If I ever have the pleasure of drinking around a camp fire with you, chances are I will get drunk and start telling stories about the odd things I have witnessed while bike touring. I have met so many great people and seen enough weird/amazing/scary things that I really need to start writing more of them down. My memory isn’t what it used to be and I should probably back-up the old mental hard drive with some text.
Sitting at dinner with friends last night I was reminded of an interaction I had, about 6 years ago, with a little girl in the sleepy mining town of Winkleman, Arizona. I have no idea what her name is, but In my memory she is known as the Winkleman Roller.
The Winkleman Roller
I was on a four day ride slowly working my way from my home in Tempe to the town of Oracle, AZ. It was late winter in the desert and I was enjoying perfect weather with bluebird skies and comfortable nights under the stars. This tour was a little different than most because I had no set route, only a starting point and an end. Also different was that I was towing a trailer instead of my normal light and fast kit. At any point, if I saw something fun, I could unhitch my load and go explore the desert free of any burden. This ride was about exploring, not speed. If I came upon a trail or a dirt road I had never seen, well then I’m going that way. With enough food for four days and enough water for two, I was ready for just about anything.
Day two was coming to an end and I had just left a section of the Arizona Trail for a small stretch of road. It is so hard to leave that trail. It is so good and feels so remote that you can’t help but feel like you are cheating once your tires hit pavement. But I really wanted to see things that I had never seen before and sometimes that involves leaving the comfort of routine. No matter how awesome that routine may be.
I was fortunate enough to witness the spectacle of the sunset from the seat of my bike and entered the town limits of Winkleman, AZ just as all of the orange, red, and purple of sunset was fading to the blue of night. I know of a great place to camp just on the other side of town so I slowed my pace to have a look around. Winkleman is your typical southwest mining story. What was once a booming copper town is now a shell of what it once was, dying a slow death, with about 400 hearty souls who call it home. As I roll along I see the remnants of what must have been a pretty cool bar, now boarded up. A gas station and little diner that are now completely empty. I pass what I think is a closed Mexican restaurant but then my nose tells me otherwise, so I grab myself a green chilé burrito and keep moving on.
I come around a slight left hand bend in the road to what is now the main drag. In the increasing darkness I notice a little girl on the sidewalk across the street. She is staring at me with an amazingly blank and emotionless stare. I will never forget that stare. She appears to be Native American and maybe about 8 years old. Her pink sweatshirt was the brightest thing on the street in the fading light. Then to my surprise, I notice she was wearing old 4-wheeled roller skates. The moment I raise my hand to wave and say hello she starts skating down the sidewalk and quickly matches my speed. She looks over at me as to say “Bring it” and skates a little faster. With a flick of the index finger I shift gears and speed up. She matches my speed again, hopping over every big crack in her way and rolling the small one. She is in total control and picking up speed. She must know every inch of this block. Two more shifts and I can feel the weight of the trailer pushing behind me with every uneven pedal stroke. We are moving along evenly matched and then suddenly I realize she is no longer there. I look over my shoulder and there she is, standing in the grass, out of breath but still with the same icy stare. The sidewalk had ended. I ride on.