Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Day 153: The Hop
Goodyear to Conger. 20.3 miles/2941.9 total
Tuesday, January 4, 2011.
9:50 a.m. I am departing from the Canyon Trails Shopping Center at the corner of Van Buren and Estrella Parkway in Goodyear, heading south and west to Conger, a distance of 20.3 miles.
Happy new year to all. I am looking forward to resuming this journey, feeling a little fat and out of shape after almost three weeks of holiday self-indulgence, but ready to have at it. I flew into Phoenix on Sunday evening and rested up from that trip yesterday while I reprovisioned the motor home and positioned myself for today’s inaugural walk of 2011.
I have about 350 miles to go to reach the Pacific Ocean, which would have seemed like a very long way when I started the project, but now seems like the proverbial hop, skip, and jump. Today’s bit, I suppose, could be termed the hop. Neil Armstrong probably put it best when he said, “It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for Manny Klein.” Here’s to you, Manny, and to all my faithful readers.
The temperature is in the low 50s, and the sky is mostly clear. It should get into the low 60s--another beautiful day in the Valley of the Sun, here at its western end where there’s still lots of cotton and other crops and the air is filled with the stench of cow urine and manure. Off to the west the air is brown and hazy, but not from industrial pollution, rather from the dust given off by the harvest.
I head south out of the shopping center on Estrella Parkway, and in a mile I turn west on Yuma Road. My trip today will take me incrementally south and west, until I finally get to Baseline Road--the selfsame Baseline I walked on for twenty miles in Apache Junction and Mesa and Tempe, on the other side of Phoenix. Tomorrow Baseline will take me to Salome Highway, which runs under and then over I-10 and eventually merges with U.S. 60 far to the west.
Here in Goodyear, Yuma Road is very much like the rest of the rather new suburban roads around here, the planned developments and their low walls sharing space with cotton and alfalfa fields, and instant shopping areas sprouting occasionally like low desert plants at the intersections. The western suburbs have yet to be developed with quite the same vigor and thoroughness as those on the east side of Phoenix, but they seem to be the new frontier, slowly but surely being built up, especially in the areas that are an easy drive to I-10.
To the south are the ridges of the Buckeye Hills, and to the north and in front of me are the White Tank Mountains and the Palo Verde Hills. Mountains everywhere, so much so that I take them for granted now. I pass Desert Edge High School, which for now has a descriptive and appropriate name, since I am getting nearer to the open desert. Someday, perhaps in a decade or two, the name will be a quaint anachronism, as this area becomes more densely populated.
I had to go to Michigan and come back here to fully appreciate the salutary effects of the southwestern climate. It’s not so much that it’s warmer, although that is nice. More than anything it’s the brightness of the sky that is most enjoyable and heartening. I suppose that’s what draws everyone, especially the oldsters teetering “there on the sad height,” as Dylan Thomas put it. Why not while away one's waning years in the blazing sun? One must experience it in order to really understand how damned easy it is to become addicted to sunshine and blue skies.
A mile or so down Yuma Road I come to what at first glance looks to be a sculpture, or perhaps a design on a postage stamp from an Eastern Bloc country, but turns out to be three large valves, elegant in their neatness and symmetry.
Next I come to Roman’s Oasis, a kind of kitschy road house bar and restaurant from the looks of it, with the effigy of a large white rooster out front and a few green and yellow John Deere implements. On the side is a feed pen. I’m not sure if that’s a way of making sure their steaks are fresh, or what. Anyway, the place seems to be well thought of around these parts.
At 173rd Avenue I’m at a crossroads that fairly represents the transitional nature of the area. On my left is a huge development called Cotton Flower consisting of earth-toned stuccoed houses with terra cotta roofs crammed together, and on the other side of the street several hundred acres of cotton, recently picked and waiting to be cut down. Far behind the cotton fields is another development pretty much like this one, comprising hundreds of houses.
At about five miles, Yuma Road narrows into a two-lane affair, with fields on both sides and the occasional farm house and a trailer park. I’m walking next to a dry concrete irrigation ditch alongside an alfalfa field. Dark mud at the bottom of the ditch tells that it has rained here recently. In the far western distance rise mushroom clouds of steam from some sort of factory or energy plant. The air is redolent with the smells of animal waste. This is the space between Goodyear and Buckeye. A pair of obnoxious dogs, one black and one yellow, yip at me from across the street, where serious-looking Mexican men, bellies hanging over their belts, bend over the opened hoods of cars. The dogs flirt with death, darting into the street then retreating from speeding cars, in an attempt to get closer to me. The sign says I’m at Perryville Road, and a rusty corrugated metal building advertises used tires for sale.
At about eight miles I enter Buckeye. The original center of Buckeye was several miles to the south, but now I think it’s probably right around here. Buckeye is another of those cities on the move, as the civic boosters like to say. Today it has 53,000 citizens scattered around a widely sprawling group of what they call “master planned communities.” Buckeye at present is considered the westernmost suburb of Phoenix, and although it's pretty big now, they have plans for several hundred thousand more people.
Buckeye’s single claim to fame, as far as I can tell, is that it was once the home of my man Upton Sinclair, who moved here in 1953, probably for the same reason everyone else moves to the Phoenix area—he was old, being then about 75. I don’t know how long Sinclair lived here, but I do know that he also lived in Monrovia, California before moving to Buckeye, and died in a nursing home in New Jersey at the age of 90, in 1968.
I pass a brand new strip mall, relatively un-landscaped, where one of the signs says simply “Justice Court.” I have to assume it has something to do with what passes for justice here in Maricopa County, but then again it could be a place to play tennis and handball. Mounds of earth and construction debris still dot both sides of the road. Palo verde trees, which must be fairly easy to transplant, appear everywhere along the way, held straight by wires.
Soon Yuma Road widens to a fancy six-lane boulevard, its center planted in trees. This city gives the feeling that it’s been fully prepared for living, and the only thing needed is more people. "If you build it they will come." The housing developments here all seem to contain the name Sundance. Here’s one called Sundance Shadows. At North Sundance Parkway they’re advertising “Active Adult Living.” What I think that means is that you have to be at least 55 to live there. The active piece of it has to do with old farts riding bicycles with their varicose veins showing, or walking along in shorts or sweatpants, wearing those white athletic shoes that always look so gigantic, especially on the women. And golf, of course. Always golf.
At about 10.5 miles I reach Sundance Town Center, with the Walmart where I stayed last night, and several banks and tons of restaurants and stores of every description. Beyond that, at 12.7 miles, Yuma Road comes to an end and I turn left on Miller Road, heading for Broadway, where, at 14.4 miles, I turn west again. This is another road that’s familiar from my time in Mesa and Tempe. Behind me about 30 miles to the east lies downtown Phoenix, lost in a smudge of pollution.
At Oglesby, which is a four-lane divided highway, I turn left again to go two more miles south to Baseline. At 18.4 miles I reach Baseline and again turn west for the last little bit of today’s walk. My first day back after vacation finds my feet sore and my legs aching and thinking that it takes almost no time for me to get out of shape.
Even though I’m sure he’s not reading my blog, I do want to say a few words about my podiatrist, Michael Meyers, of Grand Rapids. You fans of slasher movies might be thinking that someone with that name isn’t the best person to be working on you with a scalpel, and I am inclined to agree, not because of the name or the movies but because he got a little overzealous with my feet. I went to him over the holidays because I had a small callous area on the side of my left foot, below the little toe, that was rubbing against the side of my shoe. And he took care of that, for which I thank him. However, he also shaved away the better part of the callouses on the bottoms of my feet, particularly the left one, that I had worked long and hard to develop over the previous two months, the result being that I think I’m going to get a blister there again and have to build up the callouses all over again. So I’m not really happy with the guy, or with myself for not telling him to curb his blade.
This podiatrist, some of you might remember, was the one who told me last year when I went to him that the next time I was in a cemetery I should contemplate the fact that on judgment day the dead in Christ would be rising from their graves. I don’t know if he's just a Christian Reformed guy toeing the regular party line or if he belongs to a somewhat more Evangelical bunch. This year he glanced at my chart and remembered that I was the one who was walking across the country, but spared me the end-time theology, not that I would have said anything to him. You don’t argue with the guy who holds the sharp instrument to your feet when your business is walking. Nevertheless, I am not happy with him now. I’m limping along and cursing him, in fact.
It’s well after 5:00, but the sun is still a few degrees above the horizon as I come into sight of the motor home, parked next to a cotton gin near the intersection of Baseline and Wilson Road in or near a place called Conger. And it’s in an unusually bad mood that I hobble the last quarter mile or so to the door, eager to get off my feet.