Well, those were two back-to-back century rides to cover half the state. Definitely not a ride I would have attempted back at the beginning of the tour. Today had a net 2000 ft climb as well - I feel fit! In fact if I kept with this pace, I would reach the coast in five days. But... it wouldn't be very fun. I think I'll stay here in Flagstaff another day before beginning the last leg of the trip. Gosh this city is so beautiful, in a much different way than Santa Fe. Those two are my favorite cities so far.
Where had I left off...
My host in Gallup was Jami. She is actually from Schoharie NY (woohoo!) and came out to NM to teach 4th grade on the Reservation. It was the most unusual sight to come across her black and yellow license plate. She did a cross-country tour herself, and has a brother my age who is also taking a gap year, and also wants to bike the Pacific coast... needless to say we exchanged contact info.
Biking and staying on tribal land, talking with Native Americans about their experiences, and listening to Jami's stories about working with impoverished kids are all wrapped up in a pretty profound experience. Of course I already knew the Natives have been screwed over since day 1 - everyone does. The land is crummy, the infrastructure is crummy, alcoholism rates are higher than anywhere else - these are notes that everyone jots down in their 11th grade U.S. History course. There's a whole different understanding however that comes with being at the mission church, listening to these peoples' woes, and just nodding my head solemnly. What am I feeling... White guilt? These are issues I didn't think I'd encounter when I set off from upstate NY.
After Gallup was a little over 100 miles into the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park, where I camped using a free backcountry permit issued by the NPS. For the second time I had the whole park to myself for the night. However being a much more widely-used park than El Morro, Petrified Forest had rangers to talk to in the evening.
Today I got up before the sun rose and actually had to wait 20 minutes at the gate of the park for a ranger to let me out when the place opened. Long climb up to Flagstaff. Music and podcasts took care of it. My hosts tonight are Lori and Trent, both wonderful people.
Here's a quote from Jami:
"Hmm... my favorite part about being a teacher... that's a hard question! I would say that the long-term payoff is much greater than that of the short-term, you know what I mean? It's just... it's hard to see good all the time when you're dealing with a bunch of noisy kids. Fourth graders are great though, it's the age when their personalities really begin to shine. There's this one boy, his Dad is in jail and his mother abusive, and I had a really hard time getting him out of his shell. But I noticed his math scores were decent, so I recommended him for the gifted program. And every day I would comment on how well he was doing in math, and offer help and everything. Eventually he became one of the best kids in the class - he really excels at math! So yeah, that right there is something I'm proud of. Not pride for me, for him"
Painted Desert and Petrified Forest were really cool - I'll post photos soon.