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The 94 Year Old Biker

After leaving the park, I take the longer way to Silver City, through Routes 61 and 152. The bike sweeps through the curves of the surprisingly Mediterranean landscape, between the hills. Different from the yellow plains of this morning, the sides of the road are sprinkled with green trees, typical of the mountainous terrain of Greece or Spain. The higher altitude is also felt in the chill of the wind that now flows through the warm air. On Route 152, small signs lead the way to the old Santa Rita copper mine. I stop the motorcycle and dismount. A few cars are parked on the gravel shoulder overlooking the open, brown pit. One of them is a large black van with a handicap permit. A man in a wheel chair is sitting next to it, gazing at the green copper craters. His thin white hair flies in the feeble wind. Without looking at me or changing his sitting position, he asks “What kind of bike is that?” He says that he used to ride when he was younger and describes his old motorcycle, a BMW 600.

The old man grew up in this region of New Mexico, moved out, lived in different places for many years, and then recently returned. Throughout our conversation, he keeps his eyes on the copper mine in front of him, like a man watching a movie or driving a car. I am trying to exercise my manners and refrain from prying, but my curiosity takes over, asking one question after another. He continues to answer with his eyes glued to the mine, as if he is waiting for something to happen down there. The man is 94 years old, born in 1916. His wrinkled face is peaceful and calm and his posture is upright and erect. Before I leave, I ask him if he needs help getting back into the van. He finally turns to me, smiles, and says, “Thank you, young man, I am fine.” I take one last look at him, get on the motorcycle, and ride on west toward Route 180. It could be that my encounter with this man is not an omen, a sign, or even an event of any real significance, but it left me with a spiritual, perhaps even mystical impression. This man who was born here in 1916, lived a full life and came back to the land of his childhood just before it was time to leave.

Route 180 winds through Gila National Forest, far from any town or village. The forest is dense and lush. It’s hard to believe that only yesterday, I rode through the dry desert in Texas. The curves on the road are sharp and butterflies fly in my stomach as I gear-shift down and lean the motorcycle into each turn. With the increase in altitude, the air slowly gets cooler and the trees thicker and taller. I stop at the last gas station before reaching the Arizona state line, in the small village of Glenwood, and quickly continue up the road toward the mountains. Past Glenwood, the rise in elevation is rapid, climbing 1,500 feet in less than twenty minutes. The forest is now composed solely of pine trees. The chilly wind is gone, and the cold air is still. The road continues to climb through the forest, and an hour later, reaches an elevation of 8,000 feet. The engine underneath me grunts quietly, protesting both the loss of horsepower to the altitude and the demands of the constant climb. Right after crossing the Arizona line, Luna Lake appears on the right. It is beautiful and surrounded by pointy rows of pines. Who knew that Arizona could look like Switzerland? I am almost tempted to turn toward the lake, but I worry that the motorcycle will not restart if I stop it now. I continue and push through the small town of Alpine and examine the setting sun. There is about one hour left until dark. Today’s final destination will be the town of Eagar, about forty minutes away. The temperatures drop further as the road continues to climb up. The motorcycle follows the pull of the throttle silently and unwillingly. The views around me disappear. I stop noticing anything but the road and focus all of my energy on getting to my destination. I want to get off the motorcycle, but the road winds uphill and there’s no shoulder at the side of the road and nowhere to stop. When I finally get to Eagar, I’m exhausted and freezing. I park the motorcycle, go inside, and sit in the warm motel lobby. For a few minutes, I can’t speak. After carrying the bags to the second floor, I climb on the bed and lay on my back to rest. A soothing sense of relief conquers my entire body, laying on the bed and staring at the brush strokes of paint on the ceiling.