After many days spent in Arizona, it's time to go home. Having lost my riding partner more than a week ago (Kevin shipped his bike and flew home for the start of winter term classes) I made the ride ~40 miles south to the Maricopa Amtrak station solo. An unusually cold (for Phoenix) morning had me putting on extra layers at the beginning of the ride, but as the sun rose higher the thin layer of clouds disappeared, and by the time I left the Phoenician suburbs and their irrigation-canal-following trails for the open highway, it was plenty warm for one pedaling. A wide shoulder on a moderately busy highway made for a pleasant enough ride, leaving my eyes free to scan the ditch for oddities amongst the unusually thick scattering of trash - a stuffed dinosaur, blue plastic twine, yet another dead coyote...
Arriving in Maricopa, I quickly found the train station, bought a bike box, and packed up my gear. The bike box was so big I needed only to remove my pedals and handlebars (hanging by the brake and shifter cables), leaving the wheels on so I could actually roll the bike into the box and tape the flaps shut behind. The attendant took the box unceremoniously, and I wasn't sure whether to yell "goodbye!!!" to its retreating form, or plead with the attendant and make him promise to be careful. Hanging on to appearances and composure I did neither, instead turning to pursue the next item on the agenda -- could this finally be the town where I would find cricket tacos?
Walking up the main strip confirmed what riding down it an hour before had decided - No, no it would not. The town seemed to have been built yesterday, constructed entirely of pre-fabricated Standard American Boxes. Was this section of Earth really just a blank slate for Jack in the Box Carl's Jr McDonald's Basha's Subway Fry's Carwash Carlot Parking Lot? Apparently so, although the jagged and dark peaks on the near horizon hinted at something else.
After finding a reasonable burrito at a cheap price and devouring it on a sunny sidewalk, I stopped at the grocery store to search out snacks for the nearly 48 hour train ride. That is where I met "extreme butter hull-less popcorn". This product contained neither butter nor popcorn, but it cost only one dollar. Morbid fascination urged it into my hand, and the 14 grams of fat per serving from unspecified vegetable oils almost had their way with me, but in the end I begged the checkout guy to take it away. The mystery of oily cornmeal posing as buttery popcorn couldn't have been anything but a monstrosity.
Walking back to the train station a nagging desire chewed at the edges of my mind - what did it want? Coffee, chocolate? a house made from adobe and Saguaro? Biosphere 2 (a visit that will have to wait for cycle tour Arizona, round two)? No matter - thoughts of sinking deep into a window seat on a northbound train, and the phantom cyclists that had been following me since the Gorge finally being real again, trumped all. Homeward bound!