Riding across America- through Arizona into Colorado

Day 5: Needles, CA -> Ash Fork, AZ; big #’s despite some self-induced adversity

Today was the earliest start of the ride- 345am!  With 160 miles planned- a distance I had only ridden twice before in my life (with far fewer hills both times)- the day had me rather intimidated in the days leading up to it.  The mileage estimate ended up being close- although I rode further on 2 later days.  Getting through today would be a huge confidence boost.

I encountered my first state welcome sign- where I planned to take photos for state sponsors.  In the dark, I couldn’t find the sign for California (sponsored by my awesome colleagues back in San Luis Obispo).  Arizona had to do.  I snapped a few photos- using my bike headlight for illumination- and watched where I stepped as I set up my bike and banner, snakes being ever present on my mind.  Notice anything missing in the photo?  Read on below….


The long day started with a few flat miles- where I was tempted to add another 15 just to ride into Nevada (and changed my route back and forth several times as I planned it).  Without a Nevada state sponsor, I finally decided to stay focused on the end goal.  Then I began another big climb into Oatman, with a steady 3-5% grade for 1.5 hours.  Although it was cool in the early morning start, after a couple hours I reached for a drink- and immediately realized that I had left my 3 water bottles in the hotel refrigerator!  Not good.  I had about 50 oz of water in my Camelbak, so I wasn’t desperate, but this was my first adversity of the ride.  I knew there would be some.  Oatman is an old miner’s town, now a tourist stop, with nothing open until 830am.

Wild donkeys on the road into Oatman

I couldn’t wait, so I continued to ride, and started another climb up to 3500ft at Sitgreaves Pass.

Near the top of the climb to Sitgreaves Pass- I had just come up on the road in the background
Almost to the top!  3000ft of climbing- before 7am!

As I staged my bike for pictures at the pass, I dropped it on a rock, dinging it up and scraping my leg.  On the toughest of days, frustration was mounting….  More adversity, 100% self-induced.

Sitgreaves Pass- and one newly dinged up bike…

I enjoyed the descent, quickly found a bike shop on Google Maps at the next decent size town of Kingman and detoured to it.  I arrived only to find they had just 1 water bottle in stock!  But one of the funny stories of the ride came here.  I was oblivious to the fact that a donut shop was next to the bike shop.  As friends monitored my progress on my Quarq Qollector GPS tracking unit, they could see exactly where I was.  So most presumed that my stop was for a sugar hit!  So, of course, my “friends” had to post that to Facebook!

Continuing to lose time with the detour and unplanned stops, I made a spontaneous decision to ride onto I40 to try to save about 15 miles on Route 66.  That brought on yet more self-induced adversity.  The shoulder was far worse than in California, with ruts and debris.  I told myself that I had made a detailed plan with specific roads and was getting away from it.  Stick to the plan!  By the time I came to that realization, I was already several miles down I40, and couldn’t bring myself to backtrack.  Fortunately, the shoulder improved, but I40 was treacherous.  Several bridge closures narrowed the interstate to 1 lane in each direction.  I had to pick an opening in traffic, race across each bridge trying to beat overtaking traffic, then if it was too long, hold on carefully as traffic passed- sometimes only a few inches away- at 60+ mph.  I regretted my decision to take I40 but there was no way to back out.  It’s a good thing Alisa wasn’t watching this!

By the end of the day, I rode nearly 100 miles on I40- then the last 23 on Route 66 with rolling hills.  The day ended- as planned- in Ash Fork, Arizona- with 155 miles and over 9000ft of climbing.

Long shadows at the end of the day

It was my 3rd longest ride ever and probably my most climbing ever in one day (I had similar in N Zealand several years ago but without a Garmin or accurate climbing data).  Then I had to ride about a mile- in the dark- to find dinner.  And I did find a great BBQ place.  I planned to get takeout and rest back at my hotel, but the hostess convinced me to stay and relax, even in my sweaty cycling kit.  That was a small pick-me-up for sure.  It was another small act of kindness, one of many that I experienced during this adventure.

I sat on the restaurant’s patio and went through my evening routine of reviewing the day’s route and pictures.  The Strava ride title was appropriate- adversity was definitely self-induced.  But I felt great, overcoming it all, and with a sense of satisfaction knowing that my coworkers would see the data and be- there’s no other way to say it- impressed!  Sharing accomplishments like these- with a sense of friendly competition, overcoming challenges, and offering encouragement- is what Strava is all about!


Day 6: Ash Fork -> Cameron, AZ; pseudo-recovery day at the Grand Canyon

After yesterday’s long day, today was shorter and one to look forward to- visiting the Grand Canyon by bike!  After a few hours of riding, I experienced a bicycling first- yawning and in need of a nap- that had never happened to me before during exercise.  So I stopped for one!  I laid down in the gravel- knowing that snakes could be laying hidden in the grass.


Before I reached the Grand Canyon, however, 55 miles on AZ64 leading to it was absolutely one of the worst stretches of the entire ride.  I found Arizona drivers among the most dangerous to cyclists, giving little room.  The shoulder was a foot or 2 at most and sometimes only a few inches, with gravel and rumble strips.  Tour buses, cars, and RV’s sped by with inches to spare- even if there was no oncoming traffic.  It was definitely a gut-it-out stretch.


Not the best stretch of road- and this was among the best shoulder conditions

Finally I made it safely to the Grand Canyon.  With 60 miles still to go for the day, my 3 photo stops were all very brief.  The Grand Canyon was scenic of course, but surprisingly busy in May.


Just prior to the ride, a co-worker told me about a new website that shows an aerial view of your ride from Strava using Google Earth.  I wish I had a continuous feed from the entire ride, but one of the coolest segments was today’s at the Grand Canyon:


As I rode, I watched my Garmin data showing my heart rate at 100-110 bpm (beats per minute) with a similar “PE” (Perceived Effort) as my normal 120-130.  I was concerned that fatigue was mounting and doubted if I could sustain the pace.  But fatigue leveled out the next few days, even with a much lower heart rate.

I had looked forward to the descent from the Grand Canyon a 3000ft drop over 30 miles.  But crosswinds and more dangerous drivers coming scaringly close slowed my pace considerably to mid-20’s mph.  At least the views were breathtakingly gorgeous, and I even varied my Clif Bar diet with some bison jerky from a roadside stand!


Day 7: Cameron -> Kayenta, AZ; an authentic recovery day aided by a gorgeous tailwind

You might think that I slept soundly every night, but the combination of middle of the night hunger, restless legs, and a different bed for 30 straight nights did not often lead to a good night’s sleep.  But this morning I woke up refreshed and feeling great.  My stop for the night was the Cameron Trading Post- an old Indian trading post restored and turned into a hotel and restaurant.

Although I was rested, I soon had another issue to deal with.  My iPhone was not charging and with the hotel not opening until 7, I decided to get moving.  I was heavily dependent on my phone- for taking pictures, monitoring weather, plotting route changes, finding food and water, and later in the ride, finding nightly accommodations, not to mention keeping in touch with family and posting progress updates to social media.

Not far into the day, I modified the route based solely on sight and instinct.  My planned route went onto a small gravelly side road.  The spontaneous decision was a good one this time, as the smooth pavement continued and soon met up again with my planned route.

The lonely West
Quiet roads early in the morning

After nearly a week on the road, I was finally able to enjoy the first real tailwind as I headed east.  As I rode, I saw a sign for Denny’s.  Normally I couldn’t care less, but have never been so excited to see one.  With only about 100 miles today, I easily had time for an hour break.  Breakfast can be a great meal for long distance cycling.  Oatmeal, pancakes, toast, eggs, and coffee were all filling and easy on the stomach.  This was my first real breakfast since Day 1 (the previous day’s breakfast was a couple Clif bars while leaning against a guardrail on I40):

Breakfast on I-40

This section of the ride took me into Navajo and Hopi country.  A t-shirt worn by a Native American at the Denny’s read “American Original Homeland Security.  Since 1492”, with an image of “1880’s” armed Indians.  That really struck me, and made me think about the oppression that Native Americans have endured.

A common site in the West- cattle grates- safe as long as you stay perpendicular

Today, I noticed my heart rate had stabilized- a good sign that fatigue had leveled off.

I made it 100 miles to Kayenta- another time of limited options to stop- so I took advantage of it to get some additional rest.  Confession: today I did ride 1.5 extra miles to get to 100 for the day- and try to get a picturesque shot to end the day (but failed).  I got my phone fixed (simple reset) and called Alisa- see my story from an earlier post.  Dinner was a disappointingly bland pizza at the Hampton Inn where I was staying.  Another day was done, and although I had ridden 100 miles, I was able to get some recovery with the Rocky Mountains looming.


Day 8: Kayenta, AZ -> 4 Corners-> Mancos, CO; long day with more climbing ahead

There is definite beauty in the desert, but I was looking forward to the end of the monotony of brown colors and lonely areas.   Today had a lot to look forward to- riding into Colorado and another Warmshowers stop after several nights of hotels and a short detour to 4 Corners, which I reached after 78 easy miles.  I made brief stops at both the 4 Corners Monument and the Colorado Welcome sign- for my Christian Cycling sponsors.  I had to improvise when I stopped at state welcome signs, using bungee cords to hold my TDSU17 sign, but at more popular areas there were always willing photographers to take pictures for me.


As I began a slow climb over 30-40 miles into Colorado- from the lowest point of the day at the border crossing the San Juan River- the desert slowly turned from brown to green.  Although I had several days of hard climbing ahead, I love Colorado and felt rejuvenated by the spectacular scenery.


I took another nap and rode the 57 miles from 4 Corners to Mancos, up to the highest elevation for a nightly stop on the ride- exactly 7000 feet.


I could seee this rock formation from miles off- at the intersection with US491

As I headed out of Cortez on US160 in the late afternoon, I was in my normal rhythm riding along in my aerobars, only looking perhaps 10 feet ahead.  Suddenly, I saw a snake stretched out sunning itself on the shoulder.  With no time to react, I ran over it, striking it just behind its head.  I immediately thought “rattlesnake?”- and turned around.  Not wanting to get within 10 feet at most, I snapped a few somewhat fuzzy pictures as it coiled up, obviously not killed by my running over it.  Of all the individual stories of riding across America, this one has probably turned out to be the most popular!  I had to wait until I could show my pictures to others, who were certain they saw rattles, to confirm it was a rattlesnake.


By the end of TDSU17, the ride synopsis became 3600 miles in 28 days, over 1 million pedal strokes- and 1 rattlesnake encounter!

I finished the climb into Mancos, for my overnight stop with Kenny and Patsy Smith.  They aren’t on Warmshowers, but I was referred to them by a Warmshowers host who was out of town.  Kenny and Patsy are an amazing couple and one of best nights of the ride- maybe the best but I don’t want to offend anyone!  They cooked a fantastic dinner of grilled burgers, fresh vegetables from their garden, and a tasty microbrew.  Through dinner and the evening, they asked about my ride and shared stories of their own adventures from rafting trips to off road bike races, and were simply a delight to spend time with (this coming from someone is definitely an introvert).


Another sight of the day was riding past the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park- which I visited years ago.  Kenny and Patsy told me to come back with my family and they’d give me a personal tour.  I can’t wait to take them up on their offer!

I also have to repeat a story from Kenny that I included in my “what did you learn?” question on my FAQ post earlier in this blog.  Speaking of his and Patsy’s 16-day rafting trip, Kenny told me “you won’t be the same person after this trip”.  I looked at him and didn’t really understand.  He went on to say “you’ll face many different conditions, adversity and fatigue and you’ll get through them all.  You will discover that you can overcome anything”.  I thought a lot about Kenny’s comments the rest of the ride.  He was absolutely right.  I’ve always been a “can do” type of person, and pride myself on finding ways around obstacles, and consider that one of my leadership abilities.  But the ride took it to an entirely other level.  I never feel powerless, and having overcome the challenge of riding across the USA, I know that there is virtually nothing I can’t do.  It’s all a decision on whether I want to badly enough.  The same goes for you!

Like so often occurred during the ride, I hated to leave Mancos, but this wasn’t a vacation.  More climbing loomed in the next few days, including up and over the Continental Divide, but it was mentally encouraging to see the lush landscape- I simply love time in the mountains.

Next up: over the Continental Divide and into COS (Colorado Springs)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s