Month: September 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.

Kiesha

Kiesha

Not sure of the spelling. She belongs to Joe, my host in Cliff NM. She’s a Patterdale Terrier, a breed I’d never heard of before. She’s incredibly affectionate.

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.

Sidewinders

Sidewinders

Look at those crazy choppers. I think they both had V8s from cars mounted transversely. And the rear wheel on the right one—completely insane

This was in Top of the World, Arizona, and the route is indeed very popular with bikers.

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.