(The following is a short story by Laena Caprice Brown, about her dad’s 1974 bike trip from the Kootenays South to Mexico)
by Laena Caprice Brown
No tent, no water bottle, a slab of plastic, and next to no money. If anyone saw the amount of cash on Doug and Dennis, they would of thought these two were making a quick stop to the grocery store, and nothing more. The West Kootenay weather was quickly becoming frosty and bitter, and Doug and Dennis were heading South. Planning and goodbyes weren’t given much thought. They just got on their bikes and rode.
“You surprised we made it this far the first day?” Dennis asked through exhausted huffs as he placed his feet on the ground.
“I kind of figured we could make it to the border in a day,” Doug walked his bike beside him, ran his fingers through his long brown hair and scratched his Jesus beard, “but we’re going to be hooped crossing. There’s no way we should even try to get across tonight. They’ll think something’s up.”
“Yah, no doubt. Where you want to set up camp?”
“How about in those bushes over there? It’s still on the Canadian side, and no one can see us.”
“Sounds good. Shit it’s cold.” Dennis looked up at the sky, now covered with thick gray clouds. “I hope it doesn’t rain.”
“Don’t jinx it man.”
They sunk into the bushes, bikes and all. They spread out the plastic portion where there weren’t too many rocks and other jagged objects, and camp was made. Propping their backpacks under their heads, a few mumbles were exchanged, and then they dazed away into slumber.
Doug awoke at what he thought might be one in the morning to a gentle tap on his cheek. Through hazy eyes and blurred thoughts he couldn’t figure out what was going on. There was another cold tap on his forehead. Doug sat up on the plastic, it was wet. Through pine branches by distant moonlight he could barely make out what was going on.
“Huh? What man? What’s going on?” He rubbed his eyes, then realizing what was happening, opened them wide. “No way. What should we do?”
“There’s not much we can do. Let’s just pull the plastic under this tree more.”
The guys rearranged camp, and laid back down, cold, and curled in the fetal positions. Neither of them got much sleep that night, just waited for morning to come. Neither of them spoke once they woke up. Camp was silently repacked into bags, and they wheeled their bikes out of the trees.
As they approached the U.S. border, two clean shaven, middle-aged border guards stood outside, arms crossed, and intimidating handguns at their sides, watching the two young hippies, long beards and unbrushed hair, ragged jeans, and ten-speeds approaching them.
Doug glanced over at Dennis. “Why do I have a feeling this is going to be a drag?”
“Good morning gentlemen, could I please see your ID.” Doug and Dennis handed over their macramé wallets.
“Where are you headed on this chilly day?” The guard holding Doug’s ID wasn’t as harsh as they thought he might be.
“Just planning on riding our bikes in the states for a few days sir.” Dennis sure knew how to talk out of his ass.
“Really?” The other guard raised his eyebrows until his forehead crinkled. Do you guys want to step into the building, please? He wasn’t quite so friendly.
The two pairs went in the side door of the border crossing building. Doug and Dennis instinctively handed over their backpacks. They had nothing to hide, so volunteering their possessions for a check might have proved something to their advantage.
So you guys are planning on visiting the states for how long? The kinder of the two guards asked.
“Yes sir. We’ll be back Tuesday of the latest.” Dennis replied confidently
“Shouldn’t you boys be in school?” The guard inquired towards Doug.
“We actually decided to take a year off. You know? See the world.”
“Well, I’m afraid that won’t be happening today. We’re going to have to ask you to turn your bikes around and head back home, boys. The weather is bad, and judging by your financial state, you won’t last very long. Sorry guys.” The guards handed the guys their things back in arm fulls, failing to put it back in order.
Doug and Dennis weren’t prepared to give-up that easy. After packing there stuff up, they finally convinced the guards that they were “good boys,” and would only be in the states for a couple days, three at the most. They continued their journey and peddle the rest of the day, only making one stop to piss. They didn’t drink much sense they started their ride, so there wasn’t much to get out of their systems.
By the time it got dark, they were both very thirsty. Very thirsty didn’t even begin to describe it. Although the water in Roosevelt Lake was in sight, they were a long way above it. It was simply a tease. Determined to get water, they rode through the night. By morning they snuck into a campground, and drank from a water fountain. Their throats were raw, and it was painful, but necessary to drink.
Everyday they rode non-stop from the time they woke-up in the morning, until dark. Then, they stopped riding and slept wherever they were. If they were lucky, they would find a campsite, and sneak into it to avoid paying. But there were nights like the one in Southern California when it rained, and never stopped. So they had to give into the rain, and stop instead. That night, they ended up sleeping standing up in an outhouse.
“Hey Dennis.” Doug whispered through the dark and stench.
“I finally understand that song.”
“It Never Rains in Southern California… It Pours.”
They made checkout time an early one after that night. Stepping out of the outhouse and breathing fresh air, Doug reached inside the bag of dried figs he had bought at a convenience store. About to put one in his mouth he noticed a small, black bug on it…. “Ants.” Doug looked into the bag, and saw dozens of tiny ants feasting on their figs. He was hungry, and those figs were like a fortune at this point. He dumped the bag out on the back of his pack, and sifted through the figs until there weren’t any ants left. He never did tell Dennis about it.
By late morning they had made it onto Highway 101, along the Pacific Coast. Being avid hikers and true nature lovers, the guys were completely astounded by the splendor of the scenery. The foliage had already changed to the wondrous colours of fall. Vibrant reds, profound browns, and rich greens lined the highway. Through large trees, the sometimes-panoramic ocean view stretched to the end of the world. With the predominant Northwest wind generally at their back, they used garbage bags for sails by placing the bags over the handlebars and hanging on to the opening of the bags and the bars at the same time. It would have worked quite well; except for the difficulties they had controlling the movement of the bikes. They were quite the sites as cars, and semis drove along past them.
After that, it was easy riding for eighteen miles downhill through the Redwood Forest. Doug and Dennis were so occupied stretching their necks into the sky to gaze up at all the old growth trees that they almost collided with each other several times. They maneuvered their way through vehicles, passing rows of traffic lined up behind slow chip trucks. “Quite a change, eh?” Dennis laughed.
That evening they set up camp on a beach by the ocean. Dennis jumped in as soon as they got to the water and a huge wave knocked his glasses off.
“Hi mom. It’s me, Dennis.” He was talking a payphone outside a gas station.
“Dennis. How are you? Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s great mom. We’re almost in Mexico. But, I umm…. broke my glasses. Do you think you could send my other pair ahead to the hotel we’ll be staying at in San Francisco? Great. Thanks. I love you too.”
For several days of riding Dennis, half blind, followed behind Doug, who yelled cautions like “bump ahead,” over his shoulder. They crawled off into the desert one night to sleep.
“Look out Dennis! A scorpion!”
“No way! Where?”
“Stop fucking doing that.”
That night, they both got little sleep worrying about scorpions, and snakes, and whatever else awaited in the desert for two boys from the boonies. A few times Doug scratch his long hair and itched is beard to ensure no creatures were making the beginnings of a home.
The guys peddled hard to reach the Mexican border. The tough part was finally over, and the guys were finally approaching their final destination. In the late evening Doug and Dennis felt utter exhilaration, laughing as the two Kootenay boys peddled into Mexico, no hands.