From Niland, I headed to Brawley, CA, a reasonably significant town in the Imperial Valley, about 22 miles north of the border town of Calexico.
I turned left on Main Street, and headed several blocks toward what is identified on Google as the least expensive motel in town. It all seemed familiar, and I knew I had passed through Brawley on my "Southern Tier" trip several years ago. But I wasn't prepared for what happened. I turned right into a parking lot for the Townhouse Inn and was instantly flooded with memories. I had stayed here before. In my five years of long distance cycling adventures, this was the first time I had ever repeated myself. It was a comforting experience. Slowing down time on a bike means ratcheting up experiences. It's impossible to remember everywhere you've been. I've stayed in hundreds of cheap motels, RV Parks and campgrounds, yet until this moment I had never come upon the same place twice.
Memories from two years earlier came instantly: almost falling off my bicycle upon arrival, talking to my Dad on the phone while standing next to the washing machine that I knew was still hidden on the upstairs balcony. I remembered the flyboys from the nearby Air Force base I had eaten lunch with earlier in the day, I recalled my initial amazement by the fertility of the highly irrigated Imperial Valley, and the surprisingly good dinner I had at the one "hip" restaurant in Brawley that served draft beer - "The Inferno." I knew I'd have a nice stay.
Apparently the part of the cortex that a memory center is also active in imagination. Brain scientists think that we form memories as an act that occurs in the present moment from isolated and distinct fragments of sounds, smells, sensations, feelings, thoughts and other bits of information that are stored throughout the brain and body, and we reconstruct - in the very moment we have the memory - this pastiche of unconnected information into a coherent narrative. In that way, remembering is an act of imagination.
So then, what's the purpose of an effigy? Maybe first and foremost, it's a warning. It tells those passing by that someone died here, and they are also not immune. But for the artists who constructed the effigy, maybe it helps them construct and reconstruct their own memories of the departed. We know the dead speak to us, maybe they do it in our very own imaginations as we remember them?
I thought an easy day to Brawley and a good rest would help me to easily get to Paso Robles the next day, even though much of the 61 mile trip is uphill and known as brutal for the many rollers on both the ascent and the descent. I got an early start. But at Glamis I was enjoying the scenery of the Algodones Sand Dunes National Wilderness just a bit too much, and after a leisurely conversation with a couple of other long distance cyclists, I abruptly realized I had to climb 30 miles up a pass notorious for its rollers, and I was going to run out of sun in 3 hours. I wasn't scared, but I knew I had to push. Then, after 10 more miles or so, I remembered something I learned during the last trip along this route. There were no accommodations in Paso Robles. In fact, I'd be lucky to find a restaurant. I tightened up a bit. How had I forgotten THAT in my planning, when I had remembered so many trivial things about the motel? How had my memory/imagination failed me? It was 4:30. The winter sun was beginning to set. It began to rain. Now I was scared.
Was I going to become an effigy?
The short answer is not this time. The gods were kind to me, and forgiving of my poor memory. I was saved by some very helpful people in a small trailer park community in Paso Robles. It rained hard that night while I slept comfortably on a couch in the community room.
Ironically, as I write this now, the remarkable evening I spent in Paso Robles seems far away. So much can happen in a few days and 100 miles! Today I fixed my fifth flat since Quartzsite, AZ. Now in Wickenburg, I'm about 50 miles west of Phoenix. A few days ago decided to return to New York City from there. I will be leaving my bike in storage there for a month or so until I return for more cycling in the great southwest.
We have a lot of knowledge about death in our culture. Although children and adolescents (if they are lucky), don't imagine their own deaths, the rest of us do sooner or later before we die. Probably, many of our fears can be traced to an underlying fear of death. That said, I've always found it odd that (beyond certain theological myths about judgement days) we seem to have no contemporary narrative for imagining the death of the human species. Yet, climate change is a genuine threat to our existence. But look around. Doesn't it seem that we are living on our earth as if our species is adolescent? We take extraordinary risks with our earth, and we ignore those around us who are likely to be wiser about what we are doing (ie, climate scientists). And somehow, we persist in the folly that our way of life will remain stable. Yet, as individuals we understand our mortality. Why do we not imagine that as a genuine possibility for our species?
We behave as if our entire species has a smoking habit, while the world's best oncologists are telling us that continuing to smoke will drastically shorten our collective lives. Yet, we make only half hearted and ineffective efforts to change regardless. Are we crazy, or just foolish?
But there are signs of hope. You might enjoy reading an article that was recently published in Bloomberg about the growing conservative support for a carbon dividend plan at the federal level. Of course, there's so much more we can do as well. But large systemic change is critical. Let's move those "Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend" bills in Congress forward!
Hope is about 20 miles east of Quartzsite. There's a church there. It's called "The Little Church of Hope".
I'm comfortable and happy in Wickenburg, AZ, at the Aztec RV Park as I lay over for a day, and try to sort out why I keep getting flat tires. Interestingly, there are no bike shops on the Southern Tier between Brawley, CA and Phoenix, a distance of about 270 miles. Ingenuity is called for. How like life.
Here are some Garmin Maps:
More to come.
All photos, unless credited or otherwise noted, are copyrighted property of the blog post author.