I woke up in the morning in a dark motel room dreading the day ahead. The day before was rough. For the first time on the entire route we did not come across any ground water to replenish our supply. With no services for 30-miles and no water, we pedaled on in the sun slowly as headaches and irritability set in. When we finally rolled into town we stopped at the first place we could find, one of those drive-up, eat-in-your-car places where they roller skate the food out to you. Since we were on bikes we sat ourselves at a picnic table and felt each miserable second tick by until someone could bring us a huge cup of water and a milkshake. We stayed in a motel that night, a treat for our discomfort. When I woke up the following morning and looked at the 80-mile chunk of distance ahead of us without possible water resupply, paranoia and fear set in. I was intimidated and reluctant to go any further, so much so I was considering taking the paved (ultimately, more dangerous) alternative to the day’s route. After a sobby yet encouraging phone call with my parents, I was a little less reluctant to hit the trail again. We filled up on as much water as we could carry and set our sites for the next town with services, Buffalo, OK. Despite the strong and consistent winds from the Southwest which we had been counter steering against for days along the straight flat roads, the route that day refreshingly surprised us with curves and rolling hills. It was around three or four in the afternoon when we recognized the sound of motorcycles approaching. Since we could hear them, before they could see us, we pulled off to the side of the road and waited for the riders to approach. The first rider stopped briefly to note that we were crazy and that he heard about us on Facebook, and that there were two more guys coming from behind on dirt bikes. Obviously in the rhythm of his ride he throttled forward before we had the chance to ask him his name and where all of his gear was. We pedaled on for another minute or so until the other two riders caught up to us. This is when I met Casey Folks and Tom took our photo in the middle of no man's land of Oklahoma's remote pan handle.
If you are like me and your attention is solely consumed by bicycles you may never have heard of Casey Folks, that he was the first to Ironman the Baja 1,000 and finish, the winner of countless championships, and the founder of one of the biggest race sanctioning bodies for off-road competition in America called, Best in the Desert Racing Association. When I met Casey in 2015, he was in his 70's and completing his life-long dream of riding across the U.S.A. on dirt. This was a bucket list trip for him, no doubt, and he was doing it in style, fully supported, on enduro motorcycles, with close friends.
Casey's enthusiasm when he met me, a woman riding the T.A.T. on a bicycle, was palpable and incredibly uplifting. It was one of those moments that come after a challenging time that make you realize you are doing the right thing. We exchanged some stories, talked about our bikes, and made plans to meet in the next town (40 miles away), which would take them an hour or two to reach, and four hours for us. "We'll keep the restaurant open for you guys!" he said as they throttled away. It was dark and late by the time we reached town and they kept the restaurant open, just like they said they would. After a full meal and a little research we found that the motel in town was closed and not a second went by before we were offered a bed at Casey's crew's AirBnB. We stayed with them for the night, listening to stories of way-back-when, racing enduro motorcycles all around the world.
The next morning as they packed up to leave, Casey, kitted up and ready to go, asked me if I carried any protection on me while I rode. I said no, my normal, "live by the sword die by the sword" response but Casey insisted on giving me his pocket knife, a knife I carry with me to this day on rides.
Yesterday I was packing an envelope with the March Issue of Adventure Cyclist which has a photo of Casey and me on the cover. I was going to send the magazine to Casey since I am reminded of our encounter every time I see the photo. When I went to look up Casey's address I learned that he had suffered from a stroke and died a few days later, in early January when I was riding the Baja Divide. From the little I know about Casey Folks, he touched thousands of lives in the spirit of Adventure, including mine. His legacy lives on for me in this iconic photograph, the knife I carry with me today, and his incredible generosity. Rest in peace Casey Folks.