October 15, 2012
Hana and Andy come to say goodbye. Andy shows us a solar-powered battery charger and before we know it he has given it to us.
We thank him. He says he wants our journey to be a success. We will be able to keep the iPad charged in Asia where electricity is less common than in the United States. We are touched by this unexpected generosity.
Hana gives us bananas so we will have enough energy on the road. Andy disappears into their camper and returns carrying a LED lamp which he adds to the battery charger. He wants us to be able to read in our tent, and to feel safe because it has a built-in motion detector.
We take leave of them with full hearts. Our next stop is at Ed and Linda’s RV. They offer to lighten our load, so we can cross the mountains more easily. We quickly rummage through our panniers and lay all our unnecessary belongings in a bag in the back of their jeep.
Christof and Ed discuss whether I should ride to Silver City in their car; they will be leaving in a few minutes. When I hear that Christof will need at least two days to get there, I decide to stay with him.
We will get in touch with the Websters once we get closer to San Diego. Ed tells us to call him if we break down or need any help. Touched by the human warmth that surrounded us at this campsite, we ride off.
The going is hard. All uphill on a rough road. Andy and Hana overtake us honking and waving. They slow down and take some photos of us out of their car window. As they drive off, they yell that they will mail them to us, and their van disappears in the distance.
Uphill in the autumn heat. The road is empty, and we stop to enjoy the stunning, mile-long views over the open mountainous landscape. Once over the pass, we cruise downhill into Hillsboro, where we were hoping to find a place to eat. The village, a small deserted hamlet in a valley of rickety homesteads, looks sleepy. There is no one anywhere. The only café is closed. An older man, who looks like a bum, is sitting on a bench in the shade and calls out gleefully when he sees us:
– If you’re looking for something to eat, you won’t find it here!
– Is there a store here? we ask.
– That’s what I’m telling ya, ain’t nothin’ here. You’re between the Devil and a Hard Place. Ain’t nothin’ but mountains and desert here.
– There must be someplace we can fill our bottles with water, we persist.
– Well . . . he hesitates, ask in the post office. They know mor’n me.
Everything is closed on Mondays and Thursdays. Today is Monday.
We ask the postmistress if we can get water somewhere, and in a burdened way, she points across the street. She says she doesn’t know if the hose is attached to the side of the house, but to go and look. If it is, we can fill our bottles there.
It is, so we fill up. The water tastes warm and strange.
There are plastic chairs in the shade in front of her house. I ask if we can use them and she gives us permission.
Lunch break in the shade of the mulberry trees that line the main street transports us to a place where time stands still. A minute feels like eternity, as the seconds lazily crawl foreword in the midday heat.
Trees! We can see that a creek must run behind the town during rainy season because a grove of golden-leafed cottonwoods marks its dry bed. They are a glorious sight for our sore eyes, deprived of color and lush growth for so long.
From our shady resting place, we watch a cyclist walking up and down the street peering into windows and rattling on the doorknobs of the closed shops, exactly as we had done half an hour earlier. We call out to him, saying that everything is closed. He has bicycle clothing on but has a truck with him. He’s going to drive up the mountain to Kingston where he plans to spend the night, then he’ll ride back here on his bicycle.
The bum, still sitting on the same bench, calls out as we ride past, apologizing for being negative. He hasn’t left Hillsboro in years, and has no idea how far away the nearest town is!
We say we have water and will be fine.
– If other people didn’t die on the way out, I suppose you will make it, he says encouragingly.
– If we don’t make it, promise to come to our funeral? I ask, stealing my father’s standard line, whenever we complained as children, about having to do something we found too difficult to try.
He looks surprised and doesn’t answer.
There are two campsites along the way, nothing more than rough parking lots with a dry toilet. As we are debating whether to stay or continue onwards in the hope of finding something better, the cyclist comes down the hill and tells us in an enthusiastic tone about the wonderful lodge he checked into in Kingston, just a few miles up the hill. He suggests we check it out.
The entrance sign to Kingston welcomes us to the Home of the Spit and Whittle Club! Its main road leads up a hill, past artistic-looking hippie dwellings, deserted with the exception of dogs, who alert the village dwellers to our arrival.
The lodge is homey and has a kitchen, living room, game room, reading and television room, plenty of common space for the guests. An intense woman in her late forties, a filmmaker turned writer, welcomes us in and invites us to snack on fruit from the garden and home-made bread. We are starving and without noticing what we are doing, accidentally polish off the entire loaf. This is the best bread we have had since leaving Germany.
Handmade quilts cover the beds in all the bedrooms, and Kathryn, the owner, is full of conversational interests. She writes and publishes books on architectural subjects which are illustrated with her own photographs. The latest publication is on straw-bale-houses. She shows us the house she built with the help of some work-and-travel guests. Straw is an inexpensive byproduct of the yearly grain harvests. It isn’t being bailed in large quantities at present, but could provide an ideal, inexpensive, readily available, renewable natural building resource. Covered with clay, which is literally dirt cheap, these houses provide both wonderful insulation from the elements, cool in summer, warm in the winter, and a healthy, breathable room climate.
Kathryn shows us our room, and takes us out onto a small balcony. Christof asks her about why solar energy isn’t being used in the desert with so much sunlight. A lengthy conversation about subsidies for renewables and utility companies in general that I hardly follow because I am exhausted and want to shower and lie down for a rest. I can barely manage to continue standing up on the balcony. Kathryn changes the topic and speaks about prophesies of the Mayan Calendar. I notice that she needs the change her guests provide her with, and not wishing to be impolite I listen as she launches off into the concerns she and her friends have about the eminent End Of The World which according to the Mayan Calendar will happen before the end of 2012.
– Is this really a serious concern? I ask somewhat incredulously.
She admits to having faith in the human race, which is reassuring.
I excuse myself for a rest before she launches into the next strenuous idea. Her topics of conversation are as exhausting as riding up a steep mountain.
Later, while hanging up laundry in the garden, a neighbor introduces himself. He cooks breakfast for the guests and does odd jobs in exchange for living in a modest dwelling he indicates with a gesture pointing towards a hidden structure at the back of the wild, romantic garden.
He talks about the history of Kingston, which in its heyday had 7000 inhabitants, and was the most populous town in New Mexico. Now only twenty people live here. Originally the silver mines pulled workers to the area, but once the gold standard was established, the value of silver fell dramatically, making it unprofitable to continue mining it. The mines closed and people moved off, leaving empty buildings behind them. All of the houses were pulled apart and reused for building new houses, with exception of this lodge – originally a miners’ hotel – and one other building.
During the evening Kathryn puts out left-overs and offers us wine and beer. We chat with Paul, a retired police officer from Long Island. Because he is doing the Southern Tier route alone, he decided to be his own ‘sag driver’. He parks his old pickup truck someplace along the route, rides his bicycle in the direction that looks best, doubling back to the truck. Loading up his bike, he continues along the route, repeating the procedure until he has ridden sixty miles.
Unexpectedly, he offers to transport our panniers over the Emory Pass and says we can ride for as long as we like. If we aren’t in Silver City by a prearranged time, he will come out and pick us up.