I love the outdoors. I love cycling. I love coffee. Imagine my delight when I spotted the billboard for the Bike & Bean on Highway 179 in Sedona, Arizona, right in the middle of red rock country: “The cyclist’s coffee shop”. Doesn’t that sound like heaven on earth? And yet I drove past it countless times. Something else was always more important. I had people to meet in Flagstaff, errands to run in Tucson, or a plane to catch in Phoenix. But not today. My meeting in Flagstaff finished early, and my flight back to New Orleans doesn’t leave until half past nine. I pull off the highway and into the empty parking lot. Outside the Bike & Bean, there is a metal sculpture of a rusty red goblin riding a bicycle. The goblin’s head is a giant coffee bean, framed by a halo of stylized feathers. The crack in the bean looks like a crooked smile.
The inside of the Bike & Bean is dominated by a shiny La Marzocco Linea coffee machine, the stainless-steel version with ruby-red trim. The pony-tailed barista greets me with a smile. I order an espresso. I watch the barista grind the beans, load the filter, and fire up the machine. After half a minute, she places a tiny red cup on the counter in front of me. I take a sip. It’s perfect. Hot and smooth and bittersweet.
“How about another one?”, she asks.
“You read my mind.”
The second espresso is even better than the first.
“This coffee is great.”
The barista smiles.
“It’s organic. From Mexico. 90 percent Arabica, 10 percent Robusta. Medium roast.”
“You know your coffee.”
“I know a lot of things.”
“In that case, I have a question for you.”
“What’s up with the sculpture in the parking lot?”
She squints at me, as if to ascertain whether I’m ready for the answer to my question. She draws a third cup of espresso for me and a ristretto for herself. The ristretto is so short it barely covers the bottom of the cup. She knocks it back as if it were a shot of liquor.
“It’s based on an ancient Hopi myth.”
“Native Americans. The people who lived here before the Spanish settlers arrived.”
“So what’s the myth?”
“The guy who made the sculpture said it was his take on Pahana the Elder.”
“And who’s that?”
“The lost brother of the Hopi. Pahana went missing a long time ago, when the Hopi still lived as nomads, but legend has it that he will return one day. In the meantime, he watches over travelers and protects them from losing their way.”
“And how does he do that when he is missing?”
“He dwells in the spirit world, but he can cross over into our world when we need him.”
“It’s just a story.”
“Do you believe it’s true?”
“I don’t know. My parents do. They have Hopi blood running in her veins.”
“If they do, then so do you.”
“Barely. If you cut me, I’ll bleed coffee. The drink of skeptics.”
“I hear you. It’s a good story though.”
“I’ll give you that. Now how about a bike ride?”
“I’d love to, but I don’t have my bike with me. I’m just passing through.”
“You can rent a bike from us.”
She points to a row of gleaming Ghost mountain bikes at the back of the shop. There is even one with an extra-large frame that looks like it might just be tall enough for me. It’s the color of fresh blood.
“Can I try this one?”
I take the Ghost for a spin in the parking lot. Normally, I’m a road person, mostly because I have never found a comfortable position on a mountain bike. But this one feels like it was made for me. I lean it against the sculpture and step back inside.
“So you’ll go for a ride?”
“Is there a nice trail nearby?”
“How much time do you have?”
I check my watch. It’s just before three. My flight leaves at half past nine. It’s a two-hour drive to the airport, and I still need to return the rental car.
“I should leave here around six.”
“In that case, I recommend the coffee pot.”
“The coffee pot?”
“A red rock that is shaped like a coffee pot.”
She shows me a pamphlet that has a picture of the pot. It looks surreal.
“This is getting better and better.”
“So you’re up for it?”
She hands me a helmet, a water bottle, and a map of the trail.
“Have fun out there. And stay safe.”
The trailhead is less than a mile from the parking lot. The trail turns out to be tricky. The surface is more rocks than gravel. The wheels of the bike keep skidding in unexpected ways. By the time I get to the coffee pot, my shirt is soaked with sweat and my water bottle is almost empty. The coffee pot is less impressive than it looked on the pamphlet. It’s vaguely conical in shape. On one side, there is a big protrusion that could be a spout. On the other side, there is a smaller protrusion that could be a handle. On top, there is a bulge that could be a lid. It’s like a shape in the clouds. You see it only if you look for it. If you don’t see it, it isn’t there. I lean the bike against a boulder to look at the map. The rest of the trail is a tangle of switchbacks. I get back on the bike. Once the coffee pot is out of sight, I get the feeling that someone is following me. I look over my shoulder, but there is no-one there. I turn a corner, and then I see him. It’s the goblin with the coffee bean head. Pahana. I only see him from the corner of my eye. When I try to look at him directly, he disappears. I’ve probably had too much coffee.
After about twenty minutes, I get to a fork in the trail. To the left, the path snakes up a steep incline. To the right, it winds gently down to what looks like a patch of green. I hear water gurgling in the distance. I am tempted to go downhill. I check the map. On the map, there is no fork. I get back on the bike, and the goblin appears again. He is charging ahead, up the hill towards the left. I follow him. I try to catch up with him, but he is too fast for me. Once or twice, I see him disappear around a bend, but I never get a good look at him. Eventually, I find myself back at the trailhead without really knowing how I got there. I check my watch. Less than two hours have passed since I left the parking lot. I pedal back to the Bike & Bean. Pahana is already there. His halo sparkles in the light of the setting sun. I get off the bike and wheel it inside. The barista is busy polishing the coffee machine with a soft cloth.
“How was it?”
I hand her the empty water bottle. She fills it up and hands it back to me. I drain it almost in one gulp.
“You look a little rattled. Are you okay?”
I tell her about the fork, but I don’t mention my encounter with Pahana.
“You did the right thing.”
“Where does the other path lead?”
“To a cliff. Very dangerous. Normally, that part of the trail is cordoned off.”
“Well, it wasn’t.”
“It must be your lucky day.”
I get into the car and take a final look at Pahana in the rearview mirror. I have not seen him since, but I have a feeling he is never far away.