Southern Tier -
Denis Kertz, ©2004
My preferred time of year for touring is the fall, starting Labor Day weekend. However, this year my nephew chose to get married in late September and that prevented an early fall trip. Since I wouldn’t be able to leave until late September that got me thinking that maybe it was time to ride across the country on a southern route and the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) Southern Tier route was a convenient ride. An additional motivation for a later ride was the upcoming election. This year’s presidential election promised to be a particularly nasty one with continual bombardments of the senses at a time when our country sorely needs a more honest, competent leader rather than the one who has lied and deceived the public on almost all issues, foreign and domestic, and managed to make enemies of almost the entire world, not to mention becoming bin Laden’s best recruiter. Nevertheless, it looked like a fairly educated country simply had no clue how awful the Bush term has been, even after almost four years of evidence, and was going to give him four more years to prove the first four were not a fluke. I couldn’t think of a better time to be on the road and not have to listen to a continual bombardment of Bush lies leading up to the election and watch the dumbing down of America.
I got up at 5:15 to leave at 6:00 to get to the airport before the traffic picked up. My friend Dave drove me to the airport, making good time even though there was a fair amount of traffic on a Monday morning. At the airport, the America West line had only a few people so I breezed through the line. I had my bike packed up in a bike box but it went as normal luggage, compared to a typical $80 charge by most airlines, since I was a member of the League of American Bicyclists and had made my travel arrangements through a special travel agency. Technically, my bike went free but it really cost $30. That’s the fee the travel agency charged for making the travel arrangement.
What didn’t go so well was the security check. The security check claimed I had a scissors in my carryon pack. It turned out I did as I forgot about the small scissors in my first aid kit so I got to donate it to the security folks.
I always seem to forget something and as I was waiting for
my flight I discovered what it was – I forgot my bicycle lock, just as I had on
The flight was uneventful with a stopover in
This process took a couple of hours. About mid-way I got hassled by an airport cop, who complained I was tying up the area that nobody was using. Apparently what really got her really excited was I had removed my long pants to get to my biking shorts underneath. She thought that was stripping in public. That irritated me and I was tempted to give her some major lip but thought better of it. Instead I told her I would be done in 20 minutes.
I finally got packed up and was off at 3:30 with a 5:30
rendezvous at a Starbucks to meet my host for the night, Hank. I followed Hank’s suggested route along
I continued up 5th to El Prado and rode into
In the morning Hank fed me a bowl of oatmeal and then we
adjourned to the Starbucks and had coffee.
We hung out there until 9:00 when we figured the rush hour traffic would
have calmed down and we parted ways, my only disappointment that Bill Walton
hadn’t put in an appearance as Hank said he often does. I thought it would be a simple matter to head
When I started passing through
I followed the Adventure Cycling route through
Shortly after picking up 79 I stopped at a store and downed
a liter of Coke and rested for about 30 minutes. That helped a lot and I felt better the rest
of the way. Still I knew
Then I set up my tent and adjourned to a local bar to write my notes. All in all it was a pretty challenging first day that wasn’t particularly scenic until the last 10-15 miles. I was happy that my leg seemed fine but the true test of successive climbing days still remained.
I got up shortly after 6:00 and packed up to get out of my secret camping spot early. I bought some milk at a store next door for my cereal and followed that up with pancakes at a restaurant.
It was a cool, cloudy morning when I got up and in the low
40s. When I left town at 8:30 it was 50
and still cool. I continued on Old
Highway 80 with considerable up and down and about 2,000 feet of climbing but
this was balanced by some nice descents as I made my way through the
mountains. A few miles outside
There were several small towns in the mountains and when I
approached Jacumba I was right at the
It was amazing how the mountains just gave way and opened up
The descent from the mountains was accompanied by an
escalation in temperatures into the low 90s.
As I rode along 98 that wasn’t too far from the border I started
noticing periodic blue flags on the end of flexible 10-15 feet poles. Eventually I saw a box at the base of one
flag that was labeled WATER and I guessed the purpose. Illegal immigrants from
Fortunately, I had plenty of water and wasn’t tempted by the emergency water. I also had a great tailwind that, combined with the slight downgrade, made cycling almost effortless and I easily maintained a 16-20 mph pace. That ended when I had to turn north to get to Seeley. The turnoff to Seeley marked an abrupt change where the desert was transformed by irrigation to grow a variety of produce. The road became rough and the wind became a cross wind and slowed me down. However, it was only 8 miles to Seeley where I stopped for a cold drink that was welcomed.
At this point I had traveled 77 miles and it was only
3:00. So I pushed on east to
I made Brawley at 4:30, a community of about 20,000 in the
center of the
In my room I checked my favorite TV channel, The Weather Channel, and learned I would have pretty much the same wind tomorrow as today but not quite as strong. That was another reason I really wanted to get in position to make the desolate crossing, hoping to have a helping wind again.
I was up early, ate breakfast in my room and was off shortly after 7:00. I filled one of my 3 liter water bladders for insurance since there would be no services until Palos Verdes, 63 miles away.
When I left town I was struck by the huge farm fields that stretched for miles. At one point a flashing patrol car zoomed by. After 12 miles along a canal a police officer flagged me down. I hoped it was for a speeding ticket but she wanted me off the road because a high speed pursuit was oncoming. So I and another driver pulled off to the side and waited for the excitement. In preparation the officer laid a tack strip across the road to try to flat the pursuit car but she left a gap on the opposite edge of the road so the pursuers could avoid the trap. When the pursuing car came along the driver quickly slowed down, as if he were familiar with this tactic, and edged to the opposite side and around the tack strip and took off again, trailed by two patrol cars.
With the excitement behind, I was on my way again. The farmland changed to desert and then sand dunes appeared as I rode through the Imperial Sand Dunes, a big recreation area, but apparently not during the week as I saw no dune buggies. In the middle of the dunes I rode to the top of the Osborne Lookout for a good view of the surrounding dunes. When I tried to take a photo I was surprised to find my 128M SD card exhausted. Then when I installed another 128M card I noted it said I only had 10 photos remaining and a light bulb went off in my head. I discovered I had set my photo quality level to Super Fine which meant every photo was an uncompressed 12M TIFF file for my 4M pixel camera. That was why my camera appeared to not work properly – it was spending most of its time writing a 12M photo to the memory card and until that was complete the camera wouldn’t allow any other operations. With that realization, I reduced the photo quality one level and I had a normally working camera again. A very fortuitous discovery since I was sure I was going to have to replace the camera.
Continuing on I passed through Glamis that was open only on weekends to service the sand dune crowd. Over night I had moved my front panniers further forward to try to eliminate the front wheel shimmy I had experienced yesterday but that didn’t work. Then another light bulb went off and I stopped the bike and tested my front wheel and found it was loose. I suspected my cone nuts were loose from my hub overhaul prior to the trip. So when I found a shaded area I stopped and removed the front wheel but found the hub was fine. So I guessed that the wheel was not set quite right in the quick release and it appeared OK after I replaced the wheel. Then the shimmy was noticeably better but not eliminated.
I continued riding on the route that was a gradual climb of
about 1,300 feet, approaching the
Earlier I had spotted something ahead that looked like it could be a cyclist only to see it disappear. Now I saw a similar sight and eventually I caught up to a guy who was cycling from San Diego to Arkansas on a bike with only rear panniers, distinctive Jandd panniers that were very narrow and 3-4 feet tall. He admitted to not being in shape and took frequent breaks and walked a few of the short, fairly steep hills. Eventually he rode off and I never saw him again.
A while later I met Bill, another cyclist riding in the opposite direction. He only had gear hanging from his straight handlebars and I presumed he was a worker but it turned out he had been cycling since spring from Florida up to DC and back to Florida and then cross country. He was on a simple mountain bike with a wide rolled up sleeping pad strapped to his handlebars and 2 day packs handing from each handlebar end. Another example of how folks made do with what they have. He was battling my tailwind and trying to make Brawley with 60 miles to go at 1:00 pm. I wished him luck and rode on.
As I neared Palos Verdes I passed a slow cyclist who was
carrying what looked like might be his home.
In town I stopped for a drink and a bite to eat. There a former Blythe resident suggested I
pass through Blythe and cross the Colorado River into
I continued on through farming country to Blythe, stopping for a drink along the way. As the guy suggested I didn’t see much in Blythe other than The Horny Toad Saloon and continued across the river, riding across on a pedestrian way. On the other side I crossed over to the Flying J and hit the jackpot. Out here that usually means a slot machine but for me it was an all-you-can-eat buffet for less than $10 and I got my money’s worth.
After eating I rode down to the river but didn’t see anything suitable for camping. So I crossed over to the other side where there was an RV Park but they wanted $20 for a simple tent site. When I noted that was too much the hostess was gracious enough to point out there was a county park on the other side of the interstate. There I found a sign saying $10 for camping with no one around. I also found the place was almost completely flooded but managed to find a dry spot and set up for the night.
Another century day but this one was a little harder than yesterday. Although back-to-back centuries weren’t a problem I hoped to cut back on the mileage in the coming days without the desert dictating the riding.
I packed up and rode across the
It was nearly 9:00 by the time I left and it was already
pretty warm. The only road east was I10
so I had to ride the interstate, which had lots of traffic, much of it large
truck traffic. The only saving grace was
the surrounding landscape was fairly scenic as I climbed gradually to pass
Just before Quartzsite I exited and rode through town. I got directions to the library where I spent an hour reading email and paying a couple bills. Then I stopped at a foodmart for a drink, not needing any food after my dinner and breakfast buffets.
By this time it was after noon and very warm. Surprisingly, once I was under way the modest
breeze seemed to dissipate the heat and riding was not a problem. I entered the interstate again and climbed
At Hope I stopped at a foodmart for a drink and assessed the day’s ride. I had thought I could make Aguila but obviously had miscalculated as it was at least another 30 miles. Since it was almost 4:00 I reviewed my options. There was an RV Park across the street and another one down the road but it wasn’t near food. A little further was a town but it had no camping.
So I decided to check the RV Park across the street. I expected it was going to be a $20 job and was prepared to ride on but I was pleasantly surprised to find a tent site was only $7.50 and I was sold. Of course, there was no grass in the area so I was stuck with a fine gravel base but I was able to put my tent under an open angular roof to provide relief from the sun.
After cleaning up I walked back across the street and nuked a couple items for dinner. While there I noticed a woman hop in a golf cart and ride back to the RV office, just a simple walk across the road. I guess she couldn’t handle the heat and distance.
Later I joined a group of 5-6 couples around a
campfire. They were gathered for their
hot dog night and I joined their conversation, which was a lot more fun than
sitting in my tent. A lot of the guy
conversations were about finding rattlesnakes in the area and they probably
were hoping to scare me a little so I played along but they had no idea that I
had been around much more dangerous snakes when I cycled in
I packed up and rode across the road to the foodmart for breakfast – cereal, muffin, banana. I left about 8:00 on a route that was uphill most of the way. There was a modest headwind that, with the upgrade, had me struggling to reach 10 mph. I felt somewhat lethargic and wasn’t sure if I was tired or if it was due to the climb. In any event I started considering whether I should make it a short day when I reached Aguila.
I passed through Harcuvar first which had seen better days. It had a couple motels that had been shuttered for some time by their looks. I passed through Salome which did have a couple motels but was not an exciting place either.
After 35 miles I stopped in Aguila for a break with my usual
large drink and burrito. While there an
87 year old man started a conversation as he eyed my bike. He said he had spent a couple years cycling
around the world when he was 65 until he had his bike stolen in
Eventually I decided I wasn’t ready to call it a day even
though the next part of the route to
At the junction of 71 and 93, I stopped under the 93
overpass for some shade and a short break.
Continuing I rode on towards Congress and the
In Congress I was pleasantly surprised to find a foodmart since my Adventure Cycling map claimed no services until Yarnell. I downed an ice cream and a liter of 7up, prime food for a large climb. A couple of locals were surprised to learn I would be climbing up on what was called the 7-mile hill.
Eventually I made the commitment and started rolling on, losing some valuable elevation before the climbing began. I spent most of the climb in my 2nd lowest gear, averaging about 5 mph but dropping down to 4.5 at times. The good news was that there were great views of the vast valley, calling for frequent photos that broke up the climb. The road was split into separate uphill/downhill roads with the uphill road having 2 lanes and a wide shoulder so it was a good route.
Finally, I reached the top and rode into Yarnell, an
unincorporated town with roots in mining and ranching. At the other end of town I found the BBQ
I packed up and backtracked a mile to the only place open for breakfast and had pancakes and scrambled eggs with ham. I got done just in time as a covey of kids arrived and took over 3 tables.
I planned a short day to
Initially riding was easy for about 10 miles on a gradual
descent into the
After reaching the top there was a descent and then the
climb continued as the road hugged the contours of the mountain, making for an
interesting climb with nice scenery.
Eventually the climbing topped out at a little over 6,100 feet and began
the descent to Prescott, a town of 34,000 that once was the territorial capital
In town I stopped at Whisky Row and got some tourism
information. The library was two blocks
away so I spent some time checking email and checking the weather forecast for
I decided not to eat breakfast in
I made good time to
I continued another 10 miles to Paulden and then started climbing but the climbing was fairly easy, helped by some tailwind. The most exciting event was 6 pre-fabricated homes transported as oversized loads. Normally, the loads hung out well into the shoulder and I had to watch carefully that the drivers understood that I owned the shoulder.
I was surprised how easy the route was and I made the 50 miles to Ash Fork just a little after noon. I stopped for my burrito and drink to bulk up for the hardest part of the day – the climb up to Williams on I40. I didn’t think this would be that bad since it was an interstate but I spent considerable time grinding away at 5-6 mph. Then about 5 miles from the turnoff to Williams I noticed my rear tire felt soft. I stopped and pumped it up hoping it was just a slow leak that would hold until the evening. In about 10 minutes I had my answer as my tire was soft again. So I stopped along side a guard rail where I could lean my bike against the guard rail to fix it. I found the small puncture and patched the tube. Then I checked the tire and found a small wire still stuck in the tire. I removed the embedded short piece of thin wire and put everything back together.
In a few miles I exited onto Business 40, part of Old US
66. I stopped at a bike shop in town for
some advice. I had decided it might make
sense to take the train from Williams to the
So I rode to the train depot to check out the train. The ticket agent had to verify that I could take a bike along and that turned out not to be a problem and it wasn’t even an extra charge. So I signed up to leave at 10:00 the next morning and return the next day at 3:30.
With that out of the way, I rode to a Pizza Factory for a reasonable size pizza that I managed easily. Then I stopped at a Safeway for some grocery shopping. Lastly I rode a mile away to the Cataract Lake USFS campground only to discover it was closed for the season. Not sure what else to do with little daylight left I snuck my bike under the simple pole gate, figuring I would plead I got caught unaware too late in the day if necessary.
It was cool when I packed up in the morning, upper 40s, and I rode the mile back to town. I stopped at a place that advertised itself as a pancake place so I had a pancake. In fact, it was all-you-can-eat pancakes but they came one at a time because each pancake was the size of a large circular plate. First, I tried the buckwheat pancake and then I had a buttermilk one for a second pancake. I expected I would be back to this place in another day.
The train didn’t leave until 10:00 but it was suggested I arrive by 9:00 to see about getting my bike on the train. We ended up putting the bike upright on it’s rear wheel in the vestibule of the car behind where I would be sitting. I used my chain lock to hold the bike in it’s place.
At 9:20 there was a Wild West show involving horse thieves and a marshal that was mildly amusing. Then we boarded the train and were off at 10:00 for arrival at 12:15 after a 65 mile ride. The scenery was OK with short evergreen trees that thinned out to desert grass shrub and then back to evergreens at the park. There was also entertainment in the form of a guitar player who played a few songs and told jokes. The best was when the player said he was going to sing a short version of the El Paso song – “Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love, I got shot, and I died” – definitely shorter that the original.
We arrived on time and I retrieved my bike without
difficulty. The difficult part was
finding my way around in the
Reassured, I headed out and stopped at a couple of vantage
points along the way. The views were, of
course, stunning and the lighting modified by some overhead clouds seemed to
change the views continuously. However, I soon started having second
thoughts about riding all the way out to Desert View only to return in the
morning and then try to ride the
I set up my tent and gear and then rode back to the Rim Trail at Mather Point and made my way along the trail to Yavapai Point. All along the way the views were stunning and I wore out my camera. I was just glad I had a digital camera because I couldn’t have afforded film. Finally, visually overwhelmed I made my way back to camp and settled in for the night.
When I got up just after 6:00 it was 37 degrees. I rode the 1 mile roundtrip to the Canyon Café for milk for my usual breakfast. Then I packed a few things in my nylon daypack, tied it to my rear rack and took off around 7:00.
Wearing my sandals without socks as usual and my cycling
gloves, the cold was a little rough on my toes and fingers until I got out in
the sun after about a mile. It was
almost 2 miles to the start of the
Once again the views were fantastic and especially so in the
early morning light. It also helped that most people were not out and
about yet. There were at least 10
observation points and the last few gave views of the
I made it back to my camp around 11:00 and packed up and
left the campground before the 12:00 deadline.
I rode to the Canyon Café and had a bowl of chili that was good if a bit
expensive as expected. Then I spent time
The train arrived just before it’s 5:45 schedule so I had to
hurry to beat darkness. When I got my
bike unloaded I stopped at a foodmart to pick up a sandwich and rode the mile
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2004. All rights reserved.