last year in Tucson, and he picked me up in his van and drove me back to his house, which was only a few blocks from the bus stop. In fact, his house was only a few blocks from everything in town. It was a ghost town. There was a grocery store, some Mexican restaurants, a gas station, some houses, and a bunch of empty buildings. It was hot out, flat, no vegetation, just dirt for miles and brown mountains off in the distance. Probably the least inspiring place to ride, which is why I guess he drove three hours to Tucson every Saturday to do the Shootout.
I watched a couple hours of DVR’ed cage fighting in Danny’s cool, dark living room and got up enough motivation to go ride for an hour on the two wind-swept streets next to the freeway that Lordsburg had to offer. I built my bike, kitted up and, headed out the door. And you know what? I felt surprisingly good! Amazing. Three days on the bus right after a stage race and I’d be happy if I could pedal at all, but I actually felt somewhat descent. I stopped at the grocery store and bought my staples: apples, oranges, bananas, watermelon, papaya, strawberries, mangos, and a few vegetables. I also bought some chicken liver, which I’ve been eating lately, and a big bag of frozen green chili peppers, which New Mexico is famous for. I brought my real food back to the house and finally had a healthy meal. A few hours later I packed up everything in Danny’s little 1989 Geo Metro for the drive up to the mountains above Silver City, called Pinos Altos, to the guest house I was going to be staying at—owned by two nice people who decided to let Dan and I stay there for the race the following week.
You might expect things to go badly during the 50 miles I had to drive that night when Danny had to show me how to start the car with a flat head screwdriver. Or the fact that the car had close to 300,000 miles on it, that he had only paid $500 bucks for it three years ago, that the rear door was opened with a wire hanger, or the fact that nothing in the car worked. But I wasn’t worried. I was actually very happy to be heading up to the little cabin for some peace and quiet and a bed. The car was pretty cool in my opinion. It was simple (except for turning it on), and I like old junky things like that that keep on working when they’re not expected to.
I ventured out to the empty highway towards Silver City, no streetlights or cars anywhere, just the Geo’s fading headlights and the groan of the engine puttering along at 45 mph up the slowly ascending mountainside. I braked to miss a jackrabbit. I slowed and swerved to miss a deer. Then another deer. I hoped I was on the right road. The attention I had given to the directions that Danny had given me had been minimal. I was running on about six real hours of sleep in the last 52 hours. Plus I’m bad at listening to directions anyways.
Whatever. I was moving forward. I was off the bus. It was still an adventure. I’d most likely get there without any weird incidents, but I could always hope…
The headlights went out.
They came back on, went dim, went out completely. The car was dying. I kept driving and pushing the starter button. The lights came back on again just in time for the only other car on the road that night to see me. Fingers crossed, I continued on, now hoping that the gas wouldn’t run out and that the lights would stay on.
I pulled into a gas station on the outskirts of Silver City to fill the tiny tank up. I didn’t know what side of the car the gas was on. I couldn’t open the window to look out and check since there was no window knob. I couldn’t open the door since there was no doorknob. I parked the car, taking a guess that the gas was on the passenger side of the car. It took me five minutes to figure out what wires to pull to open the door. I stuck my head out the door and saw that I had guessed wrong, the gas was on the other side. I stuck the screwdriver in the ignition and flipped the starter button. Nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing happened. I tried different variations. Starter button first, then the screwdriver. Nothing happened. It was past 10 PM. This was not good. The gas station was closed; no one was around. There were no stores or anything around, not that they’d be open anyways. I called Danny for advice and he suggested something was wrong with the battery connection. I popped the hood and looked around, puzzled of course because my knowledge of cars is about as low as my knowledge of the opposite sex. “Where’s the cheese for the mice?” was my first question. “Wait, where’s the mice and the running wheels?” was my next. This was going to be as futile as resisting the Borg.
After a good amount of time, I located the battery. I grabbed the red wire and it began sparking and hissing, lighting up the engine and sending a weak shock through my hand. I jumped and let go of it. It continued sparking. I shook it and it stopped. “It must have disconnected from its place,” I thought. “Hmm, what should I do now?”
I grabbed it again. No sparks this time. I touched it to some other piece of metal under the hood and it sparked again. I jumped a second time and let it go. I repeated this process twice more just to make sure…yep, the red wire makes sparks when you touch it to certain pieces of metal. “So…that means…the mice…get shocked if they stop running on their wheels?” I guessed. I called Danny again.
Twenty minutes later, with all my bike tools spread out on the roof of the car, and after asking a guy in a truck to point out where I should re-attach the red wire, I had cut away some of the rubber coating on the cable, intertwined the wire strands around the starter wire (where it had been attached earlier before it fell out), and was trying to start the car again. Oh yeah, and I had disconnected the other wire from the battery so I was no longer getting shocked.
The car sort of started. But didn’t. It sort of started again, but didn’t. I spent another 20 minutes fiddling with things before it finally really started, but there was smoke spewing out everywhere. I thought about letting it run for a while to burn off the plastic coating on the wires, which is what I thought was causing all the smoke. Luckily two people, a guy and a girl, pulled up to the gas station and suggested that I shouldn’t do that. They took a look at the engine and the girl said I couldn’t drive it like that. After a quick discussion they offered to drive me up to Pinos Altos, which was only about seven miles away. They were two very sketchy looking people. The guy looked like a gang banger and she looked like a crack whore. I’m not trying to be mean, this is just what I assumed they were. And they seemed really eager to give me and all my stuff a ride. This felt like a classic robbery scheme. I had seen movies where variations of this happens to unsuspecting suburban simpletons like myself. But I was bigger than both of them, so I said “sure” and “thanks!”
We loaded all my bike gear and duffles in the car and we pushed the Geo off to the corner of the parking lot. I took they key (the screwdriver) with me and put it in my pocket. I also put a pair of scissors and my multi-tool, which has a one and a half-inch knife blade, in my pockets. I was armed and prepared for the imminent mugging.
The guy, named Juan, couldn’t find his keys. We spent the next 15 minutes searching for them. We came to the conclusion that they were locked in the trunk with all my bags. The girl, whose name was really hard to pronounce and I can’t remember, had to crawl in the trunk through the backseat among all my bags, where she found the keys. I made sure, or tried, to keep an eye on where her hands were digging. If she had opened my bag, all she would have found would have been a bunch of dirty chamois with scabs on the left leg. But they were important to me, of course.
I demanded the backseat even though the girl argued with me about it. She wanted me to sit up front because there was more legroom. I gave the excuse that I’d feel bad for her having to have all my wheels and bike in her lap. Now, keys in hand, we were off.
Loud rap blasted from the crappy backseat speakers and conversation came to a dead hault as we exited the gas station parking lot. A mile later we took a left turn before the correct turn onto highway 15 to Pinos Altos. “This isn’t the right street,” I said. “Yeah, we need to make a quick detour,” the guy said. “Ah, here it comes I thought.” “We need to stop at home real quick for a minute to get a dollar for some gas,” he said. “OK, bring it,” I thought, as I got my screwdriver ready.
I hoped they didn’t have friends waiting for me wherever they were taking me. I could manage the two of them with my screwdriver and pair of dull scissors no problem, but five other dudes? That could be bad, especially if they had their own pair of scissors…or a knife or a gun. I wasn’t going down without a fight, though, and I’d be damned if anyone was stealing my practically brand new Blue Axino road bike (the best bike I’ve ever owned).
We pulled onto a dark street and came to a stop in front of a crummy little house. She jumped out, ran inside real fast and vanished into the darkness. I clenched the screwdriver in my pocket, ready to thrust it through the guy’s neck and burst out the door dragging my bike and Powertap wheel with me the minute I saw something fishy.
The girl came prancing back out of the house with a dollar in her hand and a smile on her face. She got in and we drove to a gas station around the block. “Hmm, maybe I judged them wrong,” I thought. I gave them a dollar I had found earlier that day for an extra couple ounces of gas. They both went into the gas station after filling the tank with two dollars and sixteen cents of gasoline, and got a bunch of gas station food with her food stamps. She told me to get anything I wanted, but I’d had my fill of gas station food for the week so I passed. Plus I didn’t want to take my eyes off any of my stuff for even a minute. They had recently commented about how many “bad people” there were in Silver City and how lucky I was to run into them—“probably the only two nice people in town.”
Were they hinting at something? Maybe they had originally thought about robbing me but the circumstances weren’t right. Maybe she needed the backseat for it to work by pulling a knife on me from behind. Maybe they saw that I didn’t have anything worth stealing (other than my bike, which they probably had no idea of the value). Was I too intimidating? Was my lumbering six-foot frame and 162 pounds of vicious quad muscle too much for them to handle? Was that a screwdriver in my pocket or was I just happy to see them?
Whatever the reason, they didn’t rob me. Maybe they were good people after all. We drove up the highway to Pinos Altos and I explained bike racing to them. They were both pretty interested and knew a lot about it already from watching the tour of the Gila each year. We found my cabin on the side of the road among some tall pines and I said goodbye and unloaded my stuff, them not even wanting to touch any of it in case I might think they were trying to jack something. I thanked them for all their help. I thought of something I could give them to thank them, remembered they were living off of food stamps, and offered some fruit from my food bag. Ha. Yeah right. Like people want to eat fruit when they could be eating frozen burritos from Circle K. They politely declined, brows slightly raised in confusion in the darkness about why I would offer them fruit.
I walked in, found some cereal in the cupboard, poured a bowl, and began writing this. And that brings us to the conclusion of my journey to Gila. What did I learn along the way? I’m not sure. Maybe nothing. Do I have to learn anything for it to be a good story? What’s our infatuation with “learning” from an experience or for a movie or TV show to come to a conclusion with a few wisely-chosen sentences to state what the characters learned from their adventure or obstacle they had to overcome? I didn’t learn anything and don’t plan on reflecting on the experience at all! Oh wait, actually I did learn one thing: when stealing from a buffet, eat standing up. That’s all for now. Time to train up and rest up for the race.