By Joe “Metal Cowboy” Kurmaskie —
I’m just another traveller
On another winding road
I’m trying to walk some kind of line
I’m trying to pull some kind of load.
All explorers are convinced that there is something wonderful still to be found on this earth. I discovered that when the canyon is deep enough, the forest canopy complete and the desert soundless and still, I can stop time, a moment here and a breathe there, and live happily, if briefly, inside it. But the hearts, and the living we did together, equal treasures, and surprising since I rode for the empty spaces on the map to put distance between me and the doings of man.
My daily walk up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings was a half mile of heaven. New Mexico mornings at elevation are crisp and bright, with a sky colored a shade of blue I’ve never seen before or since. The steady climb moved through a lush canyon of cottonwoods, quaking aspen and a spring fed creek that ran clean and strong year round. I’d only been a wilderness ranger at the historic monument for a few weeks, but the morning hike was already an addiction. Having arrived at the start of the shoulder season meant I could sit absolutely still on a log or rock just off the path and was more likely to encounter a red fox, mule deer or jack rabbit coming out of the brush or from under a rock for a drink, as I was to see a tourist trudging up the path.
Seeing as I was deep into my anti-social period, this arrangement suited me.
Rolling up to the monument on a loaded bicycle after two months and several thousand miles of touring was, emotionally, a hard landing. I’d lived lifetimes between Idaho and the Southern New Mexico wilderness and wasn’t ready to relinquish the road, yet. But the visitor center parking lot was, literally, the end of the road.
I propped the bike against the low wall and stayed balanced in the saddle for a good half hour, admiring what would be my home for the next 6-8 months. The vista went on forever. Eventually, the head ranger came out from a climate controlled office, circled around my loaded touring bike. I saw him take note of the Ed Abbey inspired sign plate on the back rack which read, “Resist Much, Obey Little! Ride Free or Drive!”
He gave the whole operation a little grunt and asked me right off if I was ethically opposed to operating motor vehicles.
“I didn’t think there would be much call for driving in the wilderness. In fact, isn’t all mechanized equipment banned in the wilderness?”
He said. “You’ll be asked to do supply runs into town two hours down the mountain and transport equipment on forest service and BLM land. And it gets pretty damn cold on foot or bike for your daily treks to the cliff dwelling parking lot.”
We’d become friends, but for the moment he was the man and I was pure punk band chaos on two wheels.
“I know how to drive stick, got a Class C certification and will do what’s asked unless it’s complete bullshit… but watch me manage the pedal or walk to the dwellings for the duration of the season.”
He gave me a nod. “No doubt.” He patted the bike like he approved. “You want to see your quarters or you planning on pitching a tent through winter too?”
My quarters had a wood stove, a family of mice and a small porch to enjoy the million dollar view. I considered changing my name to Jeremiah Johnson and never leaving.
I’d seen him the day before, struggling up the path with half an hour left before closing. He had to lean on the monument marker for a good five minutes, then he lingered in the caves until the last minute. Sickly, but not old enough to be, all of 45, maybe younger. He didn’t engage me except for a slight nod. My job as interpretive ranger was to provide cultural, scientific and historical information to the public, but my interpretation of this was only if they asked, otherwise I sunned myself like a horned lizard, read from a stack of books I had squirreled away in one of the kivas or wrote in my journal, ignoring the tourists unless they did something really stupid. I always had an ear out for when someone was f-ing around on the ladders because someone had gone ass of teakettle into the canyon the previous season. Except for the ill fitting forest service uniform. No one would have picked me as the ranger from a line up.
I also got a sense when someone was going off trail to get sacred and ceremonial in one of the pit houses, but I never hovered handing out fun facts like summer staff at Disney World. If you asked, I went into it with you, and did it with smiles and enough enthusiasm that you’d be fooled into thinking everything was right as rain with me. Truth? I was one, maybe two long hikes from heading into the hills for good.
And sports fans, that grid-free f-er was never heard from again. Sure, people report sightings a few times a year, trading fur for a pair for hiking boots along a trail, rescuing a Wall Street banker on a midlife vision-quest snow shoe adventure stumbling around where he shouldn’t have been, halfway up the side of Mt Baldy. This back woods savior always vanishing into the landscape before the authorities arrived; Jeremiah Batman Johnson. They say he built a cabin back of beyond or maybe he has little shelters tucked away throughout the backcountry. The Gila Wilderness being 10,000 square miles of open territory, basically the lower fourth of New Mexico, I would become the stuff of legend, This is what crowded my thoughts that autumn as the leaves began to turn and the sky went yet another shade of blue, if that was even possible.
I needed no one, nada… not the winsome California girl I’d met in Bryce Canyon, who’d come to stay with me in the Gila for a time, only to wisp yourself away one morning, and especially not the sickly gent from last night, who was now sleeping it off inside the cliff dwelling. A perfect walk ruined by this yahoo goldilocksing himself in the main living area. The likely scenario that he’d hiked back up sometime after closing to commune with the spirits of the Mogollon people. There would be the requisite dream catcher hoop hung up somewhere, bird feathers placed in a circle, some burning of sage in a smudge pot.
I stood there for a few moments wondering why I cared.
Edward Abbey was fond of pointing out that it’s not the beer cans but the highway itself that constitutes the larger petrochemical blithe on the natural landscape. Using that same logic it was the parking lot, visitor center and reenforced switchbacks helping the public find this 1800 year old archaeological wonder that did the real damage, not some guy with his eagle feathers.
Sure enough I found a bag of turquoise stones, a Kokopelli charm and an assortment of other woo woo props. Only the pitiful bastard hadn’t even uncrated them. Just balled himself up in the center of the raked area and went to bed.
“Hey,” a little louder. “You can’t be here!” He wasn’t dead. I could hear a muffled, unhealthy snore; broken and ragged.
Maybe he’d taken something. There were no empties scattered about to indicate a drinking session.
A strategically placed hiking boot against his shoulder. I pushed a few times, not too rough in my estimation, but what was wrong with me that I couldn’t be bothered to reach down with my hand?
Maybe all the solitude was turning my heart.
He startled, and that’s when I saw an urn cuddled to his chest.
Science maintains there are two responses in a confrontation, flight or fight, but science has overlooked a third; the throwing in of the towel response. My bandit camper didn’t attempt to scramble away or form his hands into fists. He simply sat up, tried to get his bearings, took one look at the unpacked bag of trinkets, brought the urn to his lap and began to weep.
I stood there in my ill fitting forest service uniform, letting the man fall apart without acknowledgment or comfort for an unclaimed amount of time, shifting my weight from one hip to the other, like I’m waiting for the line at the DMV to move. Finally, of its own accord really, my hand reached out until it came to rest lightly on his shoulder.
“Okay… Okay… Okay.” I spoke in a calming, rhythmic pattern. I’m not sure if helped, but as I went it pulled a memory of my Mom bedside, rubbing my back when I was sick. She’d perform this one word mantra. The act shook something loose inside me, I bent lower and rubbed in slow, gentle circles between his shoulder blades.
“Okay… Okay… Okay.”
He rocked and held the urn close and let me comfort him. We went on like that until he ran out of steam. When he tried to get up he was rather wobbly, so I accepted the urn, and with the other hand took him at the elbow. Without enthusiasm, he picked up the bag of trinkets. We walked over to the second set of ladders where the rising sun was baking off the morning cold. I assumed that would be it. I’d helped get his feet under him, maybe I’d find him a walking stick for navigating a few of the steeper turns down to the parking lot, then crawl back to my own federally funded cave.
A clean getaway.
Then he had to go and talk to me.
“That’s Charles.” nodding at the urn. “His ashes anyway. The real Charles is gone.” I thought he was going to take to his knees and break into tears again, but he only exhaled a shaky sigh and took the urn back from me. There was something tender and earnest in the way he pulled the container from me.
“And I’m not far behind him.”
Man tells me he’s not long for the grave and I don’t even know his name?! That rocked me back on my boot heels.
I patted the bench beside the ladder indicating that I wanted him to take a seat. I brought my day pack from my shoulders, unscrewed a thermos top, poured him a cup of hot cocoa, sipped from the thermos myself and waited him out. It was a decent wait.
“Joe.” I said, extending my thermos as a defacto handshake.
“Dale.” He tapped his cup to mine.
“And Charles was your… Brother?”
A tremendous amount of air left his body with that sigh.
“Chip was my world.”
He made eye contact. I waited for more. He was ready to let loose, but at the last moment he couldn’t bring himself to speak, looking down and away instead. A couple of porcupines unable to find a way between their quills.
The way we sat in silence sipping cups of hot cocoa we could have been old friends instead of awkward strangers.
Then Dale got to his feet, still a bit unsteady, but upright.
“Thanks.” He handed me the empty cup and started down the half mile trail to the parking lot.
And I let him go. Just closed my eyes and turned back to the morning sun.
When I opened them, there was his starter bag of woo woo crap beside the bench. “He won’t miss that shit,” I thought, but sat and gave it a quick rummage to be sure.
The wallet and car keys, though… I dropped them into the bag, started to get up, changed my mind and brought the wallet out.
Dale’s culinary institute instructor certification had expired, but he was still a member in good standing with several repertory theatre groups in Dallas, Texas. A business card listed Charles “Chip” Hill as the executive chef at The Picadoro. I found a photo showing a robust Dale under a sign that read stage door entrance, holding a rose in one hand and Chip, grin the size of the lone star state in the other. Across the back of the photo, “Chippendales” penned in perfect cursive. I pulled out another card. A membership to something called the Dallas Buyer’s Club. I flipped it over, then over again, but nothing revealed its purpose.
“It’s for experimental meds…”
Dale caught me red handed. My face burned, but he waved off my apologies, picking up the picture from the bench beside me as he sat.
“We were together for eight years.” He seemed stronger now that he was talking.
I squint smiled into the sun. “But Chippendales?!” I rolled my eyes a little.
When he laughed I could see the man in the photo again.
“The best part? Neither of us could dance for shit.”
And with that a pair porcupines relaxed their quills.
I flicked the buyer’s club card against my hand a few times.
“Gray market. Might even be working. Will be on ’em three weeks this Wednesday. Still weak as hell, but if you’d seen me a month ago.” He nodded. “It was too late for Chip.”
On the walk down to the lot, I learned they’d met at culinary school. Dale was his teacher. Chip surpassed him in a matter of months. “I’d never had a student who was such a natural. No one had. He was born to it.”
And he’d gotten to play out the thread. Working up to executive chef. Driven, eye on the prize, a real artist to hear Dale tell it.
“Then he simply cut back on work so we could have a life. I did the same. Took up theatre again. He was in the audience many nights.” He held up the photo I didn’t realize he’d been carrying down the trail with him.
We’d arrived at Chip’s “See America” RV rental. I saw the tandem bicycle racked to the back of that behemoth vehicle. My hands went to it, reflexes more than anything. It’d been nearly a month since the last mile of my bicycle tour from Idaho to New Mexico and the ride had all but left me; its tempo, the singular feel of days in the saddle, the next hilltop, the constant rise and fall of your chest and the landscape a promise that you would outpace any failures, any frailties… for a while.
“Chip stoked, I pedaled up front.” He touched the bike’s handlebars. Hanging on the back of the vehicle at eye level it felt like a museum piece we were examining on the sly before security could wrestle us to the ground.
Brothers of the road.
“Chip being shorter by all of an inch laid claim to the backseat, but we both knew it was him being the professional sightseer.” Dale’s voice slipped a little but he recovered with, “Our plan was to rent the RV, hit the road, park the rig at lovely locations and cycle around.”
Then he went and died on you. We were both thinking it.
“I promised him I’d make the trip if I were able. Spread his ashes somewhere peaceful and lovely. But every time I try, I feel spent and useless and… I end up sleeping next to a bag of trinkets in a cave.”
We both smiled.
“But I can’t let go until I feel it.”
He kicked some parking lot gravel. “Me, the guy who doesn’t believe in signs, waiting for a f-ing sign!”
I looked at the urn he had tucked like a football, protected in the crook of his arm.
“What’s worse, I haven’t put one damn mile on the tandem since he died. You saw me! I barely made it up the trail. Can you picture me huffing the tandem up and down these passes?!”
It should be noted that the 88 mile loop from Silver City to the dwellings and down through the Mimbres Valley is used for an annual race that Tour de France contenders used as a tune up. With 5800ft of elevation gain and loss, The Tour of The Gila draws name riders from all of the nation and beyond. It’s where, a few years later, as a reporter for the local press, I would interview, among other up and coming riders, Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and Jan Ullrich.
I made a decision.
“Get the bike down while I lock the gate.”
Dale looked stunned. “What’s going on?” Instead of pulling the bike off the vehicle he followed me toward the gate on the bridge. It dawned on me that he’d probably needed help getting it off the rack.
“What you don’t know about me yet is that I’ve misspent the better part of passed five years touring various parts of the globe… by bicycle.”
We’d made it back to the tandem. I worked the rack straps like a seasoned sailor casting off from a dock. In seconds the bike was ready to roll and I’d taken the captain’s saddle up front. With an exaggerated ushering of my hand I indicated that Dale should take Chip’s old sightseer spot.
“The Cliff Dwellings are closed today on account of biking weather!”
Dale put his hands on his head. It reminded me of a contestant considering the showcase on the Price Is Right.
“You’d do this for me?”
In addition to being my anti-social period, I was also hitting the epoch of my blunt period. Under the misconception, prompted I suspect by a semester of nihilist writer’s including Neitzsche, that it was more truthful, noble even to give everything I thought to everyone straight up with no window dressing, It would take my Maya Angelou period, still three years away, to clarify truth from a graceless heart and outright rudeness.
“I’ll do this WITH you, but the ride, well, that’s always for me.” I was a real piece of work. I managed to temper it just a little with, “You know, it’s always a good day to ride!”
He reached out to shake my hand. A monument to grace under pressure. Clearly, he’d read Maya Angelou already.
“Let me get helmets, waterbottles, and I have a picnic pannier already packed. I never actually believed I’d use it.” He was little more than a bag of bones and a smile.
Dale poked his head out the side window of the RV.
“You don’t know how much I appreciate this.”
His enthusiasm was contagious. Try as I might to keep myself walled off from the world and man, I was in serious danger of enjoying another person’s company. That a gravely ill man had more zest – for life, others and what lay ahead – than a healthy 25-year-old, was lost on me in that moment. I couldn’t see beyond the fact that these gents had spent real money on a quality tandem and kept it in pristine condition. Also, that I was bison strong after 3000 miles of fully loaded bike touring, and could pull Dale over any pass without much trouble.
I counted breaking solitude, like others count breaking Sabbath, a small price to pay to joyride the full loop. I’d only managed half of it by bike so far. The other portion done in a Forest Service truck, which was sacrilegious in my book, and could only be blotted out properly by pedaling back over those miles.
Something of my mountain man of stone must have been cracking because I hollered through the window, “And don’t forget to bring Chip.”
The work began not more than 200 yards out of the parking lot. A long screaming hill down to the dwellings on which so many tourists burned up layers of brake pads was, in bike racing terms, a second category climb. We’d have been awarded the white jersey and five bonus points for topping it first that morning. As it was I felt like LeMond in the 1985 comeback stage, legs burning, digging deep on an unfamiliar bike and working the gears down, down, down, trying to find a cadence that wouldn’t blow out my knees or kill my stoker, literally. He sounded like a two pack smoker less than a mile into the ascent. The devious part of that first climb was its lack of switchbacks. As if the road crew got word from management that no more black top would be authorized so they just found the shortest, steepest route from the pass to the dwellings, laid down pavement and called it a day.
“Maybe… we… should have…driven… up to… the pass.”
That Dale was trying to speak, pedal and fight AIDS at the same time endeared me to him so much. What I had on board was the original Live Strong poster child, but he needed to learn the first rule of Bike Club; don’t TALK about Bike Club, or anything else during a brutal category two climb.
I answered his doubts by picking up the pace and issuing a primal yelp that echoed up and down the canyon. Then, because I could taste the summit, I broke the first rule of Bike Club.
“Nonsense… ‘member what I told you… it’s always… a good day… to ride!”
We leaned the bike against a waist high rock wall and took in the view while I took stock of our conditions. Dale wasn’t dead. Check. I able to speak in full sentences again. Check. But my wardrobe was a catastrophe. Head to toe in standard issued green and brown forest service uniform including clip off metal name tag. Terrible fabrics for a bike ride, long pants with a high chafe factor, cotton long sleeve shirt with a tall collar. All that was missing was the oversized Canadian Mountie style hat. If we stood at this vista point too long I’d be forced to answer tourist’s questions.
I contemplated turning the bike around and screaming down the hill for a wardrobe change back at my cabin, but the climb had been too much work. Dale was dressed appropriate enough in black bike shorts and a white jersey. A few sizes too big on him now but a vast improvement over my Jellystone Park ensemble. He did give off the hint of a penguin or a maître d’ at a fine restaurant but I was the real freakshow.
“Hey, I think I have Chip’s bike clothes in the other pannier.” Dale tossed this gem out nonchalant while enjoying the view.
Of course they mirrored Dale’s outfit; black jersey and white shorts. I changed in the vista point restroom. The fit wasn’t bad. Standing next to Dale something dawned on me…
“Yes,” Dale confirmed, no guile or irony in his voice. “We were keeping with the Chippendale theme.” The memories of whatever went into picking those outfits and living life’s full pageantry together brought a warm smile across Dale’s face.
I thought of the winsome young woman from California and our brief, deep time together in that very wilderness. My stomach felt strange and empty/full all at once.
“Well, I commend you for not putting your names across the backs of the jerseys.”
Dale shook his head. “Believe me, there were discussions. But in the end we thought it more elegant to have the outfits be the clue and have fun seeing which people got it when we introduced ourselves.”
Damn, and most mornings I felt ahead of the game if I had on a clean shirt.
Straddling the bike I turned to Dale. “The good news; that was the biggest climb of the ride, but certainly not the last.”
Dale nodded. He looked like hammered shit, but a cheerful pile of it so there was that.
“You still up for this?” I asked.
“Does it matter?” Dale paused a beat. “Isn’t it always a good day to ride?!”
Well played. And we were off.
We found tiny wild strawberries just after pine flats, kept pace with some pasture horses running the fenceline near the Lake Roberts Store, stopped at the Continental Divide marker for no particular reason besides tradition and pedaled through a field of sunflowers to locate the roadside waterfall near Mimbres. After that first climb it was flat or downhill for much of the morning.
At one point I looked back and Dale had his eyes closed and his head poking out around the side of the slipstream like a dog holding it’s head into the breeze.
“Pretty nice!” I hollered.
Dale shook his head. “Now I know why he liked it back here. All those dream catchers and pieces of turquoise placed in kivas… and all I needed to do was get in the stoker seat to be with him again.”
I let them be together without comment, pumped my legs until they felt like a forest fire and thought about a girl.
We spread out a picnic lunch in a grove of phallic shaped rock formations. The play of the sun and shadows throughout the day changed the color of the rock from ember to rust and every shade of pink in between.
It was clear that Dale was finding a second wind when he said, “You know what these rocks look like?!”
“Yes. Mushrooms.” I said with a straight face.
We had a good laugh. After a stretch of comfortable silence, some good food, Dale said.
“This is what I’m gonna miss the most.” He pointed at the two of us. “How people can feel like old friends in one day. It this thing you can’t name or hold, you can only feel.”
He was right of course, but it was a big stone I’d let the miles and mistakes encase me inside.
“Please, all these unstable bags of chemicals and salty water walking around doing damage at every turn. We’re like hurricanes with heads.”
I thought that would shock him out of his good mood, but Dale just smiled and raised a victory fist from his place on the checkered picnic blanket. “That’s right young man! Rage against it! Means you haven’t quit yet.”
I shook my head. “It means I’d better walk into the woods for good before I do too much damage of my own. I took a deep breath. “Trees don’t lie and cheat or bulldoze protected habitat. Trees definitely don’t hold you close one night and leave on the next morning’s wind.”
Dale leaned forward. “Did you ask her to stay?”
I had not.
Dale leaned back. “You know, you talk like a writer.”
“I am a writer!” I raged. Happy to change the subject. “I mean, not just inside my head. I sold a novel to the University Of Michigan but they kill fee’d it before production. I’m gonna make some noise in the world one of these days.”
“Well, no offense to Thoreau, but going after the girl makes for a better story than sitting alone in the woods.”
It’s a helluva thing, being taken to school by a ghost of a man in the shadow of the most famous Penis Rocks in New Mexico.
We were maybe 20 miles out from closing the loop when I realized Dale was asleep at the wheel, or the bar in this case. He’d had some aftermarket blocks installed for Chip to rest his feet on along the down tube and now he’d been putting them to use at different times during our ride. But along a quiet gentle climb into the lodge pole pine forest I felt his weight go more slack. I turned to see about him and his chin was on his chest, hands still holding the grips. For a moment I wondered if this had turned into a scene from A Weekend At Bernies, but he snort/snored once, perhaps to reassure me, so I pedaled on.
Passing Randy and Debbie’s property told me how much farther we had to go. It also gave me an idea. Debbie worked for the Forest Service while Randy worked for himself, growing pot in the house and basement. It was a point of pride to him that the federal government was inadvertently funding his pot start up.
On the first night at my wilderness ranger job, Debbie invited me back to the property for dinner. They hid the plants until it was established that I was not a narc sent by the Feds in an elaborate, bike rider/ranger deep cover government informant. They determined this by offering me some grass. As soon as I took a hit it was as though a game show winning buzzer went off, doors opened, powerful lights glowed and I was in the middle of an enchanted forest of pot. And here I thought all those blankets were covering cages where exotic birds were resting and those were just an excessive amount of track lighting they didn’t turn on. In the weeks that followed I was asked to tend to watering and flipping grow lights on and off when the couple went on camping trips. There was a natural hot spring on the property. Pot farmer never made it on my resume, for obvious reasons, but it was a good gig.
“Dale, wake up. We’re gonna see if we can bed down here tonight.”
I got off the tandem. “Stay here. I don’t want to spook them.”
Dale could barely keep his feet under himself. “Do you know who lives here?”
“Yes. That’s why I don’t want to spook them, or you won’t have to worry about dying of AIDS anymore.”
Gallows humor. Dale seemed to enjoy it.
Randy greeted me, shotgun in hand. I’m guessing Dale was fully awake by then.
We spent a magical evening watching the full harvest moon work it way up between the pine trees. Debbie lent us sleeping bags, and after a good long soak and some herbal medicine, we bedded down around the campfire circle.
“You know what’s hard for me to take. Dying of course, but we’re all going there… it’s the being forgotten part.” Dale wasn’t sighing or tearful. There was a calm as he spoke, a strength in his voice. “All my life people have been telling me to f-off and die, calling us freaks and sinners and monsters. We’ve run for our lives and sometimes it’s just been easier to hide who we were. But that part is a little death of its own. We took insults, Jesus, the insults and this one guy spat on us in San Antonio, just for laughing together on a bench along the Riverwalk. “Just spat on me and hollered, “There!” like he’d done the world a favor.”
Dale went silent for a while.
“But it was Chip who was the favor to this world. He love his family even when they turned their backs for a time. He would tell me how he actually enjoyed vacuuming because it let him see the textures changing in the carpet. He liked train rides and loved rum raisin ice cream. I mean, who loves rum raisin?!
I tossed a few bits of kindling onto the fire. “What else?”
Dale let the stories pour out of him then, until it was as if Chip was sitting with us by the fire too, laughing and adding his versions, his essence. I learned that night that love is stronger than death.
And to think their love was a jagged scar to some people. Something to turn away from and fight against.
I made another decision.
“Dale. I’m going to tell your story someday. I promise that you guys won’t be forgotten.”
It was late and Dale was almost asleep at that point, but he came to it for a few moments. “I don’t doubt you will. But you can’t do it justice unless you keep you feet in this world. You’re just getting started. You’ve got some good years of people letting you down ahead of you… but sometimes… sometimes they won’t.”
We spread Chips ashes at Clinton P. Anderson’s overlook, in violation of who knows how many government statutes. I’d put my uniform back on by then, and saluted the sunrise with a crisp snap of my wrist, so let’s call it a wash.
It was a roller coaster without brakes straight down to an imagined finish line. We nearly overcooked the only curve but we managed to kept that tandem rubberside up, whooping the whole way.
“Look, this Dallas Buyer’s Club thing might buy me some time, but since I don’t have any family left in this world, I talked to Randy and Debbie last night. They’ve agreed to let me ship them my ashes.”
“They’re good people.” I said.
“And I’m talking to you right now. I hope you’ll already have moved on by then…” He modeled his bag of bones body for me, offering a resigned smile. “But same urn, same overlook as Chip’s… if it’s not too much trouble?”
We hugged it out.
I kept to those woods for the rest of the season. We set Dale into the wind on a cold morning in April, two of us in uniform and Randy in tie-dye.
Then I went after the girl.
And now… now I’ve told their story.
Joe Kurmaskie is a journalist, syndicated columnist, and contributor to numerous magazines including Outside, Bicycling Magazine, Men’s Journal and Parenting. He’s a bike advocate, activist, found of Cadence Press, and a Random House author of seven books including Metal Cowboy; Mud, Sweat and Gears; and A Guide To Falling Down In Public. Tour of the Gila was excerpted from A Guide To Falling Down In Public. For more on the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, see https://www.nps.gov/gicl/index.htm