It's only been 5 days since waving goodbye to the warm hospitality of Charley and Kamala, and although we already have chafed bottoms, chapped lips and ridiculous tan lines we are still smiling 300 miles down the road.
We knew it would be tough going, especially as when we set off there was an extreme weather warning of high winds and minimal humidity, but I don't think we could have pictured the sheer scale of where we were riding. Nothing could have prepared us for riding 60 miles with only a handful of corners and no water and food stops. After battling into 40mph winds for 4 hours or so we arrived parched and knackered at Big 8 foods, collapsed on a bench in the first bit of shade we'd seen all day and made some sarnies. Then we met 'Hank' (we never actually learnt his name). Without a word from us he walked up and launched into the most brilliant introduction to American weirdness we could have hoped for. As I rubbed thickly encrusted salt from my wind and sun battered face he embarked on an unbroken monologue starting with his ice driving exploits of the last 10 years. From then on it just got better...
Seeing we had a bike he told us how he was going to be sent to the '72 Olympics to cycle for the U.S. if his coach at high school hadn't messed up the forms. He was a dead cert for a medal because '[he] could cycle at 50mph'. But 50mph wasn't his top speed, no sir, and if you're thinking that was downhill think again. His top speed was when he raced his friend in a car for 2.5 miles on the flat and overtook the car even though it was doing 65 mph. We just sat there nodding not quite sure what to say. We needn't have worried, he just kept talking as we ate. Luckily he didn't kill himself on that 65mph run although he did wear right through the sole of his best cowboy boots trying to stop. But that wasn't all he had... As if we may have written him off as merely a cyclist, he continued to elaborate on the strength of his upper body.
He was once in the gym with a father who was coaching his son to be in Mr. Universe that year. This guy was apparently doing reps with 300lb dumbells. Hank's friend saw this and egged Hank on to lift some more, knowing that Hank 'was rangy, but all steel'. Hank couldn't resist. He cooly walks up, adds another 200lbs and does 5 reps, naturally with only one arm, and then 3 above his head just to show what he could do. We were lapping up the stories silently and about 30 minutes in he just kept going. By the time our allotted hour's story time was up he had just finished with him being in knife fights at school, but kicking the knife away with a roundhouse kick, and how he was also a pro swimmer for a time, but just drives trucks to pay the bills. Then as soon as it started it was over. He got a can of coke from the machine and walked off to his truck. Hol and I just sat there before bursting into hysterics. We then stopped soon after just in case he came back and roundhoused us into tomorrow.
We thought this may have just been a one off, but people out here have been the stars so far. The next day an extraordinarily camp Mexican American we'll call 'Philipe', stood up and flamboyantly announced to the diner we were sat in, 'on behalf of everyone in my country, I want to thank you guys [the British] for the Beatles, and also an absolute ANGEL... called Lady Di. Now you folks have a nice day'. And we did; even if it was a little weird when 9 miles down the road he pops out from his car with his flies undone and tells us we just have to go the hot springs in Truth or Consequences.
There have been countless more brilliant moments already. There was the lady who runs the 'Grocery Cupboard' in Radium Springs who 'just melts away when she listens to [our] accents' and Bill the lonely RV park owner who is 'just damn worried about them Iranians'. The size of everything out here is mind blowing from supermarkets to trucks, desert to junk yards, trains to RVs and sodas to pancakes. The speed with which we are climbing up the map seems non-existent but for now we're just taking each canyon as it comes. 2,500 miles left to go and who knows where the next Hank is. We can't wait.