Lost in America

It was the stuff of bad reality television.

Start with an almost-journalist with a nasty knobby habit (yours truly), throw in a Mountain Bike Hall of Famer and add a 29er-riding Durango native whose tastes tend toward hops and barley. Take this motley cast of characters – conveniently deadened by a day’s riding and still trying to shake off vicious vodka hangovers – and introduce them into one of the world’s harshest, most hostile environments.

No, I’m not talking about the Gobi Desert, the aeries of Nanga Parbat or the venomous corners of Amazonia. This was to be a far fiercer opponent, a clime that would push each of the adventurers to the limit of sanity, throttle our fear meters and surround us with the most pernicious of odors. It was a place that strikes many Durangoans dead with fear, a true center of fear and loathing. You guessed it. We’d stumbled into a shopping mall.

This might be an opportune time to backpedal a bit in the story.

Two Fridays ago, the Sands family and my fearless compadres and their broods shed our Gore-Tex skins and powered out of snowbound La Plata County. The journey skiffed us through the Navajo Nation, past the Sacred Mountains and over Arizona’s Mogollon Rim.

“Look Dad, I think I can see dirt,” my second-grade daughter trumpeted just south of the Sleeping Ute.

Like many snowtorn Durangoans, spring break carried us south to Phoenix, visions of sun, soil and desert singletrack dancing in our heads. And all seemed right with the world as we pulled into a land of towering saguaro, blooming ocotillo and yellow poppies blanketing the rocky Sonoran soil.

Alas, El Niño would have yet another chuckle at our expense. On Day 2 of the family sojourn, the little bastard blew a strong system into the basin, and the aforementioned gents and I found ourselves pedaling through the wilds of South Mountain in the midst of a full-blown Phoenix super cell. Not that I’m complaining. That rain-drenched ride offered up some of the finest trail riding I’ve witnessed in a life packed with fine trail riding. And following a dozen miles of Arizona prime, we all indulged in a little post-ride “recovery” drink and basked in the glow of holiday.

However, the reverie was broken when Gent #2 (you know who you are) suggested that he might need to do a little “shopping,” pick up some big city electronics and whatnot. And minutes later, Gent #1 was pulling us into the Arizona Mills, a so-called destination mall that was so vast you could easily park the entirety of downtown Durango (Florida Road and all) inside.

“Whoa,” I called from the backseat. “Wait a sec. Just exactly what are we doing here?”

(Disclaimer: I have a mortal fear of shopping malls. Any exposure to muzak and retailers like Buckle, Forever 21 or Mr. Pretzel immediately triggers an onset of extreme panic disorder.)

“Fellas, I got to be perfectly honest,” I added in a simpering voice. “I’m not sure I’ll last very long in there.” I then sat stone still and refused to release my seat belt.

“Just a few minutes,” Gent #1 encouraged me. “We promise. It’ll be OK.” And

so it was that we took those fateful steps on that rainy Sunday afternoon.

The shockwave hit the second we passed the sliding mechanical doors. Immediately our senses were assaulted by the sounds of Miley Cyrus, the smell of Drakkar Noir and the sight of 20,000 (a rather conservative estimate) of our fellow Americans parading in slow motion through the indoor recreation space. At this point, my two compadres attempted to turn tail and run. But they’d gotten me that far and I wasn’t having it. We were on the ride, and there would be no getting off until the bitter end. And bitter it would be.

Like clunkers struggling onto the speedway, we merged into a surging sea of rayon, hair gel and baby strollers. Gent #2 suppressed a dry heave as we squeezed through elbows, bad breath and South Phoenix bling to begin marching at slow speed through that little slice of Americana.

First stop on the tour would be a glimpse of the Aqua Massager – automatic car wash meets giant latex bag – where shoppers could give the plastic a rest beneath soothing, high-powered jets of water. As we watched, each of the aquassagers was sealed in plastic, and high pressure water began squirting over each rubber-coated chubby cheek and wrenched spine.

Famished by all the second-hand relaxation (and unable to find the Pearl Izumi outlet), we followed our noses toward sustenance. Ke$ha was now rocking the airwaves, as a newly inspired Team Durango pointed it toward a familiar friend – the food court. A chipotle turkey wrap, Santa Fe salad and brie and chicken sandwich were soon served up (what can I say – we were three dudes together in a mall – we had to act the part). We worked the “meals” through the pipes as Ke$ha gave way to Lady Gaga, and then jumped back into the human traffic jam, tender stomachs full of Soylent Green.

As it turned out, all three gents had had their fill, and we promptly set our compasses for that sliding front door. For the sake of full disclosure, I should mention that we did briefly consider dropping a few shekels at Allstarz hip hop clothing and were seriously tempted by L’eggs Hanes Bali Playtex outlet. However, the three adventurers were finally on the same page, shared a unanimous food court belch and pulled the rip cord. “Let’s get the f- out of here,” we cried and pushed back through the swarm of humanity.

Outmilled, outgunned and outscented, we returned to the craggy slopes of South Mountain. From that moment forward, our cast of characters vowed to take our chances against rock, spines and broken collarbones. Sadly, our little reality television experiment was canned after the pilot episode. It turns out we just weren’t destination-mall material.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows