My alarm clock this morning was a wild turkey. Unfortunately, it did not have a snooze button. It was the first cold morning I have experienced in weeks and I did not want to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag, but the turkey was insistent.
Benjamin Franklin got many things right; public libraries, the postal service, the lighting rod, the Franklin stove and his participation in drafting the U.S. Constitution, to name a few. However, in one area, you want to go back and ask “what were you thinking?” and that is with regard to Franklin’s desire to have the wild turkey named as America’s national bird. It seems to me, that there should have been some criteria established by the Founding Fathers before making this selection. For example, no birds that we eat, no birds that chirp or have flashy plumes, no birds that cool themselves through urohidrosis and, especially, no birds with waddles. One can only imagine the hit to our national self-esteem if Franklin had his way on this one.
Heading out from the campsite, I had 10 miles of rolling hills that helped to warm me and I quickly shed my cold weather riding gear. I climbed to 6,200 feet in the direction of snow-capped Mt. Graham (10,173 ft.) far to the west. Then, almost unexpectedly, I was out of the forest and looking down at the valley floor far below. Over the next 20 miles I descended 2,100 ft through a series of switchbacks only rarely needing to peddle. It was a desert version of Tourmalet, except I had it to myself.
Energized by the descent, but shivering, I stopped at the market in Three Way and bought a large cup of “cowboy coffee” and some donuts. I sat outside enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face and chest. As I did, a middle-aged man walked up and asked me about my ride. Dennis has lived in this area all his life. He works for the Morenci copper mine in nearby Clifton. This is the largest producing copper mine in the U.S. (even bigger than Santa Rita) stretching over 50 square miles. Dennis spent about 10 minutes explaining to me the physical and chemical processes associated with copper mining. I wish I could say that I understood much of it, but it was very interesting.
For the next hours, I climbed Hwy 191 toward Safford. After weeks of experiencing the subtle green, olive and gray hues of the dessert, I was astounded by the color that surrounded me. In addition to the yellows of the Senna and Desert Marigolds, there were orange Mexican Gold Poppies and red and pink Penstemon and Indian Paintbrush covering every hillside. It was almost shocking to see, as if a longtime staid and conservative friend revealed that she had a beautifully colored and detailed tattoo – unexpected and totally out of character. It took me two hours to ride through this area, because I was constantly stopping to take photographs (which I will use to bore my children to tears upon my return). At one point, a van pulled over with a retired couple wearing huge grins and taking photographs as well. They are from south of Tucson, but spend much of their time driving around the west looking for peak wildflower blooms. They told me that they had read about this area on the internet and had driven to see it.
After reaching the summit, I had another long downhill coast for miles. On the way, I saw a cyclist heading toward me. I pulled over to his side of the road and we talked for a bit. Joel is 50 and from South Lake Tahoe. He started his ride two weeks ago in San Diego. His first question to me was: “when does this get fun?” He wasn’t enjoying the solitude or the headwinds and sounded discouraged. I briefly tried to share with him some of what I am finding so positive about this experience, but was realistic – especially given the several thousand feet of climbing he has ahead of him today.
Turning north on Hwy 70, I had a level, uneventful ride past fields being prepared for planting of Pima cotton. I reached Safford in the late afternoon.