Category Archives: Daily report

Long-form end-of-ride entries

Day 15: Sierra Blanca to McDonald Observatory

The GPS track from today’s ride is highly errorred. Basic stats: 108 miles, about 9:40 rolling time. That’s not the greatest distance I’ve ever ridden in one day, but it’s definitely the most ride time I’ve ever had in one day.

I’ve been riding pretty strongly the past few days, and I think I may have gotten a little overconfident. Plus there’s a whole lot of nothing for a long way from Sierra Blanca on, and my current location is really the shortest ride I was willing to contemplate. And finally, now that I’m back in Texas, I really want to get back to Austin. It’s irrational: I know I have almost as much distance between El Paso and Austin as I did between San Diego and El Paso. But being in the state has lit a fire under me to make as much daily headway as possible.

So I wound up overextending myself today somewhat. I knew as early as 3:00 pm that I was racing the sunset and might not win. I did, but only just. I hadn’t taken into account the headwinds, the fact that I’d be climbing out of the Rio Grande valley even before I got to all the steep climbing in the Davis Mountains, or the generally rough roads, which really slow me down and are fatiguing.

I am staying at a Warm Showers host, John and his family, who live on the premises of the McDonald Observatory. John works on the telescopes. Pretty cool. He also did some cross-country riding when be was younger. Gwen and I were lucky enough to catch one of the star parties out here some years ago, and John has offered to show me the 107″ telescope.

It’s a funny thing: everywhere I’ve gone on this rode so far, I’ve either been able to get cellular data or wifi at the end of every day. So while I’ve been homesick, I’ve still had that thread of connection, getting emails and comments from friends, calling Gwen when possible, and so on. The first transam bike route was plotted and ridden back in 1976, when it would have been vastly harder to stay in touch with the folks back home. I wonder if modern communications tools alleviate the homesickness or increase it, by splitting one’s state of mind.

Day 14: El Paso to Sierra Blanca

Started: Oct 1, 2010 7:28:07
Ride Time: 8:01:26
Stopped Time: 1:58:29
Distance: 100.54 miles
Average: 12.53 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 34.42 miles/h
Climb: 6448 feet
Calories: 4993

A long day, and still somehow not far enough. I really wanted to push on to Van Horn, but would have needed about one more hour to do so safely. Decided not to risk it—I’d also be risking every restaurant there being closed by the time I got checked into a hotel, which might be even worse.

Anyone who has driven through this country knows why I’m in such a hurry to get through it: ain’t nothin’ here. While it would be nice to be able to be in the moment and enjoy every day on its own merits on this trip, I’m not half so Pollyanna-ish as to pretend that’s realistic. There are some days that really are about being in the moment. And there are some I just need to get through. This is one of the latter.

Gwen had predicted that it would take a long time to get through El Paso, and she was right. It was also very unpleasant. The contrast between New Mexico drivers and Texas drivers is stark. By the time I got to Fabens, traffic had lightened up, and riding wasn’t bad. A headwind prevented me from going as fast as I’d hoped, but I made pretty good progress riding on SH 20. Around McNary, my map diverted me onto a rough farm road as a detour to keep me off I-10. It was also around there that I met another Southern Tier rider, Tom. Tom’s got a few years on me. His wife is sagging for him with an RV they bought specifically for this ride. He’s logging about 60 miles a day on a hybrid bike, taking weekends off, and apparently having a good time. The hotel keeper in Superior CA mentioned this couple to me, so it’s fun to meet other people on the route that I’ve heard about.

Anyhow, that circuitous detour probably added about 30 minutes to my ride today. Later, the route did put me on I-10 for lack of any alternative, but only for a couple miles—back onto a feeder road with an especially coarse new layer of chipseal. Ugh. I think I have ridden over every mile of shovel-ready stimulus projects on this ride. Should have just stayed on I-10.

I continued to make pretty good time, despite the surface and despite gaining about 1000′ over the last 10 miles. But it was about 5:30 when I got in here, and even if I were flying at 17 mph, Van Horn would be another two hours. It’s funny how I’ve always viewed Van Horn as a nasty, dusty wide spot in the road when driving, but when cycling, it’s an oasis of civilization. The next town after it of any account that I’ll reach is Fort Davis—111 miles from here, and over the Davis Mountains.

Day 13: Hatch NM to El Paso TX

Started: Sep 30, 2010 7:39:11
Ride Time: 5:44:22
Stopped Time: 1:51:16
Distance: 79.54 miles
Average: 13.86 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 472.67 miles/h
Climb: 24219 feet
Calories: 4831

Not a lot to report today. I slept little last night, with the sounds of yapping dogs and traffic, and concern over my sketchy camping arrangement keeping me up. When it started getting light, I admitted defeat and started to break camp. Got rolling early. In my haste to exit Hatch, I forgot to put sunblock on, only remembering after I had been rolling for 40 minutes. The exposure shows on me.

Passed through a lot of fields growing cotton and peppers, as well as some enormous pecan orchards. An orchard would be divided into sections by berms, and some of the sections would be flooded a few inches deep. One of these orchards extended for a couple miles.

Passed through Las Cruces and its cute little sister Mesilla, where I stopped for a late breakfast.

Gwen had arranged for me to stop at the home of old family friends, Jim and Marylou, in El Paso. I had to fight headwinds all the way from Mesilla on, but made good time getting to El Paso. Then I had to ride through El Paso—from what I’ve seen of it, it is a uniquely ugly city. Anyhow, I am at Jim and Marylou’s now, and they’re providing another one of those very valuable home stops where I can do laundry, be around people, and generally feel a little more human.

The route I’m riding, the Southen Tier, is broken into 7 sections. Each section is printed on one foldout sheet, subdivided into about 15 highly detailed maps, each of which covers about 30 miles, showing what services are available in each town as well as detailed route directions. El Paso is the dividing point between sections 2 and 3. It’ll take me 3 sections just to cross Texas. I’ve got the hardest climbing behind me, although there are still some considerable ascents in West Texas. That’s one thing about riding this route west-to-east: the difficulty is all front-loaded.

Day 12: Silver City to Hatch

Started: Sep 29, 2010 7:28:30
Ride Time: 8:24:54
Stopped Time: 2:15:29
Distance: 106.94 miles
Average: 12.71 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 149.86 miles/h
Climb: 6303 feet
Calories: 4602

Today is the day I made gravity my bitch and crossed Emory Pass. The climbing was about as challenging as the climb from Three Way to the New Mexico state line, but it had better scenery and I was better prepared mentally.

Much of the climb was inside the Gila National Forest, which is beautiful. At one point I was on a horseshoe bend, with a cliff face on one side of me, a declivity, creek, and another cliff face on the other. The road seemed to disappear, obscured by the rock faces. Trees and cacti were growing right out of the rocks. Minutes would pass without a car driving by, and as I glided slowly along, I felt like I had the place to myself, and that I was seeing it from a perspective few others have. I almost wept.

I realized that while the climbing so far was tough, it wasn’t as tough as I knew it was going to get, and wondered when that would change. There were three tent sites shown on my map: as soon as I hit the first one, the climbing got really hard. Down into my lowest gear, taking frequent short breaks to let my heart rate drop 10-20 bpm.

Eventually I reached the pass. I had been riding on very new chipseal the whole way. At the top I saw the gravel spreader parked in what I’m guessing was the overlook. The first few miles of the downside was reduced to one lane, as the other had an unfinished bed of gravel. I had to wait with several cars until a pilot car led us down to the point where the road was no long under construction. It was hairpins all the way down, and I mostly kept pace with motor traffic.

When I got to the bottom, and exited the forest, I was overcome with emotion.

I made it quickly into the tiny town of Hillsboro and had lunch at the first place advertising “food,” Lynn Nusom’s Kitchen, which served me a huge and good breakfast burrito. I chatted with a couple who passed me on the climb in their RV—they’re on their way to Tucson to work on a balloonist’s crew for the balloon festival. The husband rides a recumbent, so we geeked out on bikes for a while. Very pleasant.

It was just after 3:00 when I got up from lunch. I felt inexplicably strong after 60 miles of mostly hard climbing. I knew it was pretty much downhill all the way to El Paso, so I decided to push on to Hatch.

It was 43 miles beyond Hillsboro, and I made it in just over three hours, tearing along over mostly flat land. When I got here, I received the rude surprise of learning that the one hotel in town was out of business. Has been for over a year apparently. There’s an RV park nearby. Not really set up to accommodate bike tourists—no communal toilet or shower. I cleaned up as best I could at a water hookup, pitched my tent, and had a sumptuous repast at the nearby gas station/Subway. Apparently the only restaurant open past 6:00.

It’s funny that Hatch is so well known for its peppers, but the town itself really doesn’t have much going on. It’s clearly not capitalizing on its reputation, and it’s not set up to.

Day 11: Cliff to Silver City

Started: Sep 28, 2010 8:11:37
Ride Time: 3:04:21
Stopped Time: 27:00
Distance: 29.33 miles
Average: 9.55 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 42.80 miles/h
Climb: 3863 feet
Calories: 1667

A short day today, and not a lot to report in terms of riding. The road into Silver City had a shoulder that would have been great to ride on if it weren’t covered in loose gravel, probably left over from a recent re-application of chipseal to the travel lane. It was almost all climbing to get in, but I had gotten an early start, and was in no hurry. Crossed the Continental Divide, which was much less epic than it sounds.

Silver City is a nice town. There’s a touristy main drag not far from where I’m staying. Since I’m a bike tourist, I can’t complain. Where I’m staying is with a Warm Showers host who runs a b&b. When she doesn’t have paying guests, she let’s WS members stay in the empty rooms. I’ve got a little apartment all to myself, and it’s really nice. If I ever pass through here on a road trip, I’d gladly pay to stay here.

I’ve always appreciated the starkness and emptiness of the desert states, but I’ve always done that appreciating inside an air-conditioned car cruising along at 70+ mph. It’s different when you’re on a bike averaging 11 mph. I see a lot more detail as well as a bigger picture, and I can observe gradual changes unfold. When I was riding through the Yuha Desert, I noticed that the terrain got rockier, and the earth shifted from yellow to red, as I moved through it. I mentioned this observation to Gwen, and she confirmed that the same changes are visible from the satellite view.

Tomorrow I ride over Emory Pass. I’ve had a few people tell me that it’s not as hard as the elevation profile suggests, and that it is beautiful. So I’m actually kind of looking forward to it. Depending on how much energy I have after, I’ll either stop in Hillsboro or push on to Hatch.

Day 10: Safford AZ to Cliff NM

Started: Sep 27, 2010 7:50:19
Ride Time: 8:33:14
Stopped Time: 1:51:28
Distance: 91.41 miles
Average: 10.69 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 152.65 miles/h
Climb: 18920 feet
Calories: 5538

Today was an exceptionally challenging day, but I’m ending it in much better spirits.

Last night, I was doing a spot check of my trike and found that the rear quick release had worked itself loose, quite alarmingly, and that one of my headsets was pretty loose. I’m pretty sure these can be attributed to the rumble strips that the Arizona DOT is so fond of. I couldn’t avoid riding over them somewhat on the road, and they could damn near rattle a filling loose. Much of my time in Arizona, I had to ride in what I call the rumble-strip straddle, where my left front wheel was on one side of the strip, and my rear wheel on the other. This gave me only a couple inches of maneuvering room, and was stressful. Glad to leave that behind. In Texas, we don’t care if inattentive drivers drift over. Yeehah.

Anyhow, good thing I caught those mechanical issues. Today I had about 2000′ feet of gradual climbing out of Safford, followed by 5 miles of descending on a 7% grade (very steep). That brought me to the town of Three Way, where the real fun began. Almost 3000′ of very steep climbing, in very hot weather. With grasshoppers. There were actually grasshoppers earlier—and having one jump on to you while you’re whipping along at 40+ mph is very unnerving—but this was different. The profusion was Old Testament in scale. They were everywhere in the road, copulating, feeding on dead grasshoppers, and generally being a biblical plague. And these things were enormous. The size of small rats. And jumping all over, as grasshoppers are wont to do. I freaked out. I tried to ride faster to get past the zone of maximum infestation, but I just wore myself out. As I discovered, there was a high density of the little monsters for about 25 miles to come. I murdered hundreds if not thousands of them today. The road ran orange with their ichor. I speculated that if I got a flat, I would just ride on it rather than stop to fix it.

Inevitably, I had a chance to test that hypothesis: a goathead thorn flatted my rear tire—my first rear flat, which is kind of odd, since they are usually more common. The grasshoppers mercifully let me be.

After a while, I got to the really hard part of the climb. With switchbacks. At one point, I could see four switchbacks ahead and could only exclaim “Fuck me.” incredibly hard climbing. I dropped into my lowest gear, ground away for three or four minutes, and stopped to catch my breath. Repeat for the next hour or so. I worried that I didn’t have enough water (turns out I did, but probably should have had
more). After a seemingly immeasurable amount of time, I reached the top. That put me in the Gila National Forest, and suddenly, everything was different. I was surrounded by tall pines. There was a cool breeze. Everything was beautiful and smelled nice. I rode through the forest for several miles, and the road took me across the state line into New Mexico.

I descended fast on a washboard chipseal road into the hamlet of Mule Creek. Crossing the state line put me into a different place. Whereas Arizona was rocky and mountainous, with cacti, suddenly I was in rolling hills covered in dry grass, with occasional junipers. I continued on to Buckhorn, the first town in 39 miles—and that massive climb—with a store. I stopped at the first one I saw to refuel. Chatted with someone who had seen me on the road and was very interested in my trike. He and the shopkeeper were both impressed with the climbing I had done. While I was finishing my Gatorade, a couple drove up, Joe and Leigh. We got to talking. Joe said he had a friend who had done the same ride I’m doing. Then he invited me to have dinner and spend the night at his place, about 10 miles down the road. I had been planning on camping at Buckhorn’s RV park and making up one of my camping rations for dinner. Obviously his offer sounded very attractive.

And that is where I am writing these words from right now. Joe and Leigh fed me a dinner that included steaks from grass-fed cows raised on this very property. I ate a lot. Joe himself is an interesting guy, with activities that include racing the Iditarod. This is one of those chance encounters that I’ve read about others experiencing while riding the transam. Now I’ve had my own.

Day 9: Globe to Safford

Started: Sep 26, 2010 8:14:19
Ride Time: 6:34:19
Stopped Time: 1:00:09
Distance: 79.90 miles
Average: 12.16 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 73.58 miles/h
Climb: 17746 feet
Calories: 4065

Again you may note some wonkiness in the GPS data above. I did get up to a very high speed on a long, straight downhill riding out of Globe to Peridot, which is in a giant basin. Climbing back out, I saw hillsides covered in saguaros, something I haven’t seen before. There was a whole lot of nothing between my two endpoints today. Bylas is a town in an Apache reservation, and about as depressed as one might imagine. The adjacent town of Geronimo is a ghost town. It was Sunday, so the town of Fort Thomas was closed. Safford is half-closed.

Apart from heat, I’ve had pretty good weather this ride. Today was my first day of sustained headwinds, which are demoralizing. I also had two flats—one from a thorn that still has a nub embedded in the tire, one from a source I couldn’t find. So they both may cause additional flats.

All of this may explain the fact that I am feeling negative about this undertaking. When I encountered my fellow Southern Tier riders in Palo Verde after crossing the desert, one of them said something like “I’m starting to think the real challenge is mental.” I replied “I don’t know, it’s feeling like a physical challenge right now.” I’m starting to see her point. This tour was an expensive indulgence, but it was important to me. Right now it’s not making me feel happy or fulfilled, only homesick and incredibly tired.

When I started the tour, I was mostly worried that a mechanical or physical failure would scupper it. So far I’ve been free of the joint pains, chafing, etc that had worried me. So I feel more confident right now that I can make it all the way to the Atlantic. The question I’m asking is whether I want to. Perhaps after I’m past the very intimidating hill climbing still ahead I’ll feel differently. And I’m sure that lots of people who attempt this go through moments of doubt. But right now, this is feeling like a slog. And tomorrow will be as long as today, but with a lot more climbing.

Day 8: Superior to Globe

Started: Sep 25, 2010 7:21:40
Ride Time: 2:21:03
Stopped Time: 1:24:06
Distance: 24.96 miles
Average: 10.62 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 45.03 miles/h
Climb: 3815 feet
Calories: 1289

Kept today short. Partly to give myself a little break, and partly because there’s fuck-all for the next 92 miles, which I will try to cover tomorrow. That’ll put me in Safford, which looks like a good place to spend the night, and positions me well for the next couple of days after that, which will involve a hell of a lot of climbing. I feel like I’ve gotten to the point in this ride where I need to map out my schedule many days in advance.

I’m also at the point where I’m looking at some of the climbing ahead of me and getting scared. I see myself getting into Silver City NM in three days, and crossing Emory Pass the day after. The climbing and descending there will make today seem like a cakewalk. My planned ride for two days from now looks like even more total climbing, but not as steep.

Today’s ride was up a 6% grade for 10 miles, followed by about 5 miles of equally steep descending. On the climbing sections, there was a passing lane most of the time. This worked out better than the shoulder, which generally wasn’t bad, but not as good as the travel lane.

I also rode through the notorious tunnel. I didn’t consider it a problem. The passing lane ran through it, so I wasn’t holding up traffic. It was loud, but that’s the worst I can say about it. It interrupted my GPS track, unsurprisingly, and I didn’t reset it for a couple of miles, so the number shown in the log is low.

That put me into the town of Top of the World, which i would say is aptly named if I didn’t know I’d be ascending another 3000 feet above it soon.

On the descending side, I really had no choice but to take over the one travel lane. The shoulder was inadequate, especially given that I was descending at 45 mph, and the steering overreacts with 26 lb of gear cantilevered out past my rear axle. Not all motorists were entirely cool with the delay I imposed. I’ve said that the trick to climbing on this trike is to be patient, and the trick to descending is to be relaxed. Some of the descending today tested my ability to stay relaxed. And I know there’s much steeper ahead. I’m concerned that if I ride the brakes too much, I’ll warp my rotors. It’s exciting to go fast, but i still want to be reasonably in control.

I haven’t had any AT&T coverage since I left the Phoenix area. I’ve been entirely reliant on wifi when it’s available, which isn’t as often as I’d like.

From what I’ve seen of Arizona so far, it seems as if almost all the money in the state is in the Phoenix area. The small towns seem really poor. From what I saw of it, Phoenix and all the surrounding towns seem very well groomed. And i had no idea how many of Arizona’s cities were just extensions of Phoenix—Mesa, Tempe, Surprise, Scottsdale, Peoria, El Mirage, and so on. They put their city names on the street sign so you know which city you’re in, because they just run together.

Day 7: Phoenix to Superior

Started: Sep 24, 2010 8:15:04
Ride Time: 6:22:42
Stopped Time: 1:53:04
Distance: 74.01 miles
Average: 11.60 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 97.40 miles/h
Climb: 6984 feet
Calories: 4819

A weird day. It took me more than 30 miles to get off of city streets with bike lanes in the Phoenix area. The riding was pleasant, but I didn’t really feel like the ride had started until I got onto country roads. Some of the ACA map routing through town was a little confusing especially the turn onto Bethany Home, which I managed to ride past twice.

The streets around Phoenix are all dead flat. Once I got outside of town, the climbing began. US 60 had a shoulder that varied between unrideable and excellent. There was massive rumble strip on parts of the road that I could not avoid on my trike, so I rode in the lane.

The road here wound through a couple of passes, so I could never really see the top. “Surely this is the top…nope.” It was slow going.

I made the dumb mistake of not topping off my water reservoir in Apache Junction when I had the chance. I figured I’d have another chance in Florence Junction. Nope. When I realized my mistake, I got very conservative with my hydrating, to stretch my reserves. They got me here, barely. I sucked the reservoir dry as I turned onto Main St.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot going on in Superior. There’s no AT&T service at all. All the local businesses and city services have automatic jokes for names. Superior Airport. Superior Wastewater Treatment.

My mom asked me if I’ve been eating enough, and while it sounds like stereotypical Jewish-mother stuff, it’s a real issue. I’m sure the calorie output estimates from my GPS are approximate at best, but I must be burning 3-6000 more calories than I would if I were sedentary. Finding food I can digest readily to be fuel for the next day and not to have it sitting like a rock in my guts is one problem. Being able to shove enough of it down my throat in one sitting is another. I made the decision to go off coffee for this ride, and so far that hasn’t come back to haunt me. No migraines.

Day 6: Salome to Phoenix

Started: Sep 23, 2010 6:44:43
Ride Time: 8:22:16
Stopped Time: 2:31:37
Distance: 111.31 miles
Average: 13.30 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 69.27 miles/h
Climb: 7555 feet
Calories: 5915

Another long day in the desert and my first century day on the tour. When I was studying today’s route last night, it looked like about 30 miles of climbing followed by 70 miles of descending.

I got off to an early start with the rising sun, and it was actually chilly, which lit a fire under me to ride faster and warm up. I also thought that I’d be able to get the climbing out of the way early, before the day heated up.

As it turns out, the first ~45 miles was climbing, and pretty grim. After I stopped in Wickenburg for lunch, my spirits improved considerably, and the grade changed in my favor, so I was able to whip along at 16 mph or better most of the way into Phoenix. By the time I was inside the urban area, i was ready to start taking it easy, and the canal bike path was just my speed—actually very nice to ride on.

I was on US 60 all the way into the metro area. Up until Wickenburg, it was a lightly-trafficked two-lane road. The shoulder was plenty wide, but often rough and debris-strewn, so I just rode in the travel lane. After Wickenburg, it turned into a 4-lane divided highway; the road was good but the shoulder was lousy. Motorists were less happy here about sharing the lane with me, and prudence required that I spend part of that leg on the shoulder. Closer to the metro area, the shoulder was excellent, and I could really crank it.

One I got into Sun City, I noticed houses on one side of the street had green lawns, while on the other they landscaped with rocks. I wondered if the lawns could be attributed to conspicuous consumption or hallucinatory midwesternism. I noticed other homes, closer in, that apparently landscape with cast-off miniature-golf course props, like windmills and wells. And I totally dig using saguaros for landscaping.

When I was planning this tour I imagined logging 100 miles a day, every day. Hahahahahahah. Oh, I crack myself up in hindsight. I heard there’s another guy who started a day ahead of me who had the same plan and at least for the first couple days was keeping to it. More power to it. Perhaps once I get past all these fucking mountains it’ll be easier to log 100-mile days. But I’ve got a hell of a lot of climbing before I get there.

Right now I’m at the home of an old friend from Austin, Carlos. It’s an important opportunity to do some laundry and fix a couple minor issues I’ve been having. Plus a valuable chance to catch up.

Day 5: Blythe to Salome

Here are some basic stats:
Distance: 68 miles
Rolling time 5:50
Average speed 11.6 mph
Climb: ~2000 feet

The route was simple: get on I-10 outside of Blythe, get off and ride through Quartzite (nothing there worth slowing down for, as far as I’m concerned), then get back on I-10 to US 60, and take that almost as far as Phoenix (which I’ll hit tomorrow).

So it was another long day in the desert. Whereas the Yuha Desert was forbidding and beautiful, the desert here in Arizona seems ugly and mean. Hard to explain.

I did get to cross one state off my list, and in doing so got my first flat—the pedestrian bridge over the Colorado River is covered in broken glass and puncture vine. Oh well, bound to happen sooner or later.

My second flat of the day came within the next 30 miles. On I-10. This was unpleasant enough for the heavy truck traffic and all the noise it creates, and the lack of anything vaguely resembling a good pullout. But what made it genuinely bad was the minefield of shredded tire carcasses covering the shoulder. The wire cords that spray everywhere easily get embedded in bike tires and poke through. And they’re devilishly hard to find once they’re in there. One of them got me. Being on a recumbent trike has pros and cons in this regard. On the negative side, I’ve got three tracks on the ground, so it’s almost impossible to steer a good line in situations like this. It was stressful. And I’ve got two different tire sizes, neither of which are conventional, so restocking en route would be difficult. The positive is that my front tires, at least, are right at hand, so I can wipe them down frequently. And I do.

The flats, the considerable amount of climbing, the heat, and the fact that I’m not fully recovered from yesterday probably have conspired to give me a less positive attitude about my ride today. But it just felt like a day I had to grind through. I decided to call it quits at 4:00 pm in Salome because the next town I might want to stop in, Aguila, is 27 miles down the road with some serious climbing on the way. I’d probably be getting in around dusk, assuming I could still ride well that extra distance.

Day 4: Brawley to Blythe