May 25 – 26 : Nogales, AZ to Santa Ana, SO, Mexico

Rodney comes back to his bicycle shop, as he said he would, not long after I finish my last post.  He has a couple of younger folks trailing him in a different car.  They’re from the local news station and are there to get some footage of him expressing his views on marijuana in Nogales, and whether Nogales should have a medical marijuana dispensary.  He proclaims to the camera that the entire town has been a dispensary for at least the last 25 years.  The interview goes on for about 5 minutes and then the reporter and her cameraman leave, and Rodney and I chat over a couple of beers, mostly about bicycles and Mexico.

He leaves and I have his shop to myself.  I set my bike up in one of the shop’s stands and go over it.  My front tire has yet another slow leak, so I apply my 3rd patch in 24 hours to the tube, and thoroughly inspect the tire for any other possible embedded thorns.

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Sal's (Rodney's) Cycle Shop

I get to bed by midnight, and am up and packing when Richard and Rodney return the next morning at 9.  More puttering and shit shooting over shop coffee and some grapefruit that Rodney’s brought from his place.  At one point the topic tangentially involves guns, and Rodney says something that suggests he’s packing heat at that very moment, so I ask him if he is, and he reveals his holstered pistol.  Richard follows suit.  By this point I know them well enough to not feel discomforted by the fact that they’re packing, but I probably would have been had I only just met them.

We bid each other farewell and I head down to just before the border and grab a grilled chicken salad from a Jack in the Box (my last chance for true blue American fast food for a while), and fill up on water.  I saddle up and cross the border, coasting through the checkpoint.  A taxi driver flags me down, and I’m tempted to brush him off, figuring he wants to sell me something.  But I hear him out, and after a little pantomime and broken Spanish/English, I realize he’s telling me I need to go through a completely miss-able, inconspicuous door to find the Mexican border agents.  So I do, and I’m guided through a process that seems a bit inefficient and un-streamlined, but not too onerous or time consuming.  At one point, a guy in a glass booth that took the money for my visa, instructs me to disregard the official looking “No Entry” signs on a heavy duty gate in order to get back to the first border official.  He gives me a big smile and thumbs up after I reached through the gate to unlatch it’s door, and then look back with a “are you sure this is right” expression as I close it behind me.  $23 and 10 minutes later, I’m in.  The original taxi driver is there to congratulate me on my successful completion of the process, and shakes my hand, pats my shoulder and wishes me well.  He never does try to sell me anything.

I’m not quite flustered, but there is a lot to take in on this side of the border.  I’m excited to be in a foreign country and my senses seemed heightened.  I find a money changing station, and when I pull my bike up the large (10 inch) curb, I insert 4 teeth of my largest chain ring into my right calf.  I already have several people who are standing around, tending to carts or counters, or just hanging out, staring at me, so I willfully stifle any outward reaction to the literal stabbing pain and proceed to the counter of the money changer I’ve chosen.  Onlookers may or may not be taking notice of the not tiny, but also not pulsating stream of blood running down my calf and squishing in my sandal.  It, and they, are not really a problem I need to address, I reason.

I’m doing well, slowly navigating the distinctly less organized mass of cars for about 3 minutes when my pedal clip intersects with the fender on my front wheel, a problem I’ve been dealing (mostly trying to avoid through careful coordination between sharp turns and pedal strokes).  This time my fender rips off partially, and jams up my front wheel.  Ok, this is a problem I do have to address.  I also have to account for folks observing me, as they’re in cars that I had nimbly circumvented, and am now blocking.  So at this point, I probably do look a bit disheveled, struggling to hoist my fully loaded (with all 7.1 L of water) bike out of the road, while the back of one of my legs glistens with fresh blood.

I manage to, and then regroup.  My chance to enter the country without making any scene has come and gone, but that’s fine.  I’m here, on a street corner, dealing with a bike snafu, but the people with the best seats for gawking have either gotten tired of it, or, just as likely, doing me the favor of letting me be as I deal with what has obviously been a sub-optimal couple of minutes.

I take out my tools to remove my front fender, but then it occurs to me, I could leave it attached by just the point under the stem, and complete the tearing off of the portion that intersected with my pedals.  I do that, swig some water, and get underway again.

I’m feeling pretty good about pulling through that, and back to being excited to be in another country, and maybe showing it with my expression because it seems like everybody I make eye contact with is smiling at me, many of them giving me two thumbs up or a wave.  It’s incredibly heart warming, and the one time it’s a particularly beautiful woman, stomach churning (the good kind).

I’ve scouted out a route to take me off the highway ASAP, and stop at a service station at the edge of town for a coffee and to buy a map.  They have neither, and while I’m consulting my phone’s maps outside, a guy that I’m guessing the women inside have summoned comes out to ask, in English, if I’m lost and if I need any help.  I say I’m not lost and I’m fine, but thanks for asking, and he says it’s no problem, and to not hesitate to ask for help if I need it.  I’m not sure if he means specifically there and then, or in general, but it drives home this feeling that everybody is rooting for me and happy to support me.

Obviously, I’ll find some exceptions to this rule…I have since (in the subsequent 24 hours) encountered people in sour moods and that have not returned my smile, but the clear default is, people are happy to see me and eager and excited to interact.

I get out into countryside very quickly, and then I just don’t see anyone.  Well, not quite.  I meet two different guys on the road, one walking, one biking.  Both have a lot to say to me, but I only understand the tiniest fragments.  They both shake my hand and smile and seem to be welcoming me.  The second one, the one biking, offers to share with me some “vino” which I gratefully decline (I’m having a hard enough time staying hydrated as it is).

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End of the pavement (for now)

I’m deep into some sparsely trafficked gravel road when I decide to call it a day.

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Sandy sandy road

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Filthy pistons

I find a good spot to pull off and am dozing off an hour before sunset before I can even pull out my sleeping bag or pad.  I startle some cows and a horse by coming to, and after they canter off a bit, they regain their nerve and approach me slowly the way livestock does.  I lie there on my side, for 20 minutes or so, looking at them looking at me, while the sun sets.  Traffic increases during this time, I guess it’s a commuter road for ranch workers, but nobody slows down enough to suggest anyone can tell I’m there.  I’m not particularly well hidden, but I’m low and apparently blending in.

Sleep is good, though my hips regret my decision to forego getting out my inflatable pad in favor of using my Z-rest alone.  I wake up with the sunrise at just before 6 and am on my way maybe an hour later.  My food and water are both plentiful, and the gravel road is bumpy, sandy and formidable, but my legs feel eager to take on the day.

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Morning road

A small work truck pulls up and slows down. The guy in the passenger seat asks me something I don’t understand, and when I respond in english, the back sliding door opens and a guy that knows some english asks me what I’m doing. I say I’m biking, and he asks if I’m being safe. I say, yeah, I have a helmet and a mirror, and he says “do you have a gun or a knife?” I say I don’t, and he says “so, just rocks then” meaning the rocks all around us. I say, yeah, I guess. I get the sense he’s sizing me up a bit, but I’m not feeling particularly threatened. I think he’s just being a bit melodramatic. I ask how far it is until the pavement starts again, and he says about 3 miles. I thank them for stopping and they take off. The paved road is, turns out, only about 300 yards away.

To avoid the highway, I went down a river valley that is the next one over from the one where the highway is, and that I now need to reunite with. So, I have a ridge to climb.

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Steep climb ahead

I’m not sure how much climbing it is (no bicycling directions from GM with elevation profile while offline), but it is steep, pretty narrow in parts, and trafficked heavily by trucks. It’s steep enough and the trucks are large enough that some of them are barely going faster than I am. I catch up with one after it passes me and think “it would be great to grab on to this thing!”. The next one I catch up with, I actually do grab on to, but I’m on its driver’s side and when the driver shifts gears, I worry that he’s stopping to get out and yell at me and I let go. But I couldn’t stay there, I’d be fodder for oncoming traffic, so just as well.

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Where I ended my first, short-lived, semi-hitch-pull

I find a piece of rope a little further up, and the next slow semi to pass is not too hard to catch up to, but I just can’t get the rope out in front of me far enough to get on the hook I’ve chosen.

Then I find a plastic traffic cylinder. It’s about 3 feet long and after riding awkwardly with it in tact for a bit, waiting for my next chance and thinking about how best to modify it, I pull over and take my knife to it:

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Can't wait for my next big climb on truck-trafficked roads

I keep the part on the left. The handle is the handle and the hole is the ‘lasso’. Unfortunately for the timing of this experiment, I’m close enough to the pass that the road is leveling out and the trucks are going intractably fast. Not to worry, with my new mod, I can fold it in thirds and place it with my growing collection of random stuff on my back rack. Having what looks like (and arguably is) random garbage strapped all over your bike is also, I find, not a bad way to blend in, in developing countries.

I get to Imuris, my first town since Nogales (MX) at the border, and roll up to a restaurant with a guy out front leaning against a minivan. He’s smoking a roach which he says is marijuana, and would I like some? I haven’t bought marijuana illegally since my home state legalized it years ago (IIRC), and I’ve been fortunate to be gifted it throughout this trip, to the extent that I re-gifted some the day before rather than risk crossing the border with any. So, yeah, I wouldn’t mind, if I’m honest. But I’m not honest with him…I think I should acclimate for a bit longer before indulging in any of that. So I thank him but decline, and ask where to get lunch. He points to the restaurant, and it’s then that I learn that he’ll be my waiter and cook. He goes to some lengths to get me coffee, which I asked for, and even greater lengths for sugar, which I didn’t, but I use anyways so that his efforts are not for naught. He makes me 4 tacos carnitas, and I’m not entirely sure my immune system is ready for this, but no point in beating around the bush, and they look absolutely delicious.

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Tacos and roasted onion appetiser
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Chef, waiter, stoner, and all around great guy (let's hope my gut agrees)

Continuing on after lunch, I get some more coffee at the Oxxo (the coffee from the restaurant was a small cup of instant) and then I’m thinking I’ll try out the highway, but I’m repelled from it like a magnet with the same polarity, and I take a secondary road through a quaint town, then find that I can continue along it and add only a couple miles to the trip from here to the next town (Magdeline de Kino). I’m descending down a cobblestone road and I get my first chase by an unrestrained dog of this trip. Two of them, actually. I slam on my brakes and dismount and they disarm immediately. I walk down the cobbles, and after pedaling through a washout with 3-5″ of water, I’m on a stretch between a railroad track and a small canal.

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I get to Magdeline and cruise around town for a bit, then when I notice that hotels run only about $25 a night decide I’ll do one more town for the day and then get a room if that town also has them for so cheap. I haven’t showered since Tuscon and I’m curious to know what combination of dirt- and sun- browned I am, and eager to smell a little better.

I get to Santa Ana and the first hotel I spot has rooms going for that acceptable rate (450 pesos) so I take a room, a wonderful shower, and then go out for a delicious chicken dinner. Afterwards I scope out a super market and get a few morsels for dinner #2. I think stocking up on non-garbagey road calories might be a bit of a challenge, but I’m up for it. I’ll also lean towards getting hot food roadside as long as my luck holds up. I’m not gabling with water, and it’s a bit of a bummer to be in bottled water buying mode, but I’ve been in this mode not long ago (Poland, Albania) and I’ll get over it.

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May 21 – 24: Catalina to Nogales

I upload my previous post from Lupe’s and then cycle the last 8 miles to Maria and Art’s place in Catilina, which, turns out is a town separate from Tuscon by about 20 miles.  Their place is up a bluff in a new, nicely executed housing development where the yards sport native cactus in well manicured gravel. It’s Saturday and Maria won’t be back from her roadtrip with friends to the Georgia O’Keefe gallery in Santa Fe until Sunday, coinciding with my original, and turned out way late, ETA.  Art answers the door with a “Hey Buddy”, puts out his hand and when I do the same to shake, he pulls me in for a bear hug as I apologize for being a sweaty mess.  He brushes this off as he takes me in, and within about 30 seconds I somehow feel completely at home.  Within 3 minutes I’m showering and finally becoming a fully hydrated human again.  Within another 3 minutes I’m sprawled out on their guest room bed and I’m asleep by 2 in the afternoon.  Considering we’d only just met, these numbers are a testament to how hospitable Art is (and not to what an inconsiderate freeloader I am).

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Other than the cheap motel my first night in Flagstaff, I haven’t slept in a bed since the night after White Rim, in Moab, about 3 weeks ago.  It’s also the 6th time I’m sleeping in a bed since I left Seattle on April 7.  I’m making up for a shortage of the kind of deep sleep that you can only get in a truly comfortable bed in quiet room within a home.

We have a nice Italian dinner out, then a beer back at the house, and then I’m soon off for more delicious sleep.  The next day we go out for breakfast, then back at the house, I do Duolingo and take a cat nap in an outdoor sofa in the back yard under an awning.  I wake up at noon and Art suggests we go see some stuff in town.  We jump in his truck and he takes us out to see the Mission San Xavier del Bac.

 

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From there, we feel our way out to the road that takes us up Kits Peak, where we marvel at how far the views extend and check out some of the telescopes, including this big one the has a big shaft coming up out of the hilltop diagonally atop of which is a mirror that tracks the sun to shoot it’s reflection down the shaft and through a series of additional mirrors and instruments.

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We get home around 6 and watch some of a broadcast of The Outlaw Jesse Wales in the background while we read and putter on our phones.  I’ve never actually seen it before, and it’s pretty good, for a western watched in the background.  As far as I can tell, it’s mostly about how good Clint Eastwood as Jesse Wales is at spitting black stuff on things and putting bullets in people.

Maria gets home from her road trip, and we enjoy animated conversation about all number of things through dinner up until I can resist the beck and call of the comfy bed no longer.

The next morning, I enjoy a bonus shower, re-pack, and then chat with Art and Maria over coffee.  Art takes off to work on a project, and then Maria and I say our farewells as I load up my bike.

I feel completely re-energized, as much as if I had just spent the same 48 hours with family, while at the same time, I’m excited to have two wonderful people as new friends.

I head to Trader Joes and load up on the standard fuels, adding another 1.6L to my water carrying capacity, bringing my total to 7.1L.  I fill at every opportunity, and the level of water on hand never goes below 3.5L.  I’m paralleling the interstate, and the going South from Tuscon is nowhere near as remote and sparsely populated with services as the road was coming into Tuscon (Catalina) from the North.

I call Rodney who work’s at Sal’s bike shop in Nogales AZ, on the border to Mexico.  I’ve found him on Warm Showers, which is like Couchsurfing, but specific to bicycle tourers. He’ll be happy to host me and relay his learnings from other cyclists the following day when I’m due to get there.

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I ride a long stretch of trail that runs between the dry Santa Cruz River and the interstate, and it’s got exercise stations with chin-up bars and the like.  Shortly after that ends, I get on a road that’s leading to a cluster of medium size towns.   I haven’t been more than 20 minutes from a watering opportunity, nor have I been out of cell signal, as far as I can tell.

It’s getting to be the time of day when I find a place to crash for the night, and while there’s no shortage of well groomed orchards (of what, I’m not sure), those are private property and I’d probably feel better camping roadside than trespass into an orchard.  Though they do look inviting.

Then I come upon Quill Creek Veterans Municipal park.  It has a fantastic playground with implements I can use to hang from the hands or legs, and otherwise stretch myself out after 6 hours on the bike, and I’m doing that and thinking about staying there for the night when a mom rolls up with two boys.  I don’t really feel like interacting, so I give them a wide berth.  Then I decide maybe I should move on.  Further on, it’s just getting more developed, with more orchards.  The sign with the park rules doesn’t entirely specify if camping was not allowed.  It does say that hours were sunrise to sunset, but also that no overnight vehicle parking is allowed, which seems specific enough to imply that overnight bike and butt parking is allowed. It also said to call if there were questions, and contemplating this as I was riding further on, I decided to call, but got only an automated message that didn’t help.

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So I decide that at this point I can plausibly claim that I thought it would be fine, if anybody does come by.  So, I go back, and make dinner in the picnic table area by the playground.  The mom and boys leave as the sky darkens.  I’m eating and monitoring activity.  A green Kia Cube thing comes, stays over on the other side of the park for a while with the lights on, then leaves.  Maybe they locked the gate?  No, next a police car comes and does the same pattern of pull in, idle for a few minutes, then leaves.  All the while I’m in pretty plain view, albeit in increasingly dim light, and about 50 yards away.  I consider approaching the cop and asking what he thinks the rules specify w.r.t. me crashing there, but decide not to.  After he leaves, it’s about 8:30pm when a third car pulls in.  They pull right up to the playground area, and almost certainly see me from their car where they sit, idling, with the lights on, illuminating the playground directly and me somewhat indirectly.  At this point, I’m pretty committed to staying somewhere in the area, but clearly I’m not going to have the run of the place.  I load up my bike and ride across their beams and over toward the restrooms.  I forgot to mention, this place has working water fountains and immaculate bathrooms.  I use one of them, then I go to grab my toothpaste and stuff, and when I go to open the bathroom door again, it won’t.  It’s on a timer system that I just happen to have straddled with one successful attempt, and one failed one.

I ride past some wood car barriers blocking off a large stretch of parking lot that parallels two football fields, then set up camp off the edge.  I’m sure nobody will look for or find me here.  The people from the car play on the playground a bit, then leave.  Just some kids, maybe drinking.  After they leave, I decide to ride over through brush I can’t really make out and enjoy another push/pull/stretch session.  On my way back, I notice my front tire is gone flat.  Serves me right, tromping through thorny brush like that.  I’ll deal with it in the morning.

I’m on my pad, in my bag, watching birds fly around eating moths that are attracted to the powerfully bright lights that light much of the football (sized) fields and that will stay on all night.  No matter.

I get to sleep, but at about 4am, I hear sprinklers.  At first, they look well tuned to water the field, and not outside the fence up against which I’m sleeping, but somehow, after a couple of oscillations they start to breach, and I’m sprayed.  I move my setup another 10 feet away (as far as I can go on flat) and again I’m fine for several oscillations then I’m sprayed again.  Somehow the water pressure is fluctuating.  Oh well, a little water never hurt, and I just resign myself to possible future sprays, but no more come.  That row of sprinklers stop, and the next one starts, well out of range, but now the sky is peanut butter and grape jelly: sunrise is imminent.

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When there’s enough light to clearly see everything, I get up, take my front wheel off, grab my tools and patch kit, then start fixing my flat from bed.

Before the sun is all the way up, there’s a team of 3 workers about 10 yards away, driving posts and doing improvements to the already immaculate park.  The budget on this place must be through the roof.

I continue working on my things, they work on their thing, and nobody is fussed one way or the other.  They give so few shits about me that after I’m done fixing my front tire (and fender) and oiling my chain and am ready to switch to packing up and gearing up, I go ahead and change out of my underwear and into my bike shorts, albeit in one fell swoop, without feeling the need to make any effort to conceal.  I roam round the park once I’m packed, hitting the restroom, then the playground.  The workers smile and say good morning with thick accents as I pass them one by one.

I ride to a Safeway that’s about 7 miles away, eat a breakfast of greek yogurt and granola, and am about to head out when an older guy who is also eating at the Safeway-provided picnic tables starts asking me about my trip, and telling me about his world travels.  I pause him to grab a coffee from the starbucks inside, then spend about 40 minutes listening to his accounts of cruises and travel that is a far cry from how I travel.  He seems to really appreciate the company, and offers me a place to crash, but alas, I have a place arranged, and it’s 45 miles further on.  I ask him to take his picture, and he grimaces and declines.  At least I tried, and I get a dose of rejection therapy!  I give him one of my contact info slips and ask him to friend me on facebook, and when he admits he doesn’t know how, I find him using my FB app and send a friend requests.  He only has one other FB friend so far.  Here’s to hoping I become his second.

For long stretches, there is literally no alternative to cycling on interstate 19, and so for the first time this tour, on my last day in the USA of this tour, I’m riding interstate shoulder for 10+ mile stretches.  A(nother) dead snake startles me as I’m in heads down mode.  It’s largely monotonous riding up to Nogales, where I head to Sal’s Cycle Shop and meet Rodney.  He’s an interesting mix of gear head, gun nut, and good samaritan.  His shop has a “Support Your Police” spray-paint stencil hanging in the front passage, and he’s wearing a Cheech and Chong shirt.

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He’s gone off to tend to some business, and left me with full access to his shop.  He should be back in a bit, at which time the plan is to share a beer and pick his brain for what he’s learned from other bike tourers he’s hosted.  Then I’ll sleep in the shop (the original ask was to sleep outside) per his and his business partner Richard’s suggestion/offer.

Tomorrow, Richard will come by to open shop at 9am and make us some coffee.  After that, I’ll get an early-ish start for my border crossing.

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Arizona route!

I’m excited to be going international!!

May 20: Tempe to Catalina

I gotta say, Tempe is pretty great.  I stayed three nights there, and while I’m still not inclined to do a play-by-play, I have to say that Veronica and Michael were both super great to get to know.  I met three sets of their friends, rock climbed, yoga’d, ate my first PB&J&Fried Egg, and honestly had a hard time motivating to leave, there was just so much fun to be had.  I actually had to pass on a fancy party because I wanted to do yoga and was afraid I didn’t have anything fancy enough to wear.  All the same, I was in stitches getting the debrief afterwards.  But come Friday morning, I managed, just barely, to get back on my way.

I’m checking my tire pressure for the first time since getting it from my friend’s shop in Seattle, from a bolted down pump in a free, all hours repair station a few blocks from their place, when an older black man comes up and tells me about when it had opened.  I assume he’s going to ask me for some change, but he doesn’t.  He just wants to chat for a bit, and it’s nice to exchange good mornings and nice to meet yous within a few blocks of getting underway.

I ride a few miles to a Trader Joes, which is mostly on the way.  The cashier asks me, randomly (modulo bike gloves) “have you ever ridden you bike across the US”.
“I have not.  But I am on a tour right now.”

He’s surprised at how spot on his question was and we have my second nice chat of the day.

Stocked up, I eat breakfast out front.  I have too much food to fit in bags (along with all the water), I might need to reconfigure.

I apply sunscreen and then am a few miles on my way when I realize I’m not wearing my gloves, the replacements I ordered to Veronica’s, and have made it 6 miles and 2 stops before being misplaced for the first time.  One of them is still on my rear bag where I put them both.  I double back and the other one is in the parking lot, feet from where I had parked.

The day is quickly getting scorching.  I’m going through office parks, then big box stores, than upscale housing (with boats on docks on a very artificial seeming channel-system).  I’m vigilant about filling my bottles.  Problem is, it’s hard to know for sure when the last chance for a long stretch will be.

Cutting through a completely desolate stretch of indian reservation, the only scenery is a wall of dust gust going across the super flat terrain. 

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I stop for lunch in meager shade, and when I resume, there’s a hefty side wind, and enough breaks in traffic that I do some pretty solid bike-sailing, using the trunk of my unbuttoned collar shirt for sails

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I’m down to the last 1.5L of my water when I get to Coolidge where the first thing to my avail is a huge Walmart.  It’s my first time in one in ages (seriously, at least 10 years), but I want to make sure I get this taken care of.  Say what you will about Walmart, it’s pretty great that they have a filtered water dispenser right inside the front entrance, by the shopping carts.  Or at least this one does.  I want to thank someone for this, like an employee.  Any one of the many employees entering and leaving the store will do, but none of them will return my smiling gaze.  They don’t seem happy.

I go check out the Casa Grande ruins National Monument down the road.  It’s a fascinating thing.  It was 4 stories tall, and a centerpiece of a thriving society built on stick-dug irrigation ditches off the Gila river, but it had a sudden and mysterious decline that nobody is sure how to explain.  I kinda love almost nodding off in the cool dark movie theater in the visitor center.

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I talk to the rangers.  One is 70 but looks much younger and pores over maps with me, suggesting alternatives that seem more or less equivalent.  He’s perplexed by the route that Google Maps (GM, from here on) is giving me, and his colleague looks up where one of its roads meets a paved road in GM Street View on their computer, and sure enough, it’s unpaved and gated.  I agree that the paved way makes more sense, but by the time I’m at the decision point, I’ve had my fill of cars, and take the unpaved way.  I’ve also since seen this ghost bike, reaffirming that cars are my biggest threat.  Or at least one of them.

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The route runs on unpaved roads, of decreasing scale, along irrigation channels and into farming pastures, is completely car-free, and I’m loving it.  I take a right turn at a T, which I think is according to the GM route, but it’s not.  The right turn that GM wants me to take is further on, through the top of the T.  But along the top of the T is a well maintained barbed wire fence, as I’ve determined surveying it on my 1/4 mile backtrack from my wrong turn.

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Backtracking...
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May 20 (until midnight)

But then I find a spot where the barbed wire is spread apart by a pole, tall enough that I can almost walk my bike through.  I do that and I’m back on course.  There’s a couple more gates, but they’re only chained closed, not locked, so I continue going.

The sun is about 20 minutes from setting, and the full(ish) moon is already out in force, and there’s a little shrub in the middle of the road which seems to beckon, so I set up for…just dinner.  The rangers talked about a picnic pull off on the main road that was 25 miles more from there, and we discussed me sleeping on one of the picnic tables, and I like that idea. 

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Irrigation ditch trails
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Has the same sign on both sides...
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Great spirits at sunset. Fun with jumping, timed selfies. MOON, YO!!

So, maybe this is just a break.

I finish dinner and am commencing stretches and exercises and stuff, absolutely loving the warm evening desert breeze when I spot a car’s headlights in the distance.  I wait a long time for them to come closer, and it’s hard to tell if they’re moving, but finally, yeah, they’re definitely coming, and I have to hurry just enough for it to be exciting to get re-clothed and moved off the road.  It’s a bright moonlit night by now, so to truly hide I’d have to make a real effort.  I’m not that bothered about being spotted, but if it’s all the same, I prefer that nobody know where I am at night.  So, I angled my bag reflectors away, lay low and watch a pickup pass.

Back to yoga and stuff and another pickup passes in the other direction, with women in the bed talking loudly enough that I can make out every word perfectly.  Nothing interesting.  They turn up the road a ways, and shoot guns for a while, then head back the way they came.

I could easily go to sleep, but I have 13 miles to go to the picnic area, and about 3L of water left.  From there, it’s another 25 miles to the first chance for water.  I’m cutting it a little close.  I’m also not tired, and I can see the road well enough by moonlight that it makes sense to cover some of those miles in the dark.

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With bike headlamp, but the moonlight worked pretty well too (just not for phone cameras)

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It’s my first time night biking on this tour, and it’s pretty great.  I give up on using my eyes to catch sand spots, and just ride in a way so that when I hit them, I don’t fall.  I might stop cold, but I’m able to clamp down and stay upright.  It’s other-worldly, biking among giant cactus trees that loom above and cast cartoon-like moon shadows on my path.

I get off the unpaved road, and on to the main road at 1:30 am and there’s about 1 car per 15 minutes.  The odd thing is you can see the headlights for a full 15 minutes before the car tears by at 55mph.  I don’t want to be spotted, so I pull off perpendicularly to the road to deactivate my reflectors, behind a shrub when they’re close, but it takes some practice to do this with 30-60 seconds to spare instead of several minutes.  It’s fun to sneak about, trying to not let people spot you, on a full moon night.

I get to the picnic area, and alas, no water.  I eat and brush my teeth, and by 3 I’m on the picnic table, light coat, fleece bottoms, no sleeping bag.  Next time, I’ll just start with the sleeping bag, as I’d needed to pull it out by the time I got to actual sleep.

I wake up to a pickup truck pulling in.  It’s 5:30am.  I have 1.5L of water left and 25 miles to go.  More urgently, I have to drop a deuce, like, 5 minutes ago.  I pack hastily and take off down the road to find a place to dig a hole.  Disaster narrowly averted.

I’m trying to conserve my 1.5L, but I keep having bone-dry throat.  I feel like I’m living the actual hydration pre-crisis that I described in my last post, and that then I must have been dramaticising it.  I’m trying to keep my mouth closed, and force myself to go slow enough that I can do so (not have to breath more than my nose can accomodate).  I’m taking mouthfulls of water and holding them in my mouth to help keep my mouth closed and my throat un-parched.  I’m down to half a liter, and I still have 17 miles to go along the same steady uphill grade.  I try to calm myself down, but I’m also woozy like I haven’t completely woken up yet and I have this nagging fear that I’m gradually getting closer to just giving into the wooziness. There’s no two fucking ways about it, I’m critically low on water.  Traffic is not infrequent, so if I have to pass out, as long as I don’t get killed in the process, someone will find and rescue me.  And I’m increasingly sure that getting the rest of the way is going to involve someone’s help, one way or the other, so better before passing out, and it’s time to beg…again.  I really have to get out of the business of needing to do this.

I don’t want to be too alarmist, so maybe I can do it casually at first, and if the driver is paying attention, they’ll get it.  When the next car is approaching from the opposite direction, I grab my bottle with my left hand, sit upright and wave large with my right arm and smile.  As they wave back, I go to my elbows and point to the bottle in my left hand and shake it slowly back and forth.   It all happens in under 3 seconds, and I’m thinking there’s no way they could have registered the gesture as I watch them continue on in my rearview, but after about 5 more seconds, their brake lights come on.  I turn around, and they’re turning around.  I’m tearing up now, writing this, thinking about how relieved I was, but at the time I was just so impressed that the very first car understood what I was asking, and accommodated.   I express as much to the two young women as they give me a 16oz bottle, and open a gallon bottle to fill my 1L bottle.  The passenger woman says “yeah dude, there’s nothing out here for a long ways.  Be careful!” as we fill my bottle, and I thank them over and over.  The driver says something like “we gotta get out of the fucking road” and is apparently kinda stressed about being stopped in the highway.  So after the fill up, the passenger who gave me the water says “peace OUT” in a cool, casual yet enthusiastic way, and they turn around again and take off.

I drink most of the liter straight away.  I immediately feel many fold more awake, and know now that I’ll make it fine.  I’m so grateful and humbled for the help, and disappointed in myself for needing it, that I get chills when I see a roadside memorial with little water bottles under each cross.  I wonder if I would have desecrated the memorial by stealing some of them had I not just succeeded in begging for help.

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The Senoran desert is not to be trifled with.

I’m in Lupe’s mexican restaurant, writing this.  It’s the first anything since leaving Coolidge 45 or 50 miles ago, drinking my fill of water, and coffee, waiting to hear from the friend of a friend that he’s back from his morning appointment so I can meet him.  It’s just going noon. Our mutual friend and I intialy estimated that I’d be there the night after this one.  I ended up covering the 110 miles in about 24 hours instead of 60, not because I was in a hurry, but because the scorching heat is firmly in charge of what goes on.  I’m very glad that I covered the miles at night that I did.  That was key.  My major mistake was making the last-minute decision to go un-paved, but not making sure my water was sufficient to support this choice.  I need to establish zero-tolerance for optimism (for luck and good fortune) playing any role in my water planning.  Several times now I’ve recalled Vlad the Bulgarian, expressing surprise that I didn’t have more with me on my bike, while I casually notice he had 2 x 2 liter bottles on his rear rack, in addition to what’s on his frame.  They were coming from the Sonoran desert, after all.  I think I need to get a couple of 2 liter bottles and bring my capacity up so that I have at least a liter to drink per 10 miles, more if there’s climbing involved, plus an emergency liter.

May 15 – 17 : Coconino NF to Tempe

As I take a couple tablets, along with my last gulps of water just after waking up, I jokingly think to myself that ibuprofen is like water in tablet form in the sense that, lacking sufficient water, it’s the next best thing to alleviate a dehydration induced headache. I also have a couple of granola bars and carrots for breakfast, then I hit the road.

[Note: I’m switching from using past to present tense. It seems much easier…who knew!  Don’t be confused, unless stated otherwise, everything that I say “is happening”, actually “has happened” at some time in the past. :)]

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A good stretch of road

I’ve gone about 7 miles on the gravel road, when I start to develop an appreciation for the climbing I’ll need to do that day. I’m pedaling pretty hard, focusing on my line down the road to avoid the fairly substantial washboard bumps. For some stretches, I ride on the very edge of the road, where ideally it’s too soft and sandy to form washboard bumps, but not so soft that I’d spin out. Of course, there are several points where I can’t keep that line, or it’s just not there, at which point I have to either (hopefully) right my bike from fish-tailing in the sand, or settle the bike bucking from the ridges, or at times, strangely, seemingly both. For other stretches, this isn’t a viable tactic, and instead the choice is to walk the bike, or keep up a speed and momentum so that the bike rattles over the bumps but doesn’t resonate with them into bucking.

It’s enough effort that I’m breathing hard through both my mouth and nose, so that as I come to a decline and I have the chance to close my mouth and recompose, it is completely dry. It takes many seconds to produce saliva to eliminate the strange and pre-panic inducing sensation of all the tissue in the mouth, down into the back of the throat, being bone dry, and I’m grateful for a few teaspoons of water in one of my bottles to aid in the matter. I don’t feel like I’m on the verge of critical dehydration as I’m not inclined to consume the remainder of my carrot, onion, or italian salad dressing packet for their moisture content, which I would expect I would be, if I were. This is actually based on a recollection I have of the ending of one of the more recent James Bond movies, where the arch criminal’s poetic justice came in the form of being left in the desert with only motor oil, and then it being revealed that when his body was recovered, the autopsy concluded that he drank the oil. Or something like that. Anyway, I feel thirsty, but not mortally parched.

That said, I don’t actually know where my next opportunity for water will be, so when I get to a junction where my route is again paved road, I’m a bit relieved to see cars. I spot a couple of men tending to a pond, with a well faucet sticking out of the ground next to them, but they’re off in the distance a bit, behind a fence. I yell to get their attention and then point to my bottle and ask if I can get some water from their tap. One of them yells back “try the house just down the way”. I start that way, then see a sign for an RV park in 500 feet, and realize that I’m being a bit premature in begging for water.

Sure enough, there’s a mini-market for the RV park, and it’s thankfully open early on Sunday. After a little bit of confusion, in some part caused by my use of the word “potable”, I’m directed to a sink in the back. I down a liter on the spot, and fill up my 3 bottles. Mostly I use 1.5 liter bottles, but I keep a 1 liter one around because it’s the only one that will fit under a lot of the faucets I come across. I buy another 1.5L bottle, increasing my total capacity to 5.5L.

Rehydrated, or at least well on my way to it, it’s time to drink some of my daily diuretic, a.k.a. coffee. The pot has some, but not enough to fill a cup, so the woman behind the counter says I can just have it, and makes another pot from which I will buy a second, full cup. Out in front of the store in the only shade available is a second baby-boomer, nursing a coffee and chain smoking. We start talking, and when he asks where I’m headed and I say Mexico, he grimaces like he’s just stepped on a lego. I’d gotten a similar reaction from the Hells Angel in the woods outside of Flagstaff a few days earlier. In both cases, after nonverbally expressing a certain amount of disgust, they say something to the effect of “why would anybody ever want to go there”, to which I say “why wouldn’t I?” I have to think of a better response because this seems to be a bit tepid and perhaps even encourages the “Everybody down there is a criminal,” or some such nonsense that follows. Then one of the key paradoxes of ignorance borne hatred becomes clear: they’d like to back up their assertion with some personal experience, or some specific supporting case, but they clearly know almost nothing about the place. To break an awkward silence, I politely ask “Oh, so you’ve been there?” to which he answers “Oh yeah, I’ve been there.” but doesn’t give any specifics.

I steer the conversation to how happy I am that I found the place and found water, and he tells me that he used to hop trains across the country. I say that I’d always wanted to do that, but was scared from doing so by the stories I’d heard when I was hitchhiking many years ago about yard dogs (railroad yard security guards) beating train hoppers to within an inch of their lives. He confirms that this is how it these days, but not when he was doing it. He says that he’s never hitchhiked but always wanted to. The topic of the good old days, being good when circumstances and our ages permitted, leads to discussion of how easy it used to be to find free food by dumpster diving. He lights up, recounting times when there was all kinds of food freely available, and then we jointly lament the fact that the restaurants and groceries now keep perfectly edible but discarded food locked down and/or destroyed in a compactor. I say “Well I guess that’s good for business. Think of all the people who wouldn’t buy food if they could get it for free”, to which he grunts a wry smile, but I sense that we’re dangerously close to broaching larger issues of economics and politics on which, we seem to both realize, we share little common ground.

I’m fiddling with my helmet and he notices my mirror, so I give my standard speech about how crazy it is to me that all cyclists, or at least distance cyclists, don’t use some kind of mirror because of how important it is to know what’s behind you. In return, I learn that he’s a combat veteran of Vietnam, and that he was rear guard for his ground patrol. I don’t know how to respond, so squeeze out an awkward “Thank you for your service…sounds stressful.” He tells me that he was depressed after serving, and they tried a drug whose name he can’t remember, and he took it exactly one time. Not long after, he says he discovered coffee, and that that’s the only antidepressant he needs. “I call it liquid mood enhancer!” I quip, and I get a chuckle. We’re on good terms and having a good time sharing things about ourselves that are on safe territory: cigarettes, prescription drugs, vagabonding…and then the woman from the store comes out. She lights up a cigarette herself and had apparently overheard my plans to go to Mexico. She starts recounting a good friend of hers, whose name escapes her, but how this friend, a white guy, would extol the virtues of Mexico and Mexicans, and had bought some property down there, and ended up mutilated. Then she recounts some completely general/vague but hateful sentiments made by a friend of her’s that is US born but of Mexican descent. One option here would have been to call bullshit on all of it, and part of me feels hypocritical that I did not. Instead, I acknowledge by saying “well, I guess there’s good and bad people everywhere.”, to which she rolls her eyes and says “yeah, I guess.” It seems clear to me that she too has no actual, substantive experience in Mexico or with Mexicans, and her credibility is not zero, but it is dwarfed by the credibility of the Bulgarians I met in Sedona who had just come from Mexico, traveling by bike as I will soon be, and who had nothing but positive things to say about the people they interacted with.

I’m disappointed and saddened by how ugly people can be as I wish them well and make my leave, but still feel a little warmth over the connection I made with the Vietnam veteran. Then again, I also think about how a non-white, non-straight, and/or non-male would have fared in their interactions at that RV mini-market, and feel conflicted about my privilege and how I handled the situation.

The grade and winds are pretty brutal, and the going is extremely slow. I’m barely going 4 mph for long stretches, and averaging 7.5mph after 4 hours of riding, but the hydration situation is vastly improved. I make a point of pushing water through my system, and I’m doing so at a rate of about a liter per hour. There’s no fill-up opportunities until twin towns Strawberry and Pine 40 miles away, but with my new larger capacity, I’ll arrive before or very soon after I run out of water, even at my current guzzling rate. Food-wise, I’m a bit light on the old regulars, bars and trail-mixes, but I have a surplus of onion, carrots, and a resealable small packet of italian dressing with which I concoct the following, that I coin the “roadside bicycle tour salad”:
Slice off a 1/8 wedge of onion and peel the skin off the wedge.
Slice some of this into smaller chunks with incisors, into mouth. Hold in mouth.
Slice some carrot into chunks with incisors, into mouth. Hold in mouth.
[Repeat with with peppers and any other available, crunchy vegetables]
Tilt back head, open mouth and sprinkle in a pinch of trail mix. Close mouth, and hold.
Pucker lips around salad dressing packet nozzle and suck in a few drops of dressing.
Chew with molars (FLAVOR TIME!)
Swallow.
Repeat.

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Roadside bicycle tour salad preparation station

It might only be advisable for people with sufficiently large mouths, and you do want to avoid overdoing it and possibly choking, but I’m pretty pleased with how easy and tasty it is.

The car traffic is fairly light, but comes in bursts. The only overtly aggressive gesture comes from a motorcyclist who holds out his right foot as he passes very unnecessarily close on my left. My preferred and default response has by this time become a slow, side to side nod, dipping my head down a bit, so as to convey disappointment. It seems to me that this is the most impactful sentiment that I can convey regardless of if they’re trying to elicit fear, anger, and/or insult, or if they’re simply unaware of how dangerously close and/or fast they’ve just passed me. I’d guess the latter is the more common case, and I think the gesture lands. I can tell that they’re almost always looking at me in their mirror, by the way they weave a bit off-line after they pass, or more conclusively I can see them doing so when the lighting is right and there aren’t more cars coming that require my attention. Cars following soon after the car with the intended recipient of the gesture almost always give a wider berth, I hypothesize, because they’ve correctly interpreted it. This is some indication that most bicycle endangering drivers do so out of unawareness.

I roll up on what appears to be a dead snake, and while not large, it’s large enough to startle me a bit and so I take a picture.

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Not dead yet!

A few seconds later a car buzzes by unnecessarily close and startles the apparently not completely dead snake, which begins to writhe around, albeit on it’s back, and definitely startles me enough so that I make some kind of “eergh” noise and jump back. I’m no expert, but I’m fairly certain that it’s only a matter of time before the snake dies, and I’m riding off thinking “fuck that fucking snake!” when I realize that my fear is manifesting as hatred and I’m doing the snake a major disservice by not putting it out of its misery. Here, it’s worth noting that I was one of those kids that could not dissect frogs or mice in biology class. I’m somewhat unhappy with how squeamish I am, to the extent that I make a point of visually taking in as much roadkill as I can when I pass it by bike to desensitize myself. And believe me, I’ve seen a lot of it by this point. All sorts of animals in pretty much every stage of decay, dismemberment and obliteration. But I haven’t yet physically interacted with any of it, unless you count bill, the completely de-tissued, sun-bleached goat skull that I found in Greece last summer, which I don’t.

I dismount my bike, and find a sizable rock on the paved shoulder, eliminating the possibility of revealing an even less-dead snake. I gingerly walk it over to the snake, carefully line up the rock directly 3 feet above it’s head, and drop it. It’s my first time killing anything, mercy or otherwise, of that size. I leave feeling a bit shaken, but better for having done it.

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Cactus and climb

A few minutes later, a day cyclist passes me and reassures me as he does so by complimenting me on doing the climb while carrying so much weight. I resist the urge to braggingly let him know that I also just mercy killed the snake he surely noticed. Many more minutes later, I happen upon a much larger snake, thankfully fully dead judging by the car-tire width flat section just under his head, but to whom I give a very wide berth before parking the bike and approaching it very carefully to take a photo.

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Thankfully totally dead

Strawberry is a one bar town, and I roll into the parking lot knowing that Pine is only 3 miles further and has several restaurants and a market, but figure if the patron is welcoming, they have internet, and decent food, I’ll stop for my rest break and restaurant meal here. In the parking lot there’s a black guy, the first I’ve seen for days, if not weeks, with a fuzzy hat that makes it look like he has spikey white hair a la Bart Simpson, surrounded by 5 or 6 white people that look eager for him to be their good friend. There are still clearly racist undertones in this scene, but of a much more palatable flavor. Inside, the waitress that I flag down is neither particularly friendly nor rude, and reports that the WiFi works for some people and not for others.  A quick scan reveals it’s more of a smokey bar than a pub or a restaurant, so I say “I guess I’ll carry on then, thanks!” and leave.

Pine is perfect-sized, with a gas station at the edge where I get advice on where’s good to eat on a Sunday, and a market to supply up at when I’m done. I get a nice Cobb salad at the Sidewinder, and use their WiFi to order new gloves and a mirror from Amazon, shipping to my friend’s friend’s place where I headed to in Tempe. the waitress is kinda cute and increasingly friendly the longer I stay. As I get endless coffee refills while working on my previous blost (aka blog post, hat tip to Buck in Seattle for the word) she learns that I’m traveling by bike. At about an hour into it, she recommends a camping spot back up towards Strawberry a ways, where there’s a nice spring, so nice that she might check it out later herself. So, we’re clearly in flirting territory, and while she’s cute and definitely friendly, she also seems a little too animated, and I would bet very strong odds that she’s on some kind of goofballs, probably a bit of methamphetamine. It doesn’t make zero sense, she’s running around non-stop, having to be chipper for a series of patrons that I happen to notice are being shitty to her, all the while calling her ‘darling’ and ‘sweetie’.  I absolutely do not judge others in their struggles with substances, but I’m sure enough that this is something she’s struggling with and sure enough that I want to steer clear of it, that I’m sure I won’t be camping in that direction or otherwise exploring that possible possibility. As we’re out front and she’s filling some of my bottles from a pitcher she brought out (her idea, much less efficient than me bringing my bottles to the bar), I say that I think I’m too tired to go back uphill towards Strawberry, but I might pop back in for breakfast, and would she be here? She tells me that tomorrow is her day off with a “sorry charlie” smile, and my casual, maybe-rebuff and is met with a casual maybe-counter-rebuff, which I’m happy with and she seems to be as well.

I go to the market and stock up on entirely too much food. Kale, carrots, onion, red and green peppers, hummus, a box of macaroons, a half-gallon of almond milk (I practically have to, I’m so impressed they carry it), a box of cereal (I have to, given the almond milk), bananas to go in the cereal (I have to…you get the idea), a loaf of bread, packages of sliced turkey and sliced cheese, and a bottle of horseradish sauce. On some level, I know this is impractical, and that I should figure out where my next stocking-up options are before I buy so much, but instead I walk out with it all, and for the first time this tour, can’t close my bags they’re so full. I ride out of Pine and find a campground by a trailhead within a mile. I unload and have dinners numbers 2 and 3, and then manage to get all of the food stuff into the large pannier that holds my sleeping bag, pad, and bivvy when I’m riding.

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Bear country. All food goes into one well-sealed pannier

I have cellular signal, and I try to do my daily duolingo, but I’m too exhausted, and I’m asleep immediately. At about 1am, I’m startled awake by a deafeningly loud yelp. As I would figure out when I tried to imitate it for someone I’d meet the following day, it sounded like a walrus. I’d seen signs warning of bears in the area, so this is my fear. It sounds so loud and so close that I have no choice but to get out of my bivvy and don clothes and sandals so I can fight back or flee when the seemingly inevitable encounter takes place. I scan the area with my very bright bicycle headlamp, but can’t see anything, so turn I it back off and take the opportunity to move the bag with all the food several yards away from the rest of my camp.

It grows a bit fainter and less frequent, so after about 5 minutes of standing around straining to hear rustling, being startled by the yelp, then turning on headlight to see nothing, I go back to bed. I (still) have signal, so I pull out my phone to research bears in Arizona, but typically, get distracted immediately. I post a stupid video on instagram, and when a friend in Guam (where it’s 6pm) comments on the FB copy, I IM with him for a bit. Oddly, just by being online, I seem to be completely put at ease. I mean, I’m still startled and scared for a few moments when I hear this extremely loud noise, but then I just go back to being distracted from the fear by the shiny little screen in front of my face. I realize it’s the same mechanism as a crying baby being subdued by a set of keys jangling before its eyes, and that that’s a bit pathetic, but I’m grateful for it all the same. My other recent experience with this was last summer in Poland, where frightened by a loud grunt, alone and in the dark I managed to not get distracted before searching for “Bears in Poland”, but was then immediately distracted and amused by the first result, a site about and for large hairy gay polish men.

The yelps subside, I log off and go back to sleep, and sleep well.

The following morning, I eat two heaping bowls of cereal and bananas, some macaroons, a sandwich, and carrots with hummus for breakfast and get on my way. The riding is mostly down hill, and I rejoice in some morning back stretches while gliding down a descent that’s steep enough to provide a stabilizing no-hands velocity, but not so steep that I need to brake. I come to some road construction where only one direction can go at a time and ride to the front of the queue of cars. I ask the guy holding the stop sign if it’s safe for me to ride through when the cars go, and he says that it would be better to put my bike in the truck of the pilot vehicle when it gets there, and that he’ll be driving. His name is Sean, and he’s very friendly. After I hoist my bike into the bed of the truck, he offer me a 10oz bottle of cold water from an ice chest also in the truck bed. Usually I like to consider myself more socially responsible, and consequently somewhat better, than people who consume water out of such wasteful little plastic bottles, but it’s such a sweet gesture that I accept it enthusiastically. During the ride, I give my story, and get his. He’s following the money, working construction jobs wherever, trying to tuck some away for retirement. I say that that’s basically what I did, living simply and making sure not to buy stuff I didn’t need, and then I decided I wanted to spend some of that money before I was too old to do something like this.

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Photo I snuck of Sean with partially busted phone cam

As we pass a highway worker placing tabs on the freshly oiled roadway (and it would have truly sucked to have to ride the bike on that stuff), the worker bends down at the waist and places the tabs with a certain flourish, a joke for Sean’s benefit at which he chuckles and honks his horn, at which the worker stands erect with lips puckered and finger pressed to cheek. Sean says “so, yeah, as you can see, we have some fun out here.” He asks about where I camp when I remember “Oh, right, I gotta ask you. I heard this animal last night. It sounded like this”, which is when I realize the animal sound closest to my impression that I can definitively identify is a walrus. He can’t say based on my representation of the sound, but agrees that it could have been an elk, or a bear, or a wolf. He says he’s walked up on many bears, and once they realize that he’s a human, they take off fast, and then assures me that none of the animals that might have been making that noise are to be feared, at least not in these parts.

“So, then, just snakes?”
“Yeah, keep an eye out for snakes. Watch where you walk.”

To which I tell him about my mercy kill the day before, that it was my first, and that yeah, I’m a lightweight. He chuckles reassuringly and says that, yeah, he’s killed his share.

He asks me what I think of the state, and I recount a compliment that Susan had given it the day before: it’s cool that relatively little of it is privately owned ranch, and relatively a lot of it is public land. I don’t know how true that is, but I repeat it, to which he says, almost apologetically “yeah, the land is definitely the best thing about this state.” which helps drive home for me that I’m well into the heart of the other America. He knows that I come from the progressive, urban archipelago part of the country, and I sense he’s making an implicit apology for how he knows I must be perceiving things. Then again, maybe it’s all in my head, but now I realize that I should take for granted that I’m identifiable as an outsider, and adjust accordingly.

We get to the end of the construction corridor, he helps me unload my bike, and offers me more water, which I decline saying I shouldn’t take his as now I’m so close to the next town, but thank him again for the first one.

I look up “coffee shops” in Google Maps, and find one called “Scoops”, which is actually an ice cream and coffee shop, obviously, in town. Payson is a large town, with a Walmart and a Home Depot. As I pass the Home Depot I think “oh, I can use some more zip ties!” I go in, and make a point of removing my somewhat flamboyant (by local standards) button up, and wear just the tank top I have underneath. I also take off the (different) tank top trunk that cut off to use as a balaclava. I still stand out, with my patterned board shorts and leather sandals completing the outfit, but with the fierce/flamboyant knob turned down considerably. The experiment in altering how I’m perceived is somewhat inconclusive as I ask for help finding the zip ties from Ken who has lived in and around Seattle for many years, and is friendly and welcoming enough that I sincerely doubt he would have acted any different were I wearing a tutu and tiara. Well, maybe.

In Scoops, still in toned down mode, I go in eager to attempt a joke about the fact that their freezers are broken, as reported on a sign posted on the door (in hindsight, would have been a bad idea), but I’m completely ignored by the proprietor. Some freezer repair people come by and she has time to say hi and make a bit of chit chat with them, and then to continue tending to a drink or something that apparently requires 15 different steps. Only after at least a full minute does she let me know she’ll be right with me. I’m doing my best kindly brontosaurus (google it), mostly because I want to engage for its own sake. It takes her another full minute for any eye contact, and when I get it, I ask if their WiFi is working, to which she curtly says, “ya” and continues doing her puttering thing. I look around and see some preachy christian decor, and then decide to just leave. I don’t know if she was just super stressed out because her business was dealing with, what I realize on further consideration, was probably a pretty major set back. I mean, that was probably it. But I also can’t rule out that she was being terrible about acknowledging my existence or returning any niceties whatsoever because she could tell I’m a godless liberal, and this is her doing her modest part to fight god’s war. Shit, I just need some coffee.

I find a cafe across the street, lean my bike against it and walk it. It’s a classic greasy spoon and these folks may or may not be conservative christian, but they’re the coffee drinking, cigarette smoking kind if they are, and I can definitely make this work. “Just one?”
“Yeah, I’ll sit at the counter. Just coffee please.” as I sidle up, and that’s that. Nice, albeit not at all talkative, and I’m down with it. Some standard Q&A as I leave, and a brief and small widening of the eyes when I say where I’m headed, but very neutral response “that’s crazy, I mean, the whole biking thing”. I say, yeah, I guess it is a little, thanks, and am on my way.

After a few hours, I find a shady pullout and after checking carefully for any signs of snakes, stand my bike up and unload my hodgepodge smorgasbord. I scarf down 2/3 of it, and then stretch out and start to doze off. I’m woken every 3 or 4 minutes by the screech certain big rigs make with resonating wheel noise. BTW, is that what those flaps that hang down the sides of the containers of increasing numbers of big rigs are for? This is just as well. I don’t want to fall dead asleep, and I don’t want to set an alarm for myself either. I don’t even want to dig out all the little (sub-snake-sheltering-size) rocks poking me in the butt and back. I drape a leg over a saddle bag to achieve sufficient comfortableness, and have a 20 minute siesta, after which I’m rested enough to polish off the macaroons for a post-nap desert and saddle up.

The traffic is relatively light, but again, comes in small bursts of cars. The road is 2 lanes in the same direction, disjoint from traffic in the opposite direction, and for most of the way it has a wide shoulder with a manageable amount of debris. But then comes a stretch where there is no shoulder whatsoever, and within that, sections where guardrail comes right up to the solid white line. Sharing the lane with cars going the 55mph speed limit is simply not an option, and I keep my eyes peeled on my shaky, hastily purchased substitute rear view mirror. I hold out my left hand with a thumb up to cars approaching me from the rear as soon as they move out of my lane and/or signal that they are going to do so. A few times, when the car is neither slowing nor giving any indication that it is going to get out of my lane to go around me, and there are also cars in the other lane, I slow and turn my head to face them. There’s nowhere for me to go to get out of their way, and if they’re going to plow over me, they’re going to look me in my (sunglasses obscured) eyes as they do it. The trick to doing this safely is to not pull too far to the left when peering over the left shoulder, which is a bit challenging, but thankfully thousands of miles worth of muscle memory makes it surmountable. It’s working well until one car doesn’t notice me until she has to stop so fast that the car in the left lane also stops, presumably because they think she’ll need the lane to swerve around me at the last minute. Now there’s a bit of a jam up and while the car in the left lane resumes moving to give her room to get around me, I glare at the young woman driving the car that nearly plowed into me. I do my slow head nod, but she must be embarrassed and/or a bit shaken (as am I) as she doesn’t even look in my direction as she pulls into the left lane to pass me.

About 10 minutes later nearly the same thing happens again. The driver in my lane doesn’t seem to have to decelerate quite as fast (it’s a bit hard to judge deceleration rates when you start by looking in the mirror and then turn to look directly), but he lays on his horn as he pulls up behind me. I point at him and yell “you”, and then point to the left lane, in which other cars have slowed down considerably and continue “go around me!”, to which he (yes, white dude, of course) flips me off, and passes aggressively close. It’s only after this has happened that I notice the passable shoulder has returned, and I could have been, and evidently should be on it weaving around the broken glass, sheet metal screws, and other tire popping obstacles, while bumping over the non-flattened pavement creases. That must be why there’s signs peppering the road with a picture of a bicycle saying “stay on the shoulder”. Oh, wait a minute, actually they say “share the road”. Let it go, let it go.

I’ve depleted 1.5L of water by the time I get to the one shack/shop town of Rye, where I stop and give a very enthusiastic “Hi, boy am I glad to see you here and open! Do you have a tap I could use to fill this?” holding up my empty bottle. The woman coming out from the shack and walking towards the shop says “Well, we have water for sale.” I’ve prepared for this.

I’ve only been absolutely refused tap water and told I’d need to buy bottled water once, and that was probably for lack of constructive persistence on my part. It was on a weekend trip out to the Olympic Peninsula and I’d stopped into a dark windowless mini-mart that had two men of Asian descent behind the counter. I tried to explain that I was happy to pay for the water but that I didn’t want a new plastic bottle, to which they just nodded stubbornly. I stormed out saying “YOUR NESTLE OVERLORDS MUST BE SOOOO PROUD.” An hour later I was cursing my temper as my head throbbed.

This time, I say that I’ll buy a bottle, if I really need to, but I’d really prefer to pay a couple bucks to fill up the bottle I already have. I detect a slight sigh of exasperation just before she says “there’s a tap around the side, you have to let it run for a bit before it will be cold”. I fill my bottle, then get $2 from my wallet, walk into the shop, thank her and try to leave the money on the counter. She says “You don’t need to pay me for the water” and so I say animatedly “Oh, great! I just won some some candy!” and buy a kit kat and butterfinger cups for a dollar. I tried to give her the $2, but she refuses the extra dollar. All in all I’m handling the situation a bit awkwardly, but I’m working my way through it. She says “You’re welcome to rest in the shade” and I say that I don’t mind if I do. In front of the shop she has a bunch of knicknacks of the variety you see at flea markets. I scan my mental inventory for things that I’ve been meaning to resupply, and ask if she has any candles that might fit my candle lantern. She says she doesn’t, and comments that she’s been trying to resupply, but 5 out of 6 of her vendors don’t provide her service any more. She goes on to say that it’s because the economy is so terrible lately, and I see where she’s going with this. She’s been sweet and nice to me, but thinking back to the previous morning’s interaction with the Vietnam vet and the shopkeeper, I don’t want to simply go along with everything she’s saying, and therefore everything that she’s implying.

“Do you think maybe that might be because of the Walmart in Payson?” I say sympathetically, showing that I can use code too.

“Mmmm, no. That Walmart has been there for a long time. The economy has gotten a lot worse lately.”

“Umm, I’m sorry to hear that…” I say a bit quietly, not sure what to say from here. She gives me a blank look, so I double down saying, apologetically “I mean, you’ll probably hate me for saying so, but I’m from Seattle, and there the economy seems to be doing great.” thinking shit, I hope this doesn’t backfire.

“Yeah, that’s true. You got the tech and stuff up there.”
“Yeah.”
“Arizona is one of the 3 worst economies in the country right now. Arizona, Nevada, and California.”
“Yeah, sounds like things are really tough for people around here right now.”
“Yeah.”

And that’s that. I feel good about the what’s just happened. Somebody from a blue state has just had a one on one exchange with somebody from a red state, and while it was superficial, it was empathetic and honest, which seems to be all too rare in our country these days.

A man of her age (60s or 70s), I’d guess her husband, pulls up in a pickup truck and I change the subject to the seemingly long stretch of road before the next opportunity for water. I learn that it’s probably the Casino on a reservation about 60 miles further, and at one point I ask them if they think 5 and a half liters of water is enough for me to get there. I’m honestly not trying to be funny (or daft), I’m just a little spaced out, but this is the closest I get to seeing either one of them smile. The husband says “Well, uh, we don’t travel like that…” To which I say “Right, heh, sorry. Dumb question.”

I continue on, deciding I have one more climb I want to get done by the end of the day. I round a bend on the highway and BAH, there’s hundreds of cactus trees. I haven’t yet seen a single one and it seems ridiculously sudden that now they go on, forever, in every direction but the one from which I’ve just come.

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Cactus trees on the edge of Cactus Tree Land, from a bridge

When I’m close to the top of the climb, I get cell service and directions from Google Maps for the remainder of the way to Tempe. With the shorter remainder of the route, Google Maps suggests an alternative that it hadn’t before. There’s an old version of the highway that seems less traveled and requires 200 feet less climbing overall to Tempe (less up and down). It’s a couple miles longer, but still seems to be a clear win. The routes diverge at the pass, so both begin with substantial descents. I take the old highway version, and I’m about a mile and many hundreds of feet elevation committed to the decision when I see a sign that says road closed, 2 miles ahead.

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There were signs at 2 miles and a 1 mile, but apparently I didn't take pictures of them.

Now, there’s closed as in, closed for cars by a gate, and then there’s closed as in, does not exist any more (e.g. it’s been washed out). I’ve seen both kinds, and this sign isn’t showing its hand. I’m too far down to get signal and consult Google Maps satellite imagery. But I’m feeling lucky, and more importantly, feeling like I’m really done climbing for the day, especially climbing while back-tracking, so I continue on. I get to the road closure, and luckily it seems to be the closed-for-cars kind of closed.

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Road Closed barrier #1, definitely not applicable to cars. Good job Google Maps bicycle directions!

I scootch my bike under the gate and continue a delightful descent, hearing a lot of rustling in the surrounding scrub, making sure to be extra quiet as I pass structures even though as I do I can tell with some certainty that they’re abandoned. There’s another barrier, and then the road is completely unmaintained, and has a “world without us” vibe to it, and it’s great fun weaving between rocks and tenacious foliage nature coming up through the asphalt.
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Past barrier #2, and "The world without us" road.

I get to a barrier facing the other direction and I’m sad to have the fun behind me, but glad to now know for sure that it was a closed for cars road closure.

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I'm glad the one on the side I went in said "Administrative Area", and not "Private Property" like this one does.

After rejoining the main highway, I’m at the bottom of the last main descent before the next main ascent, and the hour is right to find a place to stay for the night. I’m at a turn-off for a spring, so I take that, and walk my bike over washout rock beds, and through calf-high spring basins, until I get to the spring’s main basin. I have a kit kat sandwich, then 3 slices of bread with horseradish sauce, for dinner. My only other food is most of an onion and half a bottle of horseradish sauce. I have another 25 miles to get to the Casino, and no idea why I didn’t buy more calories at the market in Rye, even if it was all junk food.

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Oasis space

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Cactus menagerie

As one might expect, this oasis in the middle of a vast expanse of arid land is teeming with life. There are tons of tadpoles in the spring basin, both large and nearly frog-shaped, and small. Bats swoop in just over me, as I’ve become a bit of a bug magnet, and I’m grateful for their work. There’s at least a dozen different bird songs going constantly, and among it all is one or more making really cool R2D2ish sounds. To top it all off, I’m at the bottom of a canyon wall of that looks like a exhibition of “all the cactuses, ever”.

Sleep is coming fast, and while there’s lots of rustling, I’m pretty sure snakes don’t make that much noise, but raucous birds might, so I only use the headlight twice to try and spot the culprit before I think “oh well” and let sleep take me.

In the morning, I’m a bit sad to not have any food (I’m not counting the onion), as I wake up really hungry, as I always do when I’m biking this much. But nothing to be done, and my stomach seems to realize this and after a while stops giving me grief about it. I’m in my underwear, puttering about, when I hear what sounds like a person’s voice. I put on my shorts and my suspicions are confirmed. Two guys walk up the 4×4 road and into the spring.

“Hey, how’s it going?”
“Pretty good. You?”
“Good, thanks! Where you headed?”
“Just up the spring some ways. We’re from ASU, doing some ecology research.”
“Oh, cool.”
“What’re you doing? Camping?”
“Yeah. Camped here last night, just passing through by bike.”
“Cool. Well, have a good one!”
“Thanks, you too.”

A woman catches up to them in the time they stopped to say hello, and she and I wave and smile at each other, and then the three of them are on their way.

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Snuck photo of ASU researchers after initial encounter. I'm such a sneaker!

I can hear them for a minute, and then gradually, eventually I can’t, so I figure that they’re pretty far away. I spend a couple of hours writing the earlier parts of this blost, messing around with the setup of my solar panel, and giving in to the temptation to strip down and dunk myself in the deepest part of the spring, which is about 16 inches. It feels great to rinse so much grit off, and I don’t even consider using soap, but it’s not long before I’m feeling kinda guilty about contaminating the thing with yesterdays (and the day’s before, and the day’s before that) applications of sunscreen, not to mention the always present chain grease on my right calf and other contaminants. On the other hand, it’s clear that 4x4s drive through the thing not infrequently, and that is probably just as bad.

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Having a hard time getting myself to leave the oasis

I’ve finally loaded up my bike and am just getting on my way at 11am. I have leather sandals that are much happier when dry, and I’m putting them back on after walking through the first spring to the washout road when I see the group coming back. I walk slowly ahead to give them time to catch up, but they don’t. Seems they’ve been waiting for me to clear out so that they could come in and do some work at that spot. Or is it just coincidence? If they were waiting, were they watching me? Were they watching me when I was naked? In any event, it doesn’t seem like I stand a lot to gain by going back and approaching them…best just to continue on. There are a few more sections of road submerged under spring water, and when I’m putting my sandals on after crossing the last one, the group catches up with me.

“Gotta keep the sandals dry. Looks like you guys have the right idea though, just regular hiking gear. That seems sensible.”
“Yeah, actually I just get stuff for cheap from goodwill” says Lindsey, the woman. The two guys hang back a bit and she and I continue chatting. I confess to my dip in the pond and express my concerns about contaminating it, and am relieved when she brushes them off as unfounded. I say something to the effect of “I can tell that other people have less regard for the spring’s ecosystem, so I was sorta justifying it based on that, but I’m trying to get away from that kind of thinking” and one of the guys replies with emphatic agreement and I’m happy to see that these kids care about preservation at least as much, and probably more, than I do. They tell me about their work and what they measure, and I tell them about my trip and my plans.

They point out that it’s a fairly hot time of year to go that far South, and while it’s an observation I’ve heard made before, this time I reply by saying “yeah, maybe I should wait it out for a few months. Hmm, yeah, totally. I could leave the bike somewhere in Mexico, go back to Seattle for the warm months when it’s great to be there, and then resume the tour when it gets cooler.” and as I say it, it feels like an epiphany. I’m not sure why, it is really a completely obvious option with no major drawbacks. I could make a challenge out of finding some work or some way to earn back savings I’ve used up during the first leg of the tour, and if I succeed, I’m not so much on a self-funded sabbatical after which I’ll have to resume living in the ‘real world’ as much as I’m restructuring my life for much the better.

I thank them for helping me figure out what I’m doing with my life. I mean it earnestly, and I sense that they get that, but it is also a bit comical, us having only just met and it being a result of chit chat about the weather, and we share a laugh over it.

I tell them my roadside bicycle tour salad recipe, having just written it up, and it seems to be a hit.

In talking about the abundance of wildlife around the spring, Lindsay says “Yeah, just now I saw three raptors back there.”
“Wha?! Snakes!!” I gasp.
“Uh, no. Birds. I mean, I don’t know birds that well.”
“Yeah, me neither, obviously.”

After saying I’ll be heading to Tempe that day to stay with a friend, Lindsey asks where in Tempe she lives. I tell her and she says, “oh, that’s near where I live. That’s where a lot of people our age live.” which it music to my ears as I never tire of much younger people mistaking me for being (even close to) part of their generation.

We’re close to back to the main road when we see a battle between two hawks and maybe 4 ravens. There’s a dramatic 1 on 1 breakout battle between a hawk and a raven where the raven had been tailing the hawk, attacking it from behind, but the hawk succeeds in braking rapidly forcing the raven to do the same lest the hawk gets the upper hand, and they simultaneously drop almost vertically, wings in full stop position for what could have been anything between 10 and 100 feet. I can’t help but let out a giddy “woooooh”, but feel a little self-conscious about it when the other three play it cool. They did, after all, just mention that they see this sort of thing pretty often.

I give Lindsey my card and that’s when we actually exchange names. I can’t recall the guys names. My trick of thinking of the first person I know, famous, from childhood, or whoever, who shares the name with someone’s name I’m learning and trying not to forget, has failed me as I try to learn 3 new names at once.

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Lindsey later takes this action shot of me as they pass in their car and e-mails it to me.

I eventually make it to Fountain Hills. Again, not mortally parched, but out of water. I have an eerie walk through a massive Casino bingo hall, entering from what turned out to be an emergency exit. The sign on the door as I enter said “No Smoking, No Talking”, and I deduce the first directive must apply only to people outdoors, whereas the second must apply only to people indoors. Another few miles, and there is an oasis of fast food chains, plus one “Senor Taco”, where I enjoy a shrimp burrito, which tastes like it’s made with spaghetti sauce, which is to say, A-mazing!

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Senor Taco it is, then

Going back to Lindsey and the two guys for a moment: As we exchange information, I mention that I blog about my travels and that I’ll probably blog about this interaction, and parting on this note gives me a lot of food for thought (in lieu of food for stomach) to gnaw on for the next couple of hours.

What is my obligation to the people I’m meeting and writing about? How do I feel about the fact that I’m increasingly composing thoughts about experiences I’m having into the narrative of this blog. In actual fact, the first thing I did with, this blog after sharing the existence of this blog, as I just had, with some subjects of this blog, was to revise this entry to be in the present tense. I can no longer persuade myself that my travels and interactions as a traveler are disjoint, or even loosely coupled, from my written reflections on them. Part of me thinks, well, this is no good: How then can I know that I’m undertaking this journey for any reasons other than to write about it?

What I do know is that this blog started as almost an afterthought, and was almost not started at all. If I hadn’t been snowed in at my sister’s place for a week, I wouldn’t have created the wordpress account, and I wouldn’t have un-gifted the bluetooth keyboard that I’d given her 3 or 4 years earlier, and brought it on this trip, and then almost none of this would have been written. Sure, maybe I got a little more nerve to drop in on the yoga class in Carbondale because I thought it would be cooler to blog that I had, rather than that I had just seen it and chickened out. But even if I’m completely corrupted, and my only motivating factor in any decision I make from here on out is: what would be the thing I’d most like to report to anyone who cares to read this, is that so bad?

Um, yeah, I guess it would be, actually. But thankfully, I can say with confidence, I’m not there yet. As I ride into Tempe in the early evening, I decide I can, and will, establish a 3-way contract between myself, my other subjects, and this blog.

Regarding my subjects: I’ll stop using my old Amazon business cards, scrawling “.wordpress.com” appended to my name on the card, and only giving them to people I deem worth the hassle based on arbitrary criteria and the dwindling supply I’ve brought with. I’ll make new cards (printed paper slips, actually) that I’ll give to every person I think I may possibly write about, and respect their right to see what I have to say about our interaction.

Regarding myself: I pull over on the side of the road leading into Tempe at some intersection to drink some water and to take a piss. In the orange glow of the low-angled sun, I see two gunmetal grey pit bulls cantering in my direction from the other side of the road. They both have on red collars, and one of them is dragging a leash. I’m composing these sentences in my head while simultaneously contemplating the possibility that they saw me riding, and that this triggered an attack instinct as bicyclists do for many dogs, and also triggered their apparent recent escape.

The dogs’ gazes are locked on mine as they cross the busy road, oblivious to cars that are slowing down to avoid hitting them. I’m frightened, but a good bit less so because I’m distracting myself thinking about how interesting it will be to recount in writing whatever is about to happen. A small white car rolls up to the main road from the side road. It comes to a stop when the driver notices the dogs and that his car is on an intercept path between them and I. This is the car I’ll climb on top of, if it comes to it. The dogs swerve around the now stopped car, and are about 20 feet away. I’m still straddling my bike, returning their gaze.

Then, as if any possible threat was all my imagination, they break their gaze briefly, turn slightly to the right and resume their gaze, but keep their distance from me the same on a circular arc, then jump into an irrigation ditch along the side of the road and seem distracted enough that it’s a good time for me to gradually start putting some distance between them and I.

I decide that, along with that piss I was going to take, worrying about a contract between my experience and my narrative about that experience, can wait until later.

Like many boundaries in these parts (e.g. between cactus tree territory), there’s a distinct boundary between the Salt River Reservation and the bustle of the Phoenix megalopolis. I’m meeting a good friend of a good friend, and as of the moment I cross that boundary, I’m taking a break from detailing my activities, as I do herein. That is, other than to say, in Tempe, I’m hanging out like normal people do, going out with my friend’s friend and her friends, regrouping mentally a bit, and taking advantage of urban conveniences such as laundry, banking, mailing un-needed stuff back to Seattle, fixing one of my phone’s cameras, getting better camp cutlery and some other minor nice-to-haves from REI, and taking care of a number of fairly minor things greatly aided by borrowing and using an actual computer for the first time in almost a month, not least of which will be/is/was wrapping up this mega-post, and printing out those slips to give to people.

This experiment in solo travelling by bicycle, and documenting it, will resume when I re-embark on May 20.

Let me conclude this ‘megablost’ by saying thank you so much for reading these. Putting stuff out there like this is new to me, and I can’t understate how deeply I appreciate having (unless wordpress is lying to me) a solid, and gradually increasing, readership.

May 14: Sedona to Coconino NF

The open air sleep was pretty great, though a touch cool just before daybreak, enough so that I’d pulled the bag over my head by then.  While puttering and packing, I heard what sounded distinctly like the flame thrower of a hot air balloon.  But it sounded loud enough that if that was what it was, I would surely see the balloon itself.  So I figured it was just some other thing, yet a minute or so later, I see it, a massive balloon, floating low enough so that I only see it while it passes between two mesas that are otherwise obscuring my view.  Between its size, speed, and low altitude, it seemed a bit shocking and I would have loved to have watched it more, but getting a vantage point that would have provided a way to do so seemed implausible.

An older guy walked his dog by my camp as I was finishing putting stuff in bags and bags on bike.  I smiled and said “Hey” and he waved, not seeming to care that I had obviously spent the night there.

I pushed the bike out of the trail and onto the neighborhood road, then took back roads to the highway leading back to Sedona.  I stopped at the first reasonable looking diner for coffee and some eggs, and ended up at The Coffee Pot.  They left the pot of coffee and pitcher of water on the table (as they do for all patrons), which was perfect. I settled in and drank several cups of it with my eggs, grits and toast while I finished banging out the previous post.  When I got up and was on line to pay my bill at the front counter, a woman who had earlier made some pleasant small talk about how small the screen of my phone is compared to the keyboard I was using came out slightly rushed to make sure she could give me the sunglasses I’d left on the table.  I thanked her while raising the palm to my forehead in a “duh” gesture.  By the time I went back to leave a tip, the table had been cleared…I think.  Back outside I put away the keyboard and popped my handlebar bag back on and headed out.  About 4 blocks away, I realized I wasn’t wearing my cycling gloves.  I stopped in the bike lane to check all the places on my bike that they would typically be, and couldn’t find them.  It’s not uncommon for me to misplace things, but it’s also not uncommon for me to be able to recover them.  In my last tour, I didn’t misplace a single thing that I didn’t recover, sometimes after backtracking for a mile, for the entire 3 months.  This trip, I’ve already misplaced my 4 port USB charger and rear view mirror, with inferior replacements being obtained in a rush in Moab.  Just as I realized my next move would be to return to the diner with a reasonable expectation that this is where they had to be, a man and woman with loaded bikes passed me.  The guy waved but pedaled on a ways, and stopped about 20 yards ahead when the woman stopped to say hi.  I learned that they had been touring for about a year.  I asked if they were headed North or South out of Sedona, and she said North, but that they’ll be going to Central and South America eventually.   I said I was headed South, and explained the situation with the gloves.  She said that gloves probably aren’t necessary once your hands get used to it, to which I said that I had a friend back in Seattle that strongly recommended using them as he has some nerve damage still in his hands from extended amounts of biking he did long ago without gloves.  She kinda shrugged “hmm, ok” not needing to point out that she herself was proof that not everybody needs gloves to avoid problems.  As I turned around to head back to the diner, she said maybe we’d run into each other again soon in Sedona town, of which we were then on the Southern outskirts.

Back at the diner the gloves were nowhere to be found.  They weren’t on or near the table, nor where they in the lost-and-found at the front counter.  I put equal odds on the table busser just chucking them because they looked like little wads of trash on the table, and on me having left them at camp, or managing to drop them somehwere between camp and where I realized I was without them, taking into account that I’m pretty sure I wore them to the diner, and that I scanned my path from the diner to where I realized I didn’t have them when backtracking.  What I was fairly certain of after checking the diner for them is that they were gone.

I headed back towards Sedona and at the junction where I would go South to leave Sedona, I stopped, and trawled for some open WiFi to upload my post (the diner didn’t have WiFi). As it uploaded, I re-wrapped my handlebar tape for the first time this tour, as it needed it, particularly now that I was without gloves. I then opted to continue up into town, for what particular reason, I wasn’t sure.  I noticed signs for an Arizona Tourist Information center that I had somehow missed the day before, and followed them to find the couple I had crossed paths with hanging out out front, who I would soon learn were Vlad and Yana from Bulgaria, documenting their travels at https://m.facebook.com/cycle4recycle/ .  Yana said “I had a feeling we’d see each other again!”  The three of us talked for a bit. They’ve biked the North of Mexico, so they took out a map and showed me their route and pointed out some recommendations.  We exchanged info, and then I went inside and got the WiFi password, which the Vlad was interested in.  He seems to be the internet-using member of the team. Yana, who is not on facebook, doodled in a journal while Vlad and I used our phones.

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Vlad and Yana

We took some group pix, and then we sat back down to continue our respective doodling and internetting when I started feeling antsy. They said they planned to chill out in Sedona for the day. Moreover, Veronica, a good friend of a good friend who I had plans to meet in Tempe on my way South had expressed that Sedona was worth more than one day/night.  But I wanted to get going, so I wished them well and headed South.  A couple of hours later I regretted making as hasty a departure as I had, and FB messaged Vlad, knowing it was a long shot that he’d get it in the couple of hours I’d still have signal myself (he has no cellular data, only WiFi).  Sure enough, I didn’t get a response until about 24 hours later, after a stretch of my own with no internet, saying that they had made it up to Flagstaff before seeing my message, but to look out for e-mail with suggestions for Mexico, and expressing hope that our paths cross again.

I saw this big cross in the rock

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Then I stopped for lunch on a mountain bike trail.

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Threatened to rain for much of the day, but never made good on it

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Then I stopped at a parking lot for some trailheads to Bell and Courthouse rocks, where I met Kyle, who was sitting under an awning with a mountain bike.  I mentioned that I was thinking of doing a time lapse of the clouds passing behind the rocks, which led to an animated discussion of various time-lapse and video technologies for capturing bike rides.  He’s a fan of GoPro stuff, and sticks to solutions that decouple image capture (with the GoPro) from ‘stitching’ them together (with Adobe software on a proper computer).  I, on the other hand, in my dilettante way, have more hope for and interest in integrated solutions that run on Android, it whatever programmable device with a camera API. A group of hikers came over and disrupted our conversation, which had pretty much run its course, so I cycled up the road and captured 90 frames at 20 seconds between while reading and snacking.  I did this within LapseIt, so one would think/hope it would be a simple matter to render the video.  It failed in a pretty frustrating way, saying the “awesome” (H64) render engine failed in a brief popup message, so trying the more compute/power intensive MP4 encoder which silently fails itself several minutes and milliwatts later.

I mean the thing is, I’ve had no shortage of attempts to capture the majesty of these things I’m experiencing. It’s funny.  I get an opportunity to share some experience with a couple of awesome Bulgarians and I brush it off and then go about trying to capture subsequent experience to share with people on the internet.  It’s a bit messed up.  Reflecting on this before I messaged Vlad, I went so far to apologize for not being friendlier when we were hanging out together, and for not asking to hang out for the day, and I meant it. Moreover, these attempts to share the experience digitally are clearly doomed to fail. Photos and videos are so woefully insufficient.

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No justice...

In fact, one of the most profound aspects of cycling long distances seems to have been long stretches of true isolation, in particular, no data. Among the many things from which one might say I’m running (cycling), one of them is what is only fair to describe as a mild internet addiction, and this is some kind of therapy, forcing myself to be without for stretches of 40-100 miles (4-10 hours) at a time.

From the rocks, I biked to the Village of Oak Creek, where first I stopped into a mountain biker coffee bar and repair shop. I overheard two different conversations along the lines of “blah blah and then I was just like ‘shut up and ride'”. It was also notable that nobody acknowledged anything being impressive or even interesting about my loaded bike and casual inquiries about how best to get myself and it to Tempe from there. I didn’t mind. As shitty as it makes me sound, I honestly get a little tired of being appreciative of people’s curiosity and admiration. The only one of four of the mechanics had any opinion on the matter said that I could take the road up into the mountains as an alternative to cycling down Interstate 17, but that it would be a whole lot more climbing, but but it would be prettier and quieter. Google maps confirmed, the interstate route would be 120 miles with 3842 feet ascent and 6755 descent. The route through the hills would be 154 miles with 10867 feet ascent and 13980 descent. I left saying “Ok, yeah, I’ll consider that” thinking ‘not likely!’. Somewhat stupidly, I’d only filled 2.5 liters of water (of my 4 liter capacity), thinking the odds of going the long quiet route were low.

Down the road I stocked up at an IGA. I’d been happy with my salad made from and in the 16oz bin of spring greens from the night before, with baby carrot and a green pepper, so I got a 10oz bin (the largest available), green and red peppers, a pound of regular carrots, and an onion. I also got some tropical fruit trail mix, for the salad, about a pound of granola and clif bars.  I was delighted to discover that they had some nice, cheap, local, low-preservative claiming brand going for $3 for a box of 10 1oz bars.  I also got a breast of fried chicken to treat myself and maybe psych myself up for doing the more ambitious ride.

Outside, I met and talked to Susan, a woman on a power-assist, fatty bike who runs tours on them out of Sedona.  She was really enthusiastic about the system and telling me all the details to the point that I asked if she minded me eating my chicken while she did so.  She did not mind, and she did not flinch or grimace as I dissected the large looking breast which disappointingly turned out to be more of a breaded and fried rib-cage with as much gooey fat as actual meat.  The conversation meandered to my route onwards, and it was in her account of how beautiful it would be that I became resolved to take the long hilly route. Most (though not by much) of the climbing would be to the twin towns of Strawberry and Pine 60 miles in, where I could resupply.  For whatever reason, I did not think to top off that last bottle of water.  From there, it would be up and down, but mostly down, into the Glendale, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler septacities.

It was not a lot of climbing initially, but the road was busy and the shoulder was gravelly and perhaps worse than no shoulder at all where at least the drivers would appreciate that I had no option but to be out in their way. But this was part of the route regardless of my choice of interstate or hills, and soon after passing under the interstate, I was on quiet gravel roads. The sunset was brilliant, and I was delighted to see or hear only a handful of cars for the whole rest of the day.

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Two roads, something something.
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Where I should have filtered some water

I rode 20 miles of the 60 to Strawberry/Pine, putting me at 45 on the day, and set up camp at a turn-off.  The sun was setting behind a few clouds, and the temperature was absolutely perfect and the silence was perfectly absolute.  It felt something like walking around in a sensory depravation pod, modulo sight.  It also felt like being as alone as if I were in outer space.  I could hear the 2 cars that passed between dusk and 11pm for a full 90 seconds before they came as close as they would to the campsite, and then for another full 90 seconds as they continued on, oblivious to my presence.  The real bliss came when it occurred to me to peel off my clammy bike shorts and air out my junk.  The warm, evening desert air immediately made it feel like I’d showered and baby-powdered, after which I pulled out a pair of cotton tighty-whities, which are actually black for reasons of practicality that, particularly for a gentleman of my vintage, a number of stand-up comedians have pointed out, and I’ll leave at that.  I sported those and my leather sandals from dusk to twilight, during which time I made my two large and incredibly satisfying salads.  There were a few buzzy-not-bitey flies that I was happy to discover were completely repelled by application of baby wipes to hands then arms then legs in advance of the salad preparation.  I only happened to have these wipes because I packed them away when I’d cleaned out my car on my way to giving it to my sister.  Odds are they were tucked under the driver’s seat since I drove it to Burning Man in 2014.

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Makeshift cutting board and food staging
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Old thermarest chair modified and works great to make a comfy camp

I watched and even heard bats as they picked off innumerable insects, and the otherwise perfect silence was only otherwise broken occasionally by the faintest and prettiest cries of distant coyote. 

As the stars (and Mars), and half moon came out in force, I lit my candle lantern, pulled my 20 year old Z-Rest pad out from under my bivvy, then stretched, yoga’d, sit-ups’d, and all kinds of things that felt positively amazing as I digested my massive helping of salad.  It occurred to me, this was exactly what I was looking for, all the way back to making my departure from Sedona.

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Greetings from Sensory Deprivation Planet

I could not get enough of this place.  Eventually I added my light green puffy coat to the ensemble, but only this, not wanting to cover my legs lest I miss the subtle warmth when the slightest breeze would carry across the still warm sand. I continued to stretch/exercise and putter, brushing my teeth to help commit myself to not eating the remainder of my fuel before dinner.

I was down to 1/4 liter of water, which was obviously not ideal.  I was disappointed in myself for making such a pointless blunder, but it barely put a dent in my amazingly good mood.  I considered setting an alarm so that I could resume biking at the first sign of morning light, but opted not to.

I crawled into the bivvy and worked on the first part of this post until I couldn’t resist the urge to shut down.

As hoped, I woke at some hour in the early morning after the moon set.  This happens most nights owing to needing to urinate, and I’d grown fondly accustomed to the none too subtle hallucinatory experience of waking to a crystal clear night sky.  Sometimes I seem to see immense meteor showers.  Other times, it’s a voronoi diagram of the brighter stars with edges made by the dimmer stars.  This time, it wasn’t very hallucinatory, but rather a comprehensive cloud formation of not just the milky way’s band but the whole sphere. 

May 11 – 13: Cameron to Sedona

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Road to Flagstaff

I Started the  day with a lovely sunrise from my roadside perch.  The route into Flagstaff was only another 45 miles, but included a 2000 foot ascent over about 7 of those miles.  I could see the top of the climb from its outset, and it looked deceptively close.  When I got to it in a little over an hour, I spotted a motorcycle-rider-looking guy (tattoos, bandana, tank top, etc) holding up a sign.  He said he was protesting for the teamsters and asked if I wanted to accompany him to his little encampment in the woods for a coffee.  Sure, why not?  It was maybe 100 yards from the road up into some pine forest.  He had been camped there for a couple of weeks, and I was his first company, and this was pretty clear by how excited he seemed to be to have someone to talk to.  Over the coffee and the course of the next hour, I learned that he was, or at least claimed to be, among many, many things:
* A “roaming president” of a chapter of the Hells Angels
* An expert knife fighter with 3-black bar martial arts
* Speaker of French Basque, Hebrew, and one or two other relatively obscure languages.
* A veteran of 500 hand-to-hand combat fights, of which he had only lost 2
* The subject of ongoing monitoring and harassment by various law-enforcement agencies.
* An expert hunter/tracker
, and so on…

While he was making these claims, such as they are obviously things that should give one pause to hike, and remain, in the woods with him, he would also repeatedly claim that his trouble-making days were behind him and that he had turned a new leaf.  I sensed that he was not a threat to me….he wasn’t at all antagonistic or disagreeable in the way that people that are looking for an excuse to harass someone typically are.  I did start to wonder how credible his many claims were, but I also wasn’t that invested one way or the other in the truth behind them.  The conversation was pretty one-sided, and I felt I was mostly humoring him for it’s duration, but there was a few minutes when we were talking about relationships and interacting with women when we had a moment of relating to one another’s vulnerabilities in this regard.  That said, earlier in the conversation, he said that women lie whereas men do not, which to me is an absurd generalization, but which I just went along with, with an acknowledging grunt, as it was expressed emphatically enough that I though it would be imprudent to make it a point of contention that could escalate into fight number 501, new leaf notwithstanding.  After declining a refill on the coffee, I thanked him for the cup I had finished and said that I ought to push on.  He said I  knew where to find him if I wanted to return, and wished me well on my way.

As I descended into Flagstaff, I noticed there were a LOT of motels, and it occurred to me that this was the largest city I’d yet been to on this tour.  So, when I got to MIX Flagstaff, where I got a healthy and hearty salad, I looked up the rates and found one for $45 a night.  This seemed reasonable, and a shower and some hand-washing of my riding apparel would be welcome.  The manager of the motel I chose was a fairly young and friendly guy named Karthik from Hyderabad who was interested in hearing about my tour and my time in India, a welcome contrast to the guy in the woods (whose name I had noted, but am choosing to withhold).

The showering was excellent, after which I put on cloths more suitable for walking around the historic part of town, and did just that.  I happened upon the Grand Canyon hostel, which I had seen in the HostelWorld site/app, but was shown as fully booked.  I stopped in anyways just to ask about the rooms, facilities, and rates and learned that they had dorm beds available for half of what the motel cost, along with a kitchen and clientele that would also have been nice to have at my avail, but that they withheld from the HostelWorld system for technical reasons.  Rookie mistake on my part, I should have known better and checked before going with the motel.   Oh well.  It so happened that they had one bed available for the following night.  I was also IM-ing with a woman I connected with on Tinder who was free that following night and interested in getting together for a beer after her work, so after contemplating it a bit, I went back and reserved the room for following night.  A day off from biking would be good after two consecutive milage record-setting days.

I went back to the motel, watched a little HBO, and fell asleep.  The following morning, I was up early, partaking in the paltry, complimentary continental breakfast while chatting with Karthik,, then back in the room, re-organizing things and making tweaks and adjustments until checkout at noon.  After so much time outdoors in so much sun it felt good to stay indoors for the morning.

From the start of the tour up until the salad I had when I got into town, my diet had been dominated by calorie-dense foods; lots of trail mix, clif bars, peanut butter, etc.  I decided that I should go back to closer to how I’d been eating before leaving Seattle: focusing on high nutritional content foods.  Greens, raw veggies, beans and the like, and avoiding refined carbs and fats.  It’s a bit harder to get sizable quanities of high-nutrition calories, than it is to find simple-fat- or simple-carb-based calories, so I thought I’d find and spend part of the day at whatever all-you-can-eat salad bar I could find.  This turned out to be at a Sizzler’s, a chain I hadn’t patronized since I was a vegetarian teenager going on cross-country road trips with my then girlfriend.  It was passable, and I’d polished off 4 plates worth of food when the waitress stopped offering me fresh plates when, contrary to my resolution to eat nutritionally I sourced a bowl from the soup station and filled it with un-tiny samplings of 4 of the dessert offerings.

I waddled out of the place, got on my bike, checked into and dropped my bags off at the hostel, then went to a nearby city park to let my gut focus on the sizable task I had just assigned it while going some Spanish lessons on Duolingo.  I got through these, but just barely before dozing off.  I’d recently read that the so-called food-coma effect is in fact evidence of the deep interrelationship of the brain and the gut:  when the gut requires extraordinary energy levels to do it’s job, the brain obliges by slowing itself down which exhibits as drowsiness.  I guess everybody knows that, actually.  Anyways, I didn’t want to sleep in the park, or go back to the hostel, so I rallied and rode my bike up the hill atop which is the Lowell Observatory.  I got there just past 3pm, and paid the $12 admission which would definitely had been a losing proposition were it not for a tour that had just started and I was able to catch up with, which granted access to the main large telescope and the exhibition hall (which were otherwise closed to the public).  I’d say the place is not worth the price of admission if the timing doesn’t work out that you can take part in one of these tours of the grounds.

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Large telescope at Lowell

After the tour, I stopped by a solar telescope viewing being hosted by another member of the staff.  We chatted about her studies in chemistry and how it and so many other disciplines of research really boil down to just software development these days.  I told her about the astronomer that I had worked for as an undergrad that had me do a tiny bit of programming, and then tasked me with entering tables of numbers representing the spectra wavelengths of various stars.  When I completed the inane task by taking the table-containing journal to the computer science department and using their prototype scanner with optical character recognition, he excitedly complimented my efficiency, then handed me a large stack of volumes to do next, in response to which I left for the day and never came back.

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The sun

After my tour of Lowell, I rode back down the hill and to the hostel.  There, I hung out in the lounge and was soon joined by some of the other people staying there, where I heard somewhat typical accounts of excessive drinking the night before.  The conversation didn’t dwell on this for too long.  One guy who is an electrical worker who travels on a per-diem and had just recently been turned on to the existence of hostels turned out to be a standard republican: pro-gun and anti-abortion.  Despite being a conservative traveling on business, he fit in to the scene as well as anyone else, but when he and a Danish guy began debating the intelligence of US gun policy, I had to bite my tongue and make my exit when I heard it claimed that there aren’t THAT many school shootings.  This would be the basis of one of the most gut-aching laughs I’ve had so far on this tour when the Dane and I reviewed the debate the following morning.

My exit was well timed to go meet my Tinder date up the road.  I’d not drank since the light drinking I shared with my Canyonlands cohorts.  We started with a beer each at Hops on Birch, then went to Historic Brewing and had a Cucumber beer each.  Then we went to a decent taco truck and had a couple of tacos.  We contemplating calling the evening at that point, the tacos having a dis-intoxicating effect, and in hindsight, this would have been the smarter choice.  But instead, we went to The Rendezvous and had a whiskey chai each.  It was delicious, but also that pivotal third drink after which more drinks seem to be a deceptively good idea.  We went to The Green Room, where we enjoyed the stylings of a garage-sound band called Sharks in the Deep End who played for us and maybe 6 other people in attendance.  Next, we went to Monte Vista Cocktail Lounge and scored a couple of stools at the very crowded bar, which we kept until it got to be the time where they stop serving, upon which we walked over to a stage where there was a group of maybe 20 people in their 20s singing karaoke.  In the middle of the back-and-forth portion of Bohemian Rhapsody three of them flew offstage and collapsed on the floor at our feet.  This struck us as hilarious at the moment, but in hindsight, and upon reviewing the video footage that I’d captured of the event, it was more sad and sympathy provoking that funny.

As people will when drinking, we decided it was too early to call it a night, so we headed back to her place and at least had the good sense to not get into her bottle of tequila which was the initial motivator for heading back there.  We played with her adorable but demanding dog, Baxter, for a bit, watched a little Rick and Morty, and then turned in, me on the couch, her in her room.  The reader may recall Day 1’s post, Tinder when travelling is, for me, about finding cute and hopefully interesting people to hang out with for a bit, not for one-night hook ups.

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Baxter

All the same, I felt a bit of shame the following morning when she gave me a lift back to my hostel and I walked back in wearing what I had gone out in the night before.  Of course the backpacking partying set saw it a bit differently, but I was quick to point out that I’d only crashed there and that there had been no hooking up.  The hostel host on duty recounted a motorcycle tourist that had had a long series of Tinder dates which he coined a “Tinder bender”, the latter word tweaked a bit to rhyme with the former.  The host was also a former bike tourer, along with another guest at the hostel, and I had a good time trading stories with each and getting some advice on the local routes.

I shoveled down 4 packets worth of instant oatmeal, 4 slices of toast with, ugh, margarine and jam, and several cups of coffee, and then showered off the shame, and started rehydrating.  I was out the door right at the 11am checkout, and on the road to Sedona.  There’s a brilliant urban trail system in Flagstaff, and I used this to get South of town, and then joined up with the 89A.  The route lived up to the praise that the hostel host had heaped upon it, and after reaching an information center and canyon overlook, I was sailing down an incredible, windy descent of thousands of feet into Oak Creek Canyon.  If there’s any truth to the energy vertexes of Sedona that can be felt by people (but apparently not by any scientific instruments), they may have exhibited for me in a slight dizziness that I felt as I took so many turns in such rapid succession and at such high speed.

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Oak Creek Canyon from above

Continuing along Oak Creek, I stopped at several swimming holes, including the infamous sliding rock.  One of these was also a fishing hole, and I chatted with a guy packing up his gear who turned out to be newly moved to the area from Ohio, and also newly employed and outfitted by the Department of Fish and Game.

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Slide Rock

I rode the rest of the way into town and then not having eaten anything since my somewhat regrettable breakfast, I went to the Wildflower Bread Company and had their Chicken Pomegranate salad.  I tooled around the shops in town for a bit, went for a latte and talked to the former owner and now part time employee of the place for a while, and then worked on this entry.  It was getting to be time to find somewhere to stay, and having spent (and in retrospect, wasted) as much money on accommodations as I had in Flagstaff, and it being relatively pricey for accommodation in Sedona, I didn’t consider paying for a bed to be an option.  Some of the staff at the info center at the top of the canyon volunteered some good options for dispersed camping, but all of these were at least an hour’s ride out of town.  I started for one of these, but then opted to take a “short cut” through one of the many mountain bike trails that surround town.  Riding my loaded bike on the trail wasn’t really an option, but as I confessed to a woman who was hiking out, and whose decision to double-back I helped rationalize with phone’s make, and who accounted for the sole car at the trailhead, I was very likely going to find some place to bed down along the trail, making every effort to be out of view of any of the houses tucked away at increasing distance from the trails in various bluffs, and to minimize damage to the delicate cryptobiotic crust.  At about a 2/3 a mile from the road, I found a small washout that fit the bill.  I ate a tub of spring greens, a green pepper, and a bag of baby carrots that I’d picked up at a Safeway on the way and read for a bit, and then watched some bats fly around, until the sun was completely set.  The moon, being half full, provided sufficient illumination to tidy up after dinner and lay out pad and bag.  For the second time this tour I opted to not bother with the bivvy, it being dry, warm, and bug-free enough for that to seem warranted.  There was one bird with a pretty simple and tedious song that would not shut the hell up, but others that would chime in with prettier sounds, including an owl.

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Camp in wash

May 10: Page to Cameron

With the time change, and waking up when it got light out as I was sleeping in the open, sans bivvy, I was packed up and headed back into Page before 6am.  Not much was open yet, so I went to Safeway, stocked up, grabbed a Starbucks latte, and dicked around, tracing my route through Utah on the paper map pictured below (add defective photo-captions to the list of bugs with the WordPress android app) and making adjustments and tune-ups to the bike for a while. 

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This was so that when I got to the Lechee Chapter House, which is where I believed I needed to get a permit to camp on Navajo land, based on some webpage I found, it would be after 8am and they would be open.

The three people in the chapter house, which was actually a trailer, seemed confused by my inquiry.  They couldn’t issue permits to camp at any arbitrary point in Navajo Nation.  When they asked where I expected to want to spend the night and I told them about 50 miles down the road towards Flagstaff, they said they definitely couldn’t help me because that would be outside of their jurisdiction, and I’d need a permit from a different chapter, perhaps Cameron’s or Tuba City’s.  Given that there was a pretty good chance that I wouldn’t be able to get to that chapter house before they closed, or at least I didn’t want to put myself in a position where I was in a race to do so, I said that instead I could probably just ride through that day, being as I was getting an early start.  This was me pretty much just backtracking so as to not acknowledge that I was probably just going to have to trespass.  Doing this somewhat poorly, I elaborated, saying that it would be a long day, at 100 miles, but depending on the terrain and the winds, it was doable.  To that, one of them pointed out that he’s seen other bicycle tourist camped on the side of the road, on the highway right of way.  This strip of land along the road is not considered part of Navajo Nation in the sense that camping on it is not considered trespassing, in much the same way that the same holds for boundaries between roads and private land.  At least that’s what the one guy confirmed when I responded by asking as much.  This was good enough for me!

The same guy also said that it was all down hill from just up the way, to Cameron, and about this he was completely wrong…unless by just up the way he meant 20 miles further.  But the grade was less than 5% most of the time, and the wind was still, and by the time the winds started picking up at mid day, I was on the long descent that he had had in mind.

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At 50 miles into the day I got to a junction and the first services since Page.  I was still fine on water (having started with 4 liters), but I took the opportunity to have a coffee and a sit in the shade.   There were some depressing flyers on the ice machine.

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Another 35 miles got me to Cameron, and by this time the winds had really picked up, and were pretty head-on.  I got a fruit and cottage cheese salad thing at the overpriced tourist restaurant, having not thoroughly read and considered the information on the menu, and even though I was utterly disappointed when it appeared, I inhaled it in a few seconds.

It took me about 15 minutes to push upwind and uphill to Speedy’s truckstop where, as I parked my bike, a guy in a minivan sidled up and asked “Hey, where you headed?  Where are you staying tonight”.  Uh oh, I thought, this is exactly how Katrina’s friend’s story started, the one that ends with him feeling obliged to get out of Navajo Nation rather than bedding down, which for him entailed doubling back.  For me, it would entail fighting the ferocious evening headwind for another 15 miles, and at nearly 90 on the day (second daily milage record this tour in as many days), and my experiment with the pedals a conclusive failure that badly exacerbated my Achilles tendonitis, this prospect seemed excruciating.  So, I responded somewhat cagily, saying “Um, that way”, pointing South.

“But where are you staying?  There’s nothing down that way for like 30 miles.”
“I know.  I’m good, I got it worked out.”
“I’m supporting a cyclist coming from that way and we’re staying at the hotel down the road.” meaning the one whose overpriced restaurant I was just disappointed by.

Knowing now that he wasn’t a reservation cop trying to hassle me, I opened up.

“Oh, cool.  Yeah, I’m just going to find a spot on the side of the road in the highway right of way and camp out.  It’s cool, I do it all the time.”
“What?!  You’re crazy.  Hey, my guy is only a few miles back.  You’ll see him.”

I went into Speedy’s, which was basically a reasonably well-appointed gas station convenience store, asked the guy behind the counter if he minded me filling my water bottles, and then when he said “sure, back there” pointing to the fountain machine, I did.

I was walking out with my arms full of my 4 liters of water, when I hear “Yo, BICYCLE!”, in a voice that sounded uncannily like my uncle John’s who is New Jersey swagger personified.

“Hey, yeah, that’s me.”
“What the hell’re you doing!?  Where the hell’re you staying tonight!?”

At this point, I should point out that because of my uncle, I’m well versed in the New Jersey technique of expressing appreciation, and neigh, even admiration using language which, to the untrained ear, sounds antagonistic and insulting.  I don’t speak it, but I can understand it.  I told him I could tell that he was from NJ, and that I had family there.  He asked where, and when I told him Brick and Leonia (forgot to mention Wood-Ridge), he said with some pride, but no specificity, that he was from closer to the latter (North Jersey).

We walked back outside, and the two of them continued in their incredulity.  They asked if my mom knew what I was doing, which seemed an odd thing to ask given my age, but instead of pointing this out and telling them how old I was (a grown-ass man), I accepted the implicit compliment that I look young for my age, and gave them the simple and honest answer that yeah, she was worried about me, but kept tabs on my location through Google+ location sharing and this blog.  I asked the Jersey cyclist if he’d like my blog info.  I gave him one of my Amazon business cards with my standard hand-scrawled modifications (@amazon.com crossed out to @gmail.com, .wordpress.com appended to my name), and asked what his name was.  It was Mitch.

The support driver took some pictures of us posing together in front of my rig.

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“How much does that thing WEIGH?”
“I have no idea.”
“I’m going to pick it up…. Ah jesus, that’s fucking insane”
“Heh, and I haven’t put this 20 pounds back on” raising the 1.5L bottle and jam-packed handlebar bag that I held in my hands.

They called me “fucking nuts” and “a real MAN”, and it was, with my trained ear, very complimentary to the point of being a bit ego-inflating.

They warned me of the road ahead (for me) crawling with cops patrolling from there to Gray Mountain, just outside of the reservation, and the closest place to buy alcohol, and said “but you know, if camping on the side of the road is legal, I guess you’re fine”.

I’m honestly not clear on the legality of my road-side camping, but I figure as long as I’m respectful and, more importantly, hard to find, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, and I said to them something to this effect.

There were a few more expressions of general disbelief, then some admonitions to be safe, then a wish or two of good luck, and then they went their way.

I finished my business with Speedy’s: Purchase of a $1.75 fried chicken breast that was many fold more satisfying than the $12 fruit salad down the road, and that I greedily consumed sitting on the gum-stained curb by my bike with impunity.  This impunity is a small, but personal favorite, perk of being a road-weathered cyclist.  And maybe I was feeling a bit more impune at that particular moment.

With that taken care of, it was time to ride and scope for spots to sleep.  The landscape being as it was, there wasn’t going to be anywhere that I was completely out of sight from traffic coming from both directions.

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I tried going low, scoping out a roadside depression in which I would be completely invisible once drivers were reduced to what they could see in their headlights, but evidentially there was a dog somewhere in the distance that could see what I was up to, and who was intent on incessantly voicing his or her objection.  No good.

A few miles later I got to a section of road that had been blasted through a rocky bluff that was maybe 25 feet high.  I managed to push my bike up one side, and while I was well illuminated by the setting sun, if I got myself and my bike close to the ground, we were only visible to cars at some distance, and from such distance only a couple of small specks.  Moreover, I had a fantastic view of the sunset which I enjoyed while staying low, reading, relaxing, and dumping the inefficiently large remainder of the cheap trail mix I had by then transported 170 miles from Kanab, into my mouth.

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When the sun had set and there was still enough light for me to see at short range but not enough light to be at all visible from the road, I set up camp.  Sleep was clearly going to take me as soon as I put the phone away, which surprisingly had a trickle of data, when I noticed some flashes off in the distance in my periphery.  Clouds were rolling in, and when I stared off into them for a couple of minutes I verified that it was lightning.  It was of the ‘heat’ variety, very distant, and not likely ‘touching down’, but judging by the USGS survey marker next to my head that noted the elevation, and the unobstructed views of the horizon, or at least to very, very distant formations, in nearly every direction, I determined that I was at the highest elevation for a long, long ways, even if only by a couple dozen feet.  Moreover, monitoring the movement of the boundary of the clouds that housed the lightening against the backdrop of stars, I determined they were moving in my general direction.  It seemed clearly ill-advised to go to sleep in this configuration, but nested so firmly in the clutches of such a welcome drift into slumber, it took me some time to work up the energy to do the thing I knew it was prudent to do.  Eventually, I crawled out of the bivvy, scooped it up with pad and bag inside, and carried it down the bluff to lower ground, leaving my bike and bags at the top to be struck by lightening if that’s what needed to happen.  I definitely wasn’t going to be packing or shuttling my things, in the dark, half asleep.

Whereas at the top it was perfectly flat, I couldn’t find any very flat ground, but I did find some that was flat enough-ish.  It was in the beam of cars coming from one direction, but somewhat obscured by scrub brush.  Also good enough-ish.  Having the peace of mind rewarded by avoiding the temptation to tempt fate, I was asleep within a minute of re-inserting myself into my bag and biivy.

I woke up, as I typically do, briefly, several times a night when roadside camping, some time later to find that the sky was crystal clear (with an impossible-to-miss view of the band of the milky way).  I was getting restful sleep, but I knew it would be more restful back on my perch, further from the lights and noises of vehicles (the larger trucks with high beams, in particular), and on flatter ground.  It would also be better to be back up there come sunrise, so I made the trip back up, and again fell asleep as soon as I (gratuitously ate a Clif bar and) resituated myself.