With $250 in his pocket, a bicycle, and a pack weighing thirty-seven pounds, Edward Abair set off for the adventure of a lifetime in 1972. Twenty-seven years old, this teacher and former Army medic bicycled 5,800 miles alone from Long Beach, California, to Miami, Florida, to Boston Massachusetts. Abair tells how he burned in 110 degree Southwest deserts, crossed the rugged West, ascended the Continental Divide, fed Mississippi mosquitoes, poured sweat in the humid swamplands of the South, and witnessed the devastation of a hurricane in Pennsylvania. On the way, he slept in river washes, abandoned motels, fire stations, jails, a river park with water moccasins, barns and under porch roofs.
Forty years later, he kept a promise to travel the northern United States on the Lewis and Clark Trail, in reverse order, from Astoria, Oregon, to St. Louis, Missouri. This time he used modern equipment and had a wife supporting him in an automobile. At age 68, with painful knees and a sore butt, he fought the steep ascents of Lolo and Rogers passes, battled fierce winds descending the Rocky Mountains, tacked the roller coaster roads of the Missouri River watershed, and endured drought and 112 degree heat in the drought ridden Midwest. With age and experience, he shares observations of finding the people and adventures from small town America the Great St. Louis Gateway Arch.
1. At Williams, AZ, a fenced old wooden house had the appeal of a safe lawn camp. I knocked, hat in hand, and explained to the tremulous elderly lady what I was doing at her door at 9:30 at night.
“Why don’t you go to the jail?” she quivered as her hand jutted up to the screen door.
Sheepishly, I loped down the steps, intent on asking a few houses down. No sooner had I reached the bike when a patrol car pulled alongside the curb.
“You the fella comin’ to the jail?” a bull voice called out.
Grinning, trapped, I replied, “Yeah”.
The officer let me park the bike in front of the headquarters window, took my belongings into custody, and let me creep-saunter to a burger joint on the corner. When I returned, he led me down a hall to a spare white room with green foam mattress bunkbeds cemented into the wall, a sink and toilet, and locked the door. I ate a half cookie and fell asleep, the best sleep in seven days.
2. (I had met a fellow biker who traveled with me for a day)
In the last hour of light we entered a serene meadow-village hemmed in by the yellow boulder cliffs of Valentine. We were tempted to increase mileage, but the wind and a steep climb threatened. We retreated back to a grassy driveway, an empty well-kept lawn. Hoping for permission to sleep on the lawn, we leaned bikes against a stone wall, wobbled up steps, and knocked. Two frisky dogs annoyed us until the owner, an Indian, came around the yard. He refused permission, with reason. Scorpions, Gila monsters, and rattlers infested the Arizona rocks just behind on the hills. With the cool of the evening, they ventured down onto the lawn seeking water. It would be wiser to sleep high up off the ground. He pointed to a cement loading dock behind his Bureau of Indian Affairs Office. In twilight blue-gray, Dave and I stripped to our shorts and washed with cold garden hose water. Without the sun’s glare, the rocks chilled quickly. Evening slipped into silence, cracked twice by night train horns. In the evening shadows, jousting with the wind dragon ended.
3. Trucks drove with controlled fury. A semi at sixty mph created a headwind that first buffeted any vehicle. As it passed, the backwash sucked inwards. I synchronized this and learned to slide in-between rushes of wind to pick up speed. Needless to say, it was dangerous. Truckers were aware of the might of their metal behemoths. For traffic slower than themselves, they passed on the left after cautiously gauging distances and safety. Otherwise, they blared their double horns well in advance of driving over their victim. The semis were equipped with air brakes capable of stopping their forty ton loads. If the load didn’t shift and kill the driver forward, the only cost was tire tread. Road shoulders were littered with black snail shells of retread rubber sheared off in a panic stop. So far I hadn’t seen an accident, though the damage of several has been towed past.