It was twelve noon, start of the mega-pain race; Old Pueblo twenty four hours in the desert. In front of a towering white circus tent hundreds of jersey clad gladiators were fine tuning their steeds of war as spectators cheered and the power-gel hawkers hurled miniature sample packets at people passing by. Everyone had the look of just having disembarked a shuttle to an enchanting lunar playground; faces conveyed childish delight as hands made feeble attempts to steady glasses of beer heaping with foam. The racers more fanatically determined to belt out hour-flat laps could be spotted by their indecently tight spandex shorts and brightly colored water bottle concoctions fizzing like tonics in a mad-chemistâ€™s laboratory.
Goat, Jacob, and I stood at the sidelines watching the event gather momentum, not without a bit of longing to be out shredding trails. A young couple approached Goat and inquired about the xtracycles.
â€œWeâ€™re freelance writers covering the race,â€� said the man, â€œWe thought there might be an interesting story behind your long bikes.â€�
â€œYeah, weâ€™re traveling from the top of Alaska to the bottom of South America.â€� Sez Goat.
â€œReally, well, are all of you here? Could we perhaps get a picture?â€�
Naturally we bit the bait, unable to resist the lure of small time celebrity status. We posed for a picture, and then I tried to discretely follow a lead to less significant business leaving Jacob to explain the details of our trip. I failed to get very far. Jacob called for me to come back; â€œOne more pictureâ€�. After forced smiles and a flash the girl let her camera fall by its strap to her waist, opened up some manila folders and leafed through her portable file cabinet.
â€œJacob Thompson!â€� Cried the girl handing Jacob a stack of papers stapled together. â€œSean Monterastelli!â€™â€�. I was obliged to receive a similar stack. â€œDavid Yostâ€¦â€�. Quite suddenly we were wisked away from that dreamy desert playground; transferred incongruously to boot camp detail assignment. â€œThese are summons for each of you to appear in Court in Flagstaff on Thursday, regarding a criminal case.â€� The full force of the intruding terror still hadnâ€™t set in; I took a sip of my beer hoping my head would clear.
â€œWeâ€™re federal marshals assigned to serve you summons for a court hearing.â€� The female officer elucidated. â€œHere, take a look at our badges.â€� Both former reporters pulled out leather bound gold plated badges confirming their identity as federal Marshals.
I tried to look disinterested, yet my mind was working itself into a panic; these â€˜reportersâ€™ have gone to great lengths to set up this rather unamusing hoax. No, the badges were too authentic, the official documents headed with the words â€˜The United States of America Vs. Sean Monterastelli, David Yost, Jacob Thompsonâ€™ too lamentable not to be taken seriously. I set my beer down behind a rock and flipped through the fifteen pages of federal charges and the supporting evidence.
The charges went as follows: (The riding the spine crew) conspired to Camp in an undesignated area on the North Kaibab Trailâ€¦ camped without a valid backcountry permitâ€¦ provided false information to a Federal Rangerâ€¦ used bicycles on the North Kaibab Trail. Especially frightening was the invocation of a section of the Federal Code of Regulations (F.C.R) usually reserved for terrorists; the language itself was terrifying enough to sink my heart into a state of permanent despondency: â€œâ€¦did conspire toâ€¦defraud the government (!)â€�.
â€œYou guys should read over the summons carefully and ask us every question you can think of,â€� Instructed the marshals. â€œCause you know that as soon as we leave, your going to think of many things you would like to have clarifiedâ€�.
Looking over the expansive â€˜evidenceâ€™ section, I noticed that the entire case was based on information provided on our website. They had us quoted several times as admitting the knowledge that our activities in the Grand Canyon were illegal. The prospect of us coming out of this trial unscathed was slim.
Jacob wanted to get a sense of the severity of penalties that could be imposed on each count.
â€œIâ€™m pretty sure that all of these charges are petty offenses/misdemeanors. I donâ€™t think youâ€™re being charged with any felonies. Each of the charges will probably carry a maximum fine of two thousand dollars, and some jail time.â€� The Marshals informed us. â€œHowever, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s likely that a prison sentence would be imposed in this circumstance.â€�
The two marshals continued to discuss an issue that they wanted to see resolved before departing.
â€œSo, weâ€™ve done a lot of research on each of you and your trip, we went through your website and discovered that you would be at this race. We also understand that you intend to leave the country very soon, and with the Mexican border being so close we have to impress upon you the urgency of making it to this court date as well as get an idea of how youâ€™ll secure transportation to Flagstaffâ€�.
â€œWe realize that youâ€™re all limited in mobility by the pace of your bicycling, so we can offer a place to secure your bikes in Tucson, along with ride to the Greyhound bus stationâ€�.
We assured the marshals that such arrangements would not be necessary, that we knew plenty of Flagstaff folk attending the race who could give us rides. A few other mundane details were discussed, all three of us desired to be set free from this official meeting to dwell in each his own anguished thoughts.
â€œWell, now that weâ€™re all on friendly terms,â€� began the male marshal, face brightening up, â€œWeâ€™d like to express our admiration for the trip â€“Iâ€™m a mountain bike enthusiast myself-, and hope we havenâ€™t ruined the race experience for you.â€�
Of course at this point a tempestuous sandstorm assaulting the desert plain with nuclear fallout would have considerably brightened my disconsolate mood. We parted ways with the Feds, dragged our feet back to â€˜Camp Flagstaffâ€™ and stuck our heads under the nozzle of the Pay-N-Take wagon keg.
News of our criminal status spread like wildfire throughout bike city. Most people held the belief that not much would come of the trial â€“despite the absurd amount of time and money already spent by the government in dealing with our case. One person offered to give us a ride to the Mexican border; another vowed to organize a critical mass bike rally that would disrupt all courthouse activity. Consulting the legal council of Dave Bednar proved to be the best piece of advice offered by Flaggies. Dave was something of a local hero to those having to deal with bike legal issues.
We left the race on a Monday, all taking separate rides of to Flagstaff. Goat rode in the pickup truck of our good friend Ryan, whose house we would end up settling into for indefinite residency. Ryan and Goat spent an unpleasant four hours stuck in a snowstorm just a few miles south of Flagstaff. Having the only shovel on the highway, Ryan was obliged to dig out the snow in front of several cars stranded before him. It was disheartening for all of us to witness our previous southward momentum visibly diminishing with the onset of winterland all over again.
On Tuesday morning we realized that we had a mere forty eight hours to prepare our defense. After calling several attorneys we came to the understanding that hiring a lawyer would be an expensive but necessary undertaking. Since most of the evidence supplied by our website was told through one voice there was a â€˜conflict of interestâ€™ among the three of us. We were advised that if we were to take the case to trial it would be advantageous for each of us to hire our own lawyer so that two of us could testify that what the third wrote was simply an embellishment of the actual story and didnâ€™t reflect the real nature of our Grand Canyon activities. But really it would be in our best interests to strike an early bargain with the prosecuting attorney and be over with the whole ordeal as quickly as possible. Luckily we eventually came into contact with the miracle worker Dave Bednar, who took it upon himself to deal with the federal prosecutor free of charge. The night before the preliminary trial Dave worked out a plea bargain for us to consider. The conditions to our bargain were as follows: To delete from our website all journals and media presentations relating our activities in the Grand Canyon; to post (on our website) an apology to the Park Services as well as a list of rules restricting bike use in the Canyon; to serve forty-eight hours in the Coconino county jail; to (each of us) pay a five-hundred dollar donation to the Grand Canyon Search and Rescue team; to endure five years of unsupervised probation during which we would be forbidden from entering any National Parks, and would be barred from profiting off the telling of our Grand Canyon story. Even if we each forked over twenty five hundred dollars to hire personal lawyers, there was little hope of us acquiring a better deal; grudgingly we accepted the plea bargain.
While waiting for admittance into the courtroom, we surveyed some of the fine pieces of art decorating the lobby. A long haired man of rippling muscles squatted on a pedestal bending a long piece of iron into the shape of a bow. The caption written under the sculpture read: â€˜Strength of the Makerâ€™. There were also the usual blindfolded ladies of justice holding their scales that are supposed to be on level with each other to represent unbiased judgment. Mysteriously one of the ladies had had one of her scales pillaged, leaving but a dangling chain on one side of the counter â€“an ominous sign that sent us all reeling with anxiety.
Judge Aspey stated that he was willing to accept the plea bargain granted with a few minor modifications. We would have to post a photograph of us standing before the courthouse on the website to further inculcate our guilt to those who cared. Unfortunately, the faÃ§ade of the courthouse offered little in impressing the image of a house of judicial matter -a shot of us marching in shackles behind federal marshals on our way to jail would have been much more compelling. In substantiating his addition to our sentence, the judge brought up a federal case in San Francisco in which a man was ordered to wear a sandwich board bearing the words â€œI have stolen mail, this is my punishmentâ€� for one hundred hours in front of a post office. The judge seemed to admire the creativity inherent in this sentence of public shame. I tried to imagine the dismal outcome of a dragged out court case in which this judge served as both jury and arbiter.
After some months of jail time, we would be obliged to ride freak bikes around the south rim of the Grand Canyon for a hundred days. Mounted upon the front of the bikes would be a large battery powered T.V. screen airing a media presentation of careless mountain bikers mowing down innocent pedestrians, spooking mule trains, ending in a dramatic slow motion pan of a babyâ€™s stroller barrel rolling down a two thousand foot precipice. Naturally weâ€™d be towing a chariot of two rangers apiece in spotless attire; both armed to the teeth and wielding horse whips. Each day some ten thousand tourists would step out of their R.V. or S.U.V., wipe their sweaty brow in confusion at the bewildering sight before them, and then curse us and our delinquent ways for spoiling the majesty of a once in a lifetime attraction. Memory cards of Five million digi-cams would become depleted with mug shots of the criminal bicyclists as millions of pissed off tourists vowed to have our heads mounted to their truck grills.
After the judge confirmed our criminal status we had about an hour of freedom before we were required to surrender ourselves to Federal Marshals. Two-thirds of this time was spent dealing with paperwork at the probation office, which proceeded awkwardly considering none of us had any legal residence, telephone number, mailing address, or any recent history of having such. The federal marshals were generally pleasant folk; they welcomed us with a full body frisk, gave us shiny handcuffs attached to chains that were tightened around the waist, and ankle shackles that made us walk like amputee victims. While taking down my information, they informed me that weâ€™d all be beaten up in prison judging by how bad we smelled. Then we were loaded into a paddy-wagon and transported through the snowy streets of Flagstaff to the local detention center. A community park with a brand new jungle gym bordered the edge of the prison yardâ€™s razor-wire fence, but the swing sets and merry-go-rounds were still and none of the city youths dared to climb about or holler their cares â€“God had turned his back on this day.
Our personal federal security guards transferred us into the custody of regular run-of-the-mill coppers. As the leg shackles and waists chains were taken off the Marshals advised the cops on the proper means of handling us.
â€œYou got to be real careful with these guysâ€�, the one marshal started, â€œThese boys are criminal bikers; got caught bicycling down the Grand Canyon. Theyâ€™re considered dangerousâ€¦ check thatâ€¦ extremely dangerous.â€�
â€œCriminal bikersâ€�, a deputy looked up from his paperwork with annoyance, â€œare you kidding me? What a waist of our timeâ€™â€�.
It was somewhat shocking that such trained professionals werenâ€™t acknowledging the deserved severity of our crimes. The deputy asked us each if we intended to hurt ourselves in anyway.
â€œWait a minute,â€� the Marshal interrupted. â€œThe fact that they biked into the Grand Canyon during winter time should automatically qualify them for suicide watch.â€�
â€œThatâ€™s a good point.â€� Admitted the deputy with sincere concern.
Piece by piece, our entire hand was captured by the print machine and uploaded permanently into â€˜Big Brotherâ€™s criminal records. Then we were thrown into the Drunk Tank; a concrete cell with a steel toilet/water faucet, lined with two tinted windows. For the first three hours only five other people resided in the cell besides the bike criminals. The most talkative of the bunch was a man who called himself â€˜New Yorkâ€™, who spoke with a long island accent, always hand one of his hands down the front of his pants, and fancied that he knew the prison/legal ropes as though they had bordered his childhood playpen.
â€œYou know if I were going to go looking for a lawyer, â€˜know what Iâ€™d ask him first?â€� Mr. New York pauses to affect his rhetorical question. â€œWhether heâ€™s spent any time in jail! Thatâ€™s how you know youâ€™ve got a good lawyer, if heâ€™s got any experience as a criminalâ€�.
A Mexican man with a long curly mullet was attempting to grill New York on his knowledge of parole violations. Unfortunately the manâ€™s English wasnâ€™t so coherent; New York would shine a perplexed grin around the room directed at anyone who might have a try at translation.
A large Navajo man, arms covered with ancient tattoos of worn colors would sit up from his lackadaisical sprawl across cold concrete and relate his tragic tale.
â€œMan Iâ€™d just been paid tâ€™other day, and handed my wife the check; the full check. I only take out like twenty dollars for myself, and she looks at me, takes the twenty anâ€™ hands me a ten. So I buy a Steel Reserve 22â€¦ and man I ended up hooking up the blueberriest weed youâ€™ve ever seen.â€� The Navajo manâ€™s eyes roll into the back of his head as he conjures the heavenly image. â€œI just had a tiny bitâ€¦â€� He makes a small â€˜Oâ€™ shape with his index finger and thumb. â€œâ€¦and I had stuck it in my pocket before fallen asleep. Then I was woken up by the man.â€� It took three or four accounts of the story before I discovered that his parole officer had burst unannounced into his house, immediately frisked him, and discovered his stash of heavenly blue.
â€œThatâ€™s why Iâ€™m always telling my son; you donâ€™t keep your weed on youâ€¦ you hide that stuff far from your body when youâ€™re about lying and crashing.â€� His advice for the rest of us held less appealing wisdom. â€œYou know what thoughâ€¦ G (glass) is much better than smoking weed any day. It donâ€™t have any smell, and itâ€™s easy to hide in your arse and eat in prison.â€�
If a lady were dragged into one of the holding cells across the hallway, New York would holler, predict a free strip tease and say something crude like; â€œwhy is it that only white broads get suicidal in prisonâ€�. Curly mullet man, determined to charm the ladies, would stand up and fix his collar (he, like us, still had on his civilian clothes). Most everyone else plastered their faces against the tinted windows till one of the deputies shouted to decease. At some point we were forced to evacuate the cell whereupon some inmates washed down the concrete floors and crammed in fourteen hard plastic porta-cots, leaving not a pinch of space to walk. Most of us threw our thin sheets over our heads and tried to ignore the blaring phosphorescent lights; New York stayed up late, placing a call every two and a half minutes to his â€˜old ladyâ€™ â€“whose telephone, he had informed us before, wouldnâ€™t except collect calls anyway. I heard New York whisper the same pathetic pleas into the phone piece some thousand plus times: â€œitâ€™s me baby, please pick upâ€�. Finally, when the inevitable Friday night drunken crew began filing in New York had better conversation to occupy his time. A truck driver from Texas was describing a rather fascist system of justice in a tiny town of Morton, where the Sherriff assumes the role of judge and mayor.
An obese man stood over the steel toilet clutching what he could of his enormous belly. He moaned low, gasped for breath and eventually demanded emergency attention form the night watchman.
â€œThat guy had his act dialedâ€�, speculated New York, â€œHeâ€™s gonna get whatever he wantâ€™s to eat down in the infirmary. He pulled that off wellâ€�.
A man from Las Vegas staggered into the cell, tripping over the first porta-cot immediately. He was unable make any unassisted movement without falling to the floor. My instinctual response toward the chaos posed by these fetid bodies was to bolt upright on my cot so as to be ready to brace myself for collision with the teetering drunk â€“and to be in better position to dodge any projectile vomit.
In the morning the cots were taken out but more people were crammed in to the already congested cell. Our tiny concrete room housed twenty four people for at least five hours; all the â€˜podsâ€™ â€“boot camp like dorm rooms- were at full capacity. Finally, after twenty six hours in that chamber of incessant boredom we were issued prison cloths, wrist band identification and whisked away to a luxurious pod. One could gaze stupidly at a T.V. set all day, or read a slim selection of Christian literature; one could even shower â€“although after noticing revolting cases of foot fungus on some of the drunk-tank regulars I decided against it. We were served some chewy mystery cutlets for dinner â€“chicken fried butcherâ€™s discards rolled in bread crumbs. I had fasted for the time in the drunk-tank but was feeling dizzy, I ate the weird meat â€“itâ€™s still with me after a week.
Our Pod was largely inhabited by Navajo men which made me feel slightly uneasy when I observed a group of five, eyes glued to the television, watching Kevin Costner Indian convert in Dances With Wolves. The American Movie Classic channel was kept on till ten â€“when the lights were shut off- and oddly, every movie included some ridiculous prison scene -Keanu Reves and professional football cohorts sing Gloria Ganorâ€™s â€˜I Will Surviveâ€™, and perform an amusing line dance behind bars.
We were able to sleep well in the pods, because they actually turned the lights out â€“even though they were put back on full force at five in the morning. Our legal savior Dave Bednar picked us up when we were finally released, and drove us to our Flagstaff home.
Upon reentering the real world as free men Iâ€™ve noticed a few changes in the appearance and behaviors of myself and my former bike crew. I find myself out of breath after performing even the most mundane of tasks â€“like walking from couch to toilet- and borderline the obese. Goat has a jarring tone of apathy in his voice while discussing any matters of future plans, his waistline is much like an ancient dam ready to collapse and gush forth a wave of doom for all that lies in its path. Jacobâ€™s eyes are bloodshot and vacuous. Heâ€™s really only fit to sit on cushions and stare at the blue glow of a computer screen. I fear heâ€™s in the throes of Internet addiction. Often I wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweat and involuntarily cry the words: â€œtheyâ€™ve got usâ€�. Luckily weâ€™ve been consoled (more times than we can count) by local wisdom the saying: â€œitâ€™s all down hill from hereâ€�. Every single instance of this advice before has turned out to be bogus, yet the law of averages dictates that the tide will turnâ€¦ it must!