Beach Landing

So we dropped off our bags at our San Diego Airbnb around lunchtime and made for the coast. It was a mere 7 miles away. As soon as we saw water at the harbour Susan wanted to stop, take a photo and finish.

Really! She has no principles. Cycle over 2,800 miles and miss the last 4 miles? It reminded me of the time she wanted to take a ferry across Lake Superior and save 7 days cycling or take the ferry to Argentia on Newfoundland and save 2 weeks of cycling. She didn’t win the argument on these days and she didn’t win today. I was her moral compass. Okay, I’m not really but for the one minute discussion I was. 🤠

So here we are on the beach at the Pacific Ocean after 2,833 miles.

So how does it feel to be finished after another long cycle? Well, much the same as we felt in St John’s and Sydney. There’s just a quiet tired satisfaction it’s finally over. No great fireworks or elation. No self congratulation. It’s job done, we move on and tomorrow just becomes a day when we don’t have to cycle.

That evening, however, was the night where I could go into a San Diego craft beer bar and ask the barman which of the draft taps is local. He replied they have nearly a hundred taps and most are local. After months of drinking Bud Light I can tell you I nearly cried!

That said, we didn’t have a party as Susan was asleep by 9pm. I wanted to awaken her and get back for all those early mornings Sgt Major Sunrise cracked the whip but I don’t think even a marching band could have woken her.

We thoroughly enjoyed our journey through the southern states of America. Few people think such a way to travel is enjoyable but, thankfully, we have met on our travels through Canada, Australia and now America, lots of wonderful cyclists who think like us, enjoy life like us for a few weeks and love the adventure of long distance touring.

Every day brings adventure, small or big, and I guarantee there are few of those cyclists who won’t look back and think of these days as amongst the best of their lives. The quality of life can be judged by the stories you can tell and cycle touring certainly gives you memories to value. To everyone we have met on our tours – keep cycling! ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’.

Okay back to the practical. So the wheels held up once the spokes were replaced and we had a nice round number of 20 punctures. Apart from a leaking gear lever that was sorted by tightening a screw we had no other mechanical issues. The bike is engineered and built to last. We really do put it through some punishment on the road.

After the beach we cycled the few miles back to the Airbnb. We were tired and very weary. At the corner of our street I saw a sign and took a photograph in the fading afternoon light.

So we did.

They Call Me The Breeze, I Keep Blowin’ Down The Road

We left Ocotillo as soon as the light was up. Sgt Major Sunrise was on the case for although we had a short 18 miles to Jacumba there was nearly 3,000 feet of climbing. Never easy for two old folk on a fully laden tandem.

The first few miles were relatively easy but then we joined Interstate 8 and had to ride on the hard shoulder. The gradient over the next 10 miles gradually increased from 6% to 8% with the occasional 10% section thrown in to keep us working hard.

As we cycled across canyon bridges the hard shoulder disappeared. At the first bridge we were slow at 8% gradient and cars and trucks raced up side by side squeezing us to the side. On the next bridge (above) I felt it was safer to walk as I had a better view at what was happening behind. Watching in a small rear view mirror to see trucks pulling out barely in time to pass us is nerve wracking.

So we pushed the bike up this hill of a bridge. As vehicles arrived I got Susan to climb onto the bridge wall whilst I stayed at the side of the road with the bike. It’s okay, don’t worry Susan was safe – there was a chain link fence on the wall to stop her falling into the canyon. I didn’t have a plan B for myself other than believing I could get out of the way in time. Yes I know, just listen to me – at my age I move like treacle!

This way we crossed another couple of bridges. It was quite disconcerting but we got the job done and reached the summit. It was then a nice cruise downhill to Jacumba along the old Highway 80.

Jacumba was a well known spa town in its day but like so many towns in America when it was bypassed by the Interstate in the 1960’s it has gone into steady decline. We have cycled through countless towns on this trip that have suffered the same fate.

Jacumba Spa was a nice clean motel with draft beer and reasonable food. Oh and cross country cyclists get a 50% discount on the accommodation. Nice.

The following day was windy. The same easterly winds creating wildfires in Northern California were affecting us this morning. You would think easterly tailwinds would be welcome when we are travelling west. Unfortunately, the wind in the mountains doesn’t blow so consistently and conveniently. It hits the mountains and blows through canyons in all directions and a tailwind can change within seconds into a headwind or a side wind.

The forecast was for 80mph wind at our Pine Valley destination and there was an extreme fire risk warning. Why couldn’t we just have an easy few days cycling at the end of our journey?

It was not a consideration for us to stay a second night at Jacumba as we were getting too near the end and wanted to push on. So for 28 miles and nearly 3,000 feet of ascent we had to battle with the wind. Thankfully, it probably peaked at 60 mph for us as we topped out at an altitude of 4,000 feet.

At times we had to walk the bike as absolutely ferocious side winds hit us.

The picture looks so calm and Susan is still smiling but this is her trying to hold the bike upright in the wind. She’s going to have to get some acting lessons to convey the difficulties we were having.

Now that the weather is cooler we are able to carry chocolate bars without them melting. This allows us to have the ultimate cycling snack to maintain our energy levels. I call it the deconstructed banoffi pie.

Take a Milky Way (nougat and caramel like a Mars Bar in the UK) in one hand, a banana in the other and take alternate bites. So simple but so inspirational even if I do say so myself.

When we reached the motel in Pine Valley there was no electricity. We kind of expected this as the electric supply is cut when there’s high wind to stop cables coming down and starting forest fires.

So our motel room had no electricity but we had bike lights and after a visit to the only open shop in town we got dinner for the night.

A few choices here but I know you’re not thinking ‘mmm nice tuna‘ like Susan. Instead, you’re thinking like me – ‘mmm marvellous classic Spam‘! Sometimes I just fall on my feet.

The next morning breakfast was a can of Fanta, a cereal bar and a banana. Not great but it got us started on our cycle to San Diego. Did you hear that? San Diego!

A 10 mile cycle out of Pine Valley led us back onto Interstate 8 and yes it was still windy. We were still over 3,500 feet in altitude and we got hammered by the gusts as we descended a 6% gradient. Now that’s quite a slope that causes the tandem to quickly gather speed.

Thankfully, we had a reasonable hard shoulder, the traffic at 0630am was still light and I struggled to keep our speed below 20 mph. Anything faster and the bike was too unstable when we were hit by huge side gusts rushing down canyons as we passed.

Now the whole situation was reasonably concerning for myself but Susan, its fair to say, was reasonably frightened. At least I knew I had some control over the bike but its hard to imagine being in Susan’s position as the bike weaves all over the place.

A couple of times we were violently blown from the hard shoulder over onto the dual carriageway. When the wind hit I was aware that the road was clear and it was easier to let the bike go to the left and then bring it back. To react suddenly would have brought us down.

We couldn’t speak to each other over the roar of the wind and everything happened so violently and suddenly. Susan had no warning as we swerved out onto the carriageway and then back again. She didn’t even know if we were going into passing traffic. Each time we were lucky. If a gust had hit when trucks were behind us I would have had to bring the bike down without warning. Well I would get a warning as I would be doing it but poor Susan was going to get a fright.

We then turned into a large cut out in the mountainside and were hit by an absolutely ferocious blast of wind from behind. By this time we were down to 6 mph on a steep downhill as I was struggling to keep the bike upright.

We stopped immediately and both planked our feet on the ground and lent back against the wind. The noise was tremendous. I thought let’s wait out this gust except that it wasn’t a gust. It started to push us forward and I began to wish I was a bit more lardy to weigh us down. Honestly, it was the strongest wind I’ve ever experienced and I can’t begin to describe the feeling, the roar and the noise standing there. Frightening!

We had to move. Actually, we were moving, inching forward as we couldn’t resist the strength of the push from behind. I got Susan to lift her feet and with my feet on the ground released the brakes slightly and let the bike more forward ever so slowly a foot or two at a time. 200 yards later and we were out of this wind tunnel and it was back to being gale force. The whole experience was unbelievable and it’s been the most difficult cycling conditions we have ever experienced. And this was the last day of our cycle tour. You couldn’t make it up!

Over the next 10 miles we were off and on the bike as crosswinds hit us. Eventually, we reached a town called Alpine and the wind magically disappeared. Oh, it was still somewhere but it wasn’t where we were. But do you know what was there? McDonald’s! Like a beacon of comfort it called to us.

As we sat having our breakfast McMuffin Susan looked at me and said ‘do you know I can think of many things I would rather have for breakfast but right now this is the bees knees‘. Exactly right!

You see that’s what McDonald’s has been for us on this trip. Not the best food but right time right place, time and time again. Food is as much about the experience as it is about taste and in that regard McDonald’s has repeatedly hit the spot for us. Sorry, but if you don’t understand you haven’t lived. Thanks McD!

After our last McDonald’s breakfast we continued our cycle to San Diego with a bit of a tail wind but none of the experiences earlier in the morning. After negotiating another big city we arrived at our Airbnb around lunchtime. 47 miles done. Only 7 to go!

Big Jessie in Ocotillo

Leaving El Centro we cycled a detour route through the Yuha Desert. The road was quiet and we cycled reasonably relaxed. To be honest it was more like we cycled reasonably knackered!

Here’s a photo of the desert sign. I know, pretty boring but not quite so boring as a picture of the desert.

35 miles later we checked in to the Ocotillo Motel around lunchtime. Nice easy day for two old knackered people.

Now before I tell you about the motel let me tell you about our options. It was the only motel in town and the alternative was a ‘dry’ camp beside the community centre. We thought we had chosen the best option.

Susan settled herself down in the nice green room and we had some beer and crisps whilst watching telly. Next door in what could have been the only other motel room there was a bit of shouting and wailing. When the door opened it would be unfair to describe what I saw other than to say there was grey and blackness like a cave. I left well alone and said nothing to Susan.

So we had just finished dinner of soup and tuna sandwiches when I went into the bathroom to wash the spoons. Clickity click click. Clickity click click. You all know what that sound is? Yup, it was a large cockroach running across the bathroom floor into the shower.

Now I’m a big guy but clickity click click is quite a scary sound for a ‘Big Jessie’ – that’s how we call it back in Scotland when a large cockroach causes undue panic in a big man. The English Oxford dictionary puts it more eloquently ‘an effeminate, weak or oversensitive man’.

With a rather large ‘clickity click click’ running about we both knew that it was ‘Big Jessies’ job to sort it out. After a few attempts, ‘clickity click click’ was under a soup container and ‘Big Jessie’ and Susan retired to the green room.

Half an hour later, Susan went into the bathroom feeling confident that ‘Big Jessie’ had dealt with the problem only to see ‘clickity click click’ running about the shower tray. She shouted through to ‘Big Jessie’ who was now reasonably emboldened after recharging his carbohydrates with two cans of Bud Light.

‘Big Jessie’ saw ‘clickity click click’ and thought ‘it’s got out!’ It was a large soup carton but ‘clickity click click’ was pretty big too and it was a reasonable assumption it had charged out. Yes a charging out ‘clickity click click’ knocking over soup cartons – I bet you’re feeling like a ‘Big Jessie’ yourself at the thought!

So, guess what ‘Big Jessie’ does? He lifts up the upturned soup container to put it back over big ‘clickity click click’ who by this time is running ‘clickity click click’ like a pro football running back avoiding the defence (notice how I casually slip in an American football reference!)

That’s when all hell broke lose!

‘Clickity click click number one’ was still under the bloody soup container! ‘Big Jessie’ despaired at his mistake! We now had two ‘clickity click clicks’ on the run! Clickity click click, clickity click click. It was clickity click click mayhem!

Susan tried some noise warfare by emitting a high pitched scream. It didn’t do anything to help the situation so she locked ‘Big Jessie’ in the bathroom with the two ‘clickity click clicks’. Yes, hear you – how could she do such a thing!

Thankfully, ‘Big Jessie’ had two soup cartons and it was a real battle of intelligence between the ‘clickity click clicks’ and ‘Big Jessie’. Move and counter move and ‘Big Jessie’ had to act with speed and precision to effectively deploy the soup containers. In the end, the ‘clickity click clicks’ were no match for “Big Jessie’ who was motivated by the knowledge that he was imprisoned by Sgt Major Sunrise until he completed the task.

Now if there are two ‘clickity click clicks’ what’s the odds on there being more? Quite high I would think. So ‘Big Jessie’ and Sgt Major Sunrise spent the night sleeping in a bed in the green room with threadbare sheets listening for that alarming sound ‘clickity click click, clickity click click’. Nightmare in Ocotillo.

Oh Sandy

We left Blythe at a completely unreasonable hour. Admittedly, we had a long 89 mile cycle to Brawley over rolling hills and it had obviously been on Susan’s mind. The alarm was set for 5am but she was moving about at 0430 hrs. You know the score – when Sgt Major Sunrise is up the whole damn camp is up.

One issue is we moved time zones entering California and sunrise is at 0550 hrs and sunset at 1630 hrs. So we had motel breakfast before I even knew I was awake and we were off.

A nice reasonably flat start as we headed for highway 78. The bike still has the annoying creaking squeak behind Susan’s chair that’s driving me mad as I can’t identify the cause. I’ve tried hiding the cakes from Susan but that’s proving impossible. I’ve oiled everything and tightened everything but it’s still there annoying me. It’s personal. Other than that the bike’s fine and I continue to clean the chain every day – it makes a difference.

Here’s a picture of a lonely Saguaro Cactus – nothing to do with the story but it was either that or another picture of Susan. The cactus won.

After a couple of hours cycling, the hills arrived, the hard shoulder disappeared and we were on a narrow single carriageway. Now this is the official Southern Tier Cycle Route but, as we subsequently found out, I don’t think it should really be cycled between Friday and Sunday.

You see, 60 miles down the road are the Algodones Sand Dunes and the makeshift town of Glamis. I say makeshift as there are only a couple of permanent buildings and the rest is hundreds if not thousands of RVs (recreational vehicles aka motorhomes the size of small houses).

At the weekend, everyone flocks to race their ATV’s (all terrain vehicles) on the sand. Now if you’re wondering what an ATV is and you’re kind of old like me then let me explain – they’re dune buggies.

So as we cycled time and again over short 6-7% gradient hills, large RVs and heavy lorries repeatedly squeezed us into the side. Now California has a ‘close pass law’ where it’s illegal to pass a cyclist within 3 feet. This day we were victims of at least 500 violations by violators who thought it was acceptable to pass us at speeds of up to 60 mph with tons of metal.

Countless hills meant countless blind summits and even those who moved out into the oncoming lane to avoid us did so often oblivious as to what was coming the other way over the hill. They just wouldn’t slow down and wait for it to be safe. I couldn’t believe it.

Now you are right – this road was no place for a bicycle but the problem was not being caused by the bicycle but the absolutely unbelievable behaviour of many of the drivers. I think it’s partly explained by the fact they are going to race small cars with ridiculous engines up some sand. Is this the kind of person you want driving a 6 ton RV? Exactly!

Now you know I like a moan and, of course, I gestured frantically and shouted loudly each time we were run off the road. You would expect that. However, I’ve never seen Susan react and wave as she usually is reasonably embarrassed by my antics. Today was different – that’s how bad it was!

However, Susan soon got over it when we got to the plateau at the top and was back to her sunny disposition. She was reaching for the chocolate and that’s always a happy time.

The driving aside, the landscape was marvellous. It was like the surface of Mars. A photo just can’t do justice to the vast, all encompassing, desolation that you particularly feel when all the vehicles disappear and you are left alone standing beside an old Native American trail.

After a great descent where we hardly pedalled for miles and coasted at 30 mph we reached the Dunes. It was RV city. Unfortunately, we now had a reasonably viscous crosswind and we were sandblasted – it took years of wrinkles off me!

Here’s some pictures of me and some sand.

And here’s three ATVs racing along having fun looking for cyclists to buzz and knock off the road.

Eventually, we arrived at Brawley just before sunset – 89 miles and 2100 feet of climbing. We bought beer to try and rinse out the sand and ordered in some pizza.

The next morning we were having a rest day and only cycling 15 miles to El Centro. This meant a late start. Yes you heard me! We woke at 7am and left the motel at 1030am. It wasn’t without its problems though as Sgt Major Sunrise did make an attempt at a 6am rise but I managed to prevail this one time. A small victory for the little man.

The late start gave me a couple of hours to clean sand off the bike and completely strip off Susan’s chair. Success, something I did sorted the squeak. On our way to El Centro we passed our first San Diego road sign.

It’s slightly more than 120 miles for us as the cycle route doesn’t take the Interstate all the way. Also, we have a reasonable detour tomorrow because a bridge on the backroad cycle route is out. Then its a still lot of cycling over a lot of hills over nowhere to cross to San Diego.

So where are we now:

As we near the destination we feel a bit weary. It’s an odd thing that the nearer to the end it’s not elation that builds but deflation.

We find when cycling long distances that the motivation and effort comes from the mind. How you are thinking that day is the most important factor in your performance. You can cycle through all sorts of tiredness and minor pains as long as your mind has ‘energy’ for the day. As we get nearer to the journey end it almost seems as if the mind says that’s it, job done and relaxes.

My solution? Well hopefully its a quiet road to Ocotillo and I’ve got a playlist of 600 country songs. And, of course, the first song on the playlist will have to be:

I’m much too young to feel this damn old‘ (Jason Aldean)

2,698 miles from St Augustine. Not so bad.

Sleeping With The Avengers

Our two days rest in Scottsdale, north of Phoenix, was slightly better than marvellous. In our lovely Airbnb apartment we relaxed, binged on Netflix, drank Bourbon and Susan even consented to watching Saturday College football in a sports bar – she’s still trying to get on my good side after all those early mornings.

On our second day we considered continuing our relaxation therapy in downtown Phoenix but as we like to pretend we’re a cultural couple we went to Taliesin West instead. That gives me the opportunity to be write a pretentious paragraph or two in this blog. I love being pretentious.

In case you’re wondering exactly what the definition of pretentious is please let me save you looking it up – ‘attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc than is actually possessed’ . Spot on!

So, Taliesin West, if you didn’t already know like me 🤠 is the one time winter home of Frank Loyd Wright and location of his renowned School of Architecture. Taliesin West was built and maintained by his apprentices, making it the most personal of his creations.

Born in 1867 and living 92 years, Frank Lloyd Wright is recognised as the greatest American architect of all time and one of the top world architects of all time. Yes, I know Americans’ can be prone to exaggeration but Frank actually was the real deal.

His visionary creations were strongly influenced by the natural world and he believed in larger, fewer rooms which flowed more easily, his antithesis to the rigid Victorian era architecture of the time. His ideas and designs were light years ahead and, now, almost all of modern construction puts to use the ideals he thought were important.

He said ‘no house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other‘.

Incidentally, Taliesin West is built of local stone and all the walls are at an angle of 30 degrees – just like the mountain it lives with.

Just a couple of photos of Frank’s place. The lounge has entertained almost every famous person you can think of including American presidents. Not impressed? Well Elvis and Marilyn Munro visited, too. Now I’ve got you!

We left Scottsdale the way we arrived – along cycle paths and routes. What a great city Phoenix is for the bicycle – miles and miles of cycle routes through linked parkland got us to our abode and miles of canal cycle paths and quiet streets with cycle lanes got us out. A great cycling city.

We saw more people cycling in Phoenix area than the rest of the country put together. Actually, its the most Americans I’ve seen in my life taking some exercise. 🤠 Sorry American people 🤠 I love you really!

On the way out of Phoenix we met two other ‘bikers’. Great guys!

6CEA12C1-184A-433C-AAEB-747B30F22C46

Three bikers and three bikes. I’m really sorry about the yellow flag sticking out the ear of my fellow biker! – my personal photographer was probably annoyed at something I had probably done.

From Scottsdale, we cycled 62 miles to Wickenburg and then 53 miles to Salome where we stayed in a motel on the edge of town. Our motel was the only option in town and not one where you would take someone to impress.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and this one was solid silver – it was an Avengers themed room! Yup, right out in the middle of the desert – I was sleeping with the Avengers! Sweet.

Now you’re probably thinking that an out of the way cheap motel doesn’t get much better than this but really it does – it had a bar and it was karaoke night!

Susan and I visited the bar and a nice sunset set the scene.

Now you can pay thousands of dollars for expensive holidays but you can’t buy holiday ‘gold’ like this. I wouldn’t swap it for anywhere.

Cowboys and cowgirls from all over flocked in for karaoke night in a bar in the middle of nowhere. Well to be honest it was just a load of old local people who had nowhere else to go.

The compare was a ringer for Kenny Rodgers and he gave us a great start with a Johnny Cash number. For a couple of hours we were treated to all the sad country songs you’ve ever heard. A woman sang about still carrying someone’s high school medal. Another sang and lamented ‘you never really loved me’ whilst the the guys sang about being lonely on the ranch. The guys crooned and the women wailed and the audience lapped it up. It was obvious only country songs were on the agenda and quite right too! We were in Arizona.

In came a ‘cowboy’ with his neckerchief back to front, leather gloves hanging out his back pocket and jeans in his boots in that casual ‘I’m a trendy cowboy’ kind of way. After one beer it was obvious he was ‘trouble later on’.

Behind us sat the pizza magicians – a couple made a fully loaded 20 inch pizza disappear – I’m absolutely sure there was a trapdoor somewhere.

To the side was a couple of guys with stetson hats discussing building a wall. ‘Wall builder guy’ described in detail the construction techniques and the other guy was appreciative and responded repeatedly ‘cool wall’. I was absolutely aching to join the conversation as all guys would, of course. ‘Cool wall’ guy then got up and sang a Patsy Cline song. I was amazed as he seamlessly moved from walls to Patsy.

The barmaid was nice and incredibly sassy. Now, I don’t really know what ‘sassy’ means but I’ve heard it in Western movies and it kind of seems appropriate. As she danced around the room serving beer ‘trouble later on’ guy, who was the only one dancing, tried to ‘do the bump’ with her.

You know what I mean, the ‘bump’ like they did to that Ike and Tina song. It didn’t really work with songs about loneliness on the ranch but that didn’t stop him – I told you he was going to be ‘trouble later on’! She brushed him off in a professional ‘sassy’ way.

Then there was this couple sitting on some stools who looked completely out of place. ‘Bud light’ guy was drinking a succession of beers in ice cold glasses. After a few beers he wanted to sing ‘Jolene’. His dear wife said in an endearing and sympathetic tone ‘but you cant sing’.

‘I know’ he replied ‘but I can do it in the style of Kenny Rodgers and get away with it’.

And what about the line ‘I’m begging of you please don’t take my man’, are you going to sing that in a bar full of cowboys and ‘trouble later on’ guy?.

She was right of course, so I took the extra Bud Light she offered and realised I’d had a narrow escape.

The following morning Sgt Major Sunrise had us up before the crack of dawn. The breakfast place didn’t open until 7am but that was too late so we were on the road again – breakfastless!

Ten miles later it was banana and muffins standing at the side of the road. At least we caught a nice sunrise. Yes, yes you read right – 10 miles and then the sun comes up! Please feel sorry for me!

And right bedside the nice sunrise there was an election poster. You just know you’re in the Wild West when this is the guy on the ballot paper! You would just have to vote for him. Don’t think there would be any crime. Who would dare!

62 miles cycling from Salome we reached Blythe and in doing so crossed crossed the border of California.

Hey, y’all that’s us in the last State – California ‘The Golden State”.

Globe to Apache Junction

Time for a bit of cycling blog stuff.

If you’re intending to cycle west from Globe to Apache Junction along Highway 60 or eastwards in the opposite direction then you need this information – don’t!

Most of my friends wouldn’t even get on a bicycle so this information is not very useful to them. So here’s an alternative useful message to them – stop drinking alcohol! Now everyone is taking away something useful from his post.

The official Southern Tier Route diverts north from Globe to Jake’s Corner and southwards again to near Apache Junction. Susan and I should have cycled the official route but we didn’t because we don’t always do as we’re told. That’s because we don’t always know what’s best 🤠. Actually, if you saw the 70 mile detour you would kind of understand!

Highway 60 at this stage is steep with no shoulder, blind corners and vehicle drivers with no thoughts. Yes they must be thinking of something but its certainly not bicycle or anything related to potential road safety hazards.

So a 20 mile 7% mile climb was fraught with safety issues and speeding vehicles racing side by side up the two lane carriageway. Now I’m reasonably safety conscious on a bicycle and this is one of the very few times that we have crossed to the opposite carriageway and walked at dangerous bends. If you’re a cyclist and don’t do this then your safety is a lottery – I can’t be more direct than that.

At the top its all downhill and the hazards are less as you can now travel at 40+ mph. Unfortunately, vehicles still try to overtake even though its single carriageway with blind corners at this point!

There’s also an infamous tunnel that cyclists travelling eastwards don’t look forward to as it’s a 7% uphill climb in dim light.

We were fortunate as we were going downhill at a reasonable rate. It’s a single carriageway and I take up a position in the middle of the lane – if you sit at the nearside they will pass within inches at 50 mph. However, on this road, if you sit in the middle of the lane they will still pass by crossing into the face of the oncoming traffic. I mean the tunnel is only about 300 yards long! Can they not wait 15 seconds? Arizona drivers!

A 7% gradient takes a toll on our three brakes – two disc and one rim – and although we cadence braked the heavy tandem takes some slowing once it gets going. Bit like myself 🤠 Once the burning brake smell became too strong and I was thinking we were on fire we decided to stop and let everything cool down.

Then the twisty windy bits disappeared and we saw over the horizon.

More importantly, once the twisty bits have gone and you can see what’s in front then you don’t need to brake. My goodness the tandem can travel downward quickly and at this point you can see we have a hard shoulder. I learned from Canada – sit still in the assumed position and don’t think about what could happen. Just enjoy the downhill.

So that’s Globe to Apache Junction. Just don’t! Oh and the rest of you not interested in cycling – just don’t do what you shouldn’t be doing either!

Sgt Major Sunrise and the Apaches

Leaving Safford was relatively uncomfortable for myself. Sgt Major Sunrise (falsely known to many of you as that nice person called Susan) likes an early start and has me up at the crack of dawn.

Mornings are like a boot camp and slackers are not tolerated. It’s actually starts the evening before when we’re just about to put the lights out and Susan is packing up! There’s my gear all over the place and she’s packed and ready. I swear one night she even went to bed in her cycling gear and in the morning she just brushed her teeth and stood at the door ready!

Most mornings she will be packed, dressed and sitting on the edge of the bed silently waiting. You see that’s what’s she does – she does it silently! No moaning. No shouting. Not even a tut tut! How do you cope with that? You just know you have to get a move on even when her lips are not moving. Bloody effective!

Actually, Sgt Major Sunrise had me up this day at 5.30am which is an hour before the bloody crack of dawn and as our rubbish Motel 6 didn’t offer a rubbish breakfast we packed and cycled to a nearby 24 hour McDonalds and watched the sunrise over a breakfast McMuffin. How splendid.

As we cycle across America the time zones change with alarming regularity and sunrise and sunset are significantly different each week. It was only a week or two ago I got a lie in until after 7am as it wasn’t light until after 8am. Alas these days appear to have disappeared over the cycling horizon and Sgt Major Sunrise has me up an hour ahead of the sun each day. Sadly, there is another time zone coming up, the clocks are moving and Sgt Major Sunrise has it all monitored with military precision.

So we cycled out of Safford at 0632hrs as the sun hit the Golden M and we set off for Apache Country. Yes, today we were cycling through the San Carlos Reservation.

Now the Apache Indians are reasonably well known to all of us through the Western movies which never did justice to this culturally rich collection of tribes.

The Apache consist of a number of tribes that originated in Alaska and western Canada before moving as far south as Arizona and Mexico. They were nomadic people and primarily hunter gatherers but increasingly came into conflict with the Spanish invaders in the 17th century. Before long, the prowess of the Apache in battle became legend. They are still known to be the greatest fighters with a knife.

Eventually, a Spanish leader agreed to designate an area of Texas for the Apaches to live and in a ceremony in 1749, an Apache chief buried a hatchet to symbolise the fighting was over. We still use the phrase to ‘bury the hatchet’ today.

Of course, after the Spanish, the Apache were in conflict with the Mexicans, Americans and other Indian tribes including the Comanche. Each time it can be rightfully argued that the Apache were defending their lands.

Towards the end of the era of Apache wars, a very famous Apache Indian came to the fore – none other than the legendary Geronimo who led his people’s defence of their lands against the Mexicans and the Americans.

Following the murder of his mother, wife and three children by Mexican soldiers, he went out to the wilderness and a voice came to him and promised:

“no gun will ever kill you. I will take the bullets from the guns of the Mexicans… and I will guide your arrows“.

Backed by this knowledge, Geronimo tracked and killed the soldiers and started on the path to war.

Then along came the Americans who reneged on reservation agreements and set Geronimo and his band of followers off on an a new round of fighting that proved to be the last of the Indian wars against the US. After fighting for his homeland for almost 30 years, Geronimo was the last American Indian warrior to formally surrender to the United States.

He eventually surrendered (actually he surrendered three times but started again twice) and spent 27 years as a prisoner of war though he did have a bit of a celebrity status. In 1905 he even published his autobiography and received a private audience with President Roosevelt.

At the grand age of 79, Geronimo died from pneumonia following a fall from his horse – the bullets never did get him after all.

Here’s Apache Country- beautiful!

Thankfully our cycle was without incident. The Mexicans, the Americans and the Comanche let us pass peacefully. Well we weren’t that peaceful as it was 76 miles and nearly 3,000 feet of ascent up long, long hills and on days like these I like everyone to hear my pain!

We arrived in Globe and it was double trouble. We stayed at a budget Motel 6 and ate at a Taco Bell. I hear you shouting – I know, I know what possessed us? As usual its all about convenience. Motel 6 was beside the highway and we wont walk far for dinner.

At Taco Bell we both had some kind of ‘protein salad bowl’ and I had a burrito as a side. It wasn’t all bad though – the cola was pretty nice.

I’m sorry to say this and I hope I don’t hurt the feelings of Mexico but, really, I just don’t get Mexican food. As I see it, whether you order a bowl, a burrito, a taco, a quesadilla, an enchilada etc etc its kind of all the same stuff presented in a different way cemented together with refried beans.

Seriously, is an enchilada not just a burrito covered in hot sauce? Are fajitas not just a burrito without the wrap? Yes, you can tell me to eat in good Mexican restaurants but we have done traditional and authentic on this trip. Believe me! I’ve eaten more refined beans that you’ve seen in a year!

Changing the subject quickly before I get into Mexican food trouble, here is a random picture of the Saguaro Cactus. The image of the Saguaro is well known to us all from all the old western films. Now when you watch your next John Wayne movie in the company of your illustrious friends you can point to the cactus and say “hey nice Saguaro!”

And here’s Sgt Major Sunrise and a couple of Saguaro guards.

From Globe we cycled through another tiring day for 56 miles and nearly 2,000 feet to Apache Junction. Nice motel this time and we spent an evening in the Handlebar Pub and Grill. Now I’ve no idea why they use the bicycle handlebar as their name as there’s absolutely nothing to do with bicycles in the pub.

I went in thinking I would spend an evening talking spokes, punctures and chain oil. I must admit it was a bit of a disappointment especially as I was sitting in a pub in my best tight fitting fluorescent green Lycra gear carrying my collapsible tyre pump. However, after quite a few craft ales (‘Happy Camper’) an outstanding burger and a live band I forgot my disappointment. Thankfully, Sgt Major Sunrise had her eyes on the clock and got me home before the dancing started – nobody really wanted to see my best dancing moves in lycra!

The next morning, I found there’s nothing worse than a hangover before sunrise, followed by a bowl of granola, two orange juices, four breakfast muffins with egg and bacon followed by a 37 mile cycle to Scottsdale, slightly north of Phoenix. I felt ill and, of course, I blame it on Sgt Major Sunrise for getting me up far too early!

2,418 miles done. Feels like more.

Arriving in Arizona

From Deming we cycled 62 miles to Lordsburg through a reasonably strong headwind. All the way across America and our first headwind worth mentioning.

I’ve moaned about the heat, the rain and the cold but I’m not going to moan about the wind. Not yet anyway. A headwind is worse than everything else put together but its not been bad enough yet to create an issue for us.

Still the cycle to Lordsburg was pretty tiring and it didn’t help that we got another puncture 6 miles from our destination.

To date that’s 18 punctures. Probably 5 caused by degraded rim tape, 6 by wire from truck tyres and the rest cause unknown. Tyre choice is important when touring and the Schwalbe Big Apple tyres we started with was a mistake. Great tyres for the tandem but not for American roads which are ridiculously covered in crap.

After Lordsburg we headed 77 miles to Safford. Along the way we passed into Arizona. That’s right – time for another border picture.

Now I suppose at this point I should clarify a little bit of fake news. We’re in America after all and I hear there’s a lot of fake news about and well I kind of added to it.

I know you would have been disappointed if we had crossed into New Mexico and I hadn’t posted a picture of the border with a sign. So I did a couple of posts ago.

Actually, when we crossed into New Mexico along the Rio Grande cycle path there wasn’t a ‘New Mexico’ sign. A couple of days later, when we left ‘New Mexico’ into Arizona we crossed the road and pretended we were arriving. Susan made me do it.

Now most of the people reading the blog won’t know the difference but in the interests of blog integrity I must confess the arriving in New Mexico picture is a fake! We were actually leaving!

Thankfully, most of us are old people and will forget that detail and in a month I will erase the last few paragraphs of this post and nobody will be wiser and my conscience will be clear.

However, we really are in Arizona and what a place of outstanding beauty it is.

So where are we now?

Honestly, this is where we are! No more fake news.

3 days cycling to Phoenix.

2,250 miles done and dusted.

All Terrain Tandem

Leaving Las Cruces we headed directly west towards Deming (66 miles).

We followed ‘frontage’ roads alongside the main Interstate and initially made good progress when we left Las Cruces. Then Google Maps told us to use an overpass to cross over to the north side of the Interstate to continue. We decided to stay on the road we were on. Oh I know but you had to be there! Everything was looking fine and Google Maps said the route we were currently on was an option.

Two miles later the road went from paved highway to this:

Well what would you do? Turn around and go back to the overpass? Now I’m the kind of person that is always going to go forward and I rely on Susan to add a bit of sense when sense is required.

What do you think?” I asked. I was sounding reasonably positive and so Susan said to her ‘idiot at the front’ of the bicycle ‘I think we should give it a try‘.

Off we set down the sandy limestone road. ‘How is it?’ Susan asked the ‘idiot at the front’ whose steering was weaving. It was clear I was having difficultly balancing. ‘It’s fine‘ said the ‘idiot at the front’.

I mean, that’s the kind of thing the ‘idiot at the front’ would say and Susan should know that. What I’m saying here is that really all what was about to happen was now Susan’s fault – she was listening to the ‘idiot at the front’. This is actually a lesson if you are ever faced with an ‘idiot at the front’ – please do something to change the course of your destiny.

So the road changed to this:

Instead of heading west towards Deming we were now heading due south into the desert. We were eight miles from the overpass and the sand was getting deeper in patches.

Now the last thing you ask the ‘idiot at the front’ is ‘is it still okay for you?‘ By this time I was getting used to cycling in the frequent sand pits and as long as I shouted ‘pedal hard‘ we could force our way through.

I was just congratulating myself on the skill I was displaying when the bike went over into a sand pit. I managed to jump off as I get a millisecond warning as the front wheel goes from my hands. Unfortunately, Susan hits the sand with the bike. It’s okay though I’m fine and I still haven’t even got sand in my shoes!

We cycle on as we know there is a right turn 10 miles into the desert that will turn us west and back towards civilisation. ‘Turn right’ says Google Maps and continue on this road for 13 miles. This track was actually called ‘The Robert Larson Boulevard’. Well Robert you’re having a laugh!

So would you turn back now? Of course you wouldn’t!

So ‘idiot at the front’ and Susan headed onwards. We couldn’t cycle at this section so we pushed for 15 minutes until the desert sand firmed up and we cycled again. We stopped for lunch but we couldn’t eat much because we weren’t carrying enough water. Have you ever tried eating a sandwich when your mouth is like the desert you’re cycling through? I suppose I should also mention it was now midday.

Now at the time it was all very difficult but after two months on the road we are reasonably fit and hardy so everything was calm. It’s hard not to be calm when you have an ‘idiot at the front’ who is entirely confident he can cycle through endless miles of desert.

After another five miles this road came to a junction. That’s right a bloody junction in the desert! Google Maps said go straight ahead westwards but there was another option to turn right and head north eight miles towards the Interstate.

Now the route westwards was reasonably appealing to the ‘idiot at the front’ as it headed in the right direction. He even walked a bit and scoped it out.

Unfortunately, there actually wasn’t even a track. Maybe there was at one time. Maybe there will be in the future but right now it was desert and, in these circumstances, even the ‘idiot at the front’ had to admit defeat and head north.

All went well as we headed north and we even safely negotiated a mud pit in the desert. Yes a red mud pit and we’re still scraping the mud off the bike and our shoes.

Then, as we approached the highway Susan said ‘if there’s a fence between us and the highway you can cut it and we’ll get through. You can use your multi tool’.

Now the pliers on my multi tool would be lucky to cut through a paper bag but that’s exactly the kind of never give up attitude the ‘idiot at the front’ likes. What a partnership!

Thankfully, we found another frontage paved road and the day was saved. After another 25 miles of cycling and next to no water we were pretty dehydrated and stopped at a gas station just before the motel.

We will dream about the large ‘fountain’ of cola we each had in the setting sun for many years to come

The day ended at the Grand Motor Inn with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni cheese and beer. What a lovely end to our cycle in the New Mexico desert.

Texas to New Mexico

We left El Paso, Texas, and headed north to the town of Las Cruces, New Mexico. It was a short 48 miles with only 1,000 ft ascent and everything went smoothly.

I’ve now replaced the rim tape on both wheels and the rear wheel now has a self sealing inner tube. I wonder how well that will work? All the spokes seem strong and apart from a difficult to trace squeak from behind Susan’s seat all appears well with the bike. Incidentally, there’s never been a squeak from my seat but I really don’t know if you can read anything into that 🙄.

Part of our route to Las Cruces went along a cycle path beside the Rio Grande river and on that path we passed into New Mexico. As everyone likes to see Susan and I standing beside a sign here is a photo at a New Mexico sign.

Las Cruces is a nice enough town and was established by the US Army in 1849. It was built near a stand of crosses marking the graves of travellers and soldiers and this landmark of crosses gave the town its name.

Las Cruces, nearby Mesilla and southern New Mexico was the area where the infamous Billy the Kid marauded. He stole, murdered, was arrested and jailed (in Mesilla) only to escape, murder and subsequently be hunted down by Pat Garrett, an American old west lawman. One day, Billy the Kid was holed up in Pete Maxwell’s (local land owner) house and suspecting someone was in the bedroom he walked in and asked “quien es?” (“who’s there?’). Garrett answered by shooting Billy the Kid twice in the chest. Frontier justice.

Where are the Wallies now?

That’s us at the big blue dot.

Over the next week or so we head towards Phoenix, Arizona, passing briefly through New Mexico en route.

We won’t slavishly follow the American Cycling Association’s Southern Tier Route as some of it doesn’t make sense. We really don’t need to cycle circuitous routes through anonymous hills when we can take a pleasant and more direct route.

So tomorrow it’s Las Cruces.

Recently the weather has been relatively cloudy and cool (25c /77f) and we have not been troubled by wind. We much prefer the cloudy skies but feel our luck wont last.

1997 miles down. A lot less than that to San Diego.

Closing In On El Paso

Leaving our guest house in Fort Davis the road climbed for 18 miles at a 1% gradient and we eventually reached 6,000 feet altitude.

The next 62 miles was either downhill or reasonably flat until we reached Van Horn. We made great time and at a ‘banana break’ en route, Susan caught me returning from a quick shopping trip.

As you can see the weather is still quite cool. Long may it continue.

Actually, the shop is a sculpture’ called ‘Prada Marfa’. I’m not even going to offer a comment or wonder how much it cost or even ask what’s the point?

From Van Horn we had a short (34 miles) to Sierra Blanca which is a lovely town that’s been bypassed by the interstate. It’s slowly declining into a ghost town.

We were told that the ‘State’ cinema, in the photo directly above, is one of only two adobe (mud brick) cinemas in America.

Apparently it closed in the 1950’s and inside is pristine and looks like the day it closed with all the old equipment and movie posters. Unfortunately, the current owner isn’t caring for the outside. Sad.

Leaving the decayed elegance of Sierra Blanca we cycled 72 miles to the south east of El Paso followed by a short and uneventful 24 miles into the city centre the next day.

We met some fellow cyclists who were travelling the same route in the opposite direction. Lovely people. Good luck with your journey and be safe.

So that’s where we are now – El Paso.

Right on the Texas and Mexico border. We have been staying at a lovely Airbnb house near the city centre but, after three nights of accommodation luxury, a new bottle of bourbon, numerous bottles of local craft beer and more Mexican food than is good for us, its time to hit the road again. I will be glad to get back to my burgers 🍔

Hasta la proxima.

Adios.

Rimgate

From our camp in Langtry we headed 60 miles to Sanderson over hill and canyon, climbing over 3,000 feet in the process. A hard day with a puncture thrown in for good measure.

The motel was crummy but the Ranch House for a burger was damn fine. Wish I had been counting how many burgers I’ve had this trip. It’s an easy choice when you’re tired but packed with protein and carbs – just what a cyclists needs. Sometimes there’s even a few vitamins if a salad is included.

You wouldn’t complain about the burger in the Ranch House even if it was bad. You see the young waitress has a gun strapped to her waist. That’s Texas! And I can’t even begin to tell you what was written in sparkly letters on her T shirt! Really I can’t. I was like a 5 year old child who sees something strange he shouldn’t be staring at. Ranch House – thoroughly recommended.

Over the next few days we pedalled steadily through Marathon (55 miles), Fort Davis (55 miles), Van Horn (80 miles) and climbed 5,000 feet. It wasn’t so rolling but a steady 1% gradient mile after mile. Now these 1% hills are relentlessly slow and our speed suffers. Give me the pain of a big uphill and downhill any day.

Approaching Marathon we had a triple puncture whammy! Yes its time to talk wheel issues again. You love it!

Following ‘Spokegate’ in Florida we thought our wheel issues were behind us. We had both wheels rebuilt and Susan lost some weight so all was fine or so we thought!

Five miles from Marathon. Front wheel Puncture. Quick change (Susan and I are so practised we’re now like a formula 1 team pit stop team). New inner tube in. Pedal one mile. Second front wheel puncture. Change inner tube. Pedal one mile. Puncture!

No spare inner tubes left so we inflated the deflating inner tube and kept on pedalling, stopping every mile to re- inflate. We made it to our rather nice motel cabin and turned it into a bike workshop.

Now you’re thinking we didn’t check the tyres for a sharp object but we did. It was only when we got the the motel when I examined the burst inner tubes I found the punctures were on the inside of the wheel. Without getting too technical and boring the culprit was the rim tape.

Cyclists know what I’m talking about and for non cyclists who are still reading let me explain – inside the tyre, the rim tape stops the rubber inner tube catching on jaggy metal bits on the inside of the wheel. Our rim tape was like myself – well past its best!

The plastic tape appears to have deformed in the heat at the earlier part of our tour and hardened in the cold of the latter part of the tour. It now presented hard sharp plastic edges to the inner tube.

Now if you’re not interested in tubes and rims then please move on to the nice picture of Susan smiling at you. You’ve had all that salacious storytelling about Jersey Lilly and the Jack of Hearts and now its time to cater for people interested in cycling.

So what did we do with our deformed rim tape in the middle of Marathon which is in the middle of nowhere? I went to the local general store and bought some masking tape and lined the rims with a bit of a diy bodge. Do you know? Sometimes I sit back with a beer and congratulate myself for the ingenuity. Well, nobody else is going to do it 🤠

Before we move on from Marathon – the town was a filming location for the 1985 Kevin Coster film ‘Fandango’. Another movie reference for you Brian – you’re probably the only one that may have even heard of that movie! 🎥 🍿

The following day was wind and rain and 1% gradient. You’ve seen Susan in her summer gear so now its her cold rain gear. Still smiling – what a trouper!

We passed a rather sad sight on the road – a ghost bike to commemorate a cyclist killed on the road. Ghost bikes are part of an ‘unofficial’ worldwide movement.

We also passed some lighthearted sights.

Eventually reaching our lovely guest house at Fort Davis.

Self check in with no manager/owner present and no other guests. The whole ghostly place to ourselves. Sweet. The beer? Oh that’s me still congratulating myself for solving ‘Rimgate’

Bye y’all 🤠

Footnote – Lily, The Judge and the Jack Of Hearts

Jersey Lily eventually made it to Langtry, Texas, the town named in her honour, and found that her admirer Judge Roy had recently died. During her short stay she was asked to cut a pack of cards. Fittingly she drew the Jack of Hearts.

Lily was a princess, she was fair-skinned and precious as a child,

She did whatever she had to do, she had that certain flash every time she smiled,

She’d come from a broken home, had lots of strange affairs,

With men in every walk of life which took her everywhere,

But she’d never met anyone quite like the Jack of Hearts. (B.D)