Today is my second day on the road, and the first day on the bike. It’s good to be on the road finally, after so much planning and preparing. It seems that regardless of how much time one has to prepare for a trip, the number of things that need to get done seem to expand to overflow that time. I was due to leave Colorado on Wednesday, but delayed my departure by a day, as the new digital camera I had ordered didn’t ship the day it was promised to.
It was good to have the extra day though, as it was spent hurridly running last minute errands, re-engineering my panniers, customizing foam for the inside of the pelican case I’m carrying my laptop in, and fabricating water bottles out of duct tape, webbing, and cheap keychain caribiners.
My kilo of water
Only after I was putting the finishing touches on the water bottles did I realize that they look suspiciously like stereotypical bales of marijuana wrapped in duct tape. Ah well. Crossing the border tomorrow morning will prove interesting.
Yesterday involved a 15 hour greyhound bus trip from Denver, CO to Las Cruces, NM. I have always held that any trip on Greyhound is in and of itself an adventure, and this trip wasn’t any exception. The adventures started at the Denver station, where the ticket agent insisted that I box my bicycle. With a half hour to go before the bus left, I tore out my tools, removing pedals, wheels, lowering my seat, and turning my headset sideways, and barely managing to fit it all in the box. In the end, the box was probably all for the best, as it got removed and shifted around more than I had anticipated. And after all, it’s probably best to at least start the trip with a fully working bicycle.
I’ve decided there are two things that make even the shortest Greyhound trip into an adventure of epic proportions. The first is practiced air of slight incompetance given off by nearly every greyhound employee, which, to the untrained eye, makes it appear that it is each employee’s first day on the job. I used to think that greyhound just made a habit of hiring really dumb people, but have since changed my opinion. Instead, it is a mixture of extreme indifference, poor procedures, and inadequate training.
When I got my ticket in Denver, I had to pay for the ticket, the box, and the shipping fee. No worries, out came the credit card. If only it was that simple. 15 minutes and three seperate transactions later, some of which _had_ to be cash, I stood at the counter in front of line of people which was quickly increasing in length and level of frustration, while the ticket agent (who was very nice I might add), went in the back to make a photocopy, so that I had some sort of proof I’d just paid $10 for the cardboard box. Apparently, it is beyond the Greyhound computer system’s ability to print customer recipets for boxes. It completely boggles the mind…
The second thing that makes Greyhound journeys so unique, is the people one encounters along the way. Greyhound seems to attract all sorts of people that I’d never get a chance to meet any other way - an anthropolical slice of American society. On the way to Colorado Springs I talked with Joe, a 19 year-old motorcross racer from Venice Beach touring with the kawasaki race team. He “had all his shit stolen in Minessota”, and with a lack of cash or credit cards, was relegated to riding Greyhound instead of flying to Colorado Springs for his next race, that afternoon. We talked most of the way from Denver to Colorado Springs, with the conversation ranging from smoking to fireworks, but mostly centered around motorbikes and trucks.
On the way to Albaquerque, I eavesdropped on a converstation between a 30-year-old trucker, and a contruction worker who couldn’t have been more than 20, and desperately tried to ignore the mexican in front of me who was desperate to pick a fight with whoever would listen to him long enough to get mad, from me, to the Indians wearing turbans a few rows up, and finally, to the bus driver, who, fortunately for my friend, couldn’t hear him.
Today, I shared the brief hour on the bus from Las Cruces with a mexican-american boy name Junior, who was 16, and couldn’t wait to graduate high school so he could join the Air Force. We talked a lot about the military, his special operations aspirations, and the apparent love of his life, his 89 Honda CRX, which he’d modified to drag race himself.
Partway between Las Cruces and Deming, we had to stop at a border patrol checkpoint, and a border patrolman came onboard to check identification. I had been warned this would happen by the guy at the front desk of the hotel last night. When I expressed amazement, he said “Man, we’re only like, an hour from the border”. Apparently, there are checkpoints in nearly every direction from Las Cruces.
The bus pulled up in Deming in a dusty parking lot, outside a tiny one room bus station. I dumped my enormous mound of gear uncerimoniously in the dust near two decript coke machines, and began the process of assembling my bike, as the bus pulled away. It was only then, with the sun beating down on me, that I realized how hot it was. But hey, it’s a dry heat, so it’s ok, right? Breathing was like sucking on a hair dryer.
I finally go the bike together, and my various water containers filled, and as I started loading gear on the bike, I promptly realized that the kickstand I’d bought is going to be nearly entirely useless. With all of my gear loaded, there’s enough weight on the back of the bicycle, that it does a backflip as soon as you let go. Bugger.
I bid goodbye to the lone stationmaster (it somehow seems vaguely inappropriate to call any greyhound employee a “stationmaster”), as well as the two vagrants loitering inside and their overgrown chiuahua. I hit the road for the mecca of southwest life, the pinnacle of new mexican life and society, and sacred keeper of all things useful - Walmart.
Given my extreme distaste for large corporations, specifically Walmart, it’s been a long while since I’m stepped foot into one of the friendly supercenters. I was amazed. The Walmarts here are amazing! You can get anything. As the guy at the hotel front desk last night put it, where else can you do your grocery shopping and browse for clothes while you wait for your car to be lubed, all without leaving airconditioning?
This morning I came to the front desk with a burning problem (he got to know me quite well despite my short stay). I had left the keys to my bike lock in Denver, and didn’t want to buy a new cable. So I asked the Robert at the front desk if he knew of a hardware store within walking distance. Nope, no dice. “What about a Kmart or something?” “Oh yeah, there’s a walmart supercenter next door” Smack! Sure enough, literally next door was a walmart, with just about everything one could dream of, and more. I got someone in hardware to get the maintenance guy to cut my lock off, and bought a new lock, a pair of shorts, and groceries, all in one go. Everyone working there was friendly, knowledgable, and the sotre was in immaculate shape.
As Robert explained, when the Walmart came to town, all the small stores had to close, so for instance, all the guys that were working at the local hardware stores now work at Walmart. So they have a lot of experienced people.