Holidays can be a tough time to be out on the road alone. Weather usually sucks, money’s always tight and people tend to pull themselves deeper into their families, thereby insulating themselves against the scary scooter trash they encounter along the road. It can be an isolating experience. Holiday lights twinkle, Christmas carols jingle and the outward appearances of holiday cheer can serve to make a nomad absolutely mad. She knew all this, but still agreed to house sit in a neighboring state. The commitment would include an 800-mile ride, two mountain passes and three weeks alone in a big house. Even though friends and family tried hard to talk her into sharing their festivities, she decided Christmas alone and time in one spot would be a good thing. A healing thing. She and her heavily-laden beast of burden headed south along a warm and easy route, but a freak cold snap hit. Midday through the first of an anticipated two-day trip, she was freezing her ass off. A miserable 100 miles of arctic winds later, she pulled into a dumpy restaurant to thaw.
Cupping icy hands around steaming coffee, she shivered as she sipped. The place was empty, with the exception of the disheveled man at the next booth who stared her down. He had dirty clothes. She ignored him. “I don’t mean to stare, but you’re a long way from home and I’m curious about why you’re out here all by yourself,” he said as he plopped down and slid a small booklet across the table. He patted her wrist with a clean hand. “I been alone for the holidays and it ain’t a good thing, but I want you to know you’re never really alone. I’m your friend, and so is He.” With that, he left. She sat bewildered, but stuck the Amazing Life of Jesus material in her pack later as she saddled up to leave.
Nothing wears a biker out like extreme weather and though she’d planned to make another 400 miles, the exhausted traveler found herself looking for a motel after half that. It had been a long slow ride of cautious miles spent eyeing road surfaces for icy patches and blowing debris. As the sun sank, ground fog rose from the miles of empty fields along the highway and dampness set in. She got a room and called it a day.
The second day was less blustery but included slow traffic and even lower temperatures through the canyons. She realized it was going to take another day, so she lingered over lunch, then pulled behind a gas station to check tires and adjust the pack. An older man with a bicycle dug aluminum cans out of the dumpster nearby. He wore a torn flannel, sweat pants and high-top tennies with no socks. A big red toe with festering sores bulged from a hole in the right shoe. It didn’t seem to bother him in the least as he happily stomped cans into small rounds while humming along with the tunes from the old transistor radio in his pocket.
While tightening the load, a bungee cord broke. She swore out loud as it hit her hand. Can Man stopped what he was doing, sauntered over to eye the situation and pulled a frayed bungee from his bike. “Here ya go, young lady; here’s a new one,” he offered. She tried to refuse the gift, thinking he would surely need it more than she, but he explained that he had plenty more. “Hey, have you ever heard this song?” He yanked out the earphones so she could hear the music. “Jesus was a Capricorn, he ate organic food. He believed in love and peace and never wore no shoes…” came the lyrics. “Yep. It’s Kris Kristofferson,” she told him. “Hey, how about if I give you a couple of bucks for the bungee?” she proposed. He bristled. “Oh, no; that’s OK. I think you’re gonna need your cash. You got miles to go still. How about if we call it a Christmas present, OK?” He patted her shoulder and went back to stomping cans.
Come daylight on the third day she was loading gear, anxious to ride. She realized she would cross the border in a few hours and knew the desert would bring much warmer temps. Breakfast was included with the room so she’d stashed a couple of bananas and three muffins in the pack for later. Two cups of joe sat on the sidewalk; one she sipped while packing, the other for when she finished.
Suddenly a street guy appeared and began pawing through a nearby garbage can. Though it was cold out, he wore only a T-shirt and jeans. He was barefooted. She watched as he carefully fished three good-sized cigarette butts, a partially-eaten apple and a half-full bottle of juice from the trash. He grunted as he sat down, took out a pocketknife and prepared the apple. Gathering her stash, she took her coffees and sat next to the longhaired kid. The distinct stench of stale tobacco, alcohol and body odor drifted through the air as she handed over the lukewarm coffee, followed by a muffin. She pulled a banana out of her sweatshirt pocket and laid it on the sidewalk between them. Without saying a word, the two shared breakfast before the young man abruptly stood, looked her in the face with ice-blue eyes and said, “Merry Christmas, ma’am.”