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Cycle-Sauntering with Benji and Thoreau in Pata-Goofie, AZ

After a successful winter of deliberately pursuing a lifestyle (in Yuma, AZ) that complements the other three seasons, I thought it would be effortless to get back to the normal lifestyle of traveling, RV dispersed camping, and mountain biking on public lands in the Southwest. Much to my surprise it is taking some deliberate effort. I am not complaining. The sheer momentum of living in any fixed way narrows a person and starts to make them inflexible. 

I want to live deliberately, as Thoreau promised on his way to Walden. For some reason, the modern interpretation of Thoreau ignores the word 'deliberately', and visualizes Thoreau's lifestyle as a solitary hermit, talking to the animals, living on fruits and nuts, and posing as a "nature fakir" by walking around the woods of Concord MA in a polartec loincloth.

Thoreau's short essay, "Walking," is worth reading. At least the beginning. Unfortunately he then meanders away from his theme.
I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks -- who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going à la Sainte Terre," to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, "There goes a Sainte-Terrer," a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds;
Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all;
For every walk is a sort of crusade...

We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return -- prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms.
But Merriam-Webster gives a different etymology for 'saunter': it comes from a Middle English word that means 'to muse.' Thoreau's religious imagery might be misleading. I really do prefer the modern definition: "to walk about in an idle or leisurely manner : STROLL..."

I see what Thoreau was trying to do in this essay, but I don't want to go to his "Holy Land" when sauntering. But let it be sentimental, nostalgic, and leisurely. 'Sauntering' usually refers to a style of walking, but most of the USA is too spread out for that. It's actually easier to go cycle-sauntering. Appreciating this kind of sauntering to the fullest was made easier by following a winter of semi-racing with crazy old buzzards in Yuma.

It also helped to be in Pata-Goofie, AZ, a small town where I have a long term friend. Think of it as Mayberry for old hippies. Let your mind meander off to Lake Wobegon and the Chatterbox Cafe, or to the opening of the original "Benji" movie.
Riding bikes used to be a part of summer in America. Today of course you would be arrested for this.

I jumped on the mountain bike, after a 3-4 month hiatus, and pedaled from the grasslands down towards town.

My dog, Coffee Girl, is normally leashed to an external belt around my hip, but here I let her run down the dirt road at full gallop. What bliss!

We were announced at the grassy knoll of the RVinos by their two "guard" dogs, Carly and Jake, who are friends and team mates of Coffee Girl. 

Down to town we continued. You are doing something last done when you were a little squirt on your bicycle, during summer vacation, looking for a puddle to ride through after an afternoon thunderstorm.

Long ago...despite looking into the sun, a sibling was happy with her "new" bike
We checked out the bird sanctuary; then the knee-deep creek that re-emerges from underground. No water dog like Carly and Jake, Coffee Girl only splashed around to her ankles. I remember hosting a hiking and biking gathering with RVers here many years ago. It made my day to hear one of women, from the god-forsaken East, rhapsodize over riding her mountain bike through the water for the first time at this same creek.

Back in town proper I reacquainted myself with the funky, dilapidated, Southwestern architecture.

Of course my favorites will always be a simple adobe or ranch style house, well along in noble rot, and with rusted corrugated metal roofing. There I would wiggle the handlebars and weave around on the road, like a silly boy.

Finally we made it to the coffee shop. Unlike much of America, it is still legal to tie your dog up outside a business on Main Street. A cat was making the rounds. It stopped on the sidewalk, 20 feet away, and objected to my dog being there. What a personality that cat had! It's the first time a cat made me laugh. And it really did seem like the beginning of "Benji."

There have been changes; and the long-suffering reader thinks I am going to trot out Thoreau's "improved means to an unimproved end." But I certainly wouldn't include a newly bulldozed/graded road in that category! Another new road to mountain bike on, smooth, and with no traffic.

On the other hand, they stopped using their venerable wooden card catalog in the town library. You know, with the cards in it, one for each book. Sigh.

But there is hope. They still allow dogs in the town library. There were two canine bookworms in there on the day I went in, to check out the last two Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian. I told the librarian, "I hope Patagoofie never becomes 'normal.' " She smiled and agreed.


XXXXX said…
Very nice posting. I have been pondering but can think of nothing really to add to this well-stated message.
I so agree. I saunter everyday, usually twice. As a habit, this contributes to a peaceful mind. I find value in taking the same route, for then I notice every change. This attention to small detail cannot be achieved when one is always pursuing easy stimulation/entertainment with a steady diet of new sights.
Small town living is my preferred lifestyle as well. I haven't recalled those memories of riding two (or more) on a bike for quite some time now. Probably one reason I'm not drawn to bikes are all the helmet rules which I find annoying. How one hear the birds, the rustle of the wind, etc.?
Lots of dogs tied up outside establishments here but clearly a sign indicating they are not welcome in the library. Seriously? They allow dogs inside?
Certainly they do. People are expected to use common sense and judgement about what kind of dog makes sense. That is a radical idea in today's amerika, but it used to be taken for granted.

I was in a restaurant in a Colorado ultra-small town last summer. Two dogs of the owner wandered around in the restaurant. And why not? Don't people have dogs hiding under their kitchen tables, with family members sneaking food to them under the table?
edlfrey said…
This is Arizona where Boonie is currently camping. It was the last state in the Continental United States to be admitted to the Union and is still not completely civ-ill-iized. There are even some business establishments that welcome dogs inside. It was not that long ago that I knew of a bar on the north side of Phoenix that served mounted horse riders when they road inside. People walk around with pistols/revolvers on their hips but at the same time some cities have ordinances that say you can NOT tie your dog outside a business establishment. The hoi polloi live among the haute monde in this state.
John V said…
Another eloquent post. I've come up with a title for your soon to be released series of critically acclaimed children's books....."The Friendly Man in the White Cargo Van"

On second thought, is that title a little creepy? :-)