Monday, June 10, 2013

Chiricahuas or Bust -- Day 3

Day 3 – Douglas to the Land
67 miles, 5:27, 12.2 avg.

What an extraordinary day in so many ways! This is why bike touring is great—every day is different in its challenges and triumphs. I’m safely in Cave Creek Canyon now, but what a journey to get here.


Well, I didn’t meet the Gadsden Ghost last night. At least I couldn’t hear him with my ear plugs in. I high-tailed it out of Douglas after I learned afternoon showers would return along with some pretty high winds. It’s a really pretty ride out HWY 80 east, through some hills and valleys, enough variation to keep me very interested. I planned to try and take it easy today and make a lot of stops since the mileage was a bit lower. So I took advantage of the lone tree along the highway and rested in the shade for a while. This was a huge old canyon hackberry, seemingly the only one around for miles. Not sure where it came from.

the lone hackberry
I could already see the clouds building over the Chiricahuas and off to the east. Soon enough, as I rode into a big valley of grassland, the clouds closed in on me. It was eerily dark now, no rain, but lots of lightning over the mountains. In keeping with today’s theme of more breaks, I decided it seemed safe enough to have a quick lunch. Boy was I wrong! Not 5 minutes later a huge gust of wind came up, knocked my bike over, and the lightning increased and got a lot closer. Time to go! Then, BANG! Lightning right over my head. You know the type, I could feel it in my bones. It was crazy now, lightning everywhere.

Keep in mind, I’m in the middle of a huge valley with nothing to hide under. I’m probably the tallest thing around for miles, so my blood is pumping, and I’m sprinting down the road in seconds flat. Then the rain starts. Luckily I’m getting a tailwind as the energy pushes out of these clouds, so I’m sailing along when I see the Border Patrol agent coming back in his truck to ask me if I need any help. How nice. I thought for a moment about waiting out the storm, chit-chatting with this very young guy (who was from New York by the sound of it), and learning what’s it’s like to come out west and do what he’s doing. Would’ve been a great experience if I was writing a book or something! It only took a moment to decide no. The wind was going my way, the lightning was already behind me and it looked good ahead. I only take rides if it’s serious. So I thanked him and sprinted the 15 miles into Rodeo (the nearest place for shelter and food) as the clouds continued to close in on me.

Right as I roll up to the store/café a couple of young folks flag me down and tell me there’s a great place to camp only four blocks away! Huh? I wonder in my sweat-crusted stupor. I laugh and say in a tone that must sound like I was just told a joke, “I’m not camping down here in Rodeo next to the highway. I’m going up into the mountains!” They probably took me as some weird and rude loner guy, but hey, I just rode through a pretty serious and very tiring ordeal. I’m just 10 miles from the goal of my entire journey! From my point of view their information was ridiculous. Didn’t they know I was practically a local in these parts?

Well, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. I sort of realize I sounded like a jerk, so I continue the conversation. They were from BC Canada and looked and sounded like they were on bicycles too. But I was a bit confused and too tired to find out, and then they went inside to eat lunch. By the time I was ready to eat they were gone and the busy lunch rush was over, but the nice people there still made me a sandwich. Turns out the couple was on bikes; what are the odds? Why they didn’t come out and say so first thing is beyond me. We could have had a great talk and I might have even stayed in Rodeo with them. OK, probably not!

Adding insult to injury
Anyway, I stay in the café a while warming up and waiting for the rain and lightning over the Chiricahuas to subside—it’s really going gangbusters now. I’m getting antsy and it feels like it’s time to go now, so I head up the highway and make the turn onto Portal Rd. and boom, the headwind hits me right in the face. These are the damaging winds I was warned about on KOLD this morning. I know it’s only about 10 more miles, so I plug along, sometimes slowing to a crawl. About ¾ of the way up the climb, the winds stop and the rain over the mountains clears and I can feel that Chiricahua magic taking over.

Before I know it I’m at the Portal store, Yellowman is playing over the speakers and I’m telling everyone in the store about my adventure. A forest ranger sees me outside with the two beers I just purchased and we have a good chat about my ride and the weather. He tells me a lightning strike started a fire in one of the canyons.

Not much further to go now, and I’m taking videos of everything while I’m riding, like I’ve never been here before. I guess I haven’t ever arrived in this fashion before, and it’s never taken three days that’s for sure!

It really takes an incredible journey to make you appreciate an amazing place even more. It truly felt like coming home here to the little pump house, table and huge pile of firewood. Even better, new camp chairs and a mini-fridge! Luxurious surprises. One thing though, the well pump doesn’t seem to be working—no hot shower. Oh well, I can bathe in the creek.

Chiricahuas or Bust -- Day 2

Day 2 – Fairbank to Douglas
64 miles, 5:30, 11.8 avg

Well, here I am sitting in the Gadsden Hotel restaurant waiting for a burger. I came in right after a group of eight ranchers ordering steaks (and one salmon?), so I have plenty of time to savor this rich Budweiser. The server asked what kind of beer I wanted when I asked her what they had. “IPA”, I said. “No, we don’t have that.” Really? What a surprise. So, Bud it is.

The Gadsden has seen better days, that’s for sure. 1920 maybe? Pretty shabby now, but it’s fine for me despite the funky smell, motor noise and a stunning view out my window of the brick wall next door. But no TV remote?? That’s very hard for me to deal with right now! I’m tired and my body aches. Maybe I’ll see the Gadsden headless ghost tonight, although it supposedly inhabits the basement. I ain’t going down there. The hotel still has lots of cool old west style artwork everywhere, and the lobby is impressive.

I'll be there tomorrow! But not in a stage coach.
As for Douglas, the downtown area seems pretty rundown right now. The main street has no restaurants and many buildings are shuttered. This afternoon the streets were filled with shoppers from Mexico, but now the stores are closed and the people are gone because there’s nothing else to do down here. I don’t mind staying downtown and soaking up the Gadsden atmosphere, especially since the other nearby option was the Motel 6 next to the jail. I’d love a good ol’ RV park right now, but no dice in Douglas.


Last night along the San Pedro was great, even though it was much cooler than anticipated. Good thing I decided to bring the sleeping bag at the last minute! So much wildlife down there it kept waking me up! Especially the calls of some frog that sounded like a human groaning. I don’t know what it was! (Later found out it was a Sonoran desert toad) The birds were amazing in the morning, even had a tyrannulet singing to me. Bird of the day has to be Bullock’s Oriole. I heard them everywhere today.

A quick tour of the Fairbank cemetery on the trail out, then I was off and climbing out of the river basin. I also scared up a couple of javelinas sitting in the bushes next to the highway. Not too bad of a climb at all and I was soon cruising the now-paved streets of Tombstone. Grungy, sunburned re-enactors carrying rifles were interested in my ride. Very strange little town; left 10 minutes before the next “gunfight.”

Couldn't resist!

Davis Rd. turned out to be a great little two-laner through the middle of nowhere. I decided to stop in McNeal for lunch, hoping for the usual: restroom, water, shade, and maybe a Coke. If it wasn’t for the kind man at the sad antique shack willing to spare me a cold water, I would have struck out on all counts. Even a spot in the shade was hard to come by, but eventually I found a large cottonwood in front of the old school. 

Along Davis Rd.

Lunch in McNeal, AZ
Off on the mostly straight as an arrow highway to Douglas, and the wind is becoming a problem and the shoulder is wrecked with uneven pavement. Mentally tough those long, straight roads, especially in adverse conditions. I toured the surprisingly busy streets of Douglas which were filled with shoppers from Mexico. I hear there’s a chance of rain tomorrow, can’t wait to get to Portal!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Chiricahuas or Bust -- Day 1

Tour de Cochise County

Not on this tour!
May 8, 2013
Day 1 – Tucson to Fairbank: Thank the Lord for a tailwind!
86.75 miles, 6:28, 13.4 avg

Pretty funny end to this first day. The site host here at Fairbank did not want to come out of his RV to talk to me. He must have some rule about after hours work. What if it was an emergency? Anyway, his partner happened to come home, so I spoke with her. Might be some good camp spots down the trail about a mile she tells me. Too bad I can’t camp right here in the ghost town. Nice tables and shade under the mesquites and water spigots galore.

So I head off down the trail, swishing through the sandy spots a bout a mile and half to a sweet spot along the San Pedro River. I’m thinking about Ramen for dinner and then realize I have forgotten the stove! Oh no. Toting around a pot and fuel bottle for nothing? Just as I begin to contemplate letting the noodles sit in cold water for a while, I remember! The stove is in the pot! (It’s been a long day.) Yee haw!

Oops. The bumpy trail ride out here has shaken the stove to pieces. Luckily the Whisperlite is easy to put back together again, even when you’re stomach is growling and you’re not thinking straight. Food is cooked in no time.

The river is mine for a night

It’ll be a long slog back out of here tomorrow morning through the mesquites and cat claws and sand. I put the tent right on the cow trail because there are sticks and grass everywhere. Also, not sure about the human traffic through here, so I opted to camp up in the bush a bit instead of right down on the beach. All is good though after the Brown-crested and Vermilion Flycatchers and Gray Hawk serenade me at sunset. Can’t wait for the dawn chorus tomorrow!


Getting out of Tucson was quite the chore, what with traffic and all. 30 miles to Vail is a long way! I chose HWY 10 over the shoulder-less Houghton to get down to HWY 83, and it paid off. No problem, smooth, wide shoulder and maybe only 7 miles. HWY 83 does have a little shoulder in most spots to my surprise, and traffic was very light. 

HWY 10 - I can follow that rule

Mt. Wrightson in background

Rosemont mine site
Great scenery, but I was getting tired already on this hilly road. After a couple of mandatory stops, I finally pull into Sonoita for a late lunch in the nice picnic area at the Shell station, out of the wind which has suddenly picked up big-time. I was pretty wrecked, then the woman there tells me the road ahead is not easy either. She also says I look too pale for a cyclist (sunscreen?), so I pay her no mind. I’m not worried. I see a massive tailwind in my future, and I don’t remember any big hills going this way.

BOOM! I’m shot out of a cannon and head down, down, then down some more, and it feels like someone has their hand on my back just pushing me along the road. This is bike touring at its finest! I’m checking out the scenery and barely pedaling at all with a strong wind out of the west. Great grasslands! Doesn’t even matter that this seems to be the truck route from Sonoita to points unknown. 

Holy grasslands, Batman!

I scream past the junction with HWY 90 and head still further down to the river. These might be the easiest 30 miles I’ve ever done! I go down some more. Makes me a little worried about climbing out of here tomorrow. Nice sighting of two Swainson’s Hawks copulating somewhere in here. Bet that would’ve been easy to miss in a car!

Gallery forest of San Pedro river with Dragoons in background


Mighty San Pedro...
A quick tour of the Fairbank ghost town, and here I am under the cottonwoods with a million crickets!

Main St., Fairbank

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tour de Mogollon 2003

Oak Creek canyon lookout

Week and a half bike tour from Tucson up onto the Mogollon Rim and into the White Mtns a bit! Finish up outside Safford, AZ.

Day 1 – Oct 21 – Tucson to Winkleman
70 miles, 5.5 hrs, Avg 12.9 mph

Rough day, stung by bee in the ear, knee pain. Melting in heat. Camping in city park next to dry Gila River. Mosquitoes and guys cruising park and smoking out. Have quiet corner hopefully. Saw bobcat. Explosions from mine. Camping next to tam plants.

Day 2 – Winkleman to Roosevelt Lake
60 miles, 5:22, 11.2

Another rough day. Climb away from San Pedro river was brutal. Seemed like 10—15 miles, 7%, no rest spots. HOT. El Capitan pass, 5000ft. Kit Carson led the way over this one long ago. Globe: neat old downtown, old man told me about route and dirt road to Apache Junction. “Unbelievable scenery.”  Good flat valley out of Globe. Short but steep climb. 9% for 6 miles on other side to the Lake. Good RV park with a shower. Ride in golf cart! Lounge for dinner. Saw javelina cross road today. Road kill: 2 javies, hawk, ringtail cat!
Cont.: Went to Quail’s Nest for burger. Marlins beat Yanks. Anchor Steam on tap. Trailer next to me had HBO on loud all night. No one there, or dead.

Down to Globe
 Roosevelt Lake

Day 3 – Roosevelt Lake to Payson
70 miles, 6:08, 11.3

Good day. Easy rollers until last 10 miles, then climb up to Payson.
Roosevelt Dam – largest masonry structure in the world built 1906—1911. Stung by bee at lunch stop. Camping awesome- Houston Mesa Campground. Juniper/ponderosa pine, no one here and showers! Got lost looking for it. Dark. Asked for directions at radio station KMOG, almost made it on the air! Saw bull elk.

Day 4 – Payson to Dead Horse Ranch St Park
75 miles, 5:57, 12.6

Good day. Chuck made me pay $15! for site. He thought I was crazy. Climb to Pine and Strawberry short but steep. Ladies at the real estate office told me I had many more mountains to go. Climb up to Mog. Rim was easy. Down, down to Camp Verde, 7000 ft to 3300 ft. Nice women at Ranger Station. Hell ride to Cottonwood with people yelling at me on crowded side road. Campground full, but staying with Cub Scouts. Verde River nearby. Saw many praying manti, 2 horned lizards and tons of locust things cannibalizing their buddies on the roads. These things are giant!

On the Rim

Day 5- DHRSP to Oak Creek Canyon, Manzanita Campground
29 miles, 2:39, 10.8

Went down to river at sunrise, saw otter. Scouts’ parents thought I was crazy. All uphill to Sedona. Some century ride was going the other way. Many people, not many waves. Last climb to Sedona steep and I feel bad. The city sucks with traffic and too many SUVs/trucks that don’t fit in the lane with me also in it. People in a hurry to get where on Saturday morning? The canyon is no better. Score sweet camp site (walk-in) by creek. Host is nice. Confused about what to do and when to do it.

Sunrise on the Verde river

To Sedona

Day 6 – Oak Creek to Flagstaff
25 miles, 2:50, 8.8

Short day, cold and windy. Awesome trip through Oak Creek Canyon early morning. The switchbacks weren’t too bad, only 2 miles long, nice overlook at top. Talked to a few people. Then highway had no shoulders—no fun. Staying at Snowbowl Motel. Kinda dumpy. Walked downtown for lunch and beers at Mogollon Brewery.

Day 7 – Flagstaff to Holbrook
91 miles, 5:36, 16.2

Finally an easy day. Riding on HWY 40 very flat with a tailwind. Good drafting off of semi-trucks and cars. Lunch in Winslow. Flew into Holbrook, mostly good shoulders. “Sleeping in a wigwam” tonight! Staying with Loren in White Mtn Lakes tomorrow.

Outside Flagstaff
Standin' on a corner in Winslow, AZ
Day 8 – Holbrook to Loren’s house
44 miles, 3:25, 13.0

Pretty short day through the red rocks outside Holbrook. Got weird slow leak in rear tire. Met Loren on road to his house. Drove around meeting some of his friends. Country folk like you would see in the movies—hilarious, car painter with a plate in his head. Went shopping-Loren is very cost-conscious. Made hamburgers and watched PBS news. Discussed GW Bush and other political issues. Loren is very “leave me along, government.” He loves the country compared to cities, likes less rules. Went to the “Sandbagger” at the golf course for breakfast. Met more of his friends. Loren was going south of Flag to deer hunt.

Day 9 – Loren’s to Springerville
49 miles, 4:17, 11.5

Short day became long. Winds out of SW were incredible. Sometimes almost a tail wind but mostly a crosswind that was pushing me into traffic. Wide-open prairies and volcanic cones felt like I was in middle of nowhere. 10 miles out of Springerville tire went flat. Found huge piece of steel-belted radial wire stuck in tire. Not feeling very good—limped into town. Staying in motel. Heading south tomorrow, will winds switch? Watched LeBron James's debut game. Incredible!

Day 10 – Springerville to Glenwood, Bighorn Campground
86 miles, 7:27, 11.5

Grueling day that would not end. Biting cold at first, sun hiding behind clouds and smoke. Wind still howling, to Alpine was the worst. Some gusts had me at a standstill. Without the wind the climb would have been easy. In Alpine chatted with rangers, they thought I was there for a flu shot. Called Catalina State Park, set up interview. Major tailwinid and downhill to Luna. Then a climb rangers forgot to tell me about was no fun, trying to get hard 40 miles in before sundown. Saliz Canyon was beautiful, deep canyon of San Francisco River with big cottonwoods and willows in bottom, rock formations and ponderosa up top. Last 20 miles after pass wasn’t all down, very rolling and hard for end of day. Glenwood is a cozy little town with a few stores.

White mtns
Luna, NM

Day 11 – Last day – Glenwood to Solomon (outside of Safford)
80 miles, 7:14, 11.1

Another grueling day, more uphill than expected. More of the same out of town all the way to turn off for 78. Awesome 11,000 ft mountains to east. Mule Creek was cool, then the climb with 2 short passes. More mountains in there than expected—very nice ponderosa forest, many campgrounds to explore at a later date. Screaming descent into the “3 Way”, good scenery, lots of huge rock outcrops. Then found out there was a climb to go—over the Black Hills. Oops. Looked brutal, very steep first few miles with little shoulder. Dragged on into a headwind. Good descent on the other side, but running out of light. Powered it on the flats with good views of Mt Graham with setting sun behind it. Nothing at intersection with HWY 70, so went on because of good shoulder (it was now dark). Solomon was last chance for something, found La Paloma, Mexican food! Waiting for Elizabeth, 10 miles short of Roper Lake. Happy Halloween! Saw more foxes today, javelina, another grasshopper rode with me for a while.

Total miles: 682

Mogollon mtns
Mule Creek
Outside Clifton, AZ
sunset on the Black Hills
sunset over Mt Graham