October 14, 2012
We leave the tent cover off so that we can see the enormous star-filled dome during the night. Without the cover on, it is bitter cold and we wake up shivering and frozen through. There are scorpions in the desert and we need to either take our shoes into the tent or – if we leave them outside as we have been doing – to shake them out before stepping into them in the morning.
We’re off by 9:00, just as the sun warms up the world again.
More pecan groves and chili fields. Groups of motorcyclists pass, reminding us that it is Sunday.
In Hatch, a typical western town, most of the older buildings are either boarded up or vacant. At a corner overrun with people, we wonder what the attraction is and discover a restaurant. Joining the crowd we have a delicious thirst-quenching glass of homemade lemonade and a good Mexican meal. The restaurant owner is an artistic- looking man with a pony tail, who inquires about our journey and thanks us for visiting.
In one of the two dining rooms a band of older men wearing cowboy hats and western style clothing are practicing country music on a stage.
I have a Skype appointment with Morris in Germany. I can’t hear a word he is saying, the band is loud and the connection bad, so what was meant to be a conversation turns into a monologue. I do all the talking.
In a supermarket we stock up on supplies, not knowing when we will next come across another store.
Out of the clear blue sky I develop a horrible migraine. There are no trees or shade anywhere. Christof spots a church with a covered entrance way where I can lie down and rest. He pours some water onto a handkerchief and the cool compress feels wonderfully soothing.
After taking two pills and lying in the shade for half an hour, I am ready to continue on to the campground. It is situated on a lake and has newly built shade roofs on every site.
Just as it is getting dark Linda, a neighbor who checked in at the same time we did, comes over and brings us a plate of freshly baked peanut butter cookies. Later she told me that she had seen me leaning against the wall of the registration house when they drove in; I was still washed up from the migraine, and she felt sorry for me because I looked so exhausted and done in. This inspired her to bake and to bring us cookies.
She and her husband Ed live in San Diego and she wonders if we will be passing through California. We say that San Diego is on our route and she invites us to come and stay at their house.
– It’s very trusting to invite perfect strangers into your home, I say.
– We can see that you are nice people, she answers.
– You can?
– How many people would ride their bikes across the country? She asks.
– More than you would think, I answer.
We thank her for her offer and exchange email addresses so that we can get in touch with them once we reach California.
When Linda leaves, a Korean couple Christof met this afternoon arrives. They bring a tea pot, cups and some camping lights for the picnic area which is already growing dark. Andy distributes the lights around the campsite while Hana asks if we would like cocoa or cinnamon tea.
Hana and Andy both emigrated to the United States thirty years ago where they met in the large Asian community in Los Angeles. Andy studied Maths and Physics and spent his career working with computers. Just recently, at fifty-nine, he retired. Hana, who is my age, worked as a nurse.
Andy says in thinking about the point of life, he came to the conclusion that it can’t be, once the children have grown up and are standing on their own feet, to earn more money to buy ever bigger and better possessions. He sold his business, downsized and now he and Hana spend their time traveling although he wonders what he is searching for and hoping to find.
– What does this mountain have to do with me? He asks us gesturing across the lake in the darkness.
– Why are you traveling?
We explain that because Christof’s job became redundant when his company was sold, we unexpectedly had a free year and decided to spend it this way.
– You have time, Andy summarizes quickly, before leading us back to his question.
– But what are you looking for? And why do you travel on bicycles?
Christof says that every day is jam-packed with impressions and new experiences. We love meandering through the landscape at human speed. Walking would be better, but then we would have to carry our belongings and wouldn’t be able to travel as far or see as much. One day of bicycle riding is richer and more intense than driving 500 kilometers in a car. Traveling this way allows us to meet people we wouldn’t otherwise have contact with.
– We wouldn’t be sitting with you now having this conversation if we hadn’t captured your interest by riding in on bicycles.
Andy and Hana are Buddhists, and believe that we have had many lives, and are repeatedly either drawn towards or repelled by situations. They say it is only possible to meet people with whom we have karma. Both of them meditate and speak of the benefits of a regular spiritual practice in daily life. It takes concentrated effort to have an empty mind, even for five or ten minutes. Each of us has, as Goethe said in Faust:
Two souls, alas! reside within my breast;
One can observe what the other does and thinks. The observer can, with training, distinguish between thoughts that arise from within and those that approach unbidden from without. Hana says that after practicing Buddhistic meditation regularly, her emotional life completely changed. Before she started meditating, she only recognize anger or other emotions in retrospect. Now she has the ability to notice which emotion takes hold of her the moment it appears, giving her the distance necessary to reflect and avoid instinctive reactions.