Over time, everything that has gone out of fashion will eventually come back into fashion. Take, for example, the bicycle I rode all through the Nineteen Fifties. Manufactured by Schwinn, it was a heavy sucker, with wide handlebars and fat balloon tires. Only one speed, which was fine if you happened to live in the Netherlands or Kansas. In the Mountain West, it meant you had to have a pretty strong pair of legs, or else good walking shoes.
Like everything else I ever owned, it was a hand-me-down. My two older brothers had used it to deliver newspapers, and when I inherited the route, the bike was part of the deal. So it was pretty much a workhorse, and like all workhorses, its domain was limited. That is, until the summer of 1961, when I decided to introduce it—and myself—to the wider world that awaited just beyond the city limits.
My co-conspirator in the adventure was my friend Jimmy Keller, who owned a three-speed English bike. Our goal was Panguitch, a small community approximately two hundred miles to the south. Jim’s grandparents owned a farm in Panguitch, where Jim had a summer job waiting for him. In other words, he was in no big hurry to get there.
We set out bright and early on State Route 10, sleeping bags, canteens and toothbrushes lashed to our travel racks. I remember I had exactly ten dollars in my pocket. Just over two bucks for each day I expected to be on the road.
Come sundown, the two of us had covered an amazing 78 miles. The second day, we peddled only half that—thanks largely to a steep mountain pass and a bunch of sheep. Think roller skating in a buffalo herd is hard? Try maneuvering a bicycle through a flock of sheep!
By and by, Jimmy’s more fragile bike lost the lower two of its three gears. For the duration of the trip he would race ahead of me on the flat, only to fall behind on the upgrades. Thus, tortoise and hare-like, we leapfrogged our way south along scenic U.S. 89 from Salina to Richfield, thence to the fabled Big Rock Candy Mountain, where Jimmy was disappointed to learn that the colorful rocks aren’t really made of sugar and water from lemonade spring tastes like bobcat piss.
By the time we got to the old Parker homestead south of Circleville, a schism had opened in our relationship. Not only were our gears mismatched, but so were our tastes in music. Jimmy liked country music, in particular “Cool Water” by the Sons of the Pioneers. Until sampling the rocks and water at Big Rock Candy Mountain, he had also been a big fan of Burl Ives.
Myself, I was constantly humming “That Old Bilbao Moon.” Why? Because strapped to my handlebars was a transistor radio on loan from my girlfriend, and two days earlier, as I was coasting merrily down Salina Canyon, wind in my hair, sun on my back, inhaling the heady aroma of wildflowers mingled with creosote, that song had come on, and now it was stuck in my head and just wouldn’t go away. I couldn’t stop humming it, not even after Jimmy threatened to never stop singing “Cool Water.”
“All day I face the barren waste
Without a trace of water, cool water
Old Dan and I with throats burned dry
And souls that cry for water,
Cool, clear, water.”
I was so very relieved by the time we rolled into Panguitch. Jimmy was finally able to get a drink, and I was able to catch a ride back home—mercifully, in a car. The following week an article about our big adventure appeared in the Price Sun Advocate, in which I enumerated the many hardships we had endured along the way, including sheep in the road, a dearth of potable water and rocks that tasted like, well, rocks.
Many years later I found my old Schwinn gathering dust in my mother’s garage. At the time I figured it was worthless, and so I dropped it off at the local thrift shop. And now, wouldn’t you just know it? It’s back in style!
As for that Old Bilbao tune, I won’t forget it soon.