Southern Tier 2010

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

Started: Sep 21, 2010 7:11:49
Ride Time: 7:15:59
Stopped Time: 1:25:10
Distance: 99.91 miles
Average: 13.75 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 0.00 miles/h
Climb: 15399 feet
Calories: 5828

This was a really hard day. My GPS definitely had a prolonged freakout—there’s no way I climbed 15000’—and I suspect the distance is overstated by about 10 miles. But I’m also convinced the official signage showing the distance between Brawley and Palo Verde is low: I think it’s 70 miles, not the putative 63.

The weather today was hot. Really freaking hot. Hot hot hot. I also learned it was 80% humidity.

I stayed yesterday at the home of my first Warm Showers host, Jim, whose hospitality is much appreciated. Got rolling around 7. Should have tried to start a little earlier to avoid as much of the day’s heat as possible.

The road out of Brawley was rough for the first 10 or so miles, but there was an ample shoulder. After that, the pavement became quite good, and stayed that way until mile 36. For the rest of the way into Palo Verde, the shoulder was negligible and occasionally washed out entirely. The lack of shoulder, coupled with short steep rollers that limit sightlines and a lot of big trucks creates a potentially dangerous situation. I didn’t see any close calls though.

Around mile 40, the wind and grade both changed in my favor. I dropped into a big gear and cranked into Palo Verde. On the edge of town, I saw a guy riding a Vespa the other way. Judging from all the crap he had lashed to it, it was immediately obvious he was riding the Southern Tier the other way.

At about 1:15, in town, I happened to meet up with the same group of riders I had met in Seeley. The had set out from Brawley at 3:00 am. I couldn’t imagine riding in the dark, especially on those roads. They were done for the day. I forged ahead.

The road to Blythe is easy riding, and zigzagged between tailwinds and crosswinds, so I made good time on the last leg.

I’m currently at another Warm Showers host, a combination bait shop/mobile-home park/social club. I am totally beat, and there’s no way I could make up for all the calories I burned today. Tomorrow I’m going to cross into Arizona and probably spend the night in Salome

Day 3: Ocotillo to Brawley

Started: Sep 20, 2010 8:29:54
Ride Time: 2:56:05
Stopped Time: 58:47
Distance: 37.11 miles
Average: 12.65 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 179.63 miles/h
Climb: 12328 feet
Calories: 2604

Today was a short, fast day. Need to stop early because the next thing after Brawley is 70 miles of open desert, and I want to make sure I can cross it in one shot.

A few miles out of Ocotillo, I met Gene Glasscock on the road. He’s driving a covered wagon drawn by two mules, and heading to Georgia. Making about 10 miles a day. We chatted for a while, and as I rode off I said “safe travels.” He said “you behave yourself.” Not sure what prompted him to say that.

In Seeley, I met up with four riders from Bozeman MT who are also riding the Southern Tier. They’re carrying a lot more gear than me—they have three trailers between them—and are more set up to camp and prepare their own food. We rode together for a while, but they diverted into El Centro hoping to find a bike shop to deal with some of the mechanical issues they’ve been having. I’ll probably run into them again.

I realized that there’s something subtly counter-intuitive about riding the transam west to east. In the USA, west is the direction of progress, of new discoveries. Riding eastbound, where the west is what’s known, what’s behind you, reverses this deeply ingrained instinct.