Monthly Archives: April 2010

Day 52: Salome, Arizona

Elevation gained: 972 ft/Miles 54/Total Miles: 2,552/Total Fast Food: 18

Yesterday, when I was changing Drama’s flat, I noticed that the rubber beads that affix to the wheel rim were disintegrating. Looking more closely, I discovered that his tires date back to shortly after Goodyear first vulcanized rubber. At the hotel last night, we added some duct tape (never leave home without it!) on the inside of the tire to add strength to the weaker portions of the tire wall, but it was questionable how long it would last. Drama was understandably reluctant to ride long distances with the potential for a major failure. So, this morning we went to the Cowboy Café for breakfast and to discuss possible solutions. (The Cowboy Café is known for their biscuits and gravy. We each had a half order along with our breakfast and as I ate mine I silently committed to double down on the Lipitor.)

An internet search for bike stores found that there is one in Surprise, a town we passed 40 miles back. Blythe has a store as well, but it is still a day away. After we finished our meal we walked around Wickenburg and tried both hardware stores – no luck. We were then about to walk to the local thrift store in the hope that they had a used bike with the right sized tire, when I saw a man sitting on a bench in front of city hall with a mountain bike next to him. He introduced himself as Louis and confirmed that the nearest places for tires were the stores we had identified. He was giving us details on how to catch the bus to Surprise, when he remembered that he had an old bike at home with the same size tire.

Thirty minutes later, Louis knocked on our hotel door and delivered the tire to us. Fascinating guy. He is a former businessman who now runs “Be a Blessing Window Cleaning” to raise money for his ministry. His only form of transportation for the last six years has been his bicycle. He tows a trailer behind his bike loaded with bibles and other materials and travels throughout this area providing religious instruction to communities and raising money for the poor and homeless.

At 11am, we finally left for Salome in the midst of a light rain shower. For the first ten miles, we had a gradual climb through the mesquite filled desert under skies of rain and dappled sunlight. The moisture released the fragrances of the many spring blooms enhancing the dramatic vistas around us. As we turned to the southwest, the headwinds increased and the temperature dropped. We stopped at the Coyote Café in Aguila (pop. 1,000) for a green chili hamburger and, more importantly, warmth. I noticed several posters in the café advertising a local triathlon. Given the small size of the community, I wondered about the size and distances of the event. It turns out this triathlon consist of horseshoes, pool and darts.

As we left the restaurant, I got a call from Don in response to a text message I had earlier sent him about the tire issue. Don was in Blythe and went to the bike store there to confirm that they have the correct size tires in stock should we need them. Don is heading off to San Diego to end his ride. I’m a bit sad not to have the opportunity to camp or ride with him again on this trip. Meeting him has been on of the more enjoyable parts of the trip, but I know we will connect again.

The remaining 30 miles to Salome were a relentless grind into the wind. In some places, the wind blew clouds of dirt and dust that were visible for miles. As the rain dissipated, wonderful cumulous clouds appeared. I found myself stopping to take dozens of photographs of the different formations – and also to get a break from the wind. I felt sorry for Drama; yesterday he had the high heat and today the wind. I hope tomorrow gives him something more pleasant or I will never be able to get him to join me on a trip again.

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Day 51: Wickenburg, Arizona

Elevation gained: 579 ft/Miles 62/Total Miles: 2,498/Total Fast Food: 18

Johnny Drama and I left Paradise Valley at 7:30am. I was recharged and ready to get going after spending the last two days enjoying the hospitality of some wonderful friends. (Thank you R & M!) Their beautiful home is situated with a splendid view of the Camelback Mountains and I had a guesthouse all to myself. I spent the time reconnecting with my friends, relaxing and working on my gear.

After cleaning my bike, I noticed a wobble in the front tire and rode it to a professional bike shop in Scottsdale thinking the wheel needed to be trued. The mechanic took apart the wheel and explained that the problem was that the cone and bearings were grooved. He advised that the wheel would not make it back to the Bay Area unless it was fixed. He also explained that he would need to order the replacement parts. Because I needed to get on the road today, I tried a second high end bike shop with the same result. On a lark, I tried a much smaller shop, Bicycle Warehouse, also located in the Scottsdale area. When I arrived and explained the problem to the mechanic, he told me that they also didn’t carry the parts. However, he said if I could wait until he finished his lunch, he would try to think of a solution. As he ate his Subway sandwich, we chatted and I discovered that he and his girlfriend had finished a cross-country ride last year taking the Northern Tier route. We compared experiences and shared stories and after he was done eating he disappeared into the backroom and came out with another wheel and proceeded to disassemble it. I found out later that it was from his manager’s bike. He took the parts from it and put them into my wheel and then charged me all of $10 for the work saying: “When I did my ride many people helped me. I’m just doing the same.” (I gave him a very warm thank you and a $10 tip for beer as well).

As Drama and I rode off this morning, he said: “Mike, there are two things I haven’t done yet: learned how to pack my trailer or learned how to ride with it.” Despite this, he gave a great effort covering the 60 miles with little difficulty, except for a flat tire near Whitman. With his bright neon yellow jersey, shoes and trailer bag, Drama could be seen for miles. I found that in order to avoid retinal burning, it was better to stay in front of him.

Today’s ride was flat and smooth with an absence of wind. But, it was hot hitting 90 degrees by 11am. It was also far from scenic taking almost two hours to exit the urban area surrounding Phoenix. From there the route went through miles of road construction and towns like Glendale, Sun City, El Mirage and Surprise, all of which will soon be part of the Phoenix metropolitan area as that city continues its relentless expansion.

South of Wickenburg, we stopped at “Hank’s Antique Store”. The owner, Omar, who is in his 80s, has spent almost all of his life living in the area and working as a miner, including at the local Vulture Mine. Much of his mining work was for galena and Omar was quite proud to show us how Marconi had used galena lead crystals in the first transistor radio.

Drama and I rolled into Wickenburg in the mid-afternoon. Our hotel is nice, except for the pen of peacocks housed behind our bathroom window, which I am sure will substitute for our alarm clock in the morning. After a quick shower, we walked around town and took a tour of the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, which was very impressive with collections of chaps, spurs, ropes, saddles and historical artifacts, as well as a special show of female western artists. Bob Joyden, one of the docents, showed us the museum’s collection of Bola ties and explained that a Vic Cedarstaff had invented the Bola in the 1940s in Wickenburg. According to local lore, while riding his horse, Cedarstaff’s hat flew off leaving him with only the rawhide band, which he placed around his neck for safekeeping. Later, a group of his friends joked with him about his unique tie – and history was made.

As I am writing this, I’m sitting outside the hotel room enjoying the warm evening breeze and a decent Wifi signal. Chuck, a local cowboy, just stopped by to ask what I was doing. We struck up a conversation and he explained that he got his paycheck today and came into town to have a little fun. He proudly told me that he had just been thrown out of his third bar of the day and asked if I wanted to go out with him and try a fourth. You’ve just got to love the West.

And in that vein, in the category of things that I will never be heard saying: “Honey, I’m going to do a run to Costco and Guns Plus. Do you need me to pick up anything for you?”

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Days 49 and 50: Paradise Valley, Arizona

Mike is enjoying a couple of days off in the Valley of the Sun.

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Day 48: Paradise Valley, Arizona

Elevation gained: 340 ft/Miles 45/Total Miles: 2,436/Total Fast Food: 18

Over the last weeks, I’ve given a great deal of thought as to what’s next for me after my ride concludes. As you can see, I’ve finally figured it out. Now, all I need to do is break it to W.C.C.

I awoke this morning at first light near the base of the Superstition Mountains. Because I had arrived after dark the previous evening, this was my first chance to enjoy the view. It’s a wonderful campground with well spaced sites and overlooking Phoenix a 1,000 ft below. I left early before other campers were awake and coasted quietly down Hwy 88 in the direction of Apache Junction. A coyote casually loped ahead of me down the centerline until he sensed my presence and scampered into the brush.

What remains of the boomtown of Goldfield is off to the north. It was home to the Bluebird Mine, at its time one of the most productive gold mines in the country. Old mining equipment competed with Saguara for landscape as I approached Apache Junction.

From there, I spent the next 35 miles navigating the Phoenix roadways to my final destination. This is one of the most horizontal urban areas which I have ever visited. What most of us refer to as “Phoenix”, is really a combination of cities – Mesa, Gilbert, Tempe, Chandler, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Phoenix, Peoria and Glendale – that have all melded together under continuous population growth. It goes on f-o-r-e-v-e-r.

The only noteworthy portion of today’s ride was when I was joined by two men who are rollerblading across the country to raise money for the treatment and cure of Huntington’s Disease. I had heard about them from other riders over the last two months. We talked for a couple of miles as they drafted off me. Their pace is a very good 14-16mph on level ground. Hard to imagine how they dealt with some of the climbs and descents over the last few weeks.

In the early afternoon, I arrived at the home of some very close, long time friends. I’m going to spend the next couple of days with them, cleaning my bike, relaxing and figuring out my final path home.

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Day 47: Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, Arizona

Elevation gained: 5,560 ft/Miles 73/Total Miles: 2,391/Total Fast Food: 17

When I left the hotel this morning, my decision was to make it a short day and detour up Hwy 188 to Tonto National Monument, camping somewhere nearby. Assuming that breakfast would be my only real meal of the day, I stopped at a café and ordered almost one of everything from the breakfast section of the menu. As I’m closing in on home, I’m starting to think of “re-entry” and things that will need to change. One of these is the volume of food I am eating; the other is the pace at which I eat. I’m not sure the reason, but I am wolfing down my food at alarming speed. As I ate my meal, I’m certain I overheard my waitress speaking to another about the possibility of installing a spark arrestor on my silverware.

The ride to Tonto National Monument was a gradual climb to 3,800 ft followed by a beautiful, leisurely descent toward Theodore Roosevelt Lake. The only blemish on the wondrous scenery was the hundreds of Harleys rolling past me – motorcyling’s answer to the boom box. There must be a biker rally nearby, because they were everywhere. I was quite interested in visiting Tonto. It has a well preserved pair of cliff dwellings built by the Salado people and I wanted to see how they compared to the Anasazi ruins I have seen in Utah. Unfortunately, I arrived to find that the sites were closed due to an invasion of Africanized (aka “killer”) bees and I could only view the cliff dwellings from a remote distance.

Stopping back at the ranger station, I asked about camping sites in the area and also along Hwy 88, know as the Apache Trail. The response I got was: “You aren’t thinking of riding that with a bike, are you? You mean a dirtbike?” It turns out that the Apache Trail is unpaved for 22 miles of its length. As I left the ranger station, I struck up a conversation with a resident of the area and also asked him about it. Before responding, he asked me a number of questions about my ride including distances covered and mountains I had climbed. Then he said: “Son, I think you can do it.” With a split vote, I rode on to the National Forest Service office and spoke with one of the rangers there. While she wouldn’t advise me, she did have aerial photographs of the road and identified a number of places to camp along the way. I peddled off trying to make a decision, but with my thought process constantly interrupted by the stream of “brappping” Harleys riding past. They made my choice for me. I’d rather take my chances on the Apache Trail rather than listening to the Harleys for the rest of the day. I stopped briefly to take a look at Roosevelt Dam (which Teddy considered to be one of his top accomplishments while in office) and then headed west on Hwy 88.

Within two miles of the dam, the road turned from asphalt to dirt. Although the surface was graded, I was a bit concerned about possible damage to my rim or spokes. On some small descents the road would “washboard” causing jarring if I didn’t pay attention. I learned quickly that I had to slow down well in advance of the washes (where sand overflows the road from flooding). When you hit these at speed, it’s almost like losing control on ice. My forearms had a workout wrestling the bike to vertical until I learned to anticipate these areas. The other issue was the occasional SUV or truck. The passengers would roll by drinking their Big Gulps looking at me out of their air -conditioned vehicle as if I were a zoo animal. Most annoyingly, only a few of them had the sense to slow down when approaching, the remainder left me coated in a cloud of dust.

Despite this, today was the most beautiful part of my ride to date. Around ever corner was new visual delight. This road runs through a series of canyons containing several small lakes and reservoirs that provide water to the Phoenix area. In appearance, it looks like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon. And, for long stretches of time, I felt as if it were all mine. Clearly the local inhabitants were not expecting me. I would turn a corner and see cottontail rabbits and Gambel’s Quail scatter. As I came over one ridge, I saw a coati scamper into the brush. Bright crimson flowered Beavertail Cactus appeared along with enormous Saguaros and whip like Ocotillos with red blooming tips – all against the backdrop of the slow moving canyon water below.

My eyes were intoxicated by all that I saw. The phrase “achingly beautiful” has been used many times by others. Today, I understood what it means. My euphoria carried me past several possible camping sites, but only grew in intensity in the late afternoon. As the sun started to set, the canyon walls radiated varieties of green that I never knew existed in nature; all of them accented with the rust, umber and salmon hues of the declining light on the sandstone walls.

About two miles east of Tortilla Flat, the dirt road abruptly turned to asphalt again. I rode past the campground there and at Canyon Lake lost in my reverie and in the mountains silhouetted against the afterglow of sunset. To my right, I descended past Weaver’s Needle, a landmark used by many treasure hunters searching for the legendary fortunes of the Lost Dutchman Mine. As I continued my descent, I saw Venus rising near the sliver of the moon and heard a rout of coyotes addressing the evening with mournful wailing. I coasted through pools of cool, sage fragrant air at the bottom of each hill until, in the darkness, I found a campground and decided that even days like this must end.

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Day 46: Globe, Arizona

Elevation gained: 2,109 ft/Miles 89/Total Miles: 2,318/Total Fast Food: 17

Don and I enjoyed a late dinner of soup and salad last night at Essence of Tranquility. It was good catching up with him and comparing where we had stayed and what we had seen since we were last camping together. Our meal was accompanied with cervezas and some medicinal agave juice. I thought the combination of this and a day soaking in the hot springs would lead to a good night’s sleep, but that did not come to pass. Instead, I was awakened frequently by coyotes, donkeys, roosters and dogs. I tracked the progress of the night through the movement of Ursa Major overhead and at first light, I headed off to Safford for breakfast and then on toward Globe.

The initial portion of today’s route was through the agricultural area around Safford, Thatcher and Pima with their freshly plowed fields ready for cotton planting. As Mt. Graham fell behind me, I rode into the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. It was here that I had to deal with my first dog in many weeks. He was a very large rottweiler that took off after me from the opposite side of the highway. Given his size, I normally would have been confident that I could outride him; however, on this particular morning I chose to have the “Lumberjack Special” at Denny’s for breakfast and was feeling extremely weighed down. This was one frightening dog and I was growing concerned about how I was going to respond when he caught up to me. But, my dog karma held, and after about a 100 yard chase the dog was blocked by oncoming traffic and I was able to make my escape.

In Fort Thomas, I stopped at the local store – the first of several water breaks today. It was one of those fascinating places that attempts to have one of everything from live minnows to used tires to rifles to stuffed rattlesnakes to nail guns to movies on VCR. It was also a gas station, mini mart and restaurant. A bit later, I also stopped in Bylas where I noticed several cars parked in a dirt lot with signs that said “Food Sale”. One of them offered a favorite of mine – Indian fry bread. I bought it for lunch from a woman who was as expressive as a moai. I’ve heard from others that the people on this reservation are not friendly and I did get a sense of that today.

The next fifty miles continued through the desert. In the cool morning air, lizards shot out from in front of my wheel like sparks. The colorful wildflowers continued their show with yellow marigolds, white daisies and purple lupine, in addition to the sage and mesquite. Later, as I started climbing toward Peridot, I saw my first saguaro of the trip. By the end of the day, they were everywhere. The other thing you see quite often are silent memorials to the dead. They come in the form of a crosses made out of wood, rebar, PVC pipe, ceramic or plastic. Many are decorated with garlands and flowers or contain offerings to the dead whether it be a personal note, an empty shot glass, a stuffed animal or a can of beer. It’s at once heartening and haunting.

I continued on through the remainder of the afternoon trying to stay hydrated in the rising heat. In Peridot, I went into a local store and bought a few bottles of beverages, the local Navajo Times newspaper and an ice cream, which I enjoyed on an outside bench while watching the locals. Feeling more refreshed, I arrived in Globe in the early evening. I rode downtown thinking that I could stay in the old section, but as with most of these small towns, the hotels have moved out to the highway. This is always disappointing to me. I hoped that I would be able to occasionally stay at an old local hotel in the heart of the town, but that seems to be a thing of the past.

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Day 45: Safford, Arizona

Day 46: Safford, Arizona

Elevation gained: 85 ft/Miles 19/Total Miles: 2,229/Total Fast Food: 17

You’ve got to love serendipity. This morning, I packed and left the hotel ready to ride the 70 miles to Globe, Arizona. On my way out of town, I stopped at a local diner for breakfast. While I was devastating my meal of three pancakes, two eggs, three pieces of bacon, three pieces of sausage, hash browns and coffee (I’m ravenous these days given the calories I’m burning), I received a text from Don who has been riding a few days behind me. He indicated he was thinking of staying the evening at a place near Safford called “Essence of Tranquility”.

I did a quick bit a research using my phone and found the place, which was only about 10 miles away. I need to be Phoenix by the 19th. A good friend of mine, whom I like to refer to as “Johnny Drama” because of his likeness to this character from Entourage, is meeting me there on that date. Drama has purchased a Bob trailer and is going to use it and his mountain bike to ride with me from Phoenix to Palm Springs. My problem is that at my current rate, I will be in Phoenix two to three days too early.

So, rather than a big ride today, I decided to make a detour and spend the day at Essence of Tranquility. It’s difficult to describe this place – think 1968, crystals, incense, aromatherapy and Bohemian – and you get an idea. The grounds surround five small pools fed by natural hot springs. They offer touch therapy, massage and something called ear coning. (I’m too frightened to ask what the latter is, but I suspect it played a key part in the Star Trek movie “Wrath of Khan”.) There is also a large communal kitchen and living room with T.V. and Wifi. Best of all, camping here is only $15.

I ended up spending the day like this: Soak in hot springs. Read book. Nap in shade. Repeat.

Tomorrow, I’ll hit the road again. Really, I promise.

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