Story and photo by Christopher Briscoe
Our bicycles move slowly along the old road, past camouflaged lizards that dart between dry scrub, past sandy gullies that have been washed smooth by flash floods. The view is so wide I can see the curvature of the earth - all under a fireball in a cloudless sky that bakes everything in sight. It's clear that we are guests here.
The bike tires are becoming smooth with wear. We don’t care. We like them that way. Every nick in the tires tells a small story. Every worn tread has earned its place with the others that have survived the road. Every patch on our tubes is a Medal of Honor.
I usually hate headwinds, but today I wish I had one.
The road is layer upon layer thick, each one stacked on top of the other like pages in a history book. Although the layer made by the covered wagons heading west is far beneath us, it wicks up daily, into our psyche. Looking out over miles of sand and rock, I mention, "Quincy, I can't imagine what it was like for the pioneers to struggle over this dessert. What if they didn't time their trip right and ended up here in the middle of summer when it was 120? I read that their wagons were pulled by mules and oxen that they'd only make about 15 miles a day. When they had to get over the mountains - their daily accomplishment was often not measured in miles but rather in yards."
"Dude," (my son often calls me 'Dude'), that would be one epic adventure, indeed."
robbers on horseback
Just the thought of it made me reach for my water bottle. The air is dry and still as we push through it. I usually hate headwinds, but today I wish we had one - anything to brush some of the heat off of our bodies.
After the wagon trains, came a layer of dirt road made for the first automobiles. In 1915 Edsel Ford wanted to promote his Model T so he drove it from Detroit to San Francisco, some of it on a layer beneath. Once he reached the Mojave Desert, he wrote in the trip’s log about his concerns of “highwaymen” in the area - robbers on horseback who would hold up travelers at gunpoint.
In 1926 came a layer of Portland cement that soon grew into what Steinbeck called The Mother Road - Route 66 - where the Oklahoma farmers fled the Dust Bowl looking for work.
The top layer - our layer - was drizzled with black rivulets of tar, swirling and meandering like their own roadmap, covering the cracks of time. Our layer is the one that matters now. Our layer is the one I can feel my tires roll over, as they spin creating a song all their own. Every bump, every dip, every pot hole, belongs to us - to our brief part in the history of this road - and to the pages in a story about a father and his son who pedal it.