Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Salt water, oh how I miss your misty kisses

Total distance: 7073.2 km

By Sundance:

At last, we have arrived.

Right up until we glimpsed the Pacific it was hard to believe that we wouldn't simply keep riding, onwards, eternally, that we had actually crossed an entire continent. As we left Brawley on Wednesday, we could see mountains ahead of us, and we knew that the ocean was just on the far side of those mountains, but it still seemed unbelievable. We pressed on, as we have for the past six months, simply focussing on dodging traffic, looking at the scenery rolling past, keeping hydrated and fed, getting to the next place to pitch our tent... We headed along the road around the southern shore of the Salton Sea, and made a few attempts to find a side road down to the shore (an accidentally created artificial inland sea isn't something you see every day) but were thwarted by private property signs enough times that we decided we couldn't be bothered. We passed unimpeded through a Border Patrol checkpoint (I guess we didn't look like drug-smugglers or illegal Mexicans) and turned our trusty steeds west towards Ocotillo Wells. The Sun began to sink towards the mountains, and just short of town we encountered a Border Patrol officer who told us there was a campground just off the road. He also told us it was full of people in RVs, and people hooning around on quad-bikes, which didn't really appeal to us, so we rolled back to the east about a kilometer and pulled off the road into the deserty scrub to camp. At first we aimed for a large tree, but upon discovering that someone had dumped a heap of garbage under it (what is wrong with people!?) we found a flat patch further from the road, put up the tent, and enjoyed a meal of pasta before turning in for the night.

Ordinarily we have found that the wind drops overnight and gets stronger in the afternoon, so we try to get up and get moving early. But that night, the wind picked up and started blowing through the wee small hours of the morning. We arose, packed up the tent and had brekkie, and rolled into town where we grabbed a fruit juice from the local store, then pushed on into Anza-Borrega State Park. Something was slowing Yana down, and we stopped for a while to fiddle with the disk brake on her bike's front wheel. By the time we got moving again, our worst headwind of the whole trip had picked up and pounded us for the whole 30 km stretch through the park, and the climb into the hills beyond. The hills did little to afford protection from the wind, instead acting as a wind tunnel that just seemed to unsure that no matter which way the road curved, we always had a headwind. Poor Yana had to stop at one point and let out a primal scream of frustration at the suckiness of the riding conditions, and I can't say I felt much happier. The scenery was beautiful, and we were lucky enough to see the cacti starting to flower for spring, but we were far more focussed on making it past the stupid wind and closer to San Diego. We had been aiming for the town of Julian, but instead made it to Banner just before sunset, by which time I had to stop, sit down by the side of the road for five minutes, eat a cereal bar, and just tell myself that my leg muscles weren't really going into meltdown. A little further up the hill we found a store/office in front of an RV park where we were able to buy some cans of food for dinner and the owner said we could pitch our tent beside the building. As we were about to set the tent up, a fellow wandered up and asked if we were German, on the basis that only Germans would be crazy enough to do what we were doing. We quickly informed him that while Yana speaks German and was born there, we're both definitely Aussies. Volker (for that was his name) invited us to sleep on the floor in his RV, and provided us with dinner, drinks, and conversation, and even insisted that we watch the start of the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix in Melbourne on TV. He was a talkative fellow, with somewhat different political views from our own, but we enjoyed his hospitality and the chance once again to meet someone who lives in this wide, surprisingly windy country that we've grown so fond of.

On Friday morning we resumed our assault on the mountain pass. Yuma lay well behind us at 43 metres above sea level. Julian lay ahead, at 1288 metres. We did more than half the climb to that altitude in the last nine kilometres, slowly, with plenty of breaks to catch our breath and enjoy the scenery. At one such stop, we met another pair of cyclists just heading off on their own trans-continental adventure, Luke and Jeremy, and took the opportunity to exchange road maps and advice about what lay ahead.

Julian was a welcome port of call, not just because it was the highest point of the road to San Diego, but because it used to be the hub of a gold mining area, and when the gold ran out the locals decided to sustain the local economy by making and selling apple pies. Nom, nom, nom! Just the thing for a couple of hungry cyclists. We tucked into lunch with apple pie for dessert, logged into a local Wi-Fi network and grabbed directions to our accommodations in San Diego from google maps, and then pressed onwards, sure that we would see the sea soon.

Boy, were we wrong. The coast was insanely misty. The visibility sucked. Since before we left Canada I'd been looking forward to the moment we crested the mountains and saw the world's greatest ocean spread out before us. Instead what we got was a bright blue sky above a grey murk from which more and more and more foothills emerged, as if to mock all our efforts. We enjoyed the descent, the fact that gravity was working for us, for once, but we saw no sign of the Pacific. We passed through the town of Santa Ysabel, past paddocks of cows and horses and even dromedaries. We began to climb again! We descended again. And on it went, again and again and again. We stopped at one point in Ramona to grab some food from a health food store, then pushed on further wondering if we would actually reach the sea that day.

And then disaster struck. Descending a hill, I heard something on my bike give way. At first I though a brake cable had snapped, but as I stopped to examine the problem I realised what had really happened. Just 1.2 km short of the 7000 km mark of our journey, after no spoke trouble at all, one of the spoke nipples had finally failed, splitting clean in half. The spoke itself was fine, but with uneven tension on the rear wheel rim, the wheel had buckled sideways, and now refused to turn cleanly between the rear forks.  

It could have been a lot worse. Fortunately all we had to do was take off the tyre and tube, replace the spoke nipple, and tension it properly to get the warping out of the wheel rim, at least enough to be rideable. But that took time. Yana and I worked pretty well as a team, as you'd expect after six months on the road together, but we only just managed to get to the bottom of the hill and commemorate covering 7000 km with a photo before it was too dark to see anything. Plus the tube in my rear tyre had managed to loosen one of its patches and now had a slow leak, so we started looking for a turf-surf in a rather hilly, somewhat industrial area. We pushed our bikes up an insanely steep driveway to two houses where the lights were on but no-one was home. We found another house where the owner refused to open her front door, and spoke to us from behind a window in the door - a far cry from the friendly folks we'd become accustomed to from Ohio to Arizona. Talk about the land of the home, free of the brave! But the fourth house we tried was a luckier choice. The owner, Jeremy, was in the midst of whipper-snipping his lawn when we found him, and let us tweak spoke tension and change tyres in his garage, as well as cook food, while we told him about our journey, then let us put our tent up in his front yard.

We woke up, ate breakfast, and hit the road before Jeremy awoke on Saturday, packing the tent down together somewhat reverentially. It's been our home for six months, and we knew that that was the last time, before the psychological end of our journey, that we would be sleeping in it. As we rode through the northern reaches of San Diego we enjoyed the warm weather, and the knowledge that we had almost achieved our goal of crossing all the way from Ontario to the west coast. We wound our way along unfamiliar streets, cursed at the hills we struggled up, joked that there was just an empty hole in reality where the Pacific was supposed to be, as if The Nothing from The Never-Ending Story had swallowed it, and laughed with disbelief whenever we passed yet another patch of imported Australian plants - eucalypts, pigface, even golden wattles in bloom. Eventually we found ourselves rolling downhill, past buildings painted with aquatic scenes. The road signs advising us that "Bridge Ices Before Road" had disappeared now, at last, and instead we were warned that we were "Entering Tsunami Danger Zone". And yet we couldn't actually see the Pacific until we were a couple of hundred metres from the beach. We rolled past a statue of a guy with a surfboard, and onto the sand. And there we were.

A friendly black fellow named Aaron almost immediately asked about our bikes, bags, and journey. We told him a bit about ourselves, and then asked him to take some video of us arriving at the sea. And so he kindly took our camera and videoed us riding our bikes the last few metres across the sand and into the waves, as we stopped, shouted with triumph, and let the salt water wash around our feet and our wheels.

After that, we chatted with Aaron some more, got changed into our togs, and I went for a rather brief swim/body-surf (it may be California, but it's also early spring and the water is still chilly), and then headed down the waterfront in search of gelati. We found ice cream and frozen yoghurt instead, and ate that as the sun set over the water. Then we pedalled back inland and found the apartment of Chrystina, a friend of Yana's who said we could stay with her. And that was the end of part one of our excellent adventure.

For our next trick, we shall attempt to find passage on a boat or boats back to Australia. But I think we can be pretty happy with what we've achieved so far. Last night, out of curiosity, we tried to figure out some distances equivalent to how far we've come. It turns out that we've ridden the equivalent of the straight-line "as the crow flies" distance between Paris, France and Ulan Bator, Mongolia! That of course includes a lot of wiggliness in our path, and the occasional back-track. But I think we've earned a few days rest at least after an effort like that, and maybe having the wind push us along on a sailing boat would be a nice change from all those damn headwinds we pedalled into.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The ocean is a desert with its life underground...

Total distance: 7060.3 km

By Sundance:

HOLY SHIT! We've run out of land!

Okay, we owe a few more details, and photos from the past few days, but for now, let's just say that we have reached San Diego, and our bikes have dipped their front wheels in The Pacific!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On a dark desert highway...

Total Distance: 6796.2 km

By Yana:

It's been surprisingly long since we last had the opportunity to post a blog entry. Still, we are getting so very close to the end now that we kind of want to post one more before we actually hit that west coast.

Leaving Sally's place in Tucson turned out to be one of those convoluted departures, where all our gear has exploded out of our bags, and it takes hours and hours to repack. It's a crazy phenomenon, really. But finally, we did get going. It was early afternoon by then, but we had a sweet tailwind, and the weather was otherwise glorious, as well.

Conveniently, Sally lives quite close to the spot where we had been picked up the last time, so it was a fairly minor matter to ride back there, and then continue our journey from there. With the wind at our backs, we coasted through Tucson, realising that it really is quite nice for cyclists. Plenty of bikelanes, and they're quite wide to boot! Nice! You can quite comfortably cycle along the main roads there. The town also has a slightly Adelaide-ish feel to it, though Sundance reckons it's more like a scaled-up version of Alice Springs.

Once through Tucson itself, we made our way towards the interstate, as we had established that the I-10 has a cushy frontage road which leads all the way up to Casa Grande. However, when we headed towards the spot where we planned to get onto the road, we found signs telling us the frontage road was closed, due to roadworks. Bother! We resolved the matter reasonably quickly though by asking the advice of a cop who was standing by a pair of crashed cars. The cop was nice enough to take a moment for us, and tell us where the next point of intersection with the interstate was. We headed off, and I briefly noted that one of the two crashed cars had managed to snap off one of its front wheels! Yikes!

It took a little bit of weaving around some slightly hilly bits, but we made it to our intersection. The sun was starting to sink a little bit, and the saguaro-covered hills were bathed in that pretty golden light - at that point, I actually felt like I might be able to warm to those saguaros, after all. At one point, we almost went off in the wrong direction, but Sundance flagged down a young lady in an SUV, and she pointed us in the right direction. Once on that coveted frontage road, we only had maybe another hour of daylight, and discovered that we hadn't come anywhere near as far as we'd thought we had, to boot. Still, we weren't going to let that get us down, as it felt good to just get out of Tucson and be moving again. Just as the sun was setting, we took note of our surroundings, and decided that right by the side of the road would be a fine place to put up the tent, as the strip of land between the interstate and the frontage road had widened into a fully fledged paddock. We got ourselves set up in the fading light, and had a very nice comfortable night indeed, as the temperature remained pleasant and balmy. Amusingly, hearing the coyotes howling in the distance was also somewhat comforting, as we've become so used to it.

The next morning, we got up pretty much as early as we ever do, and got ourselves packed and breakfasted very efficiently. It was a good feeling to be on the road within an hour and fifteen minutes, and we found ourselves with another glorious tailwind, as well! Arizona really was working out very nicely for us. We also found that the scenery on either side was bursting with colourful wildflowers, which gave us that wonderful feeling that spring is on its way. In fact, it was shaping up to be quite a warm day, as well. As we drew level with the little town of Red Rock, we decided to find a petrol station and use the toilet. However, what we found was one of those new developments, which we think of as ghost towns that have not yet been populated. Still, we managed to find the older, inhabited parts of town, and a nice lady talking over the fence with her neighbour let us use her toilet, once she had locked away her overly excitable dog. Once we had used the facilities, we found ourselves presented with bowls of yoghurt and berries, which we gleefully devoured. We ended up sitting at the dining room table with our host, Josefina, and another girl name Christie (Kristy? I didn't establish the spelling), and we spent well over an hour chatting. It was one of those wonderful gregarious moments which this trip is all about.

Before we left, we also got to meet Josefina's son, Clancy, who has spent some time in Wagga Wagga. This kind of tickled us, especially as Clancy had apparently discovered that yep, Wagga is not so different from southern Arizona. We all exchanged contact details, and Josefina stuffed our pockets with toaster pastries, fresh fruit, and a bag of absolutely delicious candied pecans. We said our goodbyes, and headed back onto our frontage road. It really turned out to be a pretty good travelling day all round, as least for the first half of it. We stopped for lunch in Eloy, and then got moving again pretty quickly.

It was just before we reached Casa Grande that disaster struck: Sundance rode over a screw which promptly embedded itself in his rear tyre, and resulted in our first puncture since Fort Davis, Texas. Not even the extra-thick uber tubes could withstand that screw, and it did quite a number on the tube. We found ourselves a nice shady spot to sit, and Sundane set to patching the tube, which had been run right through on one side, and punctured in multiple spots on the other side. I had a reasonably hard job getting the thing out of the actual tyre as well. It was definitely one of those doozies which chew up insane amounts of time.

We headed on into Casa Grande, and during a quick grocery run, discovered that the tube had gone down again. Upon closer investigation, Sundance found that the patch hadn't held, and we ended up going for one of the normal tubes we still had floating around in our packs. By then, the sun had started to set, but we were determined to at least leave Casa Grande. We got pretty close to doing that, as in the end, we found ourselves a turf surf at a house which was pretty much right on the city limits. We got ourselves set up and fed, and ended up doing a bit of socialising with the family. Ken and Katie turned out to be a friendly and helpful pair, and quite adept at keeping their little tribe of kidlets from completely swamping us with attention, which was cute in many ways. We got to top up our water supply, and they ended up slipping us some extra money for the road, which gave us that very humbled feeling which you get from great hospitality. It was also interesting to note that the whole money thing had not happened since Louisiana. Actually, we have decided that Arizona is probably the first place to truly give Kentucky a run for its money in terms of hospitality. In fact, Arizona might well win in those stakes.

We got ourselves going at a reasonable time, despite having spent part of the morning chatting with Ken and Katie. We had a reasonably smooth run into Maricopa, which turned out to be a much larger town than expected. We stopped by a Wal-Mart to make some peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and purchase extravagances like Clif bars and the like. We got going again quite swiftly after that, and also crossed paths with a large ute containing a driver who honked and waved - I'm pretty sure it was Ken, as the baseball cap and goatee looked familiar, but I couldn't be completely certain at so quick a glance.

Once turned out of Maricopa, we found ourselves smacked with a headwind. As it had been a while since we had encountered one of those, it made us a little grumpy, especially as the little road we were on turned out to be a popular route for ridiculously large trucks and semis. At least most of them were polite drivers and gave us a wide berth, though a few of them buzzed by us rather closer than necessary.

Due to the wind, we were definitely not going to make it to Gila Bend that day, we figured. We stopped in the tiny little town of Mobile for lunch, at a Primary School, of all things. When we asked for permission to do so, we generated some interest, and ended up having a bit of a chat with one of the teachers, Kara. It was a nice little lunch break, made all the better by the fact that we were in some nice solid shade and got to fill up our water bottles, as that sun was nothing to be sneezed at. Spring in southern Arizona already has a bit of force to it, I can believe the stories of how stinking hot summer gets there!

After we had ridden on into that stupid wind for another decent stretch, Sundance found himself afflicted with yet another flat tyre - the normal thickness tube we had put in to replace the uber tube had not held up for very long. As Sundance had made a point of cutting up an old normal tube to make a super-patch for the uber tube, we got stuck into putting that one back in. However, when Sundance started to pump up the tube, we discovered that the makeshift super patch wasn't super enough, and had to admit that the tube was unfixable. Frustrating. I got out another spare tube and patched the freshly punctured one, and we took a few moments to wallow in the sheer craptasticness of it all.

We actually ended up getting within eight miles of Gila Bend that night before pulling off and finding a nice sheltered spot between some trees to camp. The railroad was a little bit closer than we would have liked, but that had been the situation for a while, so it didn't really bother us. It was still a balmy, comfortable night, and we shot into Gila Bend relatively promtly the next morning, especially as we had decided to defer breakfast until we were actually there.

Luckily, we found ourselves a shelter to make breakfast under, as there was a bit of a squall of rain in the middle of it, though not enough to be worth worrying about in the long run - it was really just enough rain to make the hot bitumen smell kind of feral. Funnily enough, I had kind of missed that smell. I guess it speaks of hot places.

It took us a bit of time to get out of Gila Bend, partly because the grocery options were rather woeful. We also filled our water to full capacity for the first time, as we were supposedly about to head into the desert, and we were told that the stretch between Gila Bend and Yuma was kind of desolate, with the towns in between being little more than signs with names. Sundance had plotted out an alternate route which would keep us off the interstate the whole way - no mean feat, as this was one of those stretches which was very interstate-oriented.

We got stuck into going along the course Sundance had plotted, once again battling a wind which was against us. A decent distance along our chosen road, we found ourselves at a confusing intersection, and eventually established that the most direct route to where we wanted to go was for a 15km stretch along a reasonably gnarly dirt road. We decided that it was preferable to heading back, and after all, we had done dirt road stretches before. For a while, it was just fine, and even the first puddle was okay to ride through. It was when we hit a big succession of road-spanning puddles that things became problematic. We soon found ourselves having to get off our bikes and drag them through ankle-thick viscous mud. Desert indeed! After the puddly stretch, we had to take some time out to wash shoes, socks, and brake pads, as all sorts of crud had gotten caught in there. A passing driver also told us that the Gila river was currently running, which meant that our chosen route to Yuma was most likely cut off.

We made it to the end of the dirt road, which luckily became much better after the puddly stretch. We ended up deciding to turn towards the interstate, as that was the direction the wind was pushing us into, and we didn't feel like struggling another 15 km into a headwind for the uncertain possibility that we'd be able to cross the dam which was supposedly blocking off our route. We found a house by the interstate, where a friendly Latino fellow let us use his phone and topped up our water. Sundance calle the Highway Patrol to check bikes were allowed on this stretch of the insterstate, and got no useful answer, because the people didn't know themselves. In the end, judging by the fact that the Cycle Arizona map described the riding conditions along the interstate, and also finding a sign asking cyclists to keep to the shoulder, we came to the conclusion that it had to be allowed. As our escapade through the mud had taken up a lot of time, we didn't have much daylight left, so we ended up pushing on in the dark a little bit until we hit Sentinel. There we stopped at some tables outside the local petrol station, made ourselves some dinner, and then found ourselves a camp spot about 1km outside of town, in the so-called desert.

The next morning we packed up and breakfasted, and then headed into Sentinel in hopes of using the toilets as the petrol station. This turned out to be a no-go, as the owner quite rudely advised us that the water wasn't working. Once she was gone, the owner's daughter suggested we just use their own toilet rather than the public one, but we didn't want to get her in trouble, plus we knew there to be a rest stop only two miles further down the interstate. We set off with another one of those wonderful tailwinds, and reached the rest area very quickly. The drinking fountains weren't working, but the toilets certainly were, which was all we really needed. Back on our bikes, we cruised along at an easy 30+ km/h, and very soon came to the town of Dateland, named not for people going on dates there, but for growing dates, much to Sundance's pleasant surprise, as he loves eating dates. We shared an absolutely delicious date shake, and also got a slice of date pecan pie to serve as Sundance's birthday cake, as that was coming up very soon indeed. Sundance had been in a bit of a low mood all morning, despite the headwind, and he took the time to do some handstands, cartwheels, and even a handspring on the grass, which made him feel a bit better. He'd been missing doing gymnastics and is looking forward to getting back to it when we return to Adelaide.

We headed onwards to Mohawk, and headed into a closed rest area, where we sat on the tables and made our lunch. Good thing we hadn't counted on anything being in Mohawk, because there really was nothing to speak of. I'm not even sure I saw a sign, let alone any buildings telling us what spot exactly was supposed to be Mohawk. We made a quick stop in Tacna to refill our water and share some orange ice cream/sorbet stuff, and then headed onwards to Wellton, where we found out that there was a public library, so we stopped for some Wi-Fi access to see if there were any warmshowers hosts in Yuma, as it looked like we'd be able to still make it there that day. We found nothing useful though, and ended up spending quite a bit of time at the library. Still, we managed to make 100km before sunset that day, and ended up finding a turf surf a few km out of Wellton. The people we stayed with, Gary and Nancy, certainly went above and beyond our request for a spot to put up our tent: we found ourselves presented with a plate each of delicious chicken curry, followed by dessert. One more point for Arizona! Gary actually mentioned that he'd seen us in Sentinel that morning, and was impressed at the distane we'd covered. We did cook ourselves a second dinner though, simply because we needed the extra carbohydrate for our crazy energy output. We spent that time chatting with Gary and Nancy, before eventually turning in for the night.

The next morning, Gary and Nancy spirited us off to one of the restaurants in Wellton, where they treated us to breakfast. Nice of them. Once again, it's a reminder of how many good deeds we have to pay forward when we get home. It was also a nice treat since it was tehnically Sundance's birthday, as by then, the date had at least clocked over to the 22nd in Australia.

It ended up being a slightly slower morning than it had been lately, probably partly because we had the chance to have a shower, and Sundance wanted to just relax and have a calm, happy day. It was pushing noon when we got going, and we said our goodbyes. We ended up going on a bit of a zig zag trail on our way to Yuma, in order to avoid the mountain pass. There were quite a few different fields on either side of us as we rode along, and we could smell all the fresh produce. We stopped for lunch at the intersection of our zig zag road and the road which would actually lead us into Yuma itself. It was getting late into the afternoon as we approached the town, at which point I could hear a curious rhythmic fapping coming from my bike. A moment of inspection revealed that my rear tyre had developed a small bulge in the side, which smacked against the brake pads with each wheel revolution. Not good. Sundance let out a little bit of the tyre pressure and we rode a little further, in hopes of finding a servo where we could look at fixing it. However, the problem got worse quite rapidly, and just before we hit a sports bar on the outskirts of town, the whole arrangement gave a loud pop as the tyre gave out and the tube burst. That's two of the uber tubes down.

Luckily, Sundance managed to get a lift from a nice lady who had just dropped off her husband at the sports bar, and she drove him to Wal-Mart to get a quick fix el cheapo replacement tyre while I removed the old one. I found to my surprise that in this case, the tube looked fixable, so I patched it while I waited. Sundance returned with the new tyre, and we decided to put in the new uber tube we had received from Gary, as a sort of birthday present for Sundance. I twiddled my thumbs for a bit while Sundance fiddled with the new tyre, and we got talking briefly with one of the fellows hanging out at the bar. I eventually went in and asked him for various local advice involving where we'd be able to set up a tent in town, as the tyre incident had completely blown our schedule. The fellow, Bob, ended up offering to put us up for the night and give us a lift in his truck, bikes and all. We accepted, and I packed the gear into the truck while Sundance continued to wrestle the tyre - as we had established before, the narrow rims of my Canadian bike, combined with those Wal-Mart tyres are just horrible when it comes to working the things on and off, and the uber tube was making it all the worse. Poor Sundance ended up getting badly frustrated by the whole thing - the tyre was such a tight fit that he actually snapped two tyre levers! - and we decided that we'd just have to find a bikeshop the following day to take care of the problem.

We dropped off our gear at Bob's place, and Sundance took a bit of time for himself to defuse all that negativity from the tyre wrestling - not a good way to spend part of his birthday. I spent that time socialising with Bob, and when Sundance re-emerged, Bob took us out to dinner, which was really nice of him. We discovered that IHOP is so much more than just a pancake joint, and actually serves quite reasonable quality food. They also let Sundance use their phone, so he could call both his parents and say hi for his birthday. It was a little bit of a process, but we got back eventually, and fell into bed.

The next day, once we had breakfasted and showered, Bob packed us back into his truck and drove us to the local bicycle shop. There I took my rear wheel into the shop, explaining the way the valve stem of the tube wasn't protruding far enough for the pump to grab onto it properly, and the way we now couldn't get the tyre off because it was too tight. One of the bike shop guys got the thing sorted out quickly enough, and pumped it up. We had intended to get a different tyre, as Wal-Mart is really far from ideal, but then, we have less than a week to go before we hit the coast. Bob came in briefly to say his goodbyes, we exchanged contact details, and he headed off. After having a quick chat about it, Sundance and I agreed to stick with the Wal-Mart tyre, and learn a few tricks about getting the stubborn thing off, should there be another puncture. I'm reasonably confident that we are in a better place to handle it now.

Once that was done, we headed back to the sports bar, as that had been the point where we had left off. We then went in search of the nearest decent supermarket, and I did a quick grocery run while Sundance was on bike guard duty. We made ourselves some lunch there, and I had a random encounter with a drink vending machine, where leaning against it and inching down it to sit on the ground resulted in me accidentally pushing a button and getting a free orange-flavoured soda for my efforts. It was an amusing moment of startlement, but still, kind of cool. Hooray for free soft drink, in all its High Fructose Corn Syrupy goodness!

We did have a brief chat with a postal delivery lady who thought our adventure was the coolest thing, and a passer by had also handed Sundance some money, which was another one of those nice things. It makes us feel a little bit like bums when people do that, but it's still appreciated. With lunch done, we headed to the banks of the Colorado River, dangled our feet in so Sundance could feel like his birthday hadn't been entirely swallowed up with the effort to get back on the road, and then checked the Yuma tourist info for California maps. There weren't any complimentary ones, so we shrugged and just headed across the state border, making state border crossings a thing of the past for this trip! California, hooray! We have now also crossed two entire time zones by bicycle.

That being said, California wasn't being so great. The road surfaces we found ourselves on were absolutely terrible, to the point of giving Louisiana a run for its money in that department, and Louisiana is supposed to have the worst roads in the USA! How California, which has a larger economy than most countries, can have such lousy roads is just beyond me. The frontage road along the interstate was just shocking, which we proceeded to rant about with another cyclist we met, Phil, who was coming from the other direction. Phil is heading for Austin, Texas, as it turned out, and he was happy to give us some advice on the roads ahead.

We rode on to the next intersection of note, and found ourselves a nice sheltered desolate spot to put up our tent. We had our dinner and looked up at the darkening sky, and also stuck four burning matches into Sundance's slice of date pecan pie, as the four corners of the square, as this is a square number birthday for Sundance - 36! Sure, it was a tiny little birthday party, but kind of nice in its own right.

The next morning, we decided to opt for the direction which would take us away from the interstate, even though it would be a decent-sized detour. To our chagrin, about 15km along the way, the very slight tailwind we had started out with turned into an absolute demon of a headwind. Lovely. But there was nothing much we could do but push on, as our dwindling water supply was not going to make it an extra day. At least there was a little cut-off road which would shrink our detour somewhat, although our suspicions of it being a dirt road turned out to be extremely well-founded. As we had gone around 35km by then, and it was early afternoon, we stopped under a tree for lunch before tackling that road in ernest. Honestly, it wasn't even a road at all, but a few tyre tracks through a cross-country landscape. Good fun, but also quite tricky and at times frustrating. I'd still say it was worth it though, especially as we encountered a decent-sized tortoise lumbering its way across the road. Nifty! It did retreat into its shell when it noticed us, though it ended up sticking its head and front feet out far enough again for us to get a decent picture.

Back on the bitumen, we found ourselves dealing with all sorts of winds, mostly cross. We rode through the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, noting a bunch of people hooning over the dunes on quad bikes to our left. It was a bit hilly, but still a pretty landscape. Not a huge area, but still worthwhile. We rode on between wheat fields, date and orange orchards, and sheep paddocks before finding a house to ask for a turf surf at, about 15km shy of Brawley. The people in question offered us their caravan to stay in, which certainly goes above and beyond the need for a spot of earth to stick up a tent on. So we spent the night safely tucked away and got to cook dinner on a double-burner gas stove, and have a shower this morning.  Afterwards we headed into the town of Brawley and had a huge Chinese meal for lunch, so big that we couldn't finish it all. And that's saying something! Still, the leftovers will make a good dinner tonight. Then we found a Wi-Fi hotspot at a supermarket to post this blog entry, before hitting the road again. We have another big day ahead of us today, and one more set of mountains to cross before we get to the Pacific!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Arizona Rocks!

Total Distance: unchanged.

By Yana:

After Sundance dropped his bike off on Tuesday at a bike shop to get the rear gears and bottom-bracket looked over, and some faffing around on Wednesday morning at Chuck and Cheryl's place, we managed to get ourselves a rental car with Enterprise. It's funny though, you can tell that they vary a little from state to state - we immediately found the customer service in El Paso way better than it was in Tucson.  We did manage to arrange to get picked up though, and the fellow who picked us up in the little yellow beetle we were going to rent was very friendly indeed.  In fact, Dave was the friendliest Hoosier we had ever met, and he very quickly earned himself a place on our list of people we at least mean to write postcards to along the way.

Once we were decked out with our fabulously cute little rental car, we headed north.  The idea was to make it at least to Sedona, where our friends Jeff and Annette had some friends who might be able to put us up.  Unfortunately, that didn't end up eventuating, as the people in question were in the midst of a frantically busy couple of days.  By the time we had established this, it was reasonably late, and the hotels prices were inflated, what with us being in a tourist town.  We ended up going for a drive in hopes of finding somewhere to park and and just sleep in the car.  We did find such a spot, but it was basically on the outskirts of Flagstaff.  Oh well, at least we were closer to the Grand Canyon that way.  Our night in the car was reasonably comfy as well, as the seatbacks actually wind down quite far.  We did wake up in the morning with a layer of ice on the inside of the windows - the frozen condensation of our breath!  Eek!  That took a little bit to clear up.

After a quick brekkie at Denny's (which was more for the sake of my long-standing curiosity than anything else), we headed through Flagstaff to the Canyon itself.  It was, of course, breathtaking.  The snow along the rim of it only enhanced the beauty of the place.

We did that first look into the canyon itself from the rim, like all tourists do, and then pondered what to do with the rest of our time there.  It was early afternoon by then, and we decided we had time to do at least part of one of the little day walks into the Canyon itself.  We decided on the Kaibab trail, which first took us through some thick snow and some steep slippery bits - but we managed just fine, even without the crampons which we had been recommended to attach to our shoes - we were glad we didn't bother with those, as we would have had to actually buy them, and we're already lugging enough gear with us as it is.

Once past the snow line, the beautiful vistas opened to us even more, now in more detail, as we were a little closer to it all.  We watched several ravens sail past us quite close, as we were actually still pretty far from the bottom of the Canyon.  Of course, we knew that we were doomed to only scratch the surface of the place that day, but we are already determined to come back for probably at least two trips: one hiking through, the other one kayaking.

Once out of the Canyon, we headed to the Desert View point, as we had been told the sunsets over the Canyon are just amazing.  Honestly, that part was a bit of a disappointment, as it basically just got dark inside the canyon, and we just sort of watched the sun set over the darkness.  It was also really cold by then, so we fled back to the car, and headed back to Flagstaff.  We went in search of the Thai restaurant which Jeff had recommended to us, but ended up finding a different one instead, and opting for that, as it was getting late.  We then drove back to Sedona, found ourselves a more convenient parking spot, and had a somewhat warmer night in the car, what with our elevation not being quite as high any more.

The next morning, we went for a drive through Sedona and the surrounding area, as we had only seen it in the dark on our previous run through.  The trip back had definitely been worth it, the place is absolutely beautiful.  A tourist trap, yes, but still very charming.  There were some beautiful mountains and rock formations around the place, as well as a bunch of mountain bike trails - another thing we shall have to come back for, it seems.  Yes, there was a certain irony in our not having our bikes with us on that part of the trip.

We also went on a brief jaunt through the town itself, admiring some of the cute shops and eclectic sights.

Once we had had our fill of Sedona, we headed back up to Flagstaff, stopping briefly to actually find the correct Thai place and have lunch there.  Then it was off eastwards towards the Meteorite Crater.  We arrived just in time for one of the guided tours, which was quite informative in terms of the history and geology of the place,

After the tour, we had a look around the museum, which boasted a video game in which you could manufacture a meteorite impact, as well as chunks of meteorite and other informative displays.  The gift shop was a bit of a blast from the past for me, as it had several fossils for sale which my parents had bought versions of on their own trip through this neck of the woods 20-odd years ago.

By the time we were finished with that, it was too late to still check out the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, so we left that for the next day, headed onward to Holbrook, and found ourselves the cheapest motel room yet.  Apparently stand-alone businesses owned by Indian (dots-not-feathers) folks are the way to go.  We also rang Chuck and Cheryl to let them know when we'd be back, and were informed that they'd made plans to be out over part of the weekend, so we'd have to hurry back the next day to collect our stuff and find alternate accommodations. We rang another warmshowers host, Sally, who said she'd be glad to host us, then set about cooking dinner on the path in front of our hotel room. We also, conveniently, discovered that pretty much the most cost-efficient way of getting fuel for our camp stove is to go for the kerosene pump at petrol stations - 67 cents for the bottle.

The next day, we extended our car rental over the phone, and found that because the place is closed on Sundays, we had to rent the thing for one day more than we wanted it.  Annoying and money-sapping, but there wasn't much we could do about it.  We headed on to our next sight-seeing destinations.  Conveniently enough, the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest are part of the same National Park, and right next to each other.  We checked out the Painted Desert first, and discovered a ranger showing off some flint-knapping skills.

Unfortunately, he was about to pack up, so we couldn't give it a shot ourselves.  Crying shame, although we did learn a little bit about it, as he was nice enough to explain some of the theory behind it to us.  We then headed into the desert itself, which admittedly wasn't as colourful as I had expected, but very spiffy nonetheless.

The nifty thing about that place is that there aren't actually any paths per se, and you can meander pretty much any way you like.  Pretty unusual for a wilderness area, as people just wandering all over the place tends to be a problem when it comes to preserving a bit of untouched nature.

There were all sorts of pretty rocks which we found, and that's aside from the chunks of petrified wood which littered even this part of the park.

We headed into the Petrified Forest itself, making stops along various points of interest, and then taking walks through the actual "forest" parts.

It's really quite amazing what a variety of minerals can seep into an old log of wood.  We found ourselves thinking that a slice of one of the larger logs would probably make a beautiful coffee table, if you have that kind of money to fritter away.

Once finished with the Petrified Forest, we headed back to Holbrook, and let our hosts in Tucson know our status.  It was late afternoon by then, and we would be able to make it back to Tucson somewhat, but not too ridiculously, late.  Unfortunately, a wrong turn tacked two extra hours onto our itinerary, which Cheryl and Chuck were not going to put up with, so we collected our gear and opted for the sleep in car option again, this time very late, as it took us a while to find a spot where nobody was going to run us off.  It was a pretty embarrassing incident, as it's not fun to realise that you're the chump.  But that's how it goes sometimes.

Luckily, we had already contacted our next host, Sally, as we knew Cheryl and Chuck had other places to be anyway.  Sally was quite accommodating, and had left the gate to the backyard open for us so we could dump our gear, and then explore a little bit of Tucson.  We ended up checking out the Saguaro National park, which is just on the outskirts.  Yep, more cacti than you can shake a stick at.

I must admit that I still haven't really warmed to those Saguaro cacti.  While I admit that they are kind of cool, I find them somehow aesthetically unpleasing.  Still, their vaguely anthromorphic appearance makes for some amusing photo opportunities, which we of course took:



After the park, we decided to go for a drive along the way through the mountains we had taken to Tucson, as we had gone through there in the dark, and thus missed the scenery.  We got to appreciate just how far we had come that day, but also realised that we hadn't really missed that much scenery-wise.  It was getting reasonably late in the afternoon by then, so we just stopped at a grocery store for some melon slices, and then headed back to Sally's.  On the way there, we stopped to examine the ghost bike I had spotted there earlier that day:

 For those of you not in the know, there has been a worldwide Ghost Bike project going on for several years now.  Whenever a cyclist is killed, their bike is painted white and left as a sort of tombstone on the side of the road where they were killed.  I saw my first one in Melbourne, actually, though it was removed after a few weeks, probably because it had been chained to a piece of public art.  Since then, I hadn't seen any more of them, until this little one.  It's chilling as it is, the thought of having one's own bike painted white and left as a monument, but it's also especially saddening to see this particular one, as it is obviously a child's bike.

Sally wasn't home yet from her errands when we got to her place, so we plonked ourselves down in her lovely eclectic backyard, and had a look at the various magazines she had left for us to pass the time with.  Sally arrived not too long after us, so we finally go to meet her in person.  She turned out to be absolutely lovely, and sort of reminds me of some of my great-aunts, but more so.   The kind of lady I hope to be somewhat like when I hit my grey-haired years.  We all cooked dinner together and had a very nice chat.  I also found out from Sally that the ghost bike we had spotted had belonged to a ten-year-old boy who had been hit a year ago by a drunk driver, who was now in jail.  I guess some manner of justice had been served, though it won't bring the kid back.  According to Sally, there are several ghost bikes dotted throughout Tucson - not too surprising, I suppose, as Tucson is a pretty bike-aware community.

We spent the next day picking up Sundance's bike from the repair shop, returning some maps to Chuck and Cheryl, returning the car, and doing general getting-ready-to-leave things.  That night, we made some of our home-made pizza to have with Sally, which she enjoyed immensely, and Sundance also baked some more bread.

And today is the day to leave, with still a little more packing up to do.  It's not so much further to go now, and that west coast is really looking quite attainable now.

Addendum by Sundance:

Just as a side-note of trivia, we've passed through a couple of places I'd only heard about in songs during this jaunt. One of them is Benson, Arizona which pops up in a song on the soundtrack of the extra-low budget science fiction movie Darkstar. The other is Winslow, Arizona from the Eagles song "Take it easy", as in;
     Well I'm a-standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
     such a fine sight to see.
     It's a girl, my lord, in a flat-bed Ford,
     slowin' down to take a look at me...

It's kinda interesting to experience these places as real locations, not just abstract names, and know that people really do grow up, live, work, and love in these places.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

We just smiled and gave him a vegemite sandwich.

Total distance: 6202.6km

By Yana:

We sailed out of Douglas on Saturday morning, enjoying a fine tailwind. After about 24 km, we hit the 6000 km point of our journey. We stopped to enjoy the sense of achievement, and of course took the obligatory photo that came with it.

That done, we headed uphill towards the town of Bisbee.  Despite the tailwind, we were going a bit slower, mostly due to the altitude messing with my performance levels like crazy - I still haven't really adapted to anything higher than 4000 feet, it seems.  We did find ourselves cruising past a gum tree though, which made the place even more reminiscent of South Australia.  It would have been nice to go over and give the tree a hug, but it was on private property.

We got into Bisbee a little after midday, and really intended to just shoot through.  Admittedly, the newer version of Bisbee wasn't necessarily that interesting, although the surrounding rock and earth was an absolutely brilliant shade of red.  Turns out it's a big copper mining area.

 Once past those spectacularly colourful cliffs, we made it into Old Bisbee, which turned out to be an incredibly cute and charming little town - this eclectic little community nestled in the mountains. 

While I got stuck into making lunch, Sundance hit the library for internet access, so that we could contact our Warm Showers hosts in Tucson.  There were also some phone calls to make, and as we were low on options, we had to go in search of phone cards, and deeper into Bisbee.  This proved to be our undoing - as it turns out, Bisbee is one of those towns that people get stuck in, because it's just so nice.  We got talking with various local folk, including a lady who runs a honey shop, specialising in unpasteurised honey derived from Africanised bees, which are the prevalent bee population in Arizona.  The honey we sampled was absolutely delicious, and we actually ended up buying one of the more interesting varieties.  We also walked away confused about the bees, as we had always heard that the Africanised bees, the lab-grown hybrid of European and African honeybees, are a particularly aggressive and ferocious kind.  However, according to the honey lady, is is actually the pure-bred African honeybees which are nasty, and hybrids are just fine.  Looks like we'll have to do some research.

We also came across a wonderful little cafe, and stopped for a smoothie and some tasty baked goods.

By then, we were already incredibly tempted to spend the night in Bisbee, even though we had only come a little over 40km that day.  Quite a few people were curious about us and our heavily loaded bikes, and one friendly couple who lived a little further off, Jeff and Annette, offered us a place to stay sometime in the coming days, if we felt like it.  They were a little off our path, but it was an interesting possibility, so we exchanged addresses.

We completed our mission for a phone card, and by then decided to search for a turf surf in Bisbee, as this was one of those towns which made this whole trip memorable.  We headed back to the honey lady to ask her for turf surf advice.

As it turned out, not a whole lot of people in Bisbee seem to have a backyard for vagabond cyclists to put a tent up in - not that surprising, I guess, considering how mountainous the area is.  There were some other options, but we were a little leery about them, for fear of having someone filch our stuff while we were off exploring.  We were actually just about to give up on the idea of staying in Bisbee, and just going to visit Jeff and Annette instead, but we found we couldn't reach them on the phone.  Undaunted, we decided to ask some locals for some directions, and they ended up offering us a place to stay the night instead, so we stayed in Bisbee after all.  The trio we met consisted of Margaret, who lives in Bisbee, Margaret from Ireland, and Lynn from San Diego.  We followed Bisbee Margaret to her place, dropped off our gear, met her progeny, and went to explore the town some more on our unloaded bikes.

Something about Bisbee reminds me of my childhood, so I wonder if it is somehow the town that time forgot a decade or two ago, or if it perhaps reminds me a bit of something European.  It's hard to say.  There is certainly some very eclectic stuff around which I'm pretty sure I hadn't seen before hitting my 20s:
In any case, our exploration of Bisbee encountered a little hiccup: while we were riding up and down the hills, I suddenly found that I was no longer able to change gears, and quickly established that my gear cable had snapped!

Luckily, we were reasonably prepared for such an eventuality.  We had been carrying a spare gear cable and a spare brake cable right from the beginning of the trip.  Unfortunately, we didn't happen to have them on us just then, which was a small problem, as the lack of gear cable tension meant that the derailleur kept the chain in seventh gear.  That was not going to work, as we had to ride uphill 2km to get back to Margaret's place, so we wheeled my bike to somewhere safe, and Sundance came up with an ingenious little temporary fix by clamping the loose end of the cable in the quick release of my seat, thus keeping the bike in fourth gear, which was quite workable.

We did a little bit more exploring of the town, sticking our heads in the various little art gallery type places.  We actually bumped into Jeff and Annette again, and made vague plans to visit them the following evening.  We caught sight of various strange things, including a life-size donkey statue made up of all sorts of rusty junk, with large sinister-looking red marbles for eyes, and a car covered in all sorts of colourful sparkly paraphernalia.  Crazy.  We then had to head back to Margaret's place, as dinner was going to be happening soon - turns out Margaret has a reputation as an excellent cook, and for liking to entertain large groups of people.  As she was making enchiladas, and some fajitas for Sundance, we decided to contribute something ourselves, as we had just sort of dropped in so randomly.  Sundance made his sopa de lima, which went down very well, and it seems that my guacamole was quite well received as well.  It was a very successful evening, and Margaret's neighbour Bill busted out his guitar and sang a few songs in payment for his supper.  We had also brought some raspberry cabernet sorbet we had acquired at the cafe we had briefly stopped at, which turned out to be very nice as well.

As Margaret already had a house full of guests, we all came to the conclusion that it made more sense for us to stay with Bill next door, as he had a little guest house for such purposes.  Perfect!  Not only that, but we were greeted with an absolutely amazing spread for breakfast.  Margaret presented us a mountain of thick slices of French toast, crisp bacon, sausages, cinnamon-laced proper whipped cream, and bowls of fresh fruit.  After that, it might have been more efficient for us to just roll our way towards our next destination, rather than riding our bikes!  Still, we opted for the bikes, and spent a little time replacing my broken gear cable before getting all packed up again.

We said our thank yous and farewells, and got stuck into running a few more little errands before actually leaving Bisbee for good.  Among various web-access-requiring tasks, we also had to drop past the local bicycle shop in order to get a replacement gear cable, so we'll be prepared for when the next one snaps.  Unsurprisingly, the local bike shop is just as memorable as the rest of Bisbee.
After some internet monkeying and a slice of apple pie, we were finally ready to make our way to the next town, Tombstone.  We had a reasonably steep uphill climb to contend with, which meant that it was a bit slow going for a while.
Still, once we reached the top of the hill, we were rewarded with a long descent, albeit with some nasty crosswinds which could sometimes blow us right into the middle of the road.  Yikes!  Luckily, the drivers in the area seem pretty aware of cyclists, which we certainly appreciated.  Sundance actually hit 53km/h going down that hill, and couldn't go any faster, as he had hit terminal velocity!  Impressive.  I, on the other hand, don't have the courage and co-ordination to go speeding down a curvy windy hill like that, so I kept at a more sedate maximum of 30-odd km/h.

Once at the bottom of the hill though, we found ourselves with the sweetest tailwind we had ever had on this trip.  Cruising along the flat, with a straight smooth road ahead, I found myself going at 52km/h, pushed by that wonderful tailwind.  Who knows how fast Sundance went - he sped right past me shortly after I hit 52.  It really seemed like Arizona was apologising to us for some of the nasty weather it had thrown at us.

We got to Tombstone as the temperatures dropped and some ominous-looking fronts approached.  We ducked into one of the little shops in the touristy "original" part of town, which is all decked out in western-style stuff.
Sundance cajoled the owner into letting him use the phone so we could call Jeff and Annette to give them our status while I eyed the selection of lollipops with horror and fascination: they were actually tequila worms and scorpions set in a sugary matrix!  Oh, the tourist attractions.

As we were really a bit too far to make it to Jeff and Annette's that night, Jeff agreed to pick us up from a certain junction along the way.  As the rain started to prattle and the shop owner ushered us out, we put on our wet weather gear and got back on our bikes, which seemed to impress the locals who saw us.  Our sweet tail wind had turned into a crosswind which blew icy rain onto the exposed parts of our faces, but we rode on in reasonably high spirits, especially amazed at the progress we were making once we had to turn into the wind.  The rolling hilly landscape gave us some wonderful momentum.  Unfortunately, half-way there, we found ourselves presented with a constant climb.  About 8 miles from the junction we had agreed to meet at, Jeff found as pedalling through the wind and rain.  We rode to the next mile marker, so we'd have a landmark to come back to, and then packed our gear into Jeff's truck.

After a rocky drive, punctuated by a mild dispute Jeff had with a tailgating Border Patrol vehicle, we made it to Jeff and Annette's abode, and Annette greeted us with a wonderful African soup, rice, delicious corn bread, and apple pie.  We also had a stimulating conversation over dinner about politics, Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and other things in a similar vein.  It was quite late by the time we got to bed, but we got to sleep very comfortably.  With the daylight the next morning, we got to see some of the nice surroundings, including a pond full of koi in the backyard.

Apparently as long as the water is deep enough, there's not much the various fish-eating birds can do.  Good to know.  In any case, after a breakfast of cereal and scrambled eggs, we said our farewells to Annette, and Jeff bundled us back in the car, and took us back to the spot where he had picked us up.  Just before parting ways, in order to satisfy Jeff's curiosity, we also fixed him a vegemite sandwich.  He had wanted to know what precisely vegemite was, so we educated him.  The jury seems to be out on whether he likes the stuff or not.

As we had known we would, we got smacked in the face with another revolting headwind as we headed towards our next destination.  We were reasonably determined to get to Tucson that day, so we pushed like the fools we are.  We stopped for a very late lunch in the town of Sonoita, where we bumped into Brad, a friend of Jeff's, who as it turns out has a friend in San Diego who owns a bunch of boats, and who might be a good contact when it comes to finding a boat across the Pacific.  Yes, the connections one makes can come in very useful indeed.

With not a whole lot of daylight left, we turned north, and climbed our way up the hills between Sonoita and Tucson.  More slogging at high altitude, which was frustrating, but we were eventually rewarded with a long downhill run, pretty much all the way to Tucson.  Bliss, though it was fully dark by then.  Still, being a bit closer to sea level and getting adequate oxygen lifted my spirits, and we powered towards the abode of Cheryl and Chuck, our Warm Showers hosts.  It was going to be another case of getting picked up part of the way, as they are a bit further north.  Still, it ended up being a very long day, over 100km.  We found a place where we could use a phone several kms north of the Interstate, and called Cheryl.  We agreed that we'd keep powering along, and she'd sort of find us when she'd find us.  When she did, we were apparently another 17 miles from their place, so we were certainly grateful for the lift.  It was quite late by then, so after some reheated soup, we collapsed into bed.

This morning, we got to fully appreciate that we have now officially entered Saguaro cactus country.

They are really pretty ominous things, when you get right down to it - at least, they are to us, as we happened to find a postcard of a photo with a fallen Saguaro cactus which had completely crushed a car.  Yikes!  Of course, it should be no less scary than a normal tree, but I suppose it is the unknown that is more likely to make you a little uncomfortable.  I guess we'll get used to the things as we ride on, but man, right now, they still look a bit alien.

Anyway, today will be a bit of a rest day, other than hopefully cooking some good dinner for our gracious hosts, and then we plan to rent a car again for a little side trip up to the Grand Canyon, which should be all sorts of nifty.  Arizona is certainly still pretty cool, all-round.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Shedding the Southern Tier

Total distance: 5976.8 km

By Sundance:

Since approximately Kerrville, TX we've been inadvertently following something called the Southern Tier bicycle route - not because we wanted to but because the roads out here are a bit sparse, so we inevitably wound up on a course recommended by the American Adventure Cycling Association. When we left El Paso, departing from Charley and Kamala's place, we finally left it behind and started blazing our own path again.

Saturday saw us powering through the outskirts of El Paso. With a decent tailwind and Charley and Kamala's advice about what roads to take, we made it through in three hours. Much better than the hellish five hour ordeals some folks had warned us about. We toodled past the Mexican border, adjacent to Ciudad Juarez (the most dangerous city on Earth. Officially) and crossed into New Mexico in the town of Sunland Park, pausing to call my mum and wish her happy birthday (paying careful attention to timezone differences) as the evening encroached. Shortly after that we met an Italian fellow called Luca coming the other way. He was carrying very little gear and was clearly a fast-and-light style cyclist, heading from California across to New York. We turned into the locality (a name on a map, not an actual town) of Mastodon, and refilled our water bottles at a Border Patrol station. We also informed them that we'd be camping out by the roadside that night so please don't come checking to see if we're illegal Mexicans, then headed on another 16km west before setting up camp.

The following morning a rainstorm blew in just as we were about to head off. Fortunately, a fellow who'd been stopped mistakenly by the Border Patrol let us sit in his SUV to eat breakfast and wait out the bad weather. After thanking him we set off into a preposterous headwind, and another 20km later decided to give up, set up camp, and wait out the weather. We found a nice sheltered spot on an embankment by the road, between some mesquite bushes which wee prickly but did block the wind, set up the tent, gathered rocks and wood for a fireplace, and made a campfire while cooking dinner. I also got to do something I've been intending to for several months - it's no secret that I disliked living in Waterloo, Ontario, and all this time I've been carrying a map of Waterloo with me. That night, I had the pleasure of using it to start the campfire, and watching the town I despise symbolically burn to ashes. That made me feel better.

The next day we bumped into another couple, Dan and Mary, riding their bikes in the opposite direction to us, stopped to chat for a while and exchange estaurant recommendations, then pushed through to the town of Columbus, famous for being raided by Pancho Villa in 1916.  We met a delightful couple called Chris and  Larry, who let us turf-surf at their house, and were probably the last people we'd have expected to be fans of Japanese animation and manga. We really enjoyed chatting with them about our travels and shared a fine breakfast with them the following morning. We spent the whole day riding, paused to recharge our batteries at Hachita, where the owner of the grocery store apologised for not having anything in stock (he's just opening and doesn't have the water connected yet), but gave us some canned juice in any case, then pushed on to Animas. It as dark by the time we got there, but along the way we crossed the Continental Divide, the point where rivers start to flow to the west, so hopefully we'll have a more downhill run from now on. Animas proved to be a hard place to find somewhere to stay - nobody we spoke to owned their home, so they weren't willing to let us turf-surf in case the landlord got angry, ad the back of the Community Center was covered in hard gravel and broken glass - not ideal for a tent. Eventually we ran into the sheriff who recommended a disused paddock to the east of town.

From Animas, we headed through some pretty countryside towards the Arizona border. In the town of Rodeo we found a reptile-themed museum (which was mostly giftshop and art gallery) which had some snakes and lizards in glass cages, and a lot fof good stuff to look at. We pushed onwards, grabbed a delicious pizza for lunch (and while eating met a fellow called Armonda who poffered us a place to stay in Douglas, Arizona), then crossed into Arizona. Around nightfall we approached a house to try for a turf-surf. The owner, Bill, was amazed that we were Aussies, declaring that he'd never expected Mick Dundee to show up at his house on a bicycle! He and his wife Michelle were wonderfully welcoming, shared their dinner with us (while Yana contributed bean and rice stew with avocado), and told us a bit about the history of the area (quite close to where Geronimo surrendered to the US army.

On Thursday we pushed off from Bill and Michelle's place (which was adorned with many cool sculptures they'd acquired in Mexico) into a fierce headwind. A really fierce headwind. One of our worst ever. We had to make 67 km to reach Douglas that night, so we just stuck with it. We went past the monument erected where Geronimo didn't surrender (he actually surrendered in a canyon several kilometres from where the monument stands), and made it to Douglas before sunset. We found a bike shop, got anew chain for my bike (the old one was getting squeaky), rang Armondo, and the bike shop owner let me use his workshop to change the chain while we waited for Armondo to arrive, and take us to our accommodations (a house owned by his father).

Today has been a bit of a lazy day, eating big breakfasts to recover from our exertions, writing blog posts, and planning our next move towards Tucson.