Charley’s ride across America 35. Riding, retirement, and flat tire fun


Day 72 April 9. 57 miles 6:30, cool early, then really hot, flat, perfect riding , end in Winterhaven CA.

Day 73.  April 10.  61 miles 7:30, Charley two flats, finish 91f, mixed, good and bad roads, end Calexico, CA

Total miles 2857

Dear friends and family,

Riding early in the AM the last few days has been really wonderful.I love seeing the sun come up behind us as we ride. A huge safety factor is that we, nor drivers, are not blinded by sun in our eyes in the morning. Each time I do it, I feel glad for the opportunity of being outside to witness this as I ride slowly across the country.

Today was special. It being Easter Sunday there were no cars out early. We rode through the green fields of the outskirts of Yuma. Did you know that 90% of all leafy vegetables (in the winter) in the US are grown in Yuma? After riding for hours through carefully cultivated fields I can believe that. The trucks with their cartons for crops were parked next to the fields, but I assume most of the pickers are of Mexican descent, so probably Catholic. The picking will have to stop for Easter.

After the green fields we rode directly through the US Army’s Yuma Proving Ground.  It is 1308 square miles, one of the largest military installations in th3 world. Lots of heavy weaponry was on display as we rode by. Over 3000 people work here, mostly involved in training and testing weapons. 

As we were thoroughly enjoying a quiet and peaceful ride suddenly two rat terriers ran towards us from across the street. The black haired one ran towards us directly into the street in the path of a car going the opposite direction. Thunk, and it was dead. That fast. That complete. I stopped to see and it was killed instantly. From exuberant puppy to dead, in a single instant. Lots to contemplate here, and I was sick to my stomach for awhile. Still hard to think about. 

Then, once in open desert again, we came across the Quechan Casino, where we are staying the night. One might wonder why anyone would want to live in this harsh environment, but then remember this is a reservation and not a choice.

We are just west of Yuma, Arizona, just into California. Yuma is known as the sunniest city in the world and attracts up to 90,000 snowbirds a year!

The winter plumage for males is oversized t-shirt, baggy shorts, and high athletic socks with tennis shoes. For the females of the species it’s yoga pants, running shoes and t- shirt.

We bypassed Yuma proper, staying far to the north of town, avoiding the driving/texting snowbirds. 

What I did notice on the approach to Yuma was a significant number of trailer parks and RV parks. Had me thinking of my biases about trailer parks and RV parks.

I’ve only been exposed to a lot of people’s  different lifestyles on this trip, planned or not.

At the casino RV park a few nights ago, we met a guy who said he is now a full time RVer. By choice? Or by circumstances. Lots of the RV parks in Arizona are filled with either snowbirds, who spend winters here in the heat, or more and more, people who live in them here full time. Year round spots are inexpensive, and with minimal driving no gas costs, so one can live quite reasonably and even have their own community of other retirees doing the same.

When I was younger and thought this kind of living was all by choice, I often used quite disparaging terms for people who lived this lifestyle. Now, after seeing so many people living this way, and realizing the challenges of saving for retirement in this age of self-saving via 401k, if you even have that available, that the boomers often are ready to retire or health issues force them to, and they find themselves with limited funds available.

Social security is our country’s big safety net. It was set up to originally to fund some retirement for people over age 65 who lacked their own funds till they died a couple of years later. Now, with the extended lifespan we average, it has to serve a completely different purpose: be a major contributor ( or only) to fund a retirees life for possibly thirty more years.

The amount one receives in social security is directly related to the amount taken from paychecks: earn more over your career and receives more on retirement. If you’ve earned little over your career or if you’ve earned undeclared income, you could have a pittance in your check.

In this country it only takes one major health issue or accident to use up a persons life savings for millions of people. A lot of people should have a plan B.

I’ve seen lots of plan B’s in action this trip. They include:

  1. Moving to a lower cost location. Lots of inexpensive houses near Phoenix, for instance.
  2. Buy a motor home and park it. Seems cheap compared to a house.
  3. Buy a trailer in a trailer park. Hundreds of them passed while cycling, often they are like cute little neighborhoods. Not all horrible.


  1. Live on a boat, like our “home” in Alaska
  2. Move to another country permanently. A few readers of this group email have done just that and enjoy a lower cost of living and significantly lower health costs as they age. Mexico, Ecuador, Panama, and Portugal are very popular expat countries now for retirees. 
  3. Keep working or work a retirement job. 
  4. Keep riding a bike, camp a lot, use warmshowers, live light and cheaply. 

I’ve researched all of the above options extensively. Why? Because I’m curious. I also want to really understand all the options to help others and make my own best choices. 

I find that being retired and on a fixed income helps me understand retirement finances as no class ever could. I feel fortunate i’ve had so many opportunities, and yes, I’ve saved and invested, but everyone didn’t have the advantages I did, so have to work plan B for themselves.

Today we started riding at 0345 to try to beat the heat. The ride was first through the desert, then back into extensive vegetable farms, all operating at full capacity after yesterday’s day off. When you ride by these fields for hours, you can see how expansive they are to help feed the country.

Also, as the heat came on strong, I had a couple of flat tires. Caught a truck tire wire in one and I think a goat head thorn in the second one. I was hot, sweaty, and tired as I walked my second flat into the motel room. Reminds me of another time of flat tires.

One summer while in college I thought I would make a bunch of money working for my brother John, who at that time imported fabrics, pottery and baskets from Guatemala. He offered me a full commission on anything I sold trying to open up new areas by attending gift shows. I thought I would make a killing. I had a lot to learn!

I was excited to attend the Dallas gift show, so a couple of days prior to the opening I packed all my samples and sample boards in the back of my Ford Bronco, which I bought from the same brother. Neither John nor I were very knowledgeable about cars or their maintenance, but when I turned the key it started, so away towards Dallas I drove, starting in Cleveland.

I got as far as Cincinnati before the Bronco died at the side of the highway, right near a mechanics shop. I and a volunteer pushed it into the shop’s parking lot and I asked an older mechanic to please check it out as I was due in Dallas in a couple of days. 

This mechanic got his headlamp and laid down on one of those wheeled creepers and pulled himself under the Bronco. He soon wheeled himself out and stood up facing me.

“Son, you’ve oiled this vehicle to death” he remarked to me.

“ I’ve never oiled this thing in my life” I pleaded.

“Precisely” he declared, as he turned his back on me and walked away, probably hoping that his son would never be so stupid.

Now I was in a pickle. Luckily sister Karen lived in Cincinnati and offered me her ‘67 Chevy. ( seeing a pattern here?). The sample boards wouldn’t fit in back so had to rest on top of my head, bouncing on me with every bump in the road. The delay put me a bit behind, so I drove aggressively towards Texas.

“ Thump, thump, thump” sounded the  first tire to go flat. No problem, I quickly put on the spare and carried on till the next “ thump”.

Now I removed the bad tire, hitchhiked to the next exit with a gas station and asked if they sold tires.

“ Go see if you can find your tire size in the pile of damaged tires out back, and I’ll patch one for you”

Then I would hitchhike back to the car to carry on. Twice I had to do the hitchhike routine and twice back.

Did I mention it was hot? Nearly a hundred degrees on that July day. I started with a clean white t- shirt, but after three tire changes and digging through old tire piles with the sweat dripping off me, I was quite the dirty character. 

I remember finally reaching the high end show hotel, walking to the counter as a black, sweaty mess and asking “ Do you offer commercial rates?”

Today’s heat and dirty tire reminded me of that. No commercial rate offered here at the California Suites Motel, within sight of the border wall.

Getting closer, but still have the heat and a huge climb to deal with.

Sending love,


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