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.

1 comment:

  1. Don't scare too many of your new friends with that Vege!