On summer mornings I used to bicycle for an hour into the wilderness beyond Sun City West, Arizona, and on my way home stop at a gas station and convenience grocery at the junction of Grand Avenue and R. H. Johnson Boulevard. There I would drink a can of strawberry-banana juice, read the New York Times, and watch the BNSF freight trains as they started their journey into the desert. This is the only gas station that I know where the trains would stop so that the engineers could buy their morning coffee.
One morning in early May, I first stopped at the station to read the paper, and then bicycled across the tracks, turning northwestward onto the wide shoulder of Grand Avenue—also known as U.S. 60—to follow the trains into the wilderness. At Wickenburg, where highway and railway turn more directly to the west, I would go with them through the McMullen Valley to Salome, where I planned to spend the night. The next day, I would follow the tracks as they turned in a more northerly direction, taking the Parker cutoff to the Colorado River.
The paragraphs above are the lead to a Bicycle Diary (first published in 2001) that describe a 150-mile bicycle journey through some of the most interesting cycling terrain in Arizona. My purpose for the trip was to attend the annual conference of District 5490 of Rotary International. My local club, Surprise-Grand-Bell, consisted of an interesting mix of year-round residents from retirement communities west of Phoenix and people from snowy country who spent their winters in the Arizona sunshine. The trip was sponsored by Rotary friends, and the proceeds were to be used for international service projects.
This travel story recounts a few aspects of highway-rail history in Arizona’s Outback. It also introduces Dick Wick Hall, one of the most colorful figures in Arizona’s life during the opening decades of the twentieth century. The following quotation from one of his writings expresses an attitude that I need to cultivate, especially on days like the today (March 30, 2012) when the Pacific Northwest where I live is in the middle of a two-week long slog of constant rain.
Soak up a little sunshine to cheer you on your way, and don’t fuss about tomorrow but be glad you’re here today. A smile will make you feel at home and fill a heart with song—so be glad you have reached Salome—and Pass A Laugh Along. What if you’re short of money and the road seems long and rough? A laugh makes life seem funny and three meals a day enough. You’ll take nothing when you leave here on the trip that goes one way, so why sit around and grieve—Let’s Have a Laugh Today.
To read the full essay, click Happiness in Happy Valley.