It was the winter of 1987. My mom worked for the Indian Health Service in Chinle Arizona. Trudy and I lived in Denver and made the trip to see mom for a long weekend. We split the drive into two days, spending our first night in Durango, and driving into Chinle the following morning.
Chinle is a small community near the center of the Navajo reservation. Home to Canyon De Chelly and some of the most spectacular scenery in the American southwest, the town exists in complete isolation — the kind of isolation one might feel if they were in Antarctica or on Mars. That kind of isolation was as much the attraction for me as the scenery.
We left Durango under cloudy skies and in sub-freezing temperatures. The forecast through the desert was more of the same. As we approached Chinle on Highway 191, 30-miles or so from town, we began to see the occasional dirt road leading to a hogan, a mobile home, or some combination of the two. These are called Navajo Suburbs.
As snow began to fall, we came across a sign reminding us how isolated we were…
YEILD TO LIVESTOCK
The Navajo reservation is open-range, so it’s not unusual to see cattle, sheep, and horses crossing the road — or even gathering in it. As we slowed to yield the intersection, we noticed an elderly Navajo woman, in traditional dress with a shawl across her shoulders, standing beside the road with her thumb out — hitchhiking. It might’ve been 30° and large flakes of snow were falling slowly to the ground.
We slowed down to offer the old woman a ride, but before we came to a complete stop, and upon looking at us, she spit on the ground in front of her and turned her back to us — indicating she didn’t want a ride. Not from Anglos anyway — or at least that’s how we perceived it.
I honestly don’t remember if we pursued offering her a ride beyond that, but I don’t think we did. I know we were both humbled and saddened, but we knew why. I remember making the comment that the old woman wasn’t spitting at us — she was spitting on history. I’m pretty sure Trudy and I didn’t talk again until we arrived in Chinle.
At least a few times a month I ride through some of the local Indian communities in North San Diego County. A few of those roads are similar to the Navajo suburbs — long dirt driveways cutting through dry chaparral, with the occasional mobile home a few hundred yards in the distance, though there are no hogans around here. It takes me back.
Nearly 35 years later, I still think about it — about the old woman who would rather stand and let snow fall on her shoulders on a frigid morning than accept a ride from a couple of white folks in a Renault Alliance. Somehow, I don’t think much has changed.
This is what I think about when I ride… Jhciacb
This week by the numbers…
Bikes Ridden: 7
Mph Avg: 15.6
Seat Time: 11 hours 12 minutes
Whether you ride a bike or not, thank you for taking the time to ride along with me today. If you haven’t already, please scroll up and subscribe. If you like what you read, give it a like and a share. If not, just keep scrollin’. Oh, and there’s this from David Lindley and Wally Ingram . Enjoy…