Slog Across America

April 15-30

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 April 15, 2012 - Day 1 Dog Beach to Pine Valley - 52.78 miles, avg 7.8 mph, 5,132 climbing

Hoo boy, today started out really nice and then reality set in. It was so great to see 60? of our best friends and relatives come to Dog Beach today to wish us well on our adventure. We felt very loved by everyone and your faith in us helped us overcome our anxiety about the trip. Thank you to EVERYONE who came out to wish us well, especially Tony Nohmy who drove out from Las Vegas!

About 20 people followed us out on the bike path - most were KnickerBikers, and then we had Mike from San Diego County Bike Coalition and my friend Gary Elmer (who I met at my first attorney job on June 8, 1992), as well as Jay's friend Dave Medearis from work. Gary is a top triathlete so luckily he went up and down Mt. Soledad a few times BEFORE our ride so he wasn’t completely bored to tears by our pace. Dave's a big cyclist, too, he commutes on his bike from Kearny Mesa to Chula Vista. The first group peeled off around Mission Gorge and Zion and then about 6 of us went to Mission Trails Park, where we had our first break. As of then' we averaged 10.8 mph; not bad for how heavy our bikes are. Dina from my work met us at the end of the park with a cute sign showing our progress so far.

Then we headed into Santee, where Gary said goodbye.

Next up, Lkeside, where three more people turned off. Then it was just Robert Leone, Mike, and Jay and me. We stopped at our favorite east county 7-11 at Los Coches Road and Business Route 8 for a quick sandwich, chips, and Cucumber Lime Gatorade. That is the best flavor ever, FYI. We drank one bottle and split the other in our water bottles. Mike left us there rather than get bogged down on the climbs with us. The climbing started in earnest - the 7-11 was at 500' and we would go over 4,000 feet today.

One thing about having a heavy bike is grades that you might not notice otherwise become very significant, and obvious hills become real heartbreakers. Robert left us at Friends of Cats on Old Highway 80 (past Flinn Springs) and we had gotten a lot slower by then. There was a funny sign at Friends of Cats - "guard dog on duty." What kind of credibility loss must that dog suffer with his dog friends? Whenever he says anything, I bet they sneer at him and say "What do you know? You guard cats for a living." And what do the cats think? Can’t they protect themselves? It seems messed up to me.

So we kept climbing, on up to Alpine, past Alpine, past Viejas. According to my bike computer, we climbed for six hours today with no appreciable downhills or flat spots. Around Alpine our legs started cramping and we had to pull over real quick until they unseized. We realized we had forgotten to take salt pills and our electrolytes were out of whack. And we were sweating more than we realized. And we ate a good breakfast at 7:30 but didn’t start riding till 9:00, then waited too long to refuel. All of these things contributed to the spasms. In the middle of the first really long super sloggy climb, we pulled over and ate a pecan oatmeal bar that Judith King made for us. They were excellent and got us to the top of the steep part, so then we only had to go 20 more miles.

We pushed on and tried to manage the cramps as best we could. We had to walk our bikes up a 19% grade that I recall a lot of people also had to walk on the 2009 Alpine Challenge (Jay and I rode up that year). It's a good thing we were on the other side of the freeway from Viejas Casino, because if we had been on the same side and they had a hotel, we would have been tempted to check in (it was about 4:00 by then). Right past the East Willows Road exit, we got onto Interstate 8. Mike had said that this was 3.5 miles of 7-10% grade, so we were kind of scared, but it turned out to be not too bad. We had downed about 3 salt pills by then so we were feeling better.

We stopped at a view area and did our first stealth pee of the trip. Then we got back on the freeway and had to pull over to rest for a bit. While we were stopped, Jay saw a raven fly by with a squirrel in his claws. Neato! Later, Jay said that squirrel should be added to his total for the day, but I disagreed because it wasn’t on the ground. He was adamant it should count, and I said, "Submit your request to the Rules Committee and we’ll see what they say." He said "I know about that Rules Committee. Nevermind."

It got a little steep right before we exited but not too bad. Then we turned northish and had 7.5 miles to go to Pine Valley. By now it was 5:00 or so; we knew there was no way we'd make Live Oak Springs by daylight (another 18 miles past Pine Valley). We had another 1000' of climbing just to get into PV, but it finished with a nice downhill. We saw snow!

It was getting dark in the shadows so we put on our fluorescent jackets, which made us visible but hot. Once we got all the way up the hill (an hour or so later), we zoomed downhill for two miles and then had about 2 miles to get into town. There’s no place to camp in PV (oh dang) so we stopped at the only motel. Jay went in to register and then called me in to the office. There was a sweet 9-month-old German Shepherd-Rottweiler mix who licked us on the face! If that’s not the best thing to happen after a long climby ride, then I don’t know what is.

Once in our room, we stretched our muscles, cleaned up, and got some dinner. Whew. It was still a pretty fun day and we, ahem, learned a lot about what not to do for future rides. All’s well that ends well.

Here's a link to more pics on Snapfish courtesy of John B. Martha S and Robert L also provided photos. Thank you!

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April 16, 2012 - Day 2 Pine Valley to El Centro
We had a decent breakfast at Major’s Diner this morning and got started at 7:45. We could see the hill to get out of town, so we tried to ride around the town for a bit to warm up, but the town's on a slant and riding downhill is no warm-up. One of the worst things you can do on bike, however, is to start going up a steep hill before you're warmed up. Oh well. After two minutes, we stopped to take off our jackets. After another two minutes, we stopped for me to take off my leg warmers and both of us switched from long-fingered gloves to regular gloves. About 10 minutes later, we were at the top of the hill and had a nice downhill.  

We rode out by Buckman Springs on part of the Boulevard Road Race course. We've done part of this ride and I, ahem, don’t remember it being quite so hilly. The weather was good for the most part, although a headwind kicked up pushing us down as we were climbing. There are some steep hills in East County! We finally made it out by the Acorn Casino and headed downhill to Live Oak Springs. We had gone 19 miles already - -there was no way we could have done this last night. Waaaaay too hilly. We stopped at the market at Live Oak Springs and got Gatorade (we tried Fruit Punch, Gary Elmer’s favorite flavor, which wasn’t too bad) and Fritos. Then back on the bikes.

The riding wasn't too bad, and it was hot but not unbearable - 90 degrees. We were doing better with our electrolytes so we weren't cramping at all. We rode past Boulevard and stopped at the Wisteria Candy Cottage, which has been around since 1910? and was supposed to close a few years ago but some investors stepped in to keep it open. I got two peanut butter cups for later.

We stopped at the market in Jacumba for a sandwich, Cool Blue Gatorade, and some potato chips. We wanted to go to the restaurant at the Hot Springs hotel but it was all torn up and closed for "remodeling." Jacumba is really a god-forsaken wasteland. While we were eating, Jay said "what would you do if you were the mayor of Jacumba?" I said, "Fake my own death and move to some place good under an assumed name." We busted open the peanut butter cups from the Candy Cottage. YUCK! They were inedible. It tasted like someone stuck inferior peanut butter inside bargain brand chocolate and then dipped the whole thing in wax. No wonder the place almost closed.

After lunch (it's now about 1:00), we started our last climb before the grand descent into the desert. The climb wasn't too bad, but it had a lot of false summits so it was kind of demoralizing. Finally, we entered Highway 8 and tore it up on the downhill for 9 miles. Yee-haw! The shoulder was really wide and it was hard to not go too fast. It almost made all of the previous climbing worth it.

Once into Ocotillo, we had to decide if we wanted to go on the crappy short road with a couple places for services, or the nicer longer road that was barren of all life forms (Highway 98 to Calexico) to try to get to El Centro before dark. We opted for the nicer road, having heard from Dee (a KnickerBiker who started a supported cross-country tour on March 14) that the crappy road was suuuuper crappy. So we rode for 20 miles in the blistering sun (105 degrees), stopping every once in a while to rest and remark on how barren the landscape was. Right before we turned off, we came across a large oleander bush overhanging someone’s driveway, and we dove off our bikes to lay on his driveway in the shade and have a snack.

The route turned off onto a really hideous road that ran through some farmland. It used to be asphalt but it was all broken and rutted. We had 8 miles of this with almost no shade and it was really exhausting trying to control the bikes and keep them out of the deep grooves between the asphalt chunks. Every once in a while we' be passed by someone driving a big piece of farm equipment. We stopped for a break a few times, and toward the later afternoon some birds came out and made sweet little twittering noises in the fields.

We finally got to Seeley, where we stopped at a market. Jay went in and came out with cold water, some of which we drank. Jay had a great idea to pour the rest over our heads to cool us off. Heaven! The heat was really cooking us and we were exhausted. I said, "let’s get another bottle. How much was that?” He said "$1.30," so I dug out our coin purse to get the exact change and offload some weight. I got out five quarters and then I had to think: what does a nickel look like? We were that delirious from the heat.

While we were drinking the second bottle, a cyclist came up and asked where we were headed and talked to us about our trip. He gave us directions to use the good roads over to El Centro, and with the cold water and on a nice road over to El Centro, the last 8 miles wasn’t too bad. My sister, Chris, had set us up with a good hotel room (with air conditioning!) close to a Mexican restaurant, so we were set. It was a loooong day but now we’re back on track. Yay!

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April 17, 2012 - Day 3 El Centro to Palo Verde

I knew we had a long day ahead of us, so we got up before 5:00 to get an early start. Only to find that my bike' rear tire was flat. DANG. Jay started to change the tire and I went to McDonald's to get us breakfast - two egg sandwiches each and a large coffee. We managed to get on the road at 6:45 - we knew that it was going to be a hot day, because we were going through Glamis and the desert.

Thanks to the cyclist we met yesterday, we rode on Highway 111 up to Brawley instead of the crap Adventure Cycling route. The road was grea - newly paved, wide shoulder, and not a ton of traffic. We got to Highway 78 in 75 minutes, having averaged 13.6 mph so far. The part of the Imperial Valley where there’s farming isn’t hideous, but the heat is just exhausting. The temperature goes from pleasant to warmish to geez Louise it’s sooo hot in about 90 minutes once the sun rises. So we were pretty warm, and it was only 8:30.

Once we got into a less-populated area, we stopped so I could stealth pee off the side of the road. Once I climbed back up the embankment and was getting back on the bike, Jay noticed two cyclists coming toward us. We waited for them to come up to us. It was a dad and his daughter from Australia! The dad, Thom (not sure if that’s how he spells his name but it seems like it could be) said they were on a ride to raise money for cancer research. They started in Sydney and rode up to Brisbane, then LAX to New York City was the second leg, and lastly they were going to go to Greece. The daughter (18 years old?) didn’t have any gear on her bike but she had a small backpack. Thom had small rear panniers and that was it. He said they were staying in motels and had almost no off-the-bike clothes. He was impressed with how much gear we had and that we said we were going to camp part of the time. (FYI, this would be our first night of camping—there was no place to camp in Pine Valley or in El Centro, believe it or not.)

The day started getting hotter and the landscape more barren. There were no more crops, just sand and sagebrush, and pretty soon the sagebrush died off. We stopped for a snack in the shade of a telephone pole at the entrance to Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area. Jay said it was lucky we weren't there on the weekend or else we’d be overrun by RV'ers. We started climbing gradually and stopped at the only store in sight, in Glamis. The Aussies were just finishing their lunch (they were headed to Blythe for the night); it was nice to see them again. We bought a 10-pound bag of ice along with our lunch and gave them some ice for their water bottles. We knew there was a rough climb ahead.

We took a long break (30 minutes) for lunch, then headed out. We had a nice tailwind to help us, although that made the air feel hotter since it wasn't cooling us off from the front. We headed up into the Chocolate Mountains, where we encountered some short steep rollers. The speed you picked up on the downhill got you pretty much to the top of the next hill (thanks to the tailwind) so it was kind of fun. We kept climbing gradually surrounded by just rock and sand. I looked at the thermometer on my bike and it read 108 degrees (at 1:30) so I decided not to look at that anymore.

According to the map, we had about 20 miles of downhill coming. With the tailwind, that would be sweet! Except that, at the top of the mountain, the wind changed direction and was now gusting into our faces. So we had to pedal downhill, and the short steep rollers became torture with the headwinds. Now, the momentum of the downhill only carried us about 1/3 of the way up the next hill, leaving us to scramble into a smaller gear to pedal up the 13% grades. It was exhausting and I was getting really tired. I had been counting on an easy finish to the day and this was not it.

With about 8 miles to go, I had to stop about every two miles. We ate snacks and Jay rubbed my shoulders. When I get tired, I lose my cycling form and revert to the technique of hunching my shoulders to help me when I’m climbing. You don’t see riders in the Tour de France do this for one good reason: it doesn't work.

We finally got off the mountain and back into the irrigated desert. We made it to our intended stop, the Palo Verde County Campground. The "campground" was actually a slice of sand along a "lake" but it did have nice big pine trees. The carpet of pine needles looked soft and inviting but my first thought was "I bet they're filled with chiggers." So I laid down on my bike in the sand and just stared up at the sky.

There was a flush toilet and a sink but that was it - no showers. Supposedly there was another campground 3 miles down the road but I just could not get back on the bike. Jay and I took our shoes off and went down to the water to stick our feet in - it was cold and refreshing. I was in a stupor so Jay said for me to go get cleaned up and he set up the tent. I was able to blow up our sleeping bag pads (suuuuper helpful). I washed off our gloves and the water that pooled in the sink was brown, not beige, not café' au lait, but brown from the day’s sand and dirt. Ugh.

Jay set up the campstove and we boiled water for our Jambalya rice mix, to which we added two cans of tuna that we bought at the Glamis store. We ate supper in the dark and watched the stars come out. It was actually very pretty. We got in the tent and took some Tylenol PMs. Some animal had been making a pretty mournful call, so I had to put earplugs in. We read until we were tired (didn’t take long), then lights out.

An exhausting day, but what an accomplishment. I just need to practice what I preach about cycling: it's an activity that you really have to stay in the moment for and not anticpate what lies ahead. If I hadn't psyched myself up about the last 20 miles being effortless, I would have been fine. Another lesson learned!

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April 18, 2012 - Day 4 Palo Verde to Quartzite, AZ .

We didn't sleep too badly even though we were camping. We woke up at 5:45 and set about to boil water for instant coffee (Starbucks Via that Jay picked up at Costco at a not-bad price) and drank that while we deflated the accoutrements of camping. That is really not bad coffee. Then we boiled water for oatmeal with Craisins and dried cherries, with some of Judith's homemade roasted pecan butter stirred into it. It was very hearty and not too bad, but I messed up the water:oatmeal ratio a tiny bit.

Despite waking up, by the time we got all packed up and hit the road it was 8:30. We had missed the 90-second cool part of the day so it was already hottish when we started riding. I felt much better mentally and we started out at a good pace with a slight tailwind. The scenery was not super exciting - this hay drying barn is the first thing we saw that was higher than 8' tall. We stopped at a small grocery in Ripley for Gatorade (they had only small bottles so I got Orange as a tribute to our Orange Kitty and Jay got Cool Blue). (Not sure if there was any reason for that.)

Next up was Blythe - this is where the Australians were headed yesterday. We were making pretty good time so we decided to eat lunch at the next town, Ehrenberg. We stopped at what turned out to be quite a nice grocery in Blythe and bought a noodle mix and a can of tuna (paying considerably less than we did in Glamis) to have in reserve for supper. To get to Ehrenberg, you cross the Colorado River into Arizona. Yippee, we made it to the next state! The state line crossing made the trip feel more official, somehow, even though we’re still only three or four hours away from San Diego by car.

It was really heating up so we went to a Wendy's at the Interstate truck stop for a long break. We filled our water bottles with ice and kept thinking of things to do with our iPhones to delay getting back on the bikes. I was texting back and forth with Chris about a motel in Quartzsite and I think Jay was trying to figure out how to Twitter. Or something. I went into the restroom to reapply sunscreen. A woman in her 40’s walked in and said "Wow, you're biking in this heat?! You must be used to it." I said "No, not at all. We’re from San Diego and this is killing us." She asked where we were going and I told her Washington, D.C., and she asked "Oh' so are you going through Santa Barbara?"

Whaa? I thought I was bad with geography! I just said, “Um, no, we’re not” and left. With no reason left to delay, we went outside and got on the bikes and headed onto Interstate 10 for the next 10 miles. I knew we had some climbing ahead but we were well-fueled and we had heard the shoulder was good. Which it was! There were a lot of big trucks and it was 110 degrees, but the grade was manageable and we had a slight tailwind helping us up the hills. After 4 miles we exited to a rest stop, where we lay down on the concrete. It was strangely refreshing. We rested about 10 minutes then got back on for another 6 miles.

The grade of the hill got a bit steeper and longer, but I managed it mostly in my middle chain ring so I felt like a grown-up (unlike much of Sunday's climbing when I was almost always in my lowest gear like an infant). Also, I did better at what Kristi Anderson (our Pilates teacher at Pilates Rx in Mission Hills) always tells me: “try to piiiinch your shoulder blades together” instead of hunching my shoulders, so that helped a lot too. We are definitely getting stronger and if it weren’t for the heat the ride wouldn’t have been too bad at all. We exited the freeway at the top of the mountain onto Dome Rock Road. We needed to do a map check, so Jay pointed us toward the overpass. We got off the bikes and again, just laid down on the concrete in the shade of the overpass. It was pretty quiet for being under a freeway. I asked Jay “What if there was an earthquake and this bridge fell on us right now?” Being tired and heat-compromised, he said “Big deal.”

We rallied after a few minutes and got back on the road. We went up a tiny hill then enjoyed a nice longish downhill with a slight tailwind through (what else) desolate landscape. We haven’t seen a squirrel in two days! Jay started talking about how these kinds of trips are supposed to be life-changing, and maybe one of the things that would change for me is that I would develop a love for the desert. I interrupted to say “don’t count on that.” We rode into town on some freshly-asphalted road (the construction guys were really nice) and stopped at the first motel. It turned out to be on the outskirts of town so we rode ahead to the next motel, the Quartzsite Yacht Club.

It looked a bit sketchy so I called Chris to ask about another motel who’s sign I could see down the road. As I was dialing, a guy called out to Jay and said “Hey, where you headed? Where you been?” I thought he was going to try to sell us something so I walked around the corner to talk to Chris. Jay flagged me down after a minute and I told Chris I had to go—we were getting some intel from a local. As it turns out, the guy, Bill, owned the Quartzsite Yacht Club where we were and the other hotel had been closed for five years. Bill was interested in our trip and said he’d give us a break on the room and even let us use his washer. Suhweet! The rooms here are converted single-wide trailers, but they (a) have air-conditioning and (b) showers, so they met our standards.

Once we checked in, I called Cox and figured out my email problem (does everyone but me know that you have to reconfigure your outgoing mail server when you leave the geographic coverage of your ISP?) and got to work on this blog. We’ve been able to email photos to Chris with our phones but now we can send details too. We just came back from a pretty good dinner across the street, all of our clothes are washed and set out to air dry, and tomorrow doesn’t look too bad. Not sure if we’ll stop in Salome or Aguila, or camp or motel, but it will be hot and there will be hills. Time for one of Jay's funny sayings: It’s all good, bro.

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April 19, 2012 - Salome, AZ.

We had a great supper at the Q-Town Cafe across from our hotel so we decided we'd go there for breakfast this morning and then head out. I woke up at 4:40 and couldn't get back to sleep. My throat was sore and I couldn’t tell if I was coming down with a cold or if I had slept with my mouth open or if it was just dried out from the desert air. Jay woke up around 6:00 and we packed up, got mostly ready, and then walked across the street for a big breakfast: egg, toast, potatoes, bacon, and we split a waffle.

Sadly, by the time we got on the bikes we had missed the cool 20 minutes of the day. It was already 85 degrees when we started. We biked to the east end of town and got on Interstate 10. We had a gradual climb of about 10 miles or so. The shoulder was wide and pretty clean. I guess some people would be scared that a car would hit them, but that seems so unlikely. Everyone’s going so fast - if they did swerve over the rumble strip and into the shoulder, it'd all be over so quickly that it wouldn’t matter. I actually feel pretty safe cycling on the freeway.

After 6 or so miles, there was an exit. In California, bikes have to exit the freeway and then get back on. There wasn't a sign that said you had to that here, and we could see that the exit was an uphill offramp leading to a bleak shadeless overpass, whereas if we cut across the offramp and kept going, we could score some shade in the underpass. It was 101 out by now and we did what any sensible person would - we ran across the exit and raced to the shade of the overpass, where we took our first break. Who'd have thought that we would loooove resting on the side of a freeway?

The exit to Highway 60 came up about 4 hilly miles later, so we took that and then had a sweeping curvy downhill across the freeway. The gradual downhill grade continued for four miles - we were booking 20 miles an hour with little effort. Suhweeet! At Brenda, we stopped for a fresh lemonade at a little roadside trailer and encountered another cross-country cyclist, Doug. He's originally from Chicago but almost a year ago he started a perimeter tour of the U.S. He rode his bike from Washington state to Bar Harbor, Maine, then hiked the Appalachian trail south, then picked up his bike and rode down to Key West, then came back up and is now biking to San Diego, where he starts hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on April 27 or 28. There's some big official trail hike start date, but I forgot when it was. We talked to him for about 45 minutes and got some intel on the route (he stated in Salome, where we are now, last night). He stayed at the other motel in town and said they had giant water bugs - he thought they were coming up from the drain so he put a washcloth in it to plug it. Ewwww. He said the other hotel (where we are, the Westward) looked cute. It is.

It was nice to talk to someone who understands what doing, and, in fact, makes our trip look lame and cushy compared to his adventure. We went our separate ways and headed toward the next town, Hope, about 15 miles away. Our little downhill grade and tailwind fell off and we were slogging slightly uphill. We stopped for a break in a little tiny shady spot and then continued on. The road had been pretty good, but it turned into rutted chip seal in the bike lane. So we took to driving in the traffic lane and then swerving back over to the bike lane when a car would come up. There was so little traffic that we decided to just ride on the white line on the shoulder and make cars go around us. Which worked perfectly.

Finally arriving in Hope, we saw that the convenience store was closed for the season but there were two guys sitting on the porch of an RV park. We asked them if there was a soda machine nearby and they said no, but there was a restaurant four miles uphill in Harcuvar. UGH. They let me use the restroom inside the office, which I was happy about, but their air conditioner must have been set on 85 because it was not muy refresco. So, back on the bikes for the rest of the hill.

I was wearing my short sleeve Crank Cycling jersey (a goodbye present from my coach, Jesse Eisner) and some arm coolers suggested by Gary Elmer when we did RAGBRAI in 2007. The arm coolers work when you're going Gary's usual triathlon pace of 20-25 mph, but at our stately rate of 5 mph, they were more like arm incinerators. So after two miles I stripped them off and felt better. The hill wasn't steep, but it was 4 miles long and a constant 2-4% grade, so it was a giant slog. I think if it had been only 90 degrees out, or if you were on a road bike with no gear, it wouldn’t be too bad. Except for the monotonous scenery…

We finally made it up and ate at Buckaroo's Cafe, where I had half a sandwich and a trip to the salad bar that was surprisingly well-stocked. Jay had a whole sandwich but was a bit jealous of my salad. Based on talking with the waitress, we decided to stop for the next night in Salome, although that meant we've only gone 39 miles. But tomorrow is supposed to be really hot (what's that mean, I wonder, 125 degrees?!) so we need to get an early start so we can finish before the "hot part" of the day (um, 9:30 a.m.?).

As I was climbing up into Harcuvar today, looking around for any type of shade, I remembered the motto of the token that Linda Hotchkiss and her partner, Bridget MacConnell gave us for our trip: "This too shall pass." Indeed! It did pass and we are in a cute motel within walking distance of a supposedly good restaurant. Yay! We should be in Tempe or Phoenix on Saturday where we will have an entire day of rest. Thanks everyone, for your comments and pictures and good wishes.

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April 20, 2012 - Wickenburg, AZ.

I don’t know why WE didn’t think of this before, but based on the advice of a local we set our alarm for 4:00 today to get an early start. The Westward Motel (sooo cute, Bob and Steve, you would love it) has a communal kitchen and we were the only guests, so Jay got the coffee maker set up last night and went and turned it on about 4:15. We both took Tylenol PMs to help us sleep, but the air conditioner was right by the bed and woke us each time it cycled on. So we didn’t sleep THAT great but not too bad, considering. It was nice to have brewed coffee! While Jay started getting the bikes ready, I made oatmeal (which we had with the last of Judith’s roasted pecan butter). It was already 5:00 by now, but we were on the road at 5:40---not bad for us, but neither of us can figure out why it takes us so long to get ready.

We had a long (46 miles), gradual climb today. It was only 65 degrees when we started riding---the cool air on our skin felt heavenly. Just like a regular ride in San Diego! The desert was very quiet and hardly any cars passed us. There was plenty of light to see by; I think sunrise was about 6:10. I was hoping to see a coyote doing some last minute scouting, but no such luck. When we went to bed, the flag at the Post Office in town was flying in our favor, but this morning the wind had reversed so we had a slight headwind. The cool breeze it brought was definitely worth it. For the first few miles, anyway.

We got to Aguila, a town about 28 miles away, and stopped at Coyote Flats restaurant for a real breakfast, which was quite good. The town is almost dried up—we first went to a convenience store (the only thing open) and were about to pay for junk food, but Jay thought to ask if there was a place to eat breakfast and the clerk directed us to the restaurant Yay! This was about 9:30 and it was definitely warming up.

Back on the bikes about 10:10. I checked the thermometer and it was 98 degrees. According to the map, the grade was supposed to get steeper but it didn’t really, for a while. It stayed around a 2-3% grade but not too bad. It would have been a cinch with a tailwind, but that would have made it hotter. I handled all of it in my middle chain ring. There was nothing much to see—just scrub brush, sand, and the occasional saguaro cactus. I made up a desert joke: Knock knock. Who’s there? Saguaro. Saguaro who? My crotch is saguaro.

We ran across a ranch in the middle of nowhere that had horses, cows, and a cute little donkey that came over to see what we were up to. We started pouring water on our heads around this time to cool us off a little. When we first started this morning, we could see little mountains waaaaay into the distance. Well, now it was apparent that the uphill climb would take us into those mountains. The road got a little steeper and sharper for about 2-3 miles, then we started kind of a lame 7-mile downhill into Wickenburg. EVERYONE who tours cross-country stops here. It’s the biggest town we’ve seen in almost three days (population 6,383, quite the metropolis).

We were kind of thinking we’d just buzz through it, but I was feeling a little sore-throaty so we stopped at a Safeway for Airborne. As we were locking our bikes up, an employee came out and dumped bags of ice on the ground. I was incredulous. When he came out with the second batch, I said “oh, hey, do you need to dump those? Can you give one to us?” He said we could reach in and get the ice (with our filthy road-grimed hands, oh great) but he couldn’t let us hold the bag. He explained that when the ice machine went haywire it didn’t seal the bags correctly so they had to be thrown out. Jay and I were discussing, just the other day, whether it would be cheating to claim we were self-supported if we rode cross-country carrying our own gear but had a follow-car that would periodically stop and give us ice for our water bottles. So we thought it was an enormous transgression that Safeway would just dump ice on the ground….

The Safeway had a Starbucks, so we used a gift card given to us by our friends (Kristi and Nate gave us one, and so did the Santillans, thanks very much to you both!) for iced coffee drinks. Heavenly! We sat at a table with the map and I called Chris for the lowdown on hotels in Phoenix to see how much farther we’d have to go today to get to the big city. I think Jay was leaning toward getting on the bikes and crushing it for another five hours, but I said “Listen. Part of the point of this trip is to see parts of America that we’d never otherwise see. This town is supposed to be cute and it’s only 12:30. We could go get a motel and then see part of the town for half a day, and then get in early to Phoenix tomorrow and have another half-day rest before we take a full day on Sunday. I vote for staying here.” Then he replied “Well, if we’re gonna go for it, I don’t want to stop as much as we’ve been stopping, and I think it might make me grumpy if we say we’re going to keep going and then you need to stop a lot.” I said “I think you’re already grumpy.”

So, we went outside and looked at the wind. It was changing slightly to be more of a direct headwind toward the direction we’d have to take to get to Phoenix (southeast). So that sealed it, and we rode to the Best Western (recommended by our bike map) and checked in. As we were wrangling the bikes inside the room, Jay said “I love camping.” I said, “Hey, the only campgrounds on the map so far are in RV parks. Who wants to camp in those? Plus, it’s hot and it’s not fun camping in the heat. It’s not me I’m worried about so much, it’s our electronics.”

We pulled on our swimsuits immediately and I ran to the pool and jumped in. It was by far the best thing that’s happened since Sunday. The water was so cold and wet and muy refresco. Jay went to the front desk to get pool towels, then he came and jumped in. When he surfaced, I said, “Okay, tell the truth. Would you rather be where you are right now or pedaling into a headwind another 50 miles to get to Phoenix?” He said he’d get back to me. HA!

We got cleaned up after a brief swim and then went to the Desert [something] Museum. This town has a big cowboy history. It’s of the same vintage as Julian but everything is cowboy-themed instead of apple-related. There’s a big mining history and it was the dude ranch capital of the states in the 1950s and 60s. Just today, in fact, a group of pretend cowboys (the Desert Caballeros) rode back into town on their horses after having left on Monday for some commemorative week-long trail ride that happens every April. Too bad we missed the hundred or so horses coming back in, riding on the highway. How cool would that have been to see?

We had a really scrumptious early supper at a BBQ restaurant, and now we’re going to walk around the historic part of town and go see Hunger Games at 7:00. We’re on VACATION! Tomorrow, onto Phoenix and then a day off on Sunday. Aren’t you guys jealous?

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April 21, 2012 - Wickenburg to Tempe, AZ

We had a really nice time being actual tourists on vacation yesterday in Wickenburg, ending with watching The Hunger Games at the theater. Jay had read the book and wanted to see the movie; I had heard how good the books were from the girls at Juvenile Court Book Club (where I volunteer once a month). The movie was done well and it was very entertaining; it seemed a lot shorter than it was. The theater is old, and the preshow entertainment was an actual SLIDE show with pictures of the town’s businesses. Funny!

We got up today about 5:00, had breakfast at the Horseshoe Café (world famous for biscuits and sausage gravy; I had a half-order with two scrambled eggs and it was way too much good food). We packed up and were on the road by 6:50. It still befuddles us why it takes us so long to get out the door in the morning. The road was in good condition and, other than two buzz-killing hills in the first five miles, mostly downhill. There was no wind other than the headwind we generated by going 15 mph downhill, so we made good time. We did the first 30 miles in a little less than two hours—it was getting hot by now (95 degrees).

We entered the Phoenix metro area in a town called Surprise. I can’t believe some of the optimistic town names we’ve run across in Arizona: Hope, Gladden, Surprise. I guess if they called them by realistic names (Hellhole, Crapland, and Disappointment), no one would want to live there. (Diana, we DID see the sign leaving Hope with the big typo. I just couldn’t think of a cute spin for it. By the time we saw it, we had found out there was no way to get a cold drink there. So when I saw “Your Now Beyond Hope,” I thought “Geez, the convenience store is closed, the stupid RV park doesn’t have an ice machine AND they can’t spell? These people are MORONS!)

In Surprise, we continued on the highway for about 5 miles and hoo boy it was really heating up. The road became a six-lane heavily-traveled business route with a lot of traffic lights. It was brutal coming up to a light and having to stop, putting your foot down on the hot asphalt and standing next to a car or truck emitting lots of engine heat. Finally we turned off onto 111th Avenue and entered a residential area. Thankfully, some nitwit was watering his grass at 10:00 in the morning (it was about 100 degrees already), so we pulled over and soaked ourselves in the spray. Ahhhh!

We had entered the Phoenix metro area on the northwest and had to travel to Tempe, in the southeast. The roads here are on a grid pattern. There are 200+ avenues, then a Central Avenue, then the numbered streets start. Our hotel is on Scottsdale road, which is about 72d Street. So we had 184 streets to cross from west to east. I’m not sure how far we had to travel north to south, but it was far. We had to go about 40 miles in crosstown traffic.

We were headed to the entry of a bike path along the Arizona canal. Our bike map said we were near a Performance bike shop, so we stopped there for me to exchange some bike shorts I got for our trip that had a rip in them. We also bought some more ShotBlox. The shop guys directed us to a post office nearby, so we went there and boxed up 5 ½ pounds of stuff we didn’t need, like sweatpants and extra long-sleeved shirts. Most of the clothes were mine, I confess. If we get someplace where it’s cold (please let it be so), I will just layer.

Eventually we got to the canal bike path, which would have been nice except it was black asphalt that was radiating heat. By now it was about 11:00 and 107 degrees. I have never ridden when it’s been this hot. I complain in San Diego if it gets up to 85 before my ride is over. Our water was heating up and the sweetish taste of the electrolyte tablets was making my stomach hurt. I was becoming sullen and catatonic, but still pedaling! As we came up to a street (most street crossings had a bike path tunnel, which we had been taking), I asked Jay if we could go up to the street to see if there was a 7/11 or some other place we could get cold water, and he said sure. We saw a gas station at the next corner and rode toward it, then Jay noticed an Italian bakery/deli diagonally across the intersection, and Jay said for us to go over there and get a sandwich. I was under no condition to protest so we crossed over and went into the store.

The place was kind of like the India Street Filippi’s, but much bigger. And it didn’t serve pizza (not that I wanted that). At the counterman’s suggestion, we ordered a 10” Italian sub , which he brought to our table. We downed a liter bottle of water and a Diet Coke, and then Jay went and got some Italian cookies for us from the bakery section. We also bought a bag of ice. The checkout clerk asked where we were from, and when we said “San Diego,” she said “What are you doing out here? WE go visit YOUSE GUYS! That’s crazy!” It was funny and, now that I was somewhat restored from the food, water, and air conditioning, I could appreciate her remark.

Jay wedged the bag of ice on his bike and we rode across the street to a cute little park. We filled our bottles with ice and set off again down the canal bike path. There were a couple of little swimouts where we saw some turtles and ducks sitting, but other than that it was pretty barren. We emerged from the bike path somewhere still in west Phoenix, and then started making our way over to Tempe on mainly residential roads. We stopped twice at some fountains for me to soak my shirt—it dried completely in nine minutes but was nice while it lasted.

There was not a lot to take pictures of. We just kept pedaling and pedaling, stopping once in a while in the shade to do a “map check” (my excuse for resting). The heat is so foreign to me—I have never been in a situation where I just had to keep pressing on, rather than take refuge in some place with air conditioning. It was slow going toward the end but we finally made it to our hotel at about 3:00. I have never loved a hotel room as much as this one.

We just laid on the floor for a while, trying to get our body temperature back down to 98.6. Finally we had enough energy to shower, and then with Yelp’s assistance we decided to walk four blocks to a Peruvian restaurant. At about 4:45, the heat was still oppressive. The Peruvian food was good, though (totally worth the walk). We made it back to our hotel room, watched last week’s episode of Mad Men on the computer (thanks to Nate and Kristi for the Kindle gift certificate!), and then walked to 7/11 for an ice cream bar. (I had a bar and Jay ate an entire pint.)

Today we are reveling in the air conditioning. We did a load of laundry using ECO UTS (laundry soap nuts) we got at CycleQuest at Sharon Goodis' suggestion - they're great.  Jay rented us a car for a few hours at the Budget place across the street so we can go stock up on protein bars et cetera for the coming days. He did some route research today and we’ve decided to leave the Adventure Cycling route after we get to Globe, AZ—we’re taking what we hope will be a shortcut north through an Indian reservation and then west into New Mexico, coming out farther north than if we followed the mapped route. We’ll see what happens!

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. We love reading them. We haven’t had very good Internet coverage lately so have been unable to respond. You know those Verizon ads where they tout their coverage of the U.S.? And then AT&T (our carrier) responds that it has 3G coverage over 97% of the country? I think that in the last week we’ve been through 70% of the 3% of the places that AT&T doesn’t cover.

Happy trails, everyone. Our expected stop tomorrow is Superior, about 60 miles away.

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April 23, 2012 - Tempe to halfway to Payson, AZ by bike

Our day off yesterday was really relaxing. We DROVE IN AN AIR CONDITIONED CAR to a bike store, where I bought a long-sleeved super-duper sun protection jersey, Jay bought a sun repellent beanie kind of thing, and we picked up GU Brew electrolyte tablets to put in our water. The Camelback Elixir tablets are making us kind of nauseous. It could be that our water heats up to over 100 degrees and no water tastes good at that temperature (unless it’s for tea or coffee). Then we drove to REI where I got a short-sleeved shirt and we got some Clif Mojo bars for snacks. Ate lunch at a Chinese place, went to a grocery store for bagels and Fig Newtons, and then drove around some more just because we could. We had to return the car to the airport, but then the hotel sent a shuttle and picked us up, so we were back in the hotel room in time to catch the last half of The Amazing Race. Super fun day! I looooove car rides.

Based on some intel we received from Connie Snow, a Knickerbiker, and our research on the Internet, we decided we’d take Highway 87 out of Phoenix up to Payson, a town in the mountains. The road was marked as bike-friendly on the city bike map we got at Performance on Saturday, and it had a really great shoulder. We could have ridden four abreast if anyone else was dumb enough to do this with us.

We got up at 5:00, ate the hotel’s quite hearty free breakfast at 6:00, then got on the bikes at 6:50. Our first stop was to get another couple bottles of water---we weren’t sure about the services on the road and Payson was 80 miles away. Phoenix is still in a record-breaking heat wave, so we wanted to be prepared. After making our way through the rest of town (6.27 miles), we took off on Highway 87. The road was fairly quiet and flat, but you could tell there was a slight uphill grade. Pretty soon the real climbing started and the day started heating up. We saw a dead coyote by the side of the road; he was handsome so that was sad. Jay saw one chipmunk, and that was it for live mammals.

The road stayed good, pavement-wise, but the climbing started getting steeper, and then it started with rolling hills. I am never one to despair over a downhill, but in this heat I just want to get the climbing over with (we were going to almost 5,000’ elevation). So it was moral-breaking to climb up to 2,500 feet and then lose 500’ on a downhill. We took a couple short breaks, the first one at the Ft. McDowell Indian Casino, where we got ice in one of our water bottles (the good thing about staying in hotels is you can start the day with ice water, which is one of the best inventions ever).

The next break we took in the shadow of a short adobe wall at the entrance to a “gated” community of maybe a dozen houses in the middle of nowhere. We were kind of hoping a resident would see us and say “Hey, come in for some air conditioning,” but three cars left the property (driving about two feet from us) and one car entered and no one said anything. As the last car was leaving, I decided to go on the other side of the wall to stealth pee. The driver of the car waited for me to finish and then yelled “THANKS FOR PEEING IN MY YARD!” and then turned on to the highway. So mean! For one, my pee is almost like water because my kidneys are so efficient, and two, I wasn’t anywhere near her yard!

This was around 10:00 and it was 99 degrees by my bike thermometer. We got back on the highway and started slogging away. It kept getting hotter and the hills just wouldn’t stop. There was no shade anywhere, and I had to stop on a couple of the steeper climbs to get my heart rate under 150 to ward off heatstroke. Jay offered to carry my front panniers, saying he wasn’t as bothered by the heat as I was, but I said no. At 1:20 we stopped for “lunch” (peanut butter on a bagel half and cookies) under the “shade” of a mesquite tree that had bees buzzing around it. That helped a little, but when we got back on the bikes it was 117. When your brain registers that it’s 117 degrees out and you’re riding your heavy bike up a mountain, it’s one of those moments that makes you question your sanity.

After lunch we came to an underpass so we stopped to absorb some shade. While I was laying on my back wondering what to do, Jay said “Let me take your front panniers. Let’s just try it. I think the steep part of the hill is coming up.” I was so exhausted I said okay. So now Jay was riding with 75 or 80 pounds and me with 30-35. My bike felt a lot lighter until the next hill, which was a 6% grade and quite long. I had to stop to rest for a minute, then we started again. Then we had a downhill and another long steep grade. I could hear Jay behind me starting to breath heavy, and I was already laboring, so I stopped and said “We need to figure out Plan B. At this rate, we’re never going to make it.” It was 2:30, we had gone 43 miles but had another39 to go. It had taken us 16 minutes to go a little over a mile.

Jay said “Do you want to try hitchhiking?” I started crying but said yes. We brought the bikes over to the guard rail and we sat with them, Jay putting his thumb out. Several RVs had passed us earlier, and I thought it would be a no-brainer for one of them to come along and stop. But no RVs showed up, just mean cars. Finally I got up, stuck out my thumb when I saw a truck with a trailer, and then started waving my arms.

Ken pulled over! Jay ran down to talk to him and he said he’d take us to Payson! Hooray! I kind of started crying, thinking that I was wussing out, but after the guys (Ken’s son (I think) was in the car too) loaded up our bikes and panniers and we got in the back seat of Ken’s GMC Yukony thing, I kept it together. I was still feeling kind of bad, but then we started going up even steeper hills and down even steeper and longer hills, and then I almost started laughing like a crazy person because I realized that there was no way we would have made it another 5 miles, much less 39. The terrain was just constant climbing and descending until six miles outside Payson, where there was a sign that said “Steep Grade Next 6 Miles. Turn Off Air Conditioning.” My body had turned off its air conditioning a few miles back. So we made the right choice by hitchhiking and I have no regrets.

When we got to parking lot in Payson (town of about 10,000 people) where Ken let us off, another guy pulled up in a truck and trailer also. He said “Hey, I saw you guys about four times today. My truck kept breaking down; it wouldn’t hold water. When I saw you, you were pedaling. Quite a hill you made it up today.” Jay explained that we didn’t exactly make it all the way up by ourselves, and then Ken and the new guy both said that we had come pretty far up when we stopped. So that made me feel better, too.

Ken and Edward were super nice and totally saved us. Ken gave us a lot of information about the area and even offered to let us stay in his cabin. That was so nice! But one way to not repay someone’s kindness is for two stinky bikers to take advantage of hospitality, so we opted for a hotel.

As we were toodling around looking for which hotel to go to (Chris had conveniently sent me an email with a few suggestions), we ran across two other cyclotourists. We crossed the street to talk to them—Erik and Sofia from Sweden. They are also not fond of the heat. They flew to Austin, TX for the South by Southwest festival, then rode 1,000 miles of the Southern Tier route, then headed north to where they are now. Their blog is at if you’re interested. They seemed cute and nice.

It was only 88 in Payson when we got here, positively temperate. We just got back from dinner and it was actually cool outside. And there are clouds over the sunset. We haven’t seen a cloud since Dog Beach. I think tomorrow we’ll try for Heber and a campground somewhere in the forest. With real pine trees! And the heat wave is supposed to break Wednesday or Thursday, so this can’t go on forever…

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April 24, 2012 - Payson, AZ to Forest Lakes, AZ

We got up about 5:30 this morning. I had been awake off and on for a little while with a headache—not sure if it was the altitude (we were at 5,000’) or a heat stress hangover from yesterday. Later I heard from my twin sister, Elisabeth, that heat’s effects on a body are cumulative and take more than a few hours to dissipate, so maybe that’s what it was…. We went to the restaurant next door for breakfast. Even after breakfast, I was feeling a tad woozy and jittery, so I wasn’t super pumped to get riding, but then I couldn’t stall any longer and we were off shortly after 7:30.

We started riding into the sun (of course! We’re headed east on this trip and that’s where the sun comes from). Until the sun gets out of your line of sight, I am always a tiny bit cranky. Direct sun is just so hard on the eyeballs! Especially for those of us with light-colored corneas. Jay has no idea what I go through….

But at least today it was a good riding temperature—being up in the mountains makes a big difference. Ken (the guy who saved us yesterday) gave us the lay of the land between here and Show Low, and if we had been in our right minds we would have retained what he said better. There was a tiny uphill then a pretty long downhill into the next townlet. The road wasn’t too bad but the shoulder disappeared on us a couple times.

We came up a big climb into a beautiful valley. There was a meadow there that was by far the prettiest thing we’ve seen in Arizona. Too bad the homeowner built his house to look like a Shoney’s. But there were horses and sheep and a broad expanse of meadowyness that was just lovely. We crossed over a few streams that were pretty, and went up and down a few hills, and at Ken’s urging we took a loop through Christopher Creek. We stopped at the Tall Pines Market there for a salty snack and some Gatorade to augment our bagel with peanut butter. I put a serious hurt on some parmesan Goldfish. After lunch we had an ice cream bar. The woman who owned the market was super nice—they are coming to San Diego for the week of July 4. She gave us a postcard of the area, and signed it on the back and wished us safe travels. Aside from Ken, she’s by far the nicest person we’ve met in Arizona.

It looked like we avoided a short hill by taking the side loop, but soon after lunch we started what Ken described as “10-mile Hill.” He said, “it’s not really 10 miles. It might be 3 ½. But you guys can do it if you did what you did today. And you can always stop to rest.” Thank goodness the hill was in the middle of foresty goodness, because, geez, it was a killer. It just went on and on and on. We stopped five (?) times for me to catch my breath and get something to drink. I was still feeling a bit off, so I didn’t trust myself to reach down and get my water bottle and then put it back while I was suffering up the hill. I was almost exclusively in my lowest gear, so it was slow going.

(Explanatory note for the noncyclist: Gearing was invented for bikes so that, in theory, the cyclist can exert a similar effort despite the terrain. In a big (hard to push) gear, the bike travels the farthest on a single pedal stroke. In the lowest or lightest gear, the bike travels the shortest distance. I’m not sure what the differences are on my bike, but let’s say that in my big gear I can go 32” in one stroke, whereas in my lowest gear, I go only 12”. So if I’m spending hours in my lowest gear, I have to do a lot more pedal strokes to get where I’m going. On the other hand, if you have a tailwind and the road is slightly downhill, you can be in a big gear and just hum along, really going fast and far with little effort.)

The surroundings were quite pretty as we headed up up up to the Mogollan (muh-goy-un) Rim. The hottest my thermometer ever read was 95.7, and that 20 degree difference was sure obvious. The only problem now was the altitude. We ended up climbing to over 7,500’ and I was a bit dizzy at the top. At the summit, we entered a different national forest. While Jay took my picture at the sign, we noticed the truck warning for where we had just come from: 6% Grade Next 6 Miles. Whew! No wonder it felt so climby, it was super climby.

We were hoping for a big easy downhill but there were some more little rolling hills. Then we saw a woman cyclotourist on the other side of the street so we stopped and talked to her. She was quite the character—missing about half her upper teeth, and dressed like a lumberjack, on a bike she said she bought in Mexico for $100. She has almost a full goatee of white chin hairs, but didn’t look that old. Her panniers were black trash bags. Her voice was so melodic—she should do Books on Tape. She’s been everywhere on her bike (well, a series of bikes because she has to buy a new one when the current bike breaks) and was headed to Phoenix in the near future.

She recommended the campground we went to, about three miles down the road, but they didn’t have any showers, and the campground person there recommended where we are now. It’s a cute little RV park, but the RV’s are stationary and get rented out (not sure if for the season or the week) to people who come up from Phoenix to escape the heat. Kind of like little apartments set in the woods. As I type this, you can hear the wind in the pine trees and not much else. The hosts turned on the hot water for us (the season opens officially this weekend) so we can get a shower. Yay! So nice! I hope we get visited by raccoons or someone else cute.

Tomorrow we’re headed to Show Low, where we may have to take a rest day on Thursday because a storm’s a comin’. The ranger we talked to said it wasn’t supposed to snow but I’m like “puhleeeze snow!” And then New Mexico shortly thereafter.

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April 25, 2012 - Day 11 Forest Lakes to Show Low, AZ

Today was our best day of riding yet! It didn’t start out great—we were up early after having gone to bed early. Cliff and Roberta, the owners of the little RV park, were really nice in letting us stay last night—they turned on the hot water heater to the restroom building just for us. We were the only people there so we had the restrooms to our selves. Cliff came out to say goodbye to us this morning; as it turns out, Roberta is a twin, but just like Elisabeth and me, didn’t find out that she and her sister were identical until they were adults. Neato!

So, we were almost ready to go before 7:00 (heading into a sky with CLOUDS in it! We haven’t seen clouds since Dog Beach!) but then Jay saw my front tire was flat. He’s a bit mystified about me getting flats—I have Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires that are supposed to be made of alligator hide (or something like that). Again, the culprit was a piece of wire from a steel-belted car tire. It took both of us several tries before we could get it out of my tire with tweezers. We got on the road about 7:35, then stopped at the top of the first little hill to check on the tire.

Drat, it was losing air. So we pulled over to a forest service road and Jay set to work changing it again. In theory, I could change my own tire, but it would take a lot longer. I do helpful things like get the pump off Jay’s bike and blow on the glue to help it set. After another 20 minutes or so, we were back on the road for good. Just a little bit later, Jay noticed a big skeleton on the side of the road. An elk! I think he may have been hit by a car and the forest service dragged him of the road so scavengers could eat him. I took some of his fur (the beigy stuff in the picture with the lower mandible) for a keepsake.

The road in general was okay, not great, but once in a while the paved shoulder would disappear and some black chunky rock would take its place. I don’t know what the rock was—pulverized asphalt? Basalt? Bituminous coal? but it was very ungood for riding, so we had to ride just left of the white line. Fortunately, most drivers went way wide of us when passing.

The crazy lady we met yesterday told us there were a few hills between us and Heber, but then a straight shot downhill. We camped at 7,600’ elevation and Heber was at 6,500ish, so clearly a significant downhill was in our future. After a few rolling hills, we hit the downhill section and blasted into town. We stopped at an Aliberto’s Mexican restaurant (painted red and yellow, just like the ones in San Diego) and had machaca for breakfast. YUM! This was about 10:00 and we were averaging just under 15 mph so far.

According to our Interweb research, Show Low was at 7,200’ so we knew we had to make up significant elevation. We climbed a few hills, but then would drop into a valley, pick up a tailwind, and then crank along in big gears going 17-19 mph for a few miles. We finally saw some cows and horses again, and I saw two squirrels! They were big and sand-colored; they might have been prairie dogs, but they still count in the Squirrel Game.

We kept coming across some not-terribly bad hills and then some really great downhills. With 8 miles to go to Show Low, we still needed to gain 1,000’. We came up another hill, into another valley, and didn’t see how we were going to get that type of ascent. As it turns out, there were a couple big hills into town, but the town’s official elevation is only 6,350’, not 7,200! Yippee! I felt like we had dodged a bullet by not having to make a hideous 1,000’ climb in under three miles or so. This was by far our best day of riding—enough climbing to make you feel like you deserved the downhills, and some easy sprinting thrown in to fire up the legs. The weather stayed pretty nice (the hottest it ever got was 95.7) and we had clouds for at least half the day. Being up here in the mountains is waaaaay better than that icky desert floor.

Coming into town, we spotted a Safeway with a Starbucks inside so we went in for an iced coffee (with our gift cards, YAY!) and to reconnoiter about a hotel room. We decided on the Best Western, where we’ll hunker down for the rest of today and probably all of tomorrow. Supposedly thunderstorms are coming through, so we’ll take a pass on riding and get back at it on Friday.

As we came out of Safeway and were getting ready to ride the quarter-mile to the motel, a really nice local woman stopped and said “That looks like some serious bicycling!” She asked us about our trip and was impressed that we had come from San Diego already. She reminded me of Jeff Harlow—the same kind of ready openness and instant friendliness that he has. She asked if we had seen any elk (we haven’t) and gave us some tips on when to see them. Then she told us a funny story about a bear in her backyard (of 26 acres) that walks around like she owns the place.

So, here we are. Jay’s taken a shower but apparently the pilot light went out on the hot water heater so his was cold. I’m waiting for hot water to show up. Jay already did a load of laundry and that’s hanging up to dry…. It looks like there might be things to explore around the motel, so I don’t think we’ll be bored. Today was a good day to be a bike tourist!

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April 27, 2012 - Show Low, AZ to Springerville, AZ

We had a nice rest day yesterday - didn’t do much. Jay and I each took a nap for about an hour, and then the storm blew through. It didn’t rain a whole lot, but it sure was windy all day, so we were both glad we didn’t ride.

There were two routes to take today - Highway 60, which the Show Low bike shop guy told Jay had some rolling hills and was not very scenic, or Highway 260, which climbed to 8,500’ (ha! Note to bike shop guy - get your facts straight) gradually over several miles and was up in the mountains, so we’d be in the forest. We opted for the scenic route.

We got a quick breakfast at the hotel and then suited up for the ride. It was deliciously cold to start—in the high 50’s! We each wore long-fingered gloves and wool socks and our jackets. After about a mile, I had to stop and put on my ear warmer band. We hadn’t been this cold since the first 90 seconds of riding out of Pine Valley on April 16, so we were really enjoying it. It’s always nice to be cold when you start a bike ride, because then after you warm up, you’re a good temperature.

The climbing started almost immediately. It wasn’t steep, but it was relentless. There was no wind to speak of, so that was good, but for some reason a lot of the cars on the road had inefficient exhausts or were diesels, so it was a bit hard to breath. We both felt a little sloggy and kind of not into the ride. After 13 miles we saw a Safeway that had a Starbucks inside (yay gift cards!), so we went in and split a large latte to perk us up, and that helped. The first 18 miles or so were through cute little mountain towns.

Every hamlet we came to had at least half a dozen shops or inns with “Pines” in the name. Here are some of the modifiers we saw: Tall, Whispering, Big, Majestic, Oak (?), Forest, and Royal. Pines are big here. I agree they sure are nice to look at. The last area of habitation was the Indian casino. We stopped at the gas station there for a Gatorade and a “natural break.” It was weird walking into to the smoky casino to use the restroom.

After that, back on the road for more climbing. The grade was a consistent 2-4% with an occasional steeper run. According to my bike computer, we climbed for almost 40 miles before the downhill started. We took a lot of little breaks and then a longer break for lunch (peanut butter on a bagel, with Pringles). The temperature never got above 80, so it was a great day for riding. And the scenery was really pretty—once in a while there’d be an opening into a meadow, sometimes with a little lake. The road wasn’t too bad and for the most part the drivers were considerate when they overtook us.

We exited Forest Service land and the road continued through an Apache Reservation, then at the summit (9,200’ or so, we had started at 6,300’) the reservation ended and the Forest Service took over. They do a better job of road paving, that’s for sure. I don’t know where the casino money is going, but not into road maintenance. The crest was near Sunrise Ski Resort, and the runs still had snow on them. We took a break here for a snack and Jay thinks he saw a bear in the meadow. It was far away, so hard to tell what it was, but it might have been a bear. As we started descending, Jay saw more patches of snow. (The storm yesterday dumped a little snow on where we were today.)

The downhill was waaaaay steeper than the uphill. We saw signs for 6% grade and even 8% grade. So fun! It started out fun, anyway, but a headwind kicked up as we got further down the mountain and all the pine trees were gone. Springerville is at 7,000’ feet, and it’s on the far side of the White Mountains, so the scenery here is “prairie.” There’s almost no trees. But there are horses! As we were coming into the flat part of this valley, we stopped for me to take my jacket off and there were some horses in a pasture. We called to them (“hey,” we said) and they came over to the fence line to be petted! So I went up to them and petted all four horses and they were super cute and one was suuuuper sniffy. It was really nice to pet something—we haven’t petted anything since the Pine Valley motel dog, who was great.

Once we were in the valley, the headwind was a real bring-down. We had only a few miles to go but it was not that fun. We looked for a campground that was supposed to be here, per the Arizona state map we have and Yelp, but we couldn’t find it. Plus, it’s supposed to get down to 38 degrees tonight, so that’s a bit cold for camping. So we’re in a motel. Yay; I love motels.

All told, this was a pretty good day for cycling. The weather was perfect, the scenery was beautiful, we each saw two squirrels, and I got to pet horses. Tomorrow we should be in New Mexico in about 10 or 15 miles (we change time zones, too, which is a clear indication of making progress), ending in Quemado. And on Sunday we expect to meet our friend Skip Forsht from San Diego who will be bringing us a few provisions (thanks to Kristi for getting him our camera’s sync cord and Jeff Cook for getting us a different electrolyte powder) to a campground in Datil. Thanks, everyone, for your continued good wishes. We really enjoy your comments.

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April 28, 2012 - Day 14 Springerville, AZ to Quemado, NM

The end of our second week came with a state line crossing into New Mexico. New Mexico seems far away from San Diego so this was quite momentous. We had planned last night to not set the alarm and try to sleep in a little, because we knew we had less than 50 miles to do today and all day to do it. But I woke up at 4:40 and couldn’t get back to sleep, and Jay woke up shortly thereafter. We ate a crap breakfast at the only place in town that was open and were on the road by 7:10.

The temperature when we started was pleasantly cool—65 degrees. Hard to believe we were biking in weather that was 50 degrees hotter on Monday! The road stayed flat for a couple miles, then there was the first difficult hill. We stopped at a monument near the top that said something about a piece of land that used to be owned by the man that owned the OK Corral. Apparently, the granite carver doesn’t know how to engrave punctuation and the run-on sentence was hard to follow.

The first hill started a series of rolling hills that weren’t too bad. The New Mexico border came at mile 14, so we stopped to memorialize that. The scenery wasn’t terribly unattractive and the road was lightly traveled, so we didn’t have to ride on the crap shoulder most of the time. FYI, Arizona takes better care of Route 60 than New Mexico does. Most of the drivers who overtook us went waaay over into the opposing traffic lane to give us room. The few that did not were Arizona drivers. Jay observed that Arizona drivers aren’t too bad in their home state, but abandon all manners once they cross state lines. In San Diego, it seems that if a vehicle brushes by you too closely or cuts you off, there’s an 80% chance it (a) is a Volvo, (b) is a big pick-up, (c) has Arizona plates, or (d) either (a) and (c) or (b) and (c). New Mexico drivers seem friendly, a lot of them waved at us when they passed.

The road was pretty desolate—no towns until we got to our destination. My phone said “No service” for most of the day. We saw a bunch of cows by the road so stopped to take their pictures. Jay started mooing at them and quite a few moo’d back. We stopped at the New Mexico rest area, only to find it was three picnic tables, each surrounded by K-Rail and trash cans, with no rest rooms. So we just drove through, back onto the road. Other than the rolling hills, the scenery didn’t change much. At about mile 20, Jay yelled out “I officially declare this scenery BORING.”

We had a good downhill at about mile 23 that lasted for a few miles, then we started climbing again. The uphills were getting longer and the downhills were getting shorter and shallower, so the riding was a lot more work. With about 10 miles to go, I had to pull over and eat an entire package of Shot Blox (normally two servings) and drink a ton of unadulterated water for a break. It was getting hotter (still only 85 though!) and the fact that we were climbing so much was irritating me—Springerville and Quemado are only about 5’ different in elevation, so why all the climbing? What gives? Whose idea was this trip, anyway?

But then, less than a mile later (after another climb), we had another downhill, this time for almost six miles. Suh-weeeet! It was great! Muy refresco and got us almost all the way into town.

It’s supposed to get down to 36 tonight, and the campground on the map is actually 40 miles away (per a local), so we are in a motel. Its café boasts the best green chile cheeseburger in the state, so we will check that out later. We walked around town and saw the famous tree made out of elk antlers, then walked around the general store where they sell pelts and ceramics, and have stuffed game heads on the wall. Ugh.

Tomorrow is a short day to Datil, where we meet Skip and have to camp. We’ll see how that goes. Supposedly the next day is all downhill to Socorro, at which point we’ll be in the “corridor” of New Mexico. Now that we’re hooked on “Breaking Bad” (we bought Season 1 with Nate and Kristi’s Kindle gift card and have already watched five episodes, it’s almost all we talk about on the bike other than “there are some cows”), we’re eager to get to Albuquerque!!

Jay's Blog Premiere

Helloooo brothers and sisters! I have been poked and prodded to add something to the blog and have struggled with what I could do to contribute to a near-perfect account of our travels. Barbara has explained in detail our daily adventures with words, but I thought the one thing missing is a playlist of the trip.

We haven’t listened to music while riding, partly for safety, and partly because of the in depth philosophical discussions two people might have while pedaling side by side for eight hours a day; such as “that stick looked kinda funny, let’s stop and look at it!” Or maybe discussing the rules of the squirrel game on a level that would make you shudder. Even with all that, there is still a lot of time to ponder things, so I think about music and songs that seem relevant to the day or moment. I’m not really sure what goes on in that giant head of Barbara’s, maybe a seven letter word for an igneous rock from Morocco, or carrying out Pi to the fortieth place. Who really knows?

So I thought I would try to document a song or two every day to define the trip musically, based on where we are, where we are going, or what we are suffering through. I’ll try to stay away from the obvious, like Queen’s “I love to ride my bicycle,” or Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man.”

Today I had the Eagles’ “On the Border” stuck in my head. I guess because we crossed into another state. If I were to backtrack some I would pick The Stranglers’ “Always the Sun” for our trip through the scorching desert. When people have asked if we are doing this for a cause, the song that comes to mind is by Ten Years After: “I’d Love to Change the World.”

You all can help me on this too! If you know a song that might inspire us or help us through a part of the country you’re familiar with, let us know.

I’ll close this with a song by Taj Mahal, “Farther On Down the Road (You Will Accompany Me).”

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April 29, 2012 - Day 15 Quemado, NM to Datil, NM
Going off the success of last night’s green chili cheeseburger, Jay and I ate at the same place (the motel’s café) and I had a breakfast sandwich with eggs, bacon, green chilis, and cheese, and Jay had a green chili cheese omelet. What we conclude is green chili no es bueno para breakfast. My sandwich was better than Jay’s omelet, but not by a lot.

We slept in a bit so didn’t get on the road until 8:22. It was barely 60 degrees, nice! We crossed the Continental Divide according to the map, but it wasn’t commemorated on the road anywhere, dang it. We got as high as 7,945’ feet, and today was a lot like yesterday, a long sharp hill three miles out of town, then some rollers and some steeper hills thrown in, then a super nice long downhill to the campground. According to my Garmin (bike computer), we climbed for 32.5 miles and the rest was downhill.

The best thing we saw today was some type of prong-horned game animal in a field. In Quemado, we saw a sign for a sausage maker who would come to your house and pick up your deer, elk, oryx, or turkey and return sausage. Jay and I were both like “ORYX?!” That might have been what we saw—he was about three football fields away when I first saw him. I noticed him after a stealth pee, while I was looking around for something else to do instead of getting back on the bike. That’s kind of my M.O. after a break—I check my phone for texts (although we haven’t had any phone service here once we get on the road, so that’s a bust), get a drink of water, look around for something interesting, and, when I’ve exhausted all time-wasting schemes, mount back up.

The oryx? Ibis? Pronghorn antelope? was watching us and we were watching him. He started picking his way up a rise, pausing every so often to look to see what we were doing. I took some pictures of him when he was on the crest of the hill, but he came out as just kind of a blob. He was sure neat to look at, though.

At about 18 miles, we stopped at a grocery store where we got a piece of pecan pie and some not-that-good coffee. The store was big and had an elk-antler chandelier and a mounted deer head for decoration. Three miles later, we stopped in Pie Town almost all the way up a super steep hill for a piece of multi-berry pie and a Diet Coke. The pie had a biscuity top crust and was really good, and the Diet Coke was spectacular. It was about 72 degrees out and would have been a great day for just hanging around, but you sure got warm pedaling up some of the grades we encountered.

A little ways past the berry pie café was the Windmill Museum. We stopped, but it didn’t appear open, so we took a few pictures and got back on the road. We had a bit more climbing to do to cross the Continental Divide, then a bit more climbing after that, and then the swoopy downhill started. The road surface was ungood (loose gravel with cross-wise ruts in it) so we took it slow. Part way, there was a monument to two influential women of the area. The downhill continued (except for a little buzzkill climb) until we got to the campground half a mile or so this side of Datil. Just before we turned into the campground, we saw some more horses that needed petting, so we stopped and I went over to them. They seemed kind of sad, unlike yesterday’s horses, and they were dusty, but I still petted them and let them sniff me.

The campground is “primitive,” meaning no showers, but we cleaned up with ActionWipes (like baby wipes but made for adults to use after sports) and our tent’s up. We were expecting our friend Skip (along with his friend Barbara) and when they weren’t here by 5:00, the camp host, Boyd Lofton, let us use his landline to call them to see where they were. We had no service from AT&T on our cell phones all day (nor most of the previous day), and Boyd let me use his phone to call Chris when we got in so she wouldn’t worry. SO NICE! He is a super nice guy and has great stories—his son did a perimeter trip of the U.S. on his bike, towing his 160-pound Rottweiler mix for most of the trip!

Skip and Barbara showed up around 6:00. They had planned to be here by 5:00 but forgot about the time change in NM. Skip brought the sync cord for our camera (so now we can use it again once it’s charged), some cooking oil that we forgot to bring with us, and tons of electrolyte stuff that Jeff Cook got for us. THANKS, JEFF!

Jay and I ate our Red Beans and Rice mix with packaged chicken thrown in, and Skip and Barbara ate their Subway sandwiches they picked up off the Interstate. Then Jay built a fire, and some other cyclists came by to say hello. They’re from Vermont and had a couple months off (from ski season employment), so they are cycling around New Mexico, camping in Forest Service land and taking dirt roads most everywhere. Really hardcore compared to us—they camp almost exclusively.

It was nice to have a campfire (wood supplied by the campground) and see the stars come out. We went into our tent about 9:30; it was starting to get cold. We didn’t sleep all that great. Our sleeping bag is rated to 45 degrees and it got into the high 30’s, so we were a bit chilly. Tomorrow should be mostly downhill, though, so we don’t need TOO much rest, and we are definitely staying in a motel once we get to Socorro!

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April 30, 2012 - Day 16 Datil Wells Campground to Socorro, NM

It was difficult to sleep last night because (a) it was cold and (b) we were camping. Jay and I like everything about camping except sleeping in a tent. We like the campfire stuff, looking at stars, cooking food, and reading in the sleeping bag. It’s just the sleeping part we have a problem with. We both took drugs (me, Tylenol PM and Jay, Benadryl), but we just couldn’t get to sleep. Plus, we normally sleep on opposite sides of our king-sized bed, so to be sharing a double sleeping bag is more coziness than we’re used to. Last night, however, you definitely needed the other person’s warmth, so we had to make do. Finally, I rolled over and it was light out (5:56 a.m.), time to get up!

Jay went and boiled water for coffee and brought me some, while I dismantled the sleeping pads and stuffed the bag back in its sack. Sandi (Skip’s dog) was up—she had dressed warmly for the night in two fleece sweatshirts. She sure is a cute dog. We got to have “café mocha” with the chocolate that Skip brought us, so that was a treat! Boyd came by and said goodbye to us. He sure is a great guy! If every campground had a host like Boyd, we would definitely camp more.

We made oatmeal, then packed up and hit the road about 8:30 a.m. It was 59 degrees, perfect riding weather! Skip and Barbara were impressed by our fully-loaded rigs, especially Jay’s, which weighs close to 100 pounds. Since we’ve been in the desert, we’ve been carrying extra water—he has two bottles and I have one. The road out of the campground was mainly downhill, with a tailwind (!) except for a couple tiny hills. Then we were in the Plains of San Agustin. We were on the road early enough to see more of the same game animal we saw yesterday. We saw a few up close and concluded they are pronghorn antelope. They are cute, and their big white butts are easy to spot against the scrubby landscape.

After 15 miles, we came to the “Very Large Array,” something that my friend Bill Fennell had alerted me to last week. The campground brochure says it “comprises 27 radio telescopes in a ‘Y’ pattern” and has “been used by more astronomers and has been mentioned in more scientific papers than any other radio telescope in the world.” Uh, neato? You could see the telescopes from miles away. There was a visitor center, but it was 4 miles away down a loooong road (which meant 4 miles back), and because neither of us is super science-fictiony, we decided to skip it.

After we crossed The Plains, we had a little uphill then some great downhill that lasted for quite a while—all the way into Magdalena (mile 36), where we stopped for lunch. Jay asked the waitress if the rest of the way into Soccoro was all downhill (we had about 2,500’ to drop in elevation), and she said yes. The first three miles were indeed downhill, with a tailwind, and we were cooking along at 20 mph with hardly any effort.

Then we made a 90 degree turn, RIGHT INTO A HEADWIND. Ugh. So hideous. The downhill dried up too, and we were struggling now to go 7 mph at times. We still had more than 20 miles to go with no end in sight, and it was definitely warm at 90 degrees. I was getting CRANKY. We just kept sputtering along, taking a couple 30-second breaks for water and to rest our legs a bit, until we finally saw what we knew was the end—another sharp turn with a warning for a steep grade for trucks. As we started the sharp downhill, we saw a big semi struggling to make it to the top and that warmed our hearts. We could see a town way in the distance (we had about 9 miles to go, still) and were hopeful the downhill would last the entire way.

The headwind came up a few times but we definitely got some of our speed back, which was nice. Coming down off the mountains, we could see a green stripe, which we figured was the land along the Rio Grande, which contrasted with the scrubby brownness of the landscape farther up the hill. The outskirts of Socorro are in the brown dry area, which is not exactly attractive. We stopped as we entered town to turn our phones back on to see if there was service (Boyd had said he thought there was almost no AT&T service in all of New Mexico, which was why he went with Verizon for his pay-as-you-go cell phone), and YIPPEE, we have service. My phone instantly got a few texts and 14 emails, so I felt reconnected with the world.

We used the Internet through my phone to reserve a hotel room, which is where we are now. The shower felt like the best thing ever. And Jay washed our clothes, which is like the second-best thing ever. We are going to head to Albuquerque tomorrow; Jay just got a reply to his email to a bike club person about a route that doesn’t put us on Interstate 25 much, so that’s good. We discussed over dinner tonight that this biking-across-the-country thing is harder than it looks. But it’s been worth it so far, especially now that we are so far from home already. And it will REALLY be worth it when we’re all done. If that ever happens!

From Jay:

We’re a little behind on things since we seem to have fallen off the grid yesterday (I thought that was kind of the idea).

When we started on Sunday, Barbara was feeling a little down, as we both have at certain times on this adventure. The day started nice and cool with a long straight road out of Quemada. My song of the day was Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express-“Happiness is Just Around the Bend.”

In moments of deeper thought, I kept playing (in my head) Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” So many of the small towns we ride through have definitely seen better days. I also thought of Barbara and me being on our own so much out here. We know we have you all back home, but right here and now it’s just us.).

The bonus track for today is Lee Oskar’s “Up All Night,” because we camped last night and I sleep like crap in the tent.

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