arizona

California’s East Coast

It’s been a couple of fairly quiet days.  I’ve been within sight of my last US state, California, since the run-in to Lake Havasu City.  But I only crossed the border yesterday.

Here’s a view of California from Arizona, in the slightly bizarre desert drizzle (courtesy of the remnants of Hurricane Simon):

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Why so apparently slow?  Well, I’m in the middle of a desert.  For the last couple of days, I’ve followed the Colorado river south, as there are plenty of towns and small resorts where I could get water and supplies.  And there’s a large chunk of barren emptiness between the river and the coastal mountain range before San Diego.  I needed to head south to find a manageable route across (i.e. less than 100 straight miles of nowt).  I don’t really want to get stuck out there.

Following the Colorado river south gave me plenty of time to inspect California’s little-known ‘East Coast’.  The river is quiet (hard to imagine that it’s the same river that cut the Grand Canyon), and is dotted with small RV and trailer resorts, where people go to swim, boat, jet-ski and generally chill out.

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The picture above is pretty typical of the ‘coast’.  The left bank is Arizona.  The right bank is California, complete with small RV resort.  The road is where I should have been riding, apart from a small navigational issue.  Out of shot to the left is the busy highway I ended up on, complete with stacks of diesel-belching trucks.

I finally left Arizona yesterday, south of Parker.  En route to the border, I stopped only when flagged down by a man in a van going the other way, who swerved halfway across the road while waving a tin of spam at me.  I’m still not clear if this is a standard Arizona leaving present.

And somewhere just after that, I hit the 4000-mile mark for the trip.  Another little milestone, and a nice complement to hitting my final state.

About five miles further on, my left knee began to give me grief.  It’s been a little bit dodgy since Kansas (I think as a result of riding on an angle while leaning into cross-winds), but seems to respond well to rest.  Just hope I can limp as far as San Diego to give it a few days off to recover properly.

In any case, (yet) another rest day today so that the knee (and the rest of me) is fresh for the 90-ish mile desert run tomorrow.  It’s amazing to think that it’s only a week or so since I was sleeping in my down jacket at well over 2000m altitude; tomorrow’s run to Brawley will leave me below sea-level, and the daytime temperature is back into the 90s.  And you can tell you’re in California from the sudden appearance of millions of palm trees in every town.

IMG_0331Assuming the desert goes OK, it should only be three or four days from here to the real Californian coast.  I’ve nearly knocked off a crossing of North America on a bike, which is an odd thing to contemplate.  Anyway, a few more days of sore knees, legs and derriere to go before I get there…

Different Strokes

There are different ways of ‘doing’ Route 66.

You can do it end to end, all the way from Chicago to LA.  You can dip in and out, zipping along the interstate between the interesting sections of the old road.  You can do it in a convertible car, or with a pack of like-minded Germans on Harleys or Scandinavians in camper vans.  Or you can do it on a bicycle, which is obviously the best approach.

In the same way, there are different ways of making money from the tourist traffic. In my mind, at least, there are right and wrong ways to do this.

My first impressions were that it was a nice enough road, generally dropping (always good) out of the hills, but spoiled by over-exploitation.  The ‘charms’ of Seligman, which is touted as a quintissential Route 66 town, were entirely hidden by rows of tourist buses.  People from all over  the world waving a thousand cameras kind of spoiled it for me.  As did the double-priced coffee and breakfast surrounded by moaning French pensioners (coffee not good enough, apparently) and squeaking Chinese teens (just generally over-excited).  It was all a bit cheesy and depressing.

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Riding away from tourist hell was something of a relief.  I had what turned out to be an over-optimistic plan to ride an 80-odd mile section of the old road to Kingman.  The fact that I didn’t manage to get on the road until half-past ten was not a good sign (getting up early has never been a strength of mine).  The heat that was kicking back in as my elevation decreased didn’t help.  It was quickly apparent that I wouldn’t make Kingman in a day.

I had developed a cunning back-up plan for just such a contingency, involving a motel I’d spotted online, so I was quite happy arriving there in mid-afternoon.  Until the toilets and other porcelain artifacts sitting outside the rooms made it fairly clear that the Frontier Motel was not currently open (apart from the gift shop).  And there was a grand total of zero alternative accommodation between there and Kingman.

Thankfully, it was time for another rescue from generous Americans.  Allen and Stacy bought the Frontier six months ago, and are gradually bringing the motel, cafe and shop back to its former glory.  Most importantly for me, they were happy to let a sweaty, smelly cyclist sleep on the floor of the not-yet reopened cafe.

IMG_0324They are a lovely family, who moved out (kids, dogs and all) with the aim of bringing a Route 66 landmark back to life.  There’s no intention to turn the place into another Seligman; they’re just really nice people working hard to re-build a small business in the middle of nowhere.  The contrast with Seligman’s disneyfied approach couldn’t be starker.  I wish them every success with it.

In the same way that there are different ways to earn tourist dollars, there are different versions of history.

I’m parked up in Lake Havasu City today (Tuesday).  Amazing that I can already see my last US state, California, across the lake.  The city is famous for only one thing: it’s the home of London Bridge.  I’ll be out later today to look at it properly, but this was my first view (sadly with a deeply attractive car park as foreground):

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There’s no doubt that it’s a bit weird to find a chunk of London in the Arizona desert, especially when I’ve crossed the replacement London Bridge so many times.  There’s a standard ‘stupid Americans’ story in the UK, which says that the intention was to buy the iconic Tower Bridge, and that they got this one by accident.  But dismantling and rebuilding the bridge stone-by-stone, with the intention of building an entire resort around it, is not the sort of accident that really happens.  Definitely still weird, though.

And ‘Bizarre History Week’ was topped off yesterday morning in Kingman.  I was finishing my coffee outside a well-known fast-food ‘restaurant’ when I was approached by what appeared to be a middle-aged homeless man.

I’m glad that I didn’t blank him, though, as he turned out to work for Howard Hughes’ son, who’s the rightful ‘world emperor’.  My informant had been battling a covert conspiracy by the royal families of Europe to take over the world for some time.  I only had time for one story, but it turned out that, at the age of four, he’d been sent to London to assassinate the King.  He’d succeeded, and escaped with his mother on a Constellation airliner.  The Queen was a bit miffed, and sent fighters to shoot the plane down (“it was like Swiss cheese”), which killed the pilots.  Thankfully, my friend had already been taught to fly by his Dad, and was talked down to a crash-landing in Paris.  The plane was so shot up that the tail fell off on landing, and he was presented with a pilot’s licence by the super-impressed Parisian air-traffic controllers.  A cynic may find this all a bit unlikely.  I’m just not sure where they found enough cushions for a four-year-old to see out of the plane’s cockpit.

In any case, I had hitherto been entirely ignorant of this important historic episode, and will be searching the internet carefully to find out more about it.

Plenty to ponder then, as I head into the last few days of crossing the continent.  I’ve got a tricky bit of hot desert to get across before the more temperate coastal zone, and there’s yet another hurricane dying off Baja California, which is pushing some rain and storms my way.  Should still be less than a week to the seaside, though.

Assuming the Queen doesn’t have me hunted down before I get there, that is…

 

Gripes and Moans. Oh, and Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon…

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:

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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:

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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.

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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).

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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…