By Frosty Wooldridge:
In 1984, I embarked on my second solo bicycle adventure, coast to coast, across America. Starting at Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles, I dipped my back tired into the Pacific and headed toward Savannah, Georgia on the Atlantic Ocean. As I pedaled through the intense LA traffic, I wondered what amazing adventures awaited me. As can be imagined, some epic moments touched me, and a few wild and crazy people stepped into my life.
At the time, as a teacher, I enjoyed summers off, but very little money as they paid Colorado teachers a penury $5,000.00 a year. I lived in a 200 square foot apartment, drove a 15-year-old Ford Galaxy and scraped by on a vegetarian diet. Thankfully, bicycle touring filled the bill as to inexpensive travel, ample food and blockbuster moments. Of course, friends and colleagues warned, “You’re nuts man; you could get killed out there on those dangerous roads.”
“Can’t help myself,” I said. “Life’s not meant to sit in a rocking chair to be safe, secure and comfortable. I just read Jack London where he said, ‘Life doesn’t wait for you; you have to go after it with a club.’ I figure I’ll use my bicycle for my adventure-machine to see what kind of exploits await me.”
After watching Los Angeles’ smog and traffic fade in my rear-view mirror, I headed into the Mojave Desert. Lots of cactus. Lots of road runners. Lots of lizards. One night by the campfire, a Great Horned Owl perched in a gnarly Juniper tree above me. It hooted, and I hooted back. The night sky, the ink-black of space—touched my spirit. A couple billion stars twinkled above me. Instead of my 200 square foot apartment, I enjoyed the endless expanse of the universe.
“Man,” I muttered to myself, while munching on Dinty Moore vegetable stew and a bagel. “I feel like I’m living a dream. I am sitting here by this fire with the smoke curling into the evening air, and I’m watching shooting stars while a Great Horned Owl serenades me. This isn’t a dream. This is real and I’m living it. I count my lucky stars…and there are plenty of them out there….”
In the shadows of the fire, my bike’s paint gleamed, and my tent awaited with a warm sleeping bag and air mattress.
Within a few days, I crossed over the Colorado River on my way to Sedona, Arizona. As I climbed up several steep mountain grades, I left all the traffic and air pollution for quiet roads and cleaner air. I found myself on Route 89 as it headed for the ghost town of Jerome, Arizona. That abandoned town once housed the King Copper Mine that yielded $1 billion in copper ore from 1876 to 1952.
Folks told me that at one time, it featured 82 bars, dozens of bordellos, thieves, murders, gunmen and outlaws. I camped at the foot of a huge climb the night before attempting to make it up to Jerome.
Next morning, I hammered the pedals. I busted my tail-feathers making it over the top of the pass, and then, coasted down Route 89A into Jerome. Back then, with the copper played out, I rolled into a mostly deserted, ram-shackled bunch of abandoned buildings. Each of them featured a date of construction on the front marquee: 1876 to 1898. All were made of bricks! A few signs showed the whore houses, horse liveries, saloons and hotels.
A few blocks into the town, featuring narrow mountain streets, and sweating heavily, I stopped at a cement kiva with seats for an audience that might watch a show or production on the main street. Although, if you’ve visited Jerome, those big blocks aren’t exactly for sitting. Nonetheless, I sat down to rest, munchy trail mix and guzzle a quart of water.
As I sat there gazing across a wide valley, I noticed the morning sun glancing off white-red-bronze cliffs of Sedona. Pretty spectacular! And up the street, a middle-aged lady pedaled her bike straight toward me.
“Hey sonny,” she said. “I like those flags you’re sporting off your rear rack. Pretty clever to have that orange one up high to let people know your location and that side flag to keep people from skinning your ass.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said. “I love living, so I let them know where I am on the road.”
“My names is Katie Lee,” she said, extending her hand. “I’m training for a bike ride through Europe this summer.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” I said. “My name is Frosty. That’s a pretty hefty climb you just did.”
“You don’t say,” she said, wiping her own sweaty brow. “You look a bit sweaty yourself.”
“That was a good climb,” I said. “What do you do in this town?”
“Well, I’m a country singer, song writer, waitress, truck driver, dancer, environmentalist and activist. Been married, divorced a couple times, but still kickin’….”
In about 15 minutes, she gave me her whole life story. She knew Edward Abbey, who was known as the ‘Thoreau of the West’, personally, and fought to stop the Glen Canyon Dam. Abbey wanted no cars in national parks to force people to bicycle or walk, and he wanted plastics banned and felt everyone should clean up after themselves. She also personally knew Dave Foreman, another forceful environmentalist in the area. Katie felt that everyone should work a fair day’s labor for a fair day’s wages. In a few words, she proved to be one of the wildest, craziest, funniest and ‘alive’ women I ever met.
As a young kid at the time, I sat there in awe of her life story.
When it came time for me to depart, she looked up at me with her bright eyes and smile, “I want tell you one thing sonny.”
“What’s that?” I said.
“Just remember this…everything in life is downhill, ‘cept what’s up. It all depends on your attitude.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said. “I’ve got a good attitude. Hope you enjoy a great ride through Europe.”
“You bet I will,” she said. “Thanks for the flags idea.”
This past month, I traveled through Jerome, Arizona. Same old ghost town, but today, it’s filled with artists, singers, songwriters, trinket shops, leather shops and pretty much enjoying a rebirth as a town. Visitors from all over the country come to hear the bands and buy artwork.
I asked one of the shop owners if she knew Katie Lee. One business lady said, “Oh yes, Katie Lee was a fixture around here for nine decades. On her 80th birthday, she decided to ride her mountain bike down Main Street in her birthday suit. Katie said, ‘I need to shake things up around here.’ Someone took a shot of her profile on the bike and made it into a medallion. I’m all sold out right now.”
“She rode down the street, nude?” I said. “Sounds like her.”
“Yeah,” the shop owner said. “She pedaled past one of the bars. Three guys watched her go by and turned to the barkeep, ‘Hey Ned, did you see that?’ That looks like Katie Lee with nothing on but her smile.”
“Yup, I saw that,” Ned said. “Whatever it was, it looked pretty wrinkled and in need of a good ironing.”
At that moment, I about fell over laughing.
“Yes, that was Katie,” the shop lady said. “Just last year, she passed away at 96. Before she died, she wrote a western play put on by the local high school. Everyone in the area attended. Friends escorted Katie into the auditorium where she said, ‘I ain’t nothin’ special. I am surprised that so many assholes came to see my play.’ For that, she got a standing ovation. Everyone loved her.”
“I’ll be damned,” I said. “I remember her spirit from 1984 over there across the street when she said to me, “Everything in life is downhill, ‘cept what’s up. It’s all in your attitude.”
Whether it’s the Katie Lee’s, Jack London’s, Susan B Anthony’s, Thoreau’s, Emerson’s, John Muir’s, Nellie Bly’s, Jane Goodall’s, Edward Abbey’s or the Dan Millman’s of our lives, when they touch our spirits in words or deeds, we feel enriched beyond measure. I’ve got a medallion of her riding in the nude down the Main Street of Jerome, Arizona, on my adventure memory shelf.
No doubt, when Katie reached St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, she said, “I’m going to shake things up around here.”
Newest book: Old Men Bicycling Across America: A Journey Beyond Old Age, available on Amazon or ph. 1 888 519 5121
Living Your Spectacular Life by Frosty Wooldridge, Amazon or ph. 1 888 519 5121
FB page: How to Live A Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World
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