Shaky Surtch Pherther squeezed the clutch, halting Escape Artist a hundred feet above the Crosscapes River and Magic Canyon’s mouth where a clifftop younger self once spied a Native guy mid-chant just as a cloud burst.
He switched off the bike and eased its stand into the pebbly sand, dismounted softly, backed away to watch, and–spotting not a budge–bolted, dashing around all geared up and nose to the ground, kicking at rocks for a good one.
That morning, from a chair in the doorway of his room at Blakesville’s old Parker Motel, Surtch with coffee in hand had gazed at scattered cloudlets and virga while small hours rainwater wisped from Escape Artist and dryness overcame the last puddle in the lot. Looney Tunes goofed low on the TV behind him.
He recalled an eight-year-old self and his siblings parking their pajamaed butts before bowls of cereal and Trivia Adventure on the floor and those irreverent Saturday-morning cartoons on the tube in grandma-n-grandpa’s basement where they lived while dad built their house next door. It was only eighteen months, but those toon morns could have been his whole blessed childhood.
From checkout, Surtch blipped the old highway main drag east and hung the first right, passing boarded-up bars, expired eateries, and the tumbledown shacks and crumbledown ramps in Blakesville’s rusty railyard. Across the tracks he flew onto the cracked blacktop of Anticline Road, through the Salaera Wash dip that silts up at every flash flood, and past the obligatory dirt bike hills on the outskirts of town where he throttled down for the shift to gravel.
He passed surprisingly full Ash Bluff Pond at elevenish miles out and then swayed his way up to a sand-drifted washboard slog atop Salt View Mesa before slipping down a steep draw to the Anticline Creek bridge. Beyond, the road went all dirt and stone and bent to hell, and Surtch, rounding a tighty at too swift a clip, whacked the front wheel somethin’ fierce on a gouged washout, giving that rim its first of many dents.
At twenty-something out he scrambled onto a faint two-track and into a li’l badlands of red and gray shale and clay, traced a sandstone monolith’s sinuous fingers, tossed side to side down ledgy ruts and through cobble ‘n’ sand salad in a dry wash, carved off-camber up a slidey slope, and bumbled across weird warts of a rock bench to where he now lingered on the edge–alone in a breeze, with the odd crow and quiet.
Once re-serene from a spell with that scene, Surtch mounted back up, backtracked a bit, and worried his ride down the warped fringe of one bench to the next where he often camped with his kin and there fooled around for a while before, finally giving in to return to the City of Contradictions’ dubious civilization, he began to dawdle back toward Blakesville.
He dodged distant downpours and faraway wanna-rain, played that childhood game of “Where d’ya think that road goes?” with routes that vanished at worn corrals and shot-up water tanks or just into the sand as they should, and from an afternoon fuel-up at the town’s far west end, he pulled aside to consult his map of lies while the nearby slab spat and slurped cars at random.
How many beginnings can there be in a life or for one pleasure, he wondered. They say that each day can be a fresh start, another shot, and any gain therein chalked up as progress–that it all boils down to perspective.
For Surtch, this small fall adventure had been just that: a weekend of reducing pavement to mere stepping stones between the real stuff; of nudging the dirt closer to home, and his riding horizons farther out; of forging links from the sensational to the divine; and of further exploring and finally beginning to embrace dual-sporting.
Yet October was already afoot: Frigid Mr. Winter would soon be stomping his snowy boots on the stoop.
Surtch wouldn’t aim to be home by dark–he hadn’t been raised that way. Instead, he’d go west: up Lobo-Mancha Canyon in the Anticline; on the right road–eventually–for Antler Gulch, a way his brother had found through the clayscape waste’s surprisingly scenic guts; to dinner at dusk in a humdrum hash house in little Grames town; and over Friar Canyon’s sixty-odd miles that night, tailgating gas-guzzlers and big rigs as blockers against large game jaywalkers.
And all the way he’d carry on two-up, his passenger his past: a younger self mid-backseat in dad’s ’72 Ford “Blue Ox” Bronco; his brother on the wheel well at his right, staring at starlight, star bright, and moonlight in the desert night; their sister at his left, waiting with a Cat’s Cradle game in hand; mom-n-dad up front amid that magical glow of orange, cream, and green from the dash and the cryptically whispering CB radio; and that big, old V-8 just droning on and on and on.
Yeah, it was only twice or thrice a year, but those desert trips could have been his whole blessed childhood.