September 27, 2010

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.

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