I expected to be without a decent internet connection from time to time on this trip. Maybe India would be an issue, or Bolivia. Probably Iran and parts of Africa.
What I didn’t expect was a giant vortex of internet blankness in the USA.
Ever since I left Colorado, and began crossing the Navajo Nation, almost everywhere I’ve stayed has claimed to offer wi-fi. And yet, in each and every case, the promised connection has proved to be a mirage. Sometimes so impossibly slow that I could sleep all night and wake up to find that my emails had still not downloaded. Sometimes hardware so ancient and wheezing that my laptop and phone simply refused to have anything to do with it. And sometimes a connection which would hold for a matter of seconds before evaporating entirely into the increasingly chilly autumnal wind. I hope the locals have decent mobile internet coverage, because the rest of the infrastructure seems to be stuck firmly in the dark ages.
Having hit old Route 66 (much of which is now Interstate 40) at Williams, things seem to be on the up. I even managed to upload a couple of pictures for this post, which is handy, as the last week or so has produced some tolerably decent views.
Dropping out of the Rockies, I had my sights firmly set on the high desert, and the genuinely world-famous sites of Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. Perversely, given that both can be described as valleys, I had hard climbing days to both locations. More sweating and sore legs than the big mountains had managed to produce. And I think you’ll agree that the view from my campsite at Monument Valley was hardly worth the bother:
Still, not to worry. I met some lovely Californians there, who plied me with a four-egg breakfast(!) and an array of nuclear-powered energy gels and other tasty morsels. And there was always the Grand Canyon left to redeem things.
I ploughed on determinedly into Arizona, hoping for some decent scenery, and fretting about the comms situation as well as a fairly immense storm that was apparently building from the west. I distracted myself for half-an-hour by attempting to set up a ‘hero biker’ picture, using a road sign as a tripod. This was the sixth attempt:
It was pretty barren country, and the exposed landscape, together with large gaps between possible shelter, made it a challenging ride in the sunshine. It would also be a dreadful place to get stuck in the last monsoon of summer. I duly got stuck in the last monsoon of summer, about twenty miles short of Tuba City.
I’d already spent two hours cowering in the tiny sheltered doorway of a lonely trading post as the monsoon rain, hail, thunder and lightning let loose all around me. Then there was a break, and I decided to make a run for the city. All I needed was a ninety-minute lull in the weather. Surely that wasn’t too much to ask?
Six miles past the gas station that marked the last shelter before town, and with ten or so miles still to go, the sky ahead turned black. Literally black, with a few alarming purplish-orange patches. And lightning ripping right the way across the horizon. Eek. I weighed up my options. Push on toward Tuba City, and accept that I’d get soaked by the quickly-advancing storm front (plus maybe getting struck by lightning)? Or turn around and run away?
I ran. In full Bradley Wiggins time-trial mode. Or maybe more like a middle-aged man lugging heavy bags. If you’d seen that storm, you’d have done the same.
Back at the gas station, trying to drag my breathing back to normal, I ran into an elderly Navajo gent called “Erm…, Ed”. Despite the fact that ‘Ed’ was clearly fibbing about his name for some reason, I felt his pick-up truck was a better option for The Beast and I than either sleeping at the gas station or leaving shelter again that night. ‘Ed’ duly repaid my trust by dropping me safely in the centre of town, our driving speed having been reduced to 15mph in places by the sheer volume of rain. Thanks, ‘Ed’.
Once the storm cleared, I could press on to the Grand Canyon. A downhill run to Cameron trading post, before a big climb out of Navajo country and up to the south rim at Desert View. I rolled into Cameron feeling a little unsettled due to the shock of my second puncture of the trip, due primarily to the Arizona state sport of throwing glass bottles out of cars. But thanks to the delay caused by fixing the flat, I gained a riding buddy for the Grand Canyon, Colin from New York.
Having someone to talk to up the near-1000m (3000ft-plus) climb up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon made the whole thing a lot easier (as I discovered in France, it makes the time zip past too). And it was also good to have someone to confirm that the scale of the place is truly impressive (which is really difficult to convey on photos).
We spent two nights at the Canyon, with a nice little 25-mile ride between campsites to soak up the immensity of the place. The second morning, we woke to a herd of deer walking through the campsite, and then found our path to morning coffee blocked by a couple of completely unbothered elk. And then a pretty gentle run down to Williams and old Route 66. I’ll be following the legendary road west from here toward California, while Colin is heading east to rendezvous with a car for a cross-country drive back to NY.
So, back to solo tomorrow (Friday), getting my kicks on Route 66. Maybe. In any case, hopefully a shorter gap until the next update…