Saturday, May 16, 2009

El Toro, Mennomite Cinnamon Buns, and my New Friend Taj

Just the other day I was portaging along between two massive fields, one dotted with beef cattle, the other planted in potatoes. The day was warm, in the upper 70's with a hot, steady sun. I watched cows to pass the time and distance. I saw a cow licking its exhausted and reclining calf and mooing softly to it. Without breaking stride the cow dropped the afterbirth into the grass nearby. The calf's chest was rising and falling steady, alive.

Further on a larger calf had gotten itself stuck in the barbed wire fence, probably trying to follow its friend who had gotten through and was standing on the road's edge as if unsure of what to do with it's new found freedom. I kept on trucking until I reached the farmhouse a mile distant. Walking through the boneyard of dead trucks, rusting farm equipment, and barking dogs that characterize most properties in rural Idaho (rural America, really) I came to the run-down house to warn the farmer of the impending loss of two calfs, aka money on four hooves.

The farmer was Mexican, and neither he nor his daughter spoke any English. It was hot inside, we were all sweating as I tried to stumble through my explaination of the problem. I got the idea of the barbed wire fence across with my hands and a piece of p-cord, then got to the heart of the problem. I didn't know how to say 'cow' so I tried with the only four legged animal I knew: 'cabello' horse.

"El poco cabello es.." I made the sign language for fence again.

"No, no poco cabello senior," they looked at me like I was daft. They indicated the table, and some left over breakfast tortillas and a cold corn and bean salad. I sat, thinking. The calf had blood on its sides, mooing for its mother and struggle in the fence. My meager Spanish wasn't up to the task, and I doubt they'd follow me a mile up the road on foot. As I ate and we all smiled at each other without comphrension, it dawned on me. I could use my college eduation to solve this problem.

I jumped up and began pawing the ground angrily, then in a dramatic voice shouted, "El torro!" then indicated the fence sign. You see, the bottom shelf tequila most easily attainable where I went to college was called "El Torro" and had a picture of a bull on it. Same species, they might get it.

The daughter shouted, the farmer shot to his feet and unlocked a cabinet by the door, then flung open the side door with shotgun in hand and began marching towards his truck. He thought a bull had broken into the paddock with the cows and newborns and was running amok. I stopped him in his truck, getting down on hands and knees and saying "Pequeno torro! Poco Torro!" He finally got the idea when I ran to a nearby fence and tangled myself in it, shouting "Pequeno torro!" across the yard. He smiled, put away the gun and drove off to settle affairs in the paddock.


It's been hot lately. The temperature hit 97 degrees yesterday, and today is supposed to be warm as well. In the farmland of southern Idaho where I am, one can travel for twenty miles without seeing any shade or public ground. I was portaging last week in just such a situation, sweating intensely, when I came on a little old Mennonite woman selling baked goods on the side of the road. A mirage, I scoffed. She said hello, and offered me some cinnamon rolls, which I readily accepted.

Seventy-five cents got me 8 buns the size of softballs. We chatted about being Mennonite in rural Idaho, and I told her stories about the Mennonite men whooping my ass in climbing Katahdin in Maine, they in their loafers, woolen trousers and dress shirts sprinting up the rockslides. We talked about religion, about baking, and my trip. I was distracted for a moment, as her granddaughter, a stunningly beautiful girl in an ankle-length home sewn floral dress and bonnet attended to the garden and eventually climbed into a beat-up white Ford pick-up and drove off, smiling at me as I stuffed cinnamon buns into my mouth.


It has been an interesting week since last I wrote. In Weiser (Weezer) I got to scheming again, with wonderful results. The lack of camping along the river, the horrendous current, and the insane number of snakes, as well as my painfully slow progress all convinced me I had to figure some new methods and generally step it up if I wanted to make it to the Continental Divide by June. From Hell's Canyon Dam to Weiser I had made about 24 miles a day, got into camp at a reasonable hour and while I was working hard 8 or 9 hours a day, the struggle had left the equation.

I realized my mind and body had caught up with my aggresive pace. I was in good shape and was meeting great challenges with growing comfort. It was time, of course, to kick it up a notch. With the extra hour or two of daylight I was now getting with the advance of spring and the crossing of the time zone, I decided I needed to travel more each day, and to travel harder. I was ready, but a bit hesitant about the whole thing.

Next, I went back to the Weiser library and got on Craigslist to look for a bike. I looked through 500 listings before I found one even remotely close to the tiny town of Weiser, that for a small woman's AutoBike. On a wing and a prayer I made the phone call. He man who answered was gruff and kept reminding me it was a women's bike. I had caught him just moments before he was walking out the door for the day. He agreed to bring the bike in, he lived only a half mile from the library. He arrived a few minutes later with two bikes; the small and unacceptable AutoBike, but also a beat up old Scott. I paid him $30 for the Scott; all this in under 30 minutes of getting to the library. I laugh at my own luck sometimes- for all of those chance occurances to come together in my favor.... amazing.

I spent the afternoon fixing and tinkering, then talking my way into a machine shop to fabricate a trailer. I had grand designs, all beautiful and well-engineered, but I realized I couldn't fix most of the parts if they broke, so I kept it simple so I could easily repair the trailer in the field. $1.20 at the hardward store and access to the dumpster behind the shop gave me what I needed, and I pedaled out of Weiser smiling like an idiot at my good fortune.

For the last week, I've managed to keep it up. I'll paddle for eight or nine hours and then portage a bit in the late afternoon. The bike and trailer set-up is solid, but a bit finicky. It won't go up any kind of hill or turn much for that matter, but it helps me get around waterfalls, dams, and heavy rapids just a bit faster.

In keeping with my lonely personification of inanimate objects, I've named the bike Taj. As in, 'Poor Taj', a subtle jab at Canadian pronuniation.

About 880 miles and 50 days down, with 190 miles to Jackson, Wyoming and hopefully my first rest day!

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