Charley’s ride across America 34. Death, Risk, and Happiness


Day 70 April 7. 50 miles 4:45 flat, no wind, good surface, end in Dateland AZ

Day 71 April 8. 40 miles 3:50, flat cool in AM, good surface, end in Wellton, AZ

Total miles 2739, 91% finished

Dear family and friends,

We are back in normal Arizona weather, with afternoon temps in the 90’s. Neither of us do well in the heat, so we’ve been getting up at 0430 for a six AMdeparture at first light. The combination of flatland, no wind, and a couple of rest days allows us to average speeds of over ten mph for the last three days. We are getting in to our motel or campsite noonish, and can hide out from the hot sun.

We spend half the day on the shoulder of I-8 freeway, which is very smooth and wide, but does have semi trucks roaring by. The other half the day is on the frontage road, which is often pockmarked and rough, but yesterday for example had NO vehicles over a twenty mile stretch. The mix is easy to navigate and allows for plenty of thinking time.

Today, for our entire 40 miles, I gave little thoughts to future planning and could enjoy the physicalness of the pedaling effort, the wind that I generated hitting my face and the beautiful light and shadows on the mountains in the distance. It was like a long meditation for me and I realized that I was truly happy this whole day, including packing up camp this morning.

In a twenty minute period, without any rushing, I can take a tent full of loose food and clothes and step by step convert it into a pannier packed bicycle, with a step by step process of getting to a place for everything on the bike. All done by headlamp this morning. We typically say few words to each other so we each go through our own process.


In my study of Stoicism, I appreciate the idea of daily thinking about my own death to allow me to make sure I’m doing what I choose to be alive for and not spend time on “ a life never lived”.

Stoics actively contemplate it to prevent fearing it. The fear is that we might die before we – something. If we are already doing that something there’s no chance of dying too soon. This way we focus on what we can control, versus the anxiety producing focus on what we cannot control- in this case when and how of death.

I think a lot about death.I may have gotten this from my father. As he was fond of saying “ when you’re dead, you are dead for a long time”

He also often talked about someday “pushing up daisies”

I think that kept him focused on enjoying his life.

One thing he taught his kids was an enjoyment of travel. He taught by example. He and my mother took all seven of their kids, plus one in-law on a trip to Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji. This was back in 1968.

They enjoyed a windfall from a good real estate investment and spent the proceeds on this trip. That shows the priority of travel, as we were not well off, and there were all those mouths to feed.


On this trip, all the kids got to climb Ayers Rock. The Aboriginal name is Uluru. It is off limits to climbing since 2019 as it is a sacred site. Back in 1968, it was the tourist thing to do.

The climb has a path laid out and a chain to hold on to for safety. We ( all the kids- parents stayed below) climbed to the top on the designated walkway. Once on top, older sister Lynne, younger sister Mary Dale, and i separated from the rest of the family and the crowd. Lynne came up with the idea of finding our own way down and Mary and I thought that would be cool, to go down another way and surprise our parents. And surprise we did!

As we descended slowly down a spot that got more slippery, we sat and slid slowly on our butts, creating friction with our hands and feet. Lynne led, and I was second. In a flash Lynne started sliding fast down the slippery face and disappeared from view. She was gone over the side! Mary, sitting behind me, pushed me with her legs yelling “ go get her”.

I went forward enough to be out of range of her legs and we both yelled to Lynne. We had no idea if she slipped all the way down to her death or what.

In what seemed like forever, we heard a weak “ I’m down here, I’m hurt but didn’t go all the way down”

Turns out that she was caught be a ledge just below our view, but over a steep and slippery slope.

Lynne stepped up a couple of steps and I slid down just a bit and we made eye contact. 

Lynne had worn through her jeans and through the skin on her butt. She also wore her hands raw trying to stop herself. She was alive, but we had no idea how to get her out of this fix.

Lynne was near hysterics, in fear and pain. I, the fourteen year old younger brother was called to take charge. Step by step, I yelled at Lynne to crawl up this steep slope. I remember telling her to quit speaking and climb. Climb she did, slowly, carefully, knowing that another slip down could spell the end. 

I had to be confident that she could do it, even though I knew it was doubtful. I yelled. She climbed. Finally she made it back to us and we could help her crawl further up till we could stand and walk while supporting her. Her injuries were quite severe and caused her a lot of pain and the stress of what she had just gone through.

This time we came down the “ tourist” route that we had ascended. We wrapped her jacket around her bottom to both try to hide the injury and protect it. As we descended, what was foremost on our minds was “ Don’t tell Dad!”

Of course parents watching one of their children struggle down the climb knew instantly that an accident happened.once down, Lynne had to be flown to a mission in the desert to get patched up.

This is a story about risk. We didn’t make a very good judgement about risk in this case. We were lucky to have made a bad judgement and gain wisdom from it. I like to think I did.

Several years later, I found myself in Chamonix, France, where I had gone to climb in the Alps in winter. At this time, all of the big routes had been climbed in the summer, but several awaited first winter ascents. It’s a big deal to do a first ascent.

 The previous summer a Liverpool Brit , Kevin McKenna and I had climbed the north face of the Ebnefluh, a serious ice climb in the Swiss Alps. It may have been the first direct ascent of this face.Heady from that, the following winter we agreed to meet in Chamonix for more serious climbing. Kevin was working for a French ski resort, so was already there. I’d been training hard in anticipation and studying summer routes to climb in winter. I bunked with Kevin and several other climbers and skiers in an overcrowded chalet.

 In the evenings we would all go to the Bar Nationale, the Bar Nash, for short. It was the only English speaking restaurant/bar in the valley and was famous as a hangout for  English and American climbers. A few nights in a row, our group ate and drank at a round table in the corner, as we discussed climbs we planned, climbs we did, and lots of lies about our climbing prowess. 

One night, as we sat down at the same table there were two empty seats. I asked where those two climbers were and heard they got “chopped” today, missing in the mountains while attempting a winter climb. This is when it struck me, the seriousness and risk, and the reason that all these routes were still unclimbed in the winter. That night I gave up winter mountaineering in the Alps. 

I enjoyed skiing for the remainder of my time there. I’ve never forgotten those two empty chairs.

One thing I enjoy about hooking up with Gregg is that he is concerned about safety to a high degree. We both examine our route for vehicle risks, checking out the shoulder as much as we can ahead during our planning. The reason we took a  car ride through Phoenix was solely for safety reasons. For both of us, safety is more important than a complete ride across the country. Maybe it means that we only rode 3000 out of the 3100 miles across, but in a lot more safety, mitigating risks. All the comments coming back from you tell me to be safe. We are both doing our best.

Thanks for any feedback.

Sending love,


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