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