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The Pilgrims of Mosquito Pass

Leadville, CO. The Benchmark Atlas labeled nearby Mosquito Pass, elevation 13,186 feet, as the "highest auto (jeep) pass in the US." Which of my four bicycles would be best?

I smiled thinking of the beginning of the Spaghetti Western, "For a Few Dollars More." The bounty hunter, Lee Van Cleef, has only a few seconds to shoot the bad guy who is getting away. The bounty hunter pulls a string on his saddle, and a leather rack of four guns rolls down the side of the horse: his tools of the trade, for every occasion.

The road started smooth and steep, which is my favorite kind of road. It wasn't long before I saw something unusual: a large group of fully-loaded backpackers, who would coalesce and then disperse.It was a church group from Texas, on its way over the pass. We caught up with them at the last mining tower, near tree-line, where you can faintly see the two thousand feet of switchbacks that await these hikers from sea-level homes. Faith can mov…

Time to Switch Your Animal Species Loyalty?

Is it good or bad to declare solidarity with an animal species other than the one everybody says you belong to?

That question is unavoidable as I look out my trailer's door to see a half dozen trekkers per day on their way north on the 800 mile Arizona Trail. Of course I can't know whether they are doing the entire course.

How do you explain these people? Is it simply an ego-achievement sort of thing, like running a marathon? Or are they reinventing a religious experience in a post-Christian, secular age? If so, we should call them 'los peregrinos,' the pilgrims.

Or are they actually having fun? If they consider 800 miles of water-less, hot, blistering trudging -- plodding! -- to be fun... well, they aren't the same animal species as me!

It is so easy to understand the fun of my dog as we start off in the morning, biking slightly downhill. Soon she is blasting away at 20 mph, even though she is going on 12 years old. We have to run the gauntlet along yard after yard of…

The Pilgrims of Gringo Road

They plod past my driveway, the last one before heading out to the remaining 750 miles of the Arizona Trail. One part of me wants to open up to the spirit of adventure emanating from them. But it is difficult.

It would be easy to fantasize about camel trekking in Morocco, or riding long sections of the Silk Road, or sea kayaking between Asia and North America, across the Bering Strait.

But walking, plodding, and trodding in Arizona heat? They are visualizing something that I can't, although I would like to. All I can see is a slow-moving sport that lacks all pizzazz or sex appeal. Their sport is the perfect activity for a puritan's Sunday.

Perhaps I am being unfair, for demographic and cultural reasons. Hikers tend to be Greens, urbanites, Democrats, veggies, etc. 

Afew of them had real panache.For example I have seen a couple hike with silver umbrellas fastened to their backpacks. Correction: parasols. And of course that appeals to the romantic imagination of a retro-grouch.

One d…

Aesthetics Bend Under Strain

Some types of outdoor enjoyments are easier than others. Getting a kick out of desert poppies takes little effort. But experiences of that type don't stick with you very long either.
Appreciating geology is far more difficult. Geology is huge and fundamental. Despite being able to see it raw and exposed in arid lands, such as the American West, it is difficult to actually enjoy it in the normal sense of the word. For one thing it doesn't move, except in the case of active volcanoes. It is also hard to pronounce all the scientific terminology. The whole thing can be off-putting because it seems cold and technical.
Go for a hike or a mountain bike ride through the mountains and you will occasionally see some impressive folds. Sometimes they're just little guys at road cuts. And yet something keeps you from doing backflips about them. How could hard, strong, brittle rocks be permanently deformed? Bent into arcs.
When possible, I try to anthropomorphize "uninteresting"…

"Wagon Train" for Retirees

The other day I finally looked systematically into the links followed by readers who follow this blog, in order to find new websites to read. It's always been easy to be lazy about this sort of thing, in part because the number of websites soon mushrooms into an unmanageable number.
The results were surprising: I was led to websites run by Rousseau or Thoreau wannabees. What commonality does the reader see between such blogs and mine? For one thing I do not see Mobility as a journey to the promised land. Some of these 'Freedom of the Open Road' blogs have the same attitude towards travel that religious pilgrims had, in the Middle Ages. The difference is that the latter had a more optimistic belief: they could actually make it to the sacred shrine. They could finish.
In Rob Reiner's wonderful coming-of-age movie, Stand by Me, the boys were having a philosophical conversation around the campfire, at least by the standards of 12 year olds. One boy mused: Wagon Train is suc…