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Day 5: Gila Bend (HEE-ya bend) to Ajo (AH-ho) - 40 mi / 65 km

Mile 0 Today would be the shortest day of the trip, a veritable day off relative to the earlier three days. I have a monster breakfast at 5:30 AM while reading the Arizona Republic, then walk back under the stars and get a great view of Orion, my favorite constellation. I am leisurely in prepping for the day.

It would be straight south, and I do mean straight, even by the standards of other previous stretches of highway. I'm on the road at 9:30 - the sun is up and rather warm, already. The grade is consistently uphill with the wind in my face (gads, do I detect a theme?)

This scenic view is part of the the Barry M Goldwater Air Force Range, covering 2.1 million acres and is a "no-fly" zone for commercial aircraft. This Range is where the Army, Navy and Air force practice flying, air-to-air missile firing, bombing runs and ground-to-air ballistics.

Throughout the day's ride, the sky is filled with the sound of military aircraft.

There are mountain ranges in all directions

It's along here that I see a small dark wobbling object on my side of the road about two miles away.

Minutes later I am sidling up to Ricky. My totally unembellished and observation-based report flows like this:

Ricky is an ageless, possibly black man on a mountain bike with a missing gear changer on the front gear, a dry squeaking chain and rear brake pads worn down to their metal stubs, which he had disconnected. His luggage is a full backpack and two bulging panniers hanging on either side of his rear wheel. He is traveling under five miles an hour - most people could probably jog past him.

He is two swallows away from being out of water and has no food or money. He's working his way to get to the next town so he can sell one of his crocheted hats, which is his only source of income. He says he's not worried about his state of affairs - good things always happen.

His luggage includes a small colour TV, a DVD player, a digital camera, a cell phone plus his tent. He sleeps in the desert at night with his bike chained to the front flap. He has two DVDs he watches over and over - Terminator 2 and The Wild Bunch. He's hoping to trade in The Wild Bunch at the next video store he came across, but it was a bit scratched, so he wasn't sure.

The TV had been given to him. He found the digital camera on the side of one of the highways and it was completely filled with pictures of a baby nursing on a breast with the other breast exposed, and no shots of the mother's face. Finding the digital camera allowed Rickie to pawn his manual Canon camera and buy the DVD player.

Ricky's from Long Beach, California - He had been living with his brain-damaged sister who was on constant medication to control convulsions and who was impregnated by a brain-damaged man, with that coupling resulting in a now-12-year-old girl who constantly tore down wallpaper and shat indiscriminately around the house.

Ricky felt he was making a difference in the girl's life in helping her calm down. He was then accused by the girl's aunt of preparing, through his friendship, to molest the girl. So he left, and lost his front gear changer when someone shot at him and hit his bike. Along the way he was sideswiped by a car in L. A., fractured a vertebrae (according to the doctor) and now couldn't turn his head properly.

He text-messages the girl every couple of days to let her know where he is as he works his way to Key West in Florida. Her last text message to him is that her mom is pregnant again with the latest in a line of boyfriends.

A car pulls over ahead of us and two military-clad men get out. RIcky and I had already made jokes about being potential practice targets for the roaring jets overhead, and so we were curious why we getting flagged down.

The two soldiers reach into their trunk and pulled out handfuls of bottled water. True to Rickie's philosophy, here was his need for water answered - I gave my bottles to him after the car pulled away.

I tell him it's time for me to get going - he understands completely and was grateful for the company, seeing as that most of his conversations are with his bike and the people in his dreams, which were increasing in intensity as his journey unfolded.

We pull over to the side of the road - I lubricate his bike chain, then give him a couple of energy bars and a twenty-dollar bill, which make his eyes bug out like I was handing him a gold bar.

That launches him into another story about another cyclist he had met up with, who had been pedaling along when suddenly the sky was raining money. He stopped and ran around and collected $2100 in tens , twenties and fifties.

The cyclist then carried on and a couple of miles later came across a car with a man and woman in the heat of a loud and vicious argument. Apparently the man had pulled over, put his wallet on the roof of his car while he took a wizz on the side of the road, and then drove off. The amount of money in the wallet - $2100, which was the couple's life savings and they were on their way to make a new start on the East Coast.

They gave the cyclist $500 in appreciation.

I say my goodbyes to Rickie - total time spent with him - under twenty minutes.

Mile 25 . On my own again. There are unusual-shaped planes flying an unusual pattern in a large loop spanning several miles - flying low, then rising up and banking through a curve while upside down, then straightening out - multiple aircraft following this identical flight path, again and again.

Then the bombing starts - you can see puffs of black and white smoke centre-right:

All the earlier flying were practice runs in preparation for target practice.

Mile 30. A dramatic change in topology and flora

and what looks like a mountain range is maybe 200 yards away:

And here's one of the inhabitants of this little oasis- the Saguaro Cactus

Mile 35. Leaving Cactus Oasis and a downhill stretch

Leaving the Goldwater Range:

and encountering this - I guess animals know better than to hang out in a bombing range.

They should have also had a sign "Watch out for broken glass" - in the breakdown lane and into the scrub brush is continuous broken glass from beer and hard liquor bottles. And there are also many, many white crosses, almost one per mile, noting where someone had died from a car crash.

Mile 40 Ok, so where's the town?

Five Miles later - downtown Ajo. A beautiful centre town square, and not a soul in sight.

And no pay phones either - they had all been pulled out a couple of years earlier because no one was using them, plus my cell phone didn't work. I found a working phone backtracking to the town's Circle K convenience store.

The local hotel has an answering machine and is locked up with a padlock, although the sign said they were open -" just leave a message on the answering machine". I find a real estate office and it's open - they have furnished apartments available and are wiling to rent one to me for a night.

I'm happy to have more than a room for cheaper than a hotel room, and being located in a residential area, it's very quiet.

After cleaning up, I cycle back to the town's main restaurant back on the highway called Senor Sanchos - it is now 6 PM and getting dark, and up past my restaurant window comes Ricky, right on schedule given the time and his earlier velocity. He's very focused on the next two feet of road in front of his bike, and I feel I had done my duty in helping him get here, so I didn't run out and flag him down and offer to share my apartment with him.

Before turning in I do a quick roll though the neighbourhood - lots of chain fences

and the line of white is the leftover tailings (process residue) from the Phelps Dodge Copper Mine, which was the reason for Ajo's existence and was now closed. The tailings look like a limestone cliff and go for miles:

The Mine has its own viewing platform and is 1-1/2 mile across.

Nowadays, what has boosted the local economy is the National Guard, who were directed to Ajo and other small borderstowns as part of President Bush's Homeland Security Initiative to supplement the existing border patrol against Mexican terrorists(!).

The Guard is responsible for the local hotels being sold out, but were dispatched to their assigned locationss without any supplies or gear (i. e. guns). So the NG is taking up space and the border patrol is now protecting the National Guard in addition to their usual border patrol responsibilities.

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