In times past it was known as the Big Bend Coast. Since 1991 this unofficial region of Florida has been known as “The Nature Coast”. Loosely defined, this area covers approximately 8 Florida Counties that abut the Gulf of Mexico. Culturally, it is the transition from the southernmost extent of the “Deep South” into the more tropical and urban cultures of the Tampa Bay area and Miami.
From August 22nd to August 31st we enjoyed 9 riding days that covered over 480 miles and connected us with the Florida communities of Perry, Chiefland, Inverness, Polk City, Sebring, Clewiston, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and Miami.
“Enjoyed” is a term I present in the literal sense. The climate was comfortable.
The scenery was inviting.
The route was bicycle friendly and included the 32 mile long “rails to trails” Nature Coast State Trail.
Henry the “rubber roach” was still making his presence known. (Here seen attracting the amorous attention of a native Palmetto Bug)
It seemed that the most challenging hills we had to navigate were the roadside curbs.
The quality of our accommodations through most of this stretch were among the finest of the summer. The most memorable were our stays in Sebring (August 26th), West Palm Beach (August 28th and 29th), Boca Raton (August 30th), and the “pièce de résistance” was the Royal Palm Hotel in Miami Beach. These night stays read like a luxury tourist itinerary.
In Sebring we enjoyed rooms in the historic Kenilworth Lodge. This expansive resort hotel was built in 1916 by George Sebring, developer of the community. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, its glory days were in the early and mid-20th Century as seen in this 1922 postcard.
During our brief stay hints of its past grandeur were apparent.
Sadly, it has lain closed and abandoned since 2016 due to a small electrical fire that lead to a detailed fire inspection and condemnation of the property.
Our stay at the Hilton Hotel in West Palm Beach was not so memorable for the otherwise typical accommodations, but for the unusual group that was also registered at the facility. Wherever we looked there were young people dressed as cartoon and fantasy characters.
One of our group asked an attendee what they were there for, “We are part of an Anime Convention.” was the reply. “What’s that?” continued the C4C rider. “A convention is a group of people meeting for the same purpose” was her response… and with that said she walked off leaving a bemused C4C rider in her wake.
In Boca Raton the oceanside Holiday Inn was anything but ordinary. Our arrival was heralded by a videographer.
The rooms looked out upon a delightful swimming pool and the sound of the Gulf waves on the beach mere feet away provided an aural backdrop for this piece of paradise.
At our 6 am departure the next morning the manager asked if we would join him for a group photo to add to his collection of hotel guest dignitaries.
And then there was the Royal Palm Hotel in Miami Beach. It was one of a group of extraordinary art-deco high rise hotels that adorn the South Beach strip. By day the hotel and surrounding environs were beautiful…
…but after sunset they transformed into a technicolor feast for the eyes.
Dating to 1939, the Royal Palm was named after the famous 1897 Henry Flagler Miami hotel that had been destroyed by fire a few years earlier. The staff at this decidedly upscale resort did not bat an eye when we asked to take our bicycles up the elevators for overnight storage in our rooms.
In spite of the changes that our venture into south Florida brought, we remained true to our established routine: An early start with Christine’s instructions for the day was followed by Father Matt’s morning prayer; “Let’s ride with peaceful minds and strong hearts…” and his concluding directive, “Buns Up Everyone!!”.
Daily Mass remained an afternoon or evening tradition. Often a “potluck” supper was served to us courtesy of a local church group. By now we had long lost count of the number of different ways that pasta could be served.
And of course we remained dedicated to the continuing mission of Cycling for Change, carrying the message of the problem of poverty in America. During this segment of our ride there were meetings and presentations with various parish groups, however the most endearing experience was our visit with the children at Miami’s Centro Hispano Catolico Child Care Center.
This child development center is one of 6 such centers operated by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami. The Centro Hispano serves up to 200 underprivileged children in the largely Hispanic community. Services include classes taught by degreed staff, 3 balanced meals a day, a curriculum to address literacy, social, and emotional development, individualized education plans, and training programs for parents that include development of language, job, and financial skills.
Ahead of us from Miami lay the final 160 miles to Key West. Ten years later a lump forms in my throat and a tear comes to my eye at the mere typing of those words.
Next: The final chapter: The Florida Keys and Key West.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS. Christine’s parents, William “Bill” Alden Nichols and Doris Irene (Robinson) Nichols were born in 1918. At the age of 18 they eloped to marry, fearing their parents’ disapproval. On August 27, 2010, a little over 74 years after they had married, we of C4C were riding from Sebring to Clewiston, Florida. Christine took leave of the group that day to drive 60 miles west for an afternoon visit with her parents.
Doris resided in an assisted living community while Bill continued to live independently in their Florida home.
Doris passed away the following year at the age of 93. Bill lived past his 101st birthday, drawing his final breath in Kansas City on February 24th, 2020… “Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord…”
On the morning of August 15, 2010 we assembled to continue our journey east and south.
Ahead of us lay the final 1,150 miles, allocated between 18 riding days. Nearly 1,000 of those miles would be ridden in Florida. Certainly, we were not on the “home stretch”, but something had changed. We were excited, suffused with an optimism that had not been present over the last few weeks.
Perhaps it was the transformation that included palm trees and seashore vistas.
Perhaps it was the cooling offshore breezes that replaced the inland swelter that we had endured.
The roads had become pool table flat, except where the sea causeways arched to accommodate commercial shipping.
The sun shone brightly upon and within each of us.
However, all was not paradise in those coastal waters.
40 miles offshore from where we rode the largest marine oil spill in the history of the American petroleum industry was unfolding. On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a mobile oil rig, had been drilling an exploratory well in 5,000 feet of water. On that day the wellhead violently blew out, taking with it the lives of 11 workers whose remains were never recovered. The rupture caused the release of an estimated 210 million gallons of crude oil that continued unabated well into 2012. In Louisiana alone, nearly 5 million pounds of oil impregnated material was removed from the coastline. The direct environmental and economic damages were felt over 68,000 square miles, an area as large as the State of Oklahoma and easily visible from space.
Oil contaminated the beaches of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and extended along the coast as far as southern Florida.
As we rode we saw cleanup crews at work and witnessed the black corruption washing ashore.
What was hidden from us was the devastation to the flora and fauna. Thousands of species were impacted. The health and livelihood of millions of coastal residents were threatened, impacts that continue to be felt more than 10 years later.
Deepwater Horizon did not dampen our spirits.
Over the next 6 days we would pass through Biloxi, Mississippi, Dauphin Island, Alabama, and into the Florida panhandle: Pensacola, DeFuniak Springs, Marianna, and riding into Tallahassee we would enjoy a “rest day” on August 21st.
Between Marianna and Tallahassee we passed from Central Standard into the Eastern time zone, 4 time zones east from where we started on the Pacific Northwest coast.
It was one of a series of milestones that were reminders that the conclusion of our quest was drawing near.
On August 17th we were joined by Mark Dufva, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida. Accompanied part of the way by a few co-workers, he rode with us for 4 days and over 300 miles from Mobile, Alabama to Tallahassee, Florida.
Mark was not a veteran cyclist, but what he lacked in experience he more than made up for with enthusiasm and determination.
On the 18th, a day that was scheduled to cover about 90 miles, Mark joined me for an extension that would take the day’s ride over the 100 mile mark, a significant accomplishment known among bicyclists as “riding a century”.
Mark was also largely responsible for the explosion of publicity that we enjoyed.
There was a media event and mayoral proclamation ceremony in Pensacola, hosted by the Honorable Michael C. Wiggins.
En route to DeFuniak Springs we were hosted at a BBQ lunch in Ft. Walton Beach where another proclamation was made on our behalf.
Father Matt and Mark were interviewed via telephone on Christian Talk Radio.
Mark worked to make other connections for our meals and lodging. The most notable was the “Cycling for Change – Homeward Bound Rally” held in Tallahassee.
This was a festive family event that featured food and entertainment.
Tallahassee Mayor, John Marks, proclaimed “Poverty Solutions Week”, and County Commissioner Akin Akinyemi was not to be outdone by proclaiming “Poverty Awareness Day”.
We were treated to lodging in Tallahassee courtesy of the Newman Center of Florida State University and the endearing hospitality of its Director, Sister Christine Kelly, SSJ.
It is hard to imagine that after 10 years I could hold any regrets from my participation with C4C, but there is at least one. Over the years I have learned that I am fairly accomplished at beginnings, but quite deficient when it comes to conclusions. The child-like enthusiasm that I can barely restrain at the start of an “adventure” is balanced by my tendency to withdraw into myself when the finish line comes into sight.
As we lingered in Tallahassee, 86 days in the constant company of 15 extraordinary people were behind me. We had shared a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I could not shake the thought that in 2 weeks it would end and we would go our separate ways. There would be memories to last a lifetime, but it would never be the same as when together we rode across America.
I wish that I had not become so self-absorbed. I wish that I had been more gracious and grateful to those with whom I shared the experience. To paraphrase a line from a popular song, “Regrets, I’ve had a few… but then again just one to mention.”
Founded in 1718 by French colonists, New Orleans took its name from the French Duke of Orleans who reigned as Regent from 1715 to 1723 for King Louis XV. Louis inherited the throne at the age of 5 and reigned for 59 years until his death in 1774. The Duke served until King Louis reached his official age of majority, 13 years old.
New Orleans was held by The Kingdom France until ceded to Spain from 1763 to 1802, during which time significant Caribbean influences were exerted upon the city.
Its control briefly returned to the French Republic in 1802. The city and over 800,000 sq. miles known as the Louisiana Territory were sold by Napoleon to the United States the following year for 15 million dollars.
Statehood was granted to Louisiana, formerly known as the Territory of Orleans, in 1812.
By 1840 New Orleans ranked as the 3rd largest city in the United States and its largest slave market.
In 1861 Louisiana seceded from the United States and became part of the Confederacy until the United States victory in 1865. However, in 1862 New Orleans was captured and thereafter held by Union troops throughout the war.
This brief history may explain: why most of the 18th Century architecture that abounds in the French Quarter and old city are of Spanish origin;
why linguistically New Orleans and the surrounding area still present an unusual mixture of French, Spanish, and English dialects known as Creole; why Louisiana retains a French influenced “Code” legal system rather than the English Common Law followed in the rest of America; why Louisiana has “Parishes” rather than “Counties”; and why New Orleans is so ethnically diverse.
The 16 members of Cycling for Change entered New Orleans on August 12, 2010.
We remained in the city for 3 nights. The original plan had been for the group to either stay at a convent or to reside in a homeless/transitional living shelter in nearby Marrero, Louisiana. Happily, our “handlers” back at Catholic Charities in Kansas City acknowledged that our efforts deserved an upgrade to a hotel located between the New Orleans French Quarter and Garden District. It was a welcome concession to our comfort.
New Orleans should be on every North America traveler’s “bucket list”. It is unique among all the continent’s cities for its architecture, music, cuisine, culture, and of course Mardi Gras. We enjoyed a limited opportunity to see a few of the better known features of the city such as Jefferson Square and St. Louis Cathedral,
the oldest trolley system in the United States,
and of course Bourbon Street.
At the end of this post I will provide some of my 2019 images that give some insight into the tourism opportunities that New Orleans presents.
Historically, New Orleans has been a veritable magnet for hurricanes. This NOAA graphic shows the tracks of every category 3+ hurricane that came within 100 miles of the city between 1852 and 2005.
At the time of our visit in 2010, New Orleans was still reeling from the devastation wrought in 2005 by the Category 5 Hurricane Katrina. With over 1,200 dead and damages estimated at over 125 billion dollars, Katrina then ranked as the costliest storm in US history. Entire neighborhoods were erased in part because of engineering failures of the flood levee system and due to human caused ground subsidence which has left half of New Orleans’ neighborhoods located below sea-level.
Over a million people were displaced. In the immediate years following Katrina the population exodus reduced the city’s population by half. Poverty, which was already a pre-Katrina problem, became a critical issue.
Founded in 1982 by Archbishop Philip Hannan, Bishop Roger Moring, and Gregory Johnson, Second Harvest Food Bank of New Orleans is a leader in the fight against hunger in south Louisiana. By 2005 it had become the largest food bank in the world.
The 16 members of C4C spent much of August 13th volunteering at the main Second Harvest warehouse. As a part of our orientation we learned that 1 in 5 Louisiana households are at risk of hunger.
Second Harvest salvages over 35 millions of pounds of food annually… food that is still wholesome, but which has been rejected for cosmetic reasons, damage to packaging, because of expired “best by” and expiration dates, and surplusage.
Second Harvest relies largely upon over 9,000 volunteers for labor to sort, repackage, and distribute this food over 23 Louisiana Parishes (Counties).
Each year over 32 million meals are thus provided to nearly a quarter of a million people. It was an honor for us to participate in those efforts. C4C members sorted food,
repackaged and boxed food,
and visited the various warehouse facilities including the frozen storage unit.
Christine drew my attention to pallets loaded with PediaSure, a specialty nutrition supplement for growth challenged children. At that time our three surviving quadruplet grandchildren were directed to use this product by their physicians. The cost was approximately $2.00 an 8oz can.
Second Harvest Food Bank is a not-for-profit agency. It is able to stretch a dollar into 4 meals for a family in need. $0.97 of every $1 donated goes directly to programs that feed the hungry. Corporate offices located at 700 Edwards Ave., New Orleans, LA 70123. Donations are welcomed. For more information: www.no-hunger.org
Next: The Gulf Coast
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS: The following are pictures with limited commentary of New Orleans taken in 2019. If you have not ever visited this enchanting city please consider it.
New Orleans is a major port city on the Mississippi Delta near the Gulf of Mexico. There are opportunities for riverboat excursions.
The city market is delightful…
…and the architecture stunning.
Street music is everywhere.
Jefferson Square is surrounded by quaint shops and inviting dining venues.
Enjoying a cup of chicory coffee and a beignet at Café du Monde is a “must” tradition,
as is visiting one of the unique cemeteries where voodoo queens “mix” with dignitaries and figures of historical significance.
We had arrived at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri at 1 p.m. on July 17th. There were paralleled lines of well-wishers, a canopy of balloons, photographers, a band… friends, family, and our grandchildren.
It was a homecoming such as sailors returning from a long voyage at sea might have enjoyed in the days of the wooden tall-rigger ships.
We paused in Kansas City for 3 days. It wasn’t long enough to feel at home, but long enough to regenerate pangs of separation when we left on July 20th. Our grind continued as the next major destination was St. Louis, Missouri. We rode 70 miles to Clinton, Missouri where we spent the night and picked up the west terminus of the “KATY Trail”.
My nephew, Philip, continued with us until Jefferson City, Missouri.
The “KATY” is a rails to trails conservancy project that was initiated by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway’s 1986 abandonment of a large segment of its right-of-way. Segments of the line were susceptible to periodic flooding that rendered portions along the Missouri River unusable.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources purchased the KATY right-of-way in 1990. By the time of our 2010 crossing 240 miles of the completed Trail continuously connected Clinton to St. Charles, Missouri, mostly following the Missouri River.
The KATY is officially a Missouri State Park. It is the longest developed rail-trail in the United States, featuring 4 restored train depots and 26 trailheads. The hard packed limestone “chat” is suitable for all types of bicycles.
The virtues of the KATY are that it is relatively flat, there are regularly spaced rest stops with toilet facilities, and it is devoid of motorized traffic. However, those virtues come at a price: the limestone “chat” is a coarse sand-like mixture that is like concrete when dry, but spongy when damp.
When wet, it sticks to the wheels of one’s bicycle only to be thrown back upon the rider’s legs and bicycle components. When dry, the dust generated by the bicycle’s passage seems to mimic the exhaust of a steam locomotive.
As luck would have it we had rain the first day and steam room like heat and humidity the rest of the passage. We were treated to the entire spectrum of the KATY Trail experience, swarms of insects included.
At a park in St. Charles, Missouri we were joined by scores of cyclists who rode with us into St. Louis.
We were housed at the Manresa Urban Retreat Center for two nights, enjoying a “rest day” that included cycling to some of the sights of St. Louis.
Special was Father Matt’s celebration of Mass at St. Matthew’s Church, an inner-city parish where he was once pastor.
The grind, now turning south, would continue along another storied river.
…at least Kansas is not flat from the seat of a bicycle.
On July 11, 2010, we entered Kansas embarking on a transit of nearly 500 miles that in 7 days would see us arriving in Kansas City, Missouri. Our route was almost exclusively on old US Highway 36. US-36 opened in 1921 was one of the original pre-Interstate thoroughfares that opening large swaths of the United States to automotive travel. It is not a true cross-continent highway as it begins it’s journey in Ohio and reaches its western terminus 1,400 miles later in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.
I-80 to the north and I-70 to the south have rendered US-36 a lightly travelled two lane country road that connects a string of small communities. In the west where we entered Kansas from Colorado the elevation was just under 4,000 feet above sea-level. By the time that we reached Kansas City, Missouri we had descended 3,000 feet. In the meantime the topography undulated across the plains and prairie land.
We frequently rated the difficulty of a day’s ride by the amount of vertical climb accomplished. In Colorado, Wyoming and the other western states climbs came in one long and very large effort. We found that in Kansas the total of vertical climb made good was equivalent to our experience in the mountain states, just in hundreds of small segments… “kind of a death by many cuts.”
Before the ride began, I had “predicted” to the team that at some point this would become labor. That transition occurred over the course of the 7 days that we crossed Kansas. Joes, Colorado gave us torrential rains.
Norton and Atwood in Kansas repelled us with relentless head winds. Smith Center, Kansas “treated” us to a heat index of 114 degrees. However, we would not be deterred as Kansas City drew us like a magnet. For most of us it represented home and a few days pause with family and friends. For all of us it was the completion of 2,500 miles of our 5,000 mile journey, the halfway point.
The final day ride, 60 miles from Atchison Kansas to the campus of Rockhurst in Kansas City was also special. In Atchison and Leavenworth we were joined by over 100 cyclists. Among those riders was my nephew, Phil Schloss, and members of the “Gravy Train”, cyclists with whom I regularly rode then and still ride to this day.
Smith Center, Kansas had a Dollar Store that I visited for some now forgotten need. As I approached the cashier my eyes were drawn to the impulse purchase rack. For only a dollar I became the proud owner of a bag of 100 huge, life-like, rubber roaches. Think Florida Palmetto Bugs, as seen here in comparison to the last of the plastic imitations that I still possess.
The rubber roaches each came to be known as “Henry”. For the 2,500 mile remainder of the C4C ride they bemused, befuddled, and generally terrorized the riders and occasional non-rider victims. Henry would show up in water bottles, clothing, bags of potato chips… and any other place that I could creatively (and anonymously) deploy him.
Early on I was considered a suspect, but one of the Henrys was overlooked only to be found on a day that I could not have been the perpetrator. My role in these pranks thus remained unknown until I confessed my guilt in Key West, Florida.
One morning in Clewiston, Florida I found a real Palmetto resting on the seat of my bicycle. I took the opportunity to carefully photograph the Palmetto alongside a “Henry”. Removing the fake bug I left the real one in place. Soon one of the riders saw “Henry”. In disgust the rider grabbed him with a mind to show everyone that yet another “bug” had been found. Unfortunately, it was not “Henry” that was held closed in the palm of the rider’s hand, but the real Palmetto Bug. I wish that I could have recorded the yell that pierced the air as the huge insect struggled to escape the rider’s grasp.
At the end of this post is a reflection on a memorable personal experience that also occurred in Smith Center, Kansas.
Next: Missouri’s KATY Trail
Peace Everyone. Pete
July 13, 2010. The Nine Dollar Haircut
Today was hot. Not just hot, but HOT!
“How hot was it, Pete?”
So hot that the roll of my bicycle wheels gave the continuous sound of separating Velcro as the sun-beaten asphalt reluctantly released its grip, revolution after revolution.
So hot that colors appeared bleached into the dull grey of sepia photos by the arc-welder brightness of the midday sun.
So hot that…
Prudently, we awoke early and had the vans packed with our luggage by 6 a.m.. Arrangements had been made with a local diner in Norton, Kansas to accommodate the 17 of us for an early breakfast. The goal was to eat and then be on the road via US 36 to the town of Smith Center by 7 a.m.. 61 miles separated these towns and the prediction was for the temperature to break the century mark. Mercifully, the headwinds of the prior day had moderated into tolerable side winds that had the intermittent character of gusts from the mouth of a blast furnace.
We arrived in Smith Center shortly after noon. Our motel, The Buckshot Inn, was cast in the mold of countless motels that sprang up in the heyday of the old US Highway system. As with its more famous sibling, “Route 66”, US 36 was once a primary link for commerce and travel across the United States. These roads, wonders of the first half of the 20th Century, have long been eclipsed by President Eisenhower’s visionary network of Interstate Highways. US 36 is now mostly frequented by local travelers, huge lumbering farm combines, and today by our bicycles. Most of the motels are gone, but the ramshackle remains of some are still visible as ghostly reminders of an earlier era. The Buckshot Inn survives and thrives thanks to the attention, care, and maintenance of its owners. To our delight, the line of rooms faced a small yard and a blue turquoise concrete swimming pool. The crystal clear water invited us to make its depths our first non-cycling activity of the day.
Refreshed, our focus shifted to finding a late lunch. The urgency of the mornings ride had caused us to skip our usual meal break. Christine and I went into the old downtown area to seek a diner.
Downtown Smith Center is not dead, but like many historic central business districts it is not well. The two and three story brick and stone structures harken to a time when a building’s name and year of “birth” were prominently displayed at the top and on the cornerstone. One such building in Smith Center is the Shite Building, 1888. Another, The First National Bank building, displayed “Founded 1886, Erected 1930”. That was a tough year to build a bank, but clearly The First National Bank had successfully weathered the adversity of the Depression. Faded paint indicated the character of some of the long gone businesses. Much of the former commerce has been replaced by antique and secondhand stores. A modern addition to the bank facade informed us of the time, 2 p.m., and the temperature, 101.
We ate at the Second Cup Café, where $6 can still buy you a large tenderloin sandwich with all the trimmings, and a piece of homemade pie (Apple, with Maple flavored crust, fantastic!). A patron asked if we were with “the cycling group”. After a pleasant discussion with her and the café owner, she smiled and gave us a $5 donation and a “God Bless You”. We left the café and were again assaulted by the wall of heat. Across the street I saw a small, faded barber’s pole mounted next to the door of an old and timeworn storefront. “Paul’s Barbershop”. It had been over 6 weeks since my last haircut, and curiosity got the best of me. I crossed the street to peer into the window. Over the years the glass had lost its clarity, etched by countless dust storms. I shaded my eyes against the glass in order to better see within. I beheld not just a barbershop, but a living “barbershop museum” with one of our riders, Jeremy, in the barber’s chair.
We entered the shop. It was a “three chair” store, each of which was a creature of cast iron, nickel, porcelain and leather nearly 100 years old. Jeremy was in the center chair, but what immediately drew my eye was that the chair to the left was a fully functional chair in miniature… the perfect size for a 5 year old and elevated to the perfect height for Paul the Barber. This tonsorial “throne”, fit for any young prince, differed from its larger brothers only in the absence of the long leather razor strops which hung from the full size chairs.
“Atmosphere” was provided by a mahogany encased, single dial radio which still used vacuum tubes to amplify the broadcast signal. An older console version stood near the back of the store. The service counter displayed bottles of men’s grooming products such as Vitalis Hair Tonic, Krew-Kut, Hask Hair Tonic, and a few other brands that I had thought long extinct. Behind the counter was a very old ornate white and chrome cash register… the kind that shoots little metal “tombstones” up at the sound of a bell to announce the amount of the transaction. I would soon learn that the register remained in use. Then there was Paul, the shops sole proprietor.
I suspect that in Paul’s younger days he had been at least 6 feet tall, but 7 decades and bending over countless heads of hair had taken their toll. As he focused his attention on cutting Jeremy’s hair I noticed a tremor in Paul’s hand that seemed to stop just at the moment the clippers reached their destination. Barbers are observant of people and human nature, and Paul was no exception. He seemed to read my mind and commented in a matter of fact manner that he had suffered a stroke but was able to pursue his calling after only 6 months of recuperation. Paul was confident of his skills to the point that he made jokes, “If I make a mistake, the hair will just grow back”… “If you want something fixed, you can always ride your bikes back here”… Paul and I were amused. Jeremy’s half-smile gave just a hint of reserved nervousness. I sensed that my wife, Christine, preferred that I leave my hair to other hands.
Paul put the finishing touches on Jeremy’s hair-cut, and with practiced mastery removed the barber’s cape, shaking the clinging hair to the floor. “That will be nine dollars”, Paul announced. Jeremy and I both must have displayed a micro reaction, as Paul then followed up with, “I could do it cheaper, but only if you fellows pay my bills.” Now, it has probably been over 30 years since I had a $9.00 haircut, and here Paul had assumed we were suffering sticker shock.
I took my turn in the chair. Paul went to work as a craftsman should, with calm practiced confidence. We talked as he cut.
“So you fellows are Catholic. Well, I’m Lutheran, which is kind of watered down Catholic.” He stopped and chuckled.
“Was a time there weren’t many Catholics in this area, but there are sure a lot of them now”. He was making a matter of fact observation. There was no animus in the statement.
I asked Paul for a recommendation for a dinner restaurant. “Well, I prefer to eat with Mom (his wife) at home, but I suppose if I had to eat somewhere else it would be Putches or Duffy’s downtown here.” We ate at Duffy’s, and Paul’s recommendation was spot on.
I learned that Paul and his wife had celebrated 50 years of marriage in June. They had two daughters, a son, and one grandson. This was Paul’s second barber shop and he had been cutting hair in his “new” shop since 1962. He confirmed that the chairs, register, and fixtures predated his arrival. It was at this point that Paul became serious. “There have been many people over the years who have offered to buy my chairs, cash register, and other items.” He and “Mom” had talked about it, but it just didn’t seem right. The shop was his business and his life. He just couldn’t see parting with it piecemeal. With sadness he remarked that in front of the shop there once stood a tall barber’s pole that was as old as the shop itself. About 8 years ago some fellows passing through town wanted to buy it. Paul politely declined to sell. “I was in the shop Saturday, and by Monday the pole was gone. Someone stole my barber pole”. Paul declined to blame “those fellows”, or anyone else. He just remarked, with a hint of sadness that maybe someone needed it more than he did.
“What do you think?” asked Paul. “About the barber pole?” I replied. “No, the haircut! Is it ok?” I smiled and looked in the cracked and time worn wall mirror at the white skinned border that now separated my bicycle tan from my shortened hairline. “Paul, it looks great!” Paul beamed and said, “That will be nine dollars.” I gave him a ten… “Please keep the change”. His smile broadened, broken only by the word, “Thanks!”
As I left the shop I considered that my ten dollars had purchased a haircut and a moment in the life of a good and extraordinary man. Smith Center had the fortune of Paul’s good will for over 50 years. “Mom” had enjoyed his love and company for over 50 years. How rich the community and how rich his family. My 15 minutes in his chair were priceless. I wish I could take my grandchildren there just once. You know that tonsorial “throne”, fit for any young prince (or princess). I wonder if children’s haircuts are also nine dollars. Let’s see, that would be $90.00 plus the tip… What a bargain.
There are three States whose borders are comprised solely of straight lines, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. Of these only Colorado and Wyoming are enclosed on just four sides.
On July 3, 2010, C4C crossed from Wyoming into Colorado. We would spend the next 9 days in Colorado, covering nearly 560 miles over 8 riding days, an average of 70 bicycle miles a day.
In spite of those numbers we found time to connect with friends and family who came out to cheer us on.
Claudia York, a gifted Kansas City trial attorney and friend of the Whittakers and us , had turned in her lawbooks for a career in Colorado as an EMT in Colorado’s backcountry and ski slopes.
The Whittakers were met by two of their daughters, Mary Pat and Sarah.
We were joined by our daughter Renee’ and her three surviving quadruplets, Simon, Britton, and Delaney (Delaney is seen in the arms of C4C rider Sarah Terhune…
and finally Christine and I were met by Greg and Rebecca Tempel, a friendship shared over decades. Much to my (feigned) surprise Greg made an impulse donation to our efforts.
The ride into and through Colorado represented a fundamental change in our experience. Over the preceding 1,700 miles we had climbed from sub-tropical coastal rainforest through a massive river gorge into mountain high country where in spite of being on the cusp of Summer we endured near freezing and freezing temperatures. We had crossed nearly ten mountain passes and crisscrossed the continental divide perhaps as many times. We were strong and our bodies had long grown accustomed to work at higher elevations.
Southern Wyoming and north central Colorado were high plains country. Arid, flat, and empty.
Roads seemed to extend endlessly into the horizon. The crossing into Colorado was marked by one of those iconic “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” signs that beckon travelers to stop and make it a photo opportunity.
Quite a contrast from the more pedestrian Wyoming sign on the other side of the road.