CWU Route 3: The American Southwest


Oh boy, I'm pretty antsy right now. In just a few days the loaded Surly and I will set out on a 1,950-mile bicycle journey through the American Southwest, the third of nine U.S. regional tours that will make up the Conversations with US project. I’ll start pedaling straight out of my driveway in Houston, Texas and won’t stop until I'm defiantly shaking my gloved fist at the buzzards circling overhead in Death Valley, California, some 38 days later.


The Southwest is a storied, formative place; a fundamental pillar of the American ethos. At the same time, many of those stories were born from people who had no notion of a United States of America; indeed, from a time before anyone had even begun to consider the concept of our young nation. The first people to start etching their stories into to the juniper-covered mountains and rusty canyons were, of course, the myriad groups of Native Americans whose connections to the region ebbed and flowed for thousands of years according to the vagaries of climate, water, game, crops or war. But many others also made their marks before America did: vaqueros, rustlers, Spanish adventurers, Franciscan missionaries, ranchers, drunk prospectors, Mestizo farmers …along with an attendant crowd of rogues and scoundrels. And then came the postwar schemers, the German and Czech settlers, the cowboys and oil barons. Its history makes the Southwest a veritable nursery of stories.


Most of us have some idea, probably a little bit romantic, of those old stories from the American Southwest—but what are the stories that are being created today? I will explore that question over the next few weeks, 50 miles at the time. It’s exciting to be putting the finishing touches on what should be an epic, seminal, ride.


What is it that makes this particular tour—the third one—feel so important?


Five years ago, when CWU first began to coalesce, it could have been (and probably was) said that the inagrual tour of the project was fueled by idealism and, especially, naivety. It could easily fail before it even got started. I had never toured before, never interviewed anyone before, never been to most of the places I would be visiting, and had no one traveling with me or showing me what to do. I calmly understood that most of those to whom I first broached the idea thought I was slightly insane. Nevertheless, I successfully completed that first tour through the Deep South but, shortly thereafter, virtually abandoned the project when work and life demanded my full attention. When I finally began seriously considering a resurrection of CWU late last year, it was perfectly clear to me that the second tour, if it ever happened, would serve largely as a test. Did I really have it inside of me to step away from a nascent career and a fairly stable lifestyle? Even if I did, could I still hack being alone o