Friday, January 28, 2011

Into the Great Wide Open

Into the Great Wide Open

Funny name for our blog since we just left the desert and are now high up in the mountains, but it totally fits. I can't tell you what a treat it was, though, on our long and windy climb up the mountains, when the cacti became more and more rare, and the bushes started to grow into real trees!!! Real trees, I tell you! I hadn't realized how much I missed trees until we got to actually see them again. And we even got to camp in the midst of them one night! As cold as it was, as hard of a day that was, nothing compares to finding a good spot among trees to camp in for the night, even if you are surrounded by snow and Elk poop.

But it seems the trees were just a passing comfort and we've reached a new terrain. AZ terrain has been funny. We've had desert littered with Cacti, changing into high altitude desert with some bushes and plants, changing to high altitude pines(my favorite) and now, we're not really sure... maybe you could describe it "like the moon," as Adam says. Is there such thing as high altitude grasslands? That's where we are, thus the title of our blog.

With each terrain comes different issues. The cacti in the desert made for uncomfortable ground to camp on. The towering pines blocked the sun (our only warmth up here in the mountains). And the grasslands have kept us from being able to do much camping. When you're camping, you definitely want to find a place very hidden from the road as there is a strong sense of vulnerability when bikes are your only mode of transportation.

So we've basically been alternating one day motel, one day camp. We've still been able to keep on budget, surprisingly, because we really don't spend a lot for food. $20 per day is more than enough for three scrumptious meals. Usually consisting of oatmeal in the morning(this is our new favorite), French bread with a block of cheese and maybe, if we're lucky, some meat and a yogurt for lunch, and for dinner, the ultimate Kraft Macaroni and Cheese dinner with hot dogs or pepperoni or something. One of our weirdest concoctions has been cold hotdog and cheese stick wrapped in a tortilla. We had to find something to do with the Tortillas!!

So when we reached these new grasslands which we weren't expecting, we had 43 more miles until the next town and had already gone a good 30 that day. Thank goodness the wind was at our backs and we were able to cruise. Adam kept stopping for photos since we were riding at sunset. Best time for photos, not very cool for riding into the unknown cold. You might be able to see my angry face beneath my face mask in this picture!

We made it to Holbrook and had a choice, $22 tent site on the far side of town, or $30 room right when we biked into town. The room was a little smelly, but Sue, the manager was so nice and we couldn't resist the temptation to get out of the cold. We made our dinner in the room, took a fairly warm shower, and slept in our sleeping bags on the bed instead of climbing under the smelly covers. It was all worth it when we were set to leave the next day and we saw Sue on the second floor making tortillas! Indian-style, spicy tortillas! She kept offering us some tortilla balls which we gladly accepted.

We kept that day short since the day before was our longest by far, 75 miles, and stopped at the entrance of The Petrified Forest National Park.

A store owner, or should I say, The store owner(only store around) was offering free camping and even offered for us to camp inside one of the ply-wood tee-pees to keep a little warmer. Genious! Even in the grasslands we were able to find cover! And we were able to fit our bikes inside the tee-pee, too. Definitely one of the cooler places we camped even though Adam was grumpy with having a bum knee and needing to bend down to get inside the tee-pee again and again.

Since Adam's knee has been bothering him from our 75 miler, we again had to take it easy yesterday. Biking north through the park was pretty, but we were frustrated. Adam's knee was bothering him, but I think what got me yesterday wasn't the cold or the winds, but the fact that I'm always the one who stops for a snack or says we need to stop for lunch. When we stop for a snack, he's always happy to share a Clif Bar with me, but I want my own!!! Why isn't Adam ever hungry when I constantly am??? When I asked him that he told me, "What do you mean? I almost ate you out there!" He has since reassured me that he is always hungry and would stop 10 times as often for a snack if he could.

So I'm not sure what was more frustrating yesterday, the fact that we went five hours without eating, or the fact that when we finally got to the most beautiful part of the National Park, the Painted Desert, we we're so grumpy from hunger that we couldn't enjoy it as much as we'd have liked.

The last six miles of the 28 mile stretch in the park were torturous as we could see the restaurant and almost smell the food, but the road swung around and out and over and under before finally turning back towards the restaurant.

There are always tough obstacles we face, but we are certain to find a positive in each day. After we were well fed at the restaurant, we easily cruised 22 more miles of flat grasslands to the only hotel in 100 miles. Even the flat tire didn't get us down. There is no feeling like flying on a bike, knowing you're heading to your next destination. Adam had it right yesterday. He said, "I like how simple it is. All we have to do is bike."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Taking it Easy

Taking it easy... Taking it easy

Before we got to take it easy for a few days, though, we did have a rough day to get through.

The ride from Brenda to Wickenburg looked littered with little towns along the way with a few spots for camping so we set off thinking 50 miles was an easily do-able flat day. It was eerie how each town we passed was full of closed stores, boarded up windows, and the token way-too skinny, dirty dog running around. Of course, there were ample opportunities for photos.

It looked like we were going to have to set up camp on the side of the road, but the problem was there were sparse trees and not even 40 feet off the side of the road were barbed wire fences that we couldn't get over. In Aguilla, there was a motel and a cafe at the far end of town that were actually open, and we got the word that up the road about five miles was a little turn-around with picnic tables and sometimes people camp there. Well, with the sun waning, five miles comes and goes, six miles, seven miles... Ten miles down we reach a road and go down it looking for maybe a place to camp or someone we could ask. The only guy we see, who easily owns about 10 acres of land, tells us that 2 miles down the road is that turn-about. Thanks, guy. So on we go, the sun has set and the darkness is creeping in and two miles comes and goes, three, four... Finally five more mile down the road we reach this turn about. No picnic tables, no camp area... Nothing. But we had to make do and there was more room off the side of the road to camp further back off the road so we found a few bushes to cover our tent and had a restless night sleep after 68 miles.

The good part of the 68 miles the night before was we only had 18 miles to get to Wickenburg where we found an Albertsons grocery, bought some lunch, then ate it as we washed our smelly clothes. We traded in a few hours of bike riding for the library instead and actually paid for the first time for a place to stay. Living in luxury at Horspitality where we got to play bingo with the crew and bought-in 4 bingo cards for $1. Didn't win any but the experience was well worth the buck.

Our plan was to take it easy for the next day and spend a 2nd night in Horspitality, but we got a Facebook message from Michael in Cave Creek, asking us to come on down and meet up with his mountain biking crew. So glad we made the decision to ride the 50 miles to his place. Michael and his wife, Theresa, hooked us up with a bed to sleep in, a warm shower, and the best pulled pork sandwich in Cave Creek. Yummy. We got to meet the Flat Tire mountain biking crew, were hooked up with a few necessities from their local bike shop, Flat Tire, and even got a little tour of their local coffee roasting shop, Firecreek. Talk about an awesome, spontaneous visit!

And finally the downhill ride all the way to Phoenix. Nice roads, slight downhill grade, a stop by the Apple store to fix a cord, and on our way to Paragon Cycles to get a much-needed tune-up.

The next day and 1/2 was spent with Robert Chacon, founder of We-Cycle-USA, and his wife, Jessy. They spoiled us with a visit to the We-Cycle shop where kids in need were learning bicycle maintenance and building their own bikes...

authentic Mexican food... ever hear of Menudo... the chunks of cow intestine mixed in the soup were actually pretty good!

a tour of the city provided by Copper Square Adventures...

a fundraising event at the TGI Friday's in Chase Stadium...

and just good company.

We were hesitant to leave on Saturday morning, but were happy to reunite with our like-new Cannondale bikes and our newly reinforced tires to prevent too many flats from those Goat-Head Thorns we keep hearing rumors about. Paragon Cycles and We-Cycle-USA really helped us out with all of that and as quickly as we came into Phoenix, we were on our way to the cold, northern AZ mountains with Ben and Gary, members of the Paragon Cycling Team, giving us a little push.

We've been spoiled these past few weeks with beautiful weather, good people, and mostly having the wind at our backs but we're trading in the hot, flat desert for the cold, hilly mountains.

We've had a little taste of the mountains these past few days and went from 1,000 ft elevation in Phoenix to 5,000 here in Payson. Found a deserted park off Old Beeline Highway in between road closure signs to sleep for the night. Very cool place where we cooked up a scrumptious meal of Southwest Con Queso soup and some tortillas, but we were awakened during the night by the gusts of wind that would blow against us on the next day's ride.

It's cold up here in the mountains, especially at night so for those of you on the east coast in the negative degree chill, just be glad you're in a heated house this next week and send warm thoughts our way.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Things are not always as they seem

One thing Adam and I have learned is that things are not always as they seem.

Leaving the comfy bed in Brian's house in El Centro, CA, we decided upon a short day, 20 miles or so, to what looked like camp sites on our way to the town of Glamis. As we biked, the land became increasingly sandy with only some bushes, until even those scarce bushes gave way to beautiful sand dunes. Uphill, then down, then back up over the dunes. The hills were fun and we took out the camera to capture the scenery.

I guess what we were expecting was the crew from Spaceballs, lugging those huge boxes over every hill, but what we got was very different. As the sun was setting, indicating to us that we needed to find a place to camp, a white jeep pulled over on the side of the road and out walked a cute young woman in a white dress, all dolled up. Right there in the middle of nowhere, this bride-to-be walked up a dune and posed as her photographer snapped shots. Even though Adam is on vacation from wedding photography, we couldn't resist and caught a few.

As the sun continued to set, we pushed on a bit farther to find RV heaven. There was a road off the main road into the dunes filled with RV's camped out with their toys. We were wondering where all the buggies, dirt bikes, and quads on the back of all these trucks were headed. We walked cautiously into the RV park, not sure how they would react to two spandex-clad cyclists. Our tires sunk into the sand and we were forced to push our bikes to find a place to camp when we hear, "Aren't you supposed to be riding those things, not pushin 'em?"

And that's how we met Jim. Apparently this RV-driving, buggy-hauling, sand dune-searching group has a soft spot for cyclists in need, and Jim offered for us to camp beside his self-built, RV and trailer combo rig (16 wheels on the ground, as he described it) so we would avoid the $90 permit fee. He and Gina offered us a place by their fire, marshmallows, hot cocoa and the works! And the next morning, he even offered to take us in his buggy. One of the coolest experiences of our lives, even though the buggy broke in the middle of the ride.

Onto the next stop, our goal was to ride through 60 more miles to Blythe. Unfortunately, our map doesn't explain the 20 miles coming to this place was nothing like the 60 miles leaving it. We were greeted instantly by head-winds which slowed us right down and pretty quickly we realized the 60 mile day was a dream, so we settled instead on the little town of Palo Verde only 40 miles away.

The rolling hills from the day before became scary dips where you were lost between hills... You couldn't see traffic and they couldn't see you. The shoulder grew smaller and smaller until there was nowhere else to ride but on the actual road. The traffic grew heavier and heavier as more RVers made their way to the dunes for the weekend. The wind picked up in big bursts from time to time and we were forced to pedal hard downhill or else be pushed back. We cursed out Adventure Cycling Organizations route maps, not understanding how they could ever put a cyclist on a road like this. Not at all what we were expecting from the day.

And finally we rode into Palo Verde... A reprieve from the day? Didn't seem so much. We rode on treacherous roads all day long into a town that was only trailer parks, a gas station, and a pub. We were even a little nervous to leave our bikes outside as we ate and asked to bring them inside with us, but looks can be deceiving. We were immediately greeted by the warmest, nicest people who set our minds at ease. We had a fantastic burger and a even splurged on a beer to wash away the craziness of the day. This view didn't hurt any, either.

When we first reached Palo Verde, we had followed the sheriff's directions and took a look at the campsites that were available behind the trailer park. One couple assured us we could camp there and we told them we'd be back after dinner.

As we pulled up after dinner, Joe had made a fire at our campsite for us. He and his wife Denise and their little dog, Little Bit, shared a few stories with us before heading back home. Joe even admitted to yelling after us earlier when we first met because he wanted to invite us to dinner. Certainly not what we were expecting from people in this town, but we left 'Green Stick'(Palo Verde) the next day with our spirits rejuvenated.

We chose to ride another easy day, only 20 miles to Blythe where we heard there was a Bluegrass Festival. Yes!! Good old fun! We were so excited to stumble upon this on our journey, and made our way straight to the fest. It took a long while to find it, but you knew it when you were there. The smell of fried foods filled our noses and the sounds of banjos filled our ears.

I still can't believe we paid the $15 per person entrance fee (lived off of $15 the next two days in order to get back on budget), but we did and spent a bit of the afternoon walking around the whole 5 booths there. Apparently we excited the soup guy enough with our story, that after we bought a bag of soup to prepare for dinner that night, he told us to come back around 4 and he'd be throwing away all the samples so we could fill up a bowl and have that for dinner. Good stuff this Souper Dips, they called themselves. Although the smell in the tent that night didn't agree.

Adam and I were both thinking back to bluegrass fests we have attended in the past. How did the Blythe fest compare? Basically the lamest bluegrass fest we could have imagined. The music was slow and depressing, and instead of the people in the rows of RVs with fires and chairs everywhere playing bluegrass music, there was hardly a peep. Except for the campers next to us who were inviting and even ended up playing some music, we weren't really impressed by this so-called bluegrass fest. Where was all the bluegrass music???

Of course we met some good people at the fest, Suzanne, Rich, and Wayne came right up to us, took pictures of us on the bikes, but it makes me laugh how excited we were for the fest when the night before we had a better time with the friendly people in Palo Verde.

And the next day we hit state #2!!!

Tonight(Sunday) we are camped in a dry wash in the little town of Brenda in Arizona. Meeting our first resident of Brenda, Anne says to us in an English accent, "Well, haven't you heard of Brenda?" No, never heard of Brenda, Arizona but what a welcoming! Anne took it upon herself to find us a place to stay for the night and after calling numerous RV parks, neighbors and even asking the grocery store clerk, she had no other ideas and left for her own home. Within two minutes, Anne comes driving back up to us happy to announce that she forgot there is a place right down the street from where she lives that people camp at and she proceeded to show us the way, driving really slow for us to follow, then getting out of her car and walking us to the camping area.

What friendly people you meet when you don't expect it!

We couldn't resist when we saw the name of this road.

And on we go....

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