Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mesa to Superior, AZ

sign in vacant downtown window

our camp spot in Superior

This one was actually from several days ago, a sunset in Scottsdale

Picketpost mountain, Tonto National Forest

Me, lookin pretty dorky, but look at that beautiful desert

Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert, and the rumble strip bike lane

Look at all of that cholla!

Mesa to Superior AZ
Day 57
37 miles

We spent our last night in Mesa with Greg's grandparents. In the morning we finished packing up and ate a hearty breakfast of coffee cake, fruit, and cheesy eggs and veggies made by Greg's mom, Sherry. We said our goodbyes and started out again after a solid 20 day break. Wow, I can't believe we were off the bikes for so long. I hope we haven't lost our trusty blog readers. We decided to take it fairly easy today because we had been off the bikes for so long. We rode through a beautiful setting of Sonoran desert the entire day. There were countless saguaro, cholla, ocotillo, palo verde, mesquite, prickly pear, barrel cactus and many more. The riding was mostly a gradual uphill with one steep hill and some choppy pavement. We cursed the Arizona state department of transportation for making the bike lane simultaneously also the rumble strip! We endured a persistent headwind for the entire day with some bigger gusts, making the ride a challenge.

It was nice to get into Superior at around 3PM, long before the New Years partying began. We set up camp and then took a nice walk through the town. Superior is quite obviously a copper mining town. We could tell from a few miles away from the smelter stack, which reminded us of Anaconda, Montana. On our walk through town we could tell that Superior had already seen its day and was in serious decline. Many homes and stores were vacant and boarded up. We saw a sign on the window of a vacant building stating “the environment needs copper” and “our future is in your hands.”

We are staying at an RV park for $5, and they have free wireless!

To celebrate New Year's Eve we ate dinner in town at a local hotspot, tamales and a chimichanga, followed by some margaritas, mmmm. This is probably one of the most unique locations and circumstances either of us has found ourselves in. As Greg put it earlier today “I've never celebrated New Year's while on a bike trip.” Happy New Years everyone!


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The End of Our Holiday Break

The Oyler's "House on the Land" during a rare foggy snowstorm

Shy enjoying the snow despite her old age

The young orchard at the Oyler's land surviving (hopefully) the winter

Frost on the gate in the Southern Black Hills

A view through the gate with the first 40 acres in the background

Saguaro row in Greg's grandparent's retirement park

Dani's Mom and Dad before the big Christmas dinner, the best!

Dani's Mom, Diane, in front of the Capitol building, we were out for a stroll

The fruits of my (Dani's) labour; peanut butter kiss cookies

A view from our front door the night of the snowstorm

Dani's parents (Paul and Diane) go for a ski to the grocery store; Arlington, VA


Christmas Blog

We have reached the end of our Christmas break. Dani went back to D.C. And I went home to South Dakota. We have been in Mesa for the past few days hanging out with family and waiting for the weather to clear up a bit before we head out on the road. As you probably know, this winter has already been an extraordinary one in terms of weather. Below freezing temperatures and snow have reached much further South than is typical. Phoenix has been one of the only places in the country that has been almost unaffected by this freak cold snap and blizzard, but the surrounding areas down here in Arizona and New Mexico have. Hopefully when we leave here tomorrow, the roads will be cleared off and we can get to the other side of the continental divide without too many snow, ice, or cold problems.

Christmas break was a good break for me, it allowed me some time to see family, go back home for the first time in almost a year, and get some needed rest. My muscles are feeling ready to go, and my saddle sores have nearly completely disappeared. I got to go ice fishing with my dad and see the progress of our orchard. Dani and I miss being around dogs, so it was also good to spend some time with Shy, Zeus, and Callie.

My mom was able to come down to Mesa and see us off as we start riding again on the second half of our trip. We have gone 2,241 miles so far, and we have somewhere between 2,600 and 3,000 to go. We have done all of the maintenance needed on the bikes to keep them running smooth, hopefully until the end of the trip. Dani got a new front wheel, two new fat Schwalbe tires (these things are awesome), a new chain, and new front brake pads. On my bike I finally replaced my front tire that I started with, put on a new chain, and replaced my handlebar tape. I also set up my new Ortlieb panniers that Dani got me for Christmas so that they are adjusted for my front rack and ready to carry our food. Amazingly, after 2,241 miles, our chains were not overly worn. We replaced them to keep our drive-trains in good working order. I attribute their longevity to routine maintenance and cleaning at least a few times per week. Our new tires should profoundly reduce the number of flats we have from here on. Overall I am impressed at how reliable bicycles can be as a form of long distance, heavily loaded transportation.

We are both very excited to get on the road again. If the weather holds, we should be in Texas in less than two weeks. Neither of us has ever been to Texas, so it will be a new experience for sure. Texas leads us into the deep South in Louisiana, then Mississippi, Alabama, and then across the widest part of Florida to the East coast and the Atlantic Ocean. From here on, the whole trip will be through country that is new to us both. Let the adventure continue. Please keep enjoying the blog and feel free to leave us messages as much you like. Hearing from everyone out there really helps motivate us to keep biking and to keep writing this blog.


As Greg wrote, I went home to DC for Christmas. I was thrilled to just relax and spend time with my parents. We did some Christmas shopping, but mostly we stayed home and baked cookies, or spent many hours making wonderful dinners. We felt the intense winter storm in Arlington during my time at their home. On the Friday before Christmas,shortly after leaving a performance of “The Nutcracker Ballet” it began to snow, heavily. In the next 24 hours, practically all of Saturday, it snowed. When I say snow, I mean really snowed. We ended up with 20.5 inches at my parents' house, with some surrounding areas getting as much as 24 inches! We had an awesome time on Saturday. We skied from the house to the grocery store (about a mile) to get ingredients for dinner. It was coming down so hard that when you went to shovel the walk, there was about a quarter inch of snow accumulated when you came back to the porch. My brother Marc came home on the day before Christmas, and I was happy I could spend some time with him. As Greg said, I got two amazing new tires (Schwalbe Marathons) and I am very excited to try them out. Hopefully I will no longer be the one who always gets flats. Now maybe neither of us will have to deal with that problem much any more. Another adjustment to our gear list is the switch to bike shorts. After trying the Andiamo padded underwear for all that time, I realize that real biking shorts are the way to go. Greg has a pair, and I now have two. We plan on finding one more pair for Greg. I also have a new raincoat, yay! My former raincoat has seen its day, being re-waterproofed several times, having mouse chew holes in the fabric, patched with duct tape, and then going through the torrential rains of Oregon, it was time.

The day I flew out of DC we went to an exhibit at National Geographic called “Terra Cotta Warriors.” The first emperor of China had a whole army of clay created to guard him tomb. An estimated 7,000 warriors were made, of which they have only actually uncovered 1,000. I got to see about 15 of the figures at this exhibit. It was quite amazing to see all of the intricacies of these figures, especially considering how many were created.

I had a great time resting and relaxing at home, and I am ready to get back on the road, my legs are itching! I can't wait to see all of the new country ahead of us. I saw a clip of El Paso on the weather station yesterday, and there was snow on the ground. I hope the weather clears up for us. If there's one thing I can be certain of, there will be lots of interesting and fun adventures ahead. Stay tuned...


Friday, December 11, 2009

Peoria to Mesa, AZ

The view riding into Mesa, that is Superstition mountain in the background.

The end of Section 1 of the Southern Tier. This is precisely the intersection where it ends across the street is the ASU campus.

There is the ASU campus

Greg at the intersection of section 1 and section 2 of the Southern Tier.
Peoria to Mesa, AZ
Day 56 50 miles

When we woke up this morning, we started realizing that we were just a day away from riding to Mesa, AZ. This has always been our stopping point for flying home for Christmas and seeing family, so naturally, it has been a big goal. We rode from our hotel and started across the many cities that make up the greater Phoenix area.

We hadn't even gone 4 miles when Dani got a flat tire. Oh great we both thought, here we go again. We stopped and pulled her tire off and found two large thorns sticking through. We patched the holes in the tube and double checked the tire for more thorns. We put the tire back on the rim and pumped it full. By the time we packed up the patch kit, the tire was flat again!. I was starting to get frustrated. I pulled the tire back off again and found another hole, but we could not find anything that would have caused it. We put the tire back on a rode off. Within 10 miles, Dani's front tire was flat, again. We pulled the tire off again and found that there was, of course, another hole in the tube. We started to doubt whether or not we would be able to make it Mesa today. We carefully checked the tire, and then the rim. We found that the rim is bent in right by the bead of the tire, something we never noticed before. I think this is from Dani's crash when she hit the rock at speed. It slightly bent the rim and now it is bent in enough that I think it is wearing holes through the tube. We tried putting a patch on the inside of the tire to reinforce and cushion the spot where the rim is bent. The carefully replaced the tire and continued on.

The route through Phoenix was actually pretty low key. Most of the roads were easy to ride with very little traffic and nice bike lanes. The size of this metropolitan area though, is amazingly huge. From one side of the Phoenix area to the other is probably 70-80 miles. We reached the end of the first Southern tier section at the Arizona State University Campus in Tempe. From there we headed further East to Mesa. Dani's tire continued to lose air slowly, so about every 10-30 minutes we had to stop and pump it back up again. Unfortunately I think we are going to have to replace her front wheel because the bend in the rim is probably not fixable. We kept pedaling along, and despite all of our setbacks we made it to my grandparent's place in Mesa, AZ. The were thrilled to see us and brought us inside to sit down and chat. After we got all introduced and chatted, we went out and had a good supper. We will be staying here for a few days before we fly home for Christmas, so we might post another blog or two while we are here, but just so you all know, we are safe in Mesa. We are going to end our day count for our trip while we are here because we are considering this somewhat of a hiatus.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Middle 'o' nowhere to Peoria, AZ

A huge plate of food at the Horseshoe Cafe in Wickenburg, AZ

Middle 'o' nowhere to Peoria, AZ
Day 55 55 miles

How cold is cold? More importantly, how cold is cold when you are on a bike trip in Arizona? Albeit during the winter, but still, this is the desert and we are almost as far South as we can get without being in Mexico. Last night it was cold. Like we said, our tent was covered with frost when we went to sleep, but the lack of cloud cover and our higher elevation led to some seriously cold temperatures for how well we are equipped. This morning our tent was not just covered in frost, it was layered in frost inside and out. Luckily we stayed warm enough in our sleeping bags, especially Dani with her -5 degree bag. As soon as the blazing desert sun hit our tent though, the frost instantly turned into dripping and running water. It felt like it was raining inside of our tent. Then a few minutes later some high level clouds developed and took away the sun. We were left with all of our gear dripping wet and no way to dry it out. Dani was feeling pretty congested and I felt horrible that all of our stuff was wet and it was still cold out. Rather than sit around and try to dry something out or make breakfast in the cold, we decided to ride the 16 miles into Wickenburg and look for a good place to have a hot breakfast.

A few miles after we left camp we finally reached the top of the divide we had been climbing up for two days. We then got to take advantage of a slight downhill for the rest of the way to Wickenburg. By the time we arrived in Wickenburg it was a bit after 11:00 am. We knew if we wanted a hot breakfast, we would have to find one of those cafes you find in downtown areas that serve breakfast all day. We rode into the downtown area and found the Horseshoe Cafe. We knew this place was a good bet because they had homemade buttermilk pancakes, biscuits, and gravy advertised on a sign outside.

The instant we entered the cafe we knew it was just what we were looking for. We have learned that the best cafes are always full of retired aged people, and this place fit the bill. A full order of biscuits and gravy, my favorite, was under $7. Dani and I were both going to order a full order, but the waitress, warned Dani that it was a huge portion. She told us it was served on the biggest platter they had at the restaurant. Dani decided to go for a half order, but I got a full order. I was amazed at the pile of food that was delivered to our table. Two huge biscuits cut in half and smothered with enough gravy to fill a small watering trough. This was just the breakfast we were looking for. Bottomless cups of coffee and an extremely hearty meal that was delicious. By the time we left, we were so full of carbs and cholesterol that I knew we wouldn't be eating again until much later.

The good warm food helped Dani feel much better, so we were able to cruise down all of the way to the first cities on the outskirts of Phoenix. We were planning on camping, but with all of our gear still soaked and Dani not feeling well, I felt she might benefit from a nice hot shower and a warm place to sleep. We found a cheap hotel to stay at in Peoria, AZ just on the West side of Phoenix. We got to the hotel early enough that Dani was able to rest for awhile while I dried out our gear and went and got us some supper. Tomorrow we are hoping on reaching my grandparents in Mesa, AZ on the other side of Phoenix.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Middle 'o' nowhere

The Ingredients Cafe in Wenden, AZ

Slightly uphill, but straight stretch of highway. The scenery didn't seem to change all day

A view of the surrounding mountains and desert around Hope, AZ

Our campsite in the middle 'o' nowhere
Does this give you an idea of what a straight stretch of highway looks like? It was like this for 50 miles.

Dani standing next to a huge saguaro cactus
before Hope to between Aguila and Wickenburg, AZ
Day 54 55 Miles

This morning we woke up at Three Dreamers RV Park to a cold and damp morning. Our tent was covered with dew as though we back along the coast. We couldn't pack it away in that condition so we made up some beans, eggs, and cheese for breakfast. We usually don't like to spend the time cooking in the morning, but when the opportunity presents itself, a warm breakfast is a nice luxury. After breakfast I started mending Dani's tire which had gone completely flat overnight. Oddly enough, since I have put the new tire on my bike I haven't gotten one flat. Now Dani is getting many more flats than before, and has even gotten more than me.

The flat was on her rear tire. As I started pulling the tire off of the rim a bunch of folks that live in the RV park during the winter started entering the building which I was sitting at. Apparently, every Wednesday morning they have a community get together where everybody brings a snack, drinks some coffee, and chews the fat. We were repeatedly invited to this event, so after I pulled the staple from Dani's tire and patched the tube, I joined her inside. The community not only welcomed us, but they found us to be pretty interesting. We had a minimum of a 30 year age difference, but it didn't matter. We had a great time hanging out and eating snacks and drinking coffee with our new friends. By the time we went back outside, the sun was getting high, and most of our gear was dried out. We started packing up and got ready to head out for the day.

The people at the RV park told us that we would have a whole day of uphill. They weren't kidding. The whole entire day we never broke 15 mph. There was not one downhill section. Luckily the hill was very gradual though, so it wasn't too difficult to maintain a decent pace. We were trying to make 70 miles today, but it just wasn't possible. The heavy condensation on our tent gave us a late start, but more importantly, Dani came down with a cold. She was very congested and had a sore throat, so riding all day was much harder for her than usual.

We were both feeling hungry when we reached the tiny little town of Wenden, AZ, but just as we were riding past the last buildings in town we realized one of them looked very familiar. It was Ingredients, the same cafe Courtney, my sister, had told us about and had gone to when she rode this same section of highway a year ago. We had to stop in, so we went inside and had a really great vegetable melt sandwich for lunch.

We rode on and started realizing that there was no way we were going to make our destination for the day. We had little to no groceries, and there was only one more small town that we would ride through. We hoped that they, unlike all of the other little towns, would have a grocery store. When we rode into Aguila, pop. 600, we saw a store and thought we might be in luck. I went inside, but the shelves were almost completely barren. Under the glass counter at the cash register, the shopkeeper proudly displayed his clothing section. This amounted to what looked like second hand clothes crumpled into a pile and consisted mostly of plus size women's blouses and bras that looked like they might double as either wind socks or water balloon launchers. The food selection was meager at best. The refrigerated section had only one of each item available. The rest of the shelves had assorted snack foods like candy and chips and some meal in a box type meals. Not exactly what I was looking for. The shopkeeper was watching me walk around in circles looking for something I might want to eat, but I walked out and told Dani, "lets keep going."

I didn't expect to find another store in town, but to my amazement there was. This store was a grocery store, a hardware store, and a car repair shop all in one. Perfect. There was an old speaker outside hooked up to a radio blaring some typical mariachi type Mexican fiesta music. It was pretty obvious to us at this point that most of the people in Aguila were Latino. I went inside hoping for something better at this store. I opened the door and found a pile of lumber scraps, boxes of nuts and bolts, and pieces of PVC pipe scraps. I was going to turn around and walk out, but the lady behind the desk gave me a look like want do you want? I said "groceries?" She shook her head. Then I said "food?" "La comida?" she replied. I said, "si la comida." (comida meaning food in Spanish) She pointed me around the corner. I found shelves that were better stocked, but only containing chips, crackers, and soda. I grabbed some Ritz crackers and walked back to the counter. The cashier started to speak to me again in Spanish and then realized I wasn't understanding. In her broken English I understood she was asking paper, or plastic? I shook my head and said, "no thank you." She asked me in Spanish if I wanted a soda, and I said no again. I gave her my money which she counted back to me in Spanish and I left the store. Crazy I thought. I told Dani about being in the store. I realized how ignorant I am living up in the North. I never thought I could go anywhere in the States and not be able to communicate with anyone in a whole town. It was new for me.

We left Aguila and had an hour of sunlight but 26 miles until Wickenburg, the next town. Dani started feeling really rotten from her cold, and I started wondering what we would do for the night. There were no campgrounds or services of any sort until Wickenburg. We were just out in the middle of the desert. I made the call that rather than trying to push through to Wickenburg and ride in the dark, we would set up camp in the desert. We found a suitable place just off the road and pitched the tent. By the time we got some supper made and I made some hot chocolate to warm up Dani, the sun was down and it was getting cold. We got in the tent around 7 pm and we noticed that the rain fly was already completely coated in frost. The temperature would have felt much worse if there had been wind, but the night air was very still. The stars were beautiful and the night was silent except for some distant coyotes. It was going to be a very cold night since we were a few thousand feet above the valley bottoms, but at least it was quiet.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Blythe, Ca to Hope, AZ

It speaks for itself

Blythe, CA to near Hope, AZ
Day 53
45 miles

Thank goodness for our cozy KOA recreation room to hang out in and get warm and dry this morning. Surprisingly, our tent fly was actually dry this morning because the wind had blown it so much last night. We ate breakfast and packed up slow this morning, leaving Blythe at 11AM. Well, actually 12PM because the time changes back to mountain time in Arizona. Almost as soon as we crossed into Arizona today we saw saguaro cactus scattered all over. This truly is a beautiful desert, ringed by jagged and dry mountains. We rode much of the day on the interstate, which has its ups and downs. On the upside, the shoulders are about eight feet wide no matter where you are. On the downside, trucks are zooming past you at 70mph and there is often a moderate amount of road debris on the shoulders, mostly broken glass and shredded pieces of tire tread.

The riding was quite nice with long but very gradual uphill sections and long gradual downhill sections. Being in southern Arizona in December has really given us a good idea of the number of people who come down here to winter in the nice weather. The communities made up of trailers and RVs have by far outnumbered any communities with permanent dwellings here. It is clearly snowbird season in Arizona. Many people have asked us how we weathered the storm last night, and proceeded to tell us how much it shook their trailer or blew their things around. It occurred to me that if this storm had happened somewhere where people lives in permanent homes, no one would have noticed the storm or asked us how we handled it, but because everyone here lives in RVs, the storm clearly affected them. In Quartzite locals said they had a tornado just outside of town and winds gusted up to 70mph here. Wow! I'm glad we were at the campground we were at instead of camping out in the desert with no shelter from the winds.

When we got to the town of Brenda, which is a community of RVers, we stopped at a cafe and had pizza. We didn't make it much further than Brenda and decided to pull in to the Three Dreamers RV Park and ask if they allowed tent camping. Thankfully they said they did. The camp host informed us that we were lucky we stopped here because most parks do not offer tent camping. We had planned on riding further, but I'm glad we stopped. The temperature began to drop very rapidly as soon as the sun fell behind the horizon, which prompted our stop here. It only got up to about 55 degrees today in the sun, and it is expected to freeze tonight. In fact it is probably below freezing already right now at 7:00pm I'm glad we have good warm sleeping bags.


Monday, December 7, 2009

A Rest Day in Good Ol' Blythe California

Blythe CA Rest Day
(10 miles)
Day 52

We woke up this morning at 6:30AM to rain. Just a light sprinkling, but sure enough, it was raining. The report had predicted it would start around noon. While watching the news we learned that there were big storms happening across the country, snow and rain. Our rain seemed like the kind that was not going to stop any time soon so we went to the KOA recreation room and warmed up and ate our breakfast. Around 10:30 we decided that we would stay for another night at the KOA because there would be no sense in riding in the rain all day when we were already making great time in getting to Mesa and we were at a nice place to weather the storm. The forecast said this storm would bring one inch of rain, which is a lot for this area to get at one time.

After a morning hanging out and watching the news we rode our bikes 5 miles back into town (Blythe) and get internet and groceries. It continued steadily drizzling all day long and we rode back to the KOA around 5PM. We parked under a nice dry awning with picnic tables where we could make our dinner (huevos rancheros) out of the rain. Just about the time we were finishing supper the rain really started coming down. The winds started picking up and just driving the rain down in sheets. We went in the building and waiting for it to subside before we went back to the tent for the night. Greg was brave and ventured out into the downpour to check on our tent and gear. When he got back he was completely soaked from head to toe. I am lucky I have such a loving boyfriend who would brave a storm like that so I wouldn't have to. When the rain had finally died down we ventured out to find huge puddles everywhere and feared that our tent would be flooded. We also worried that the horizontal rain had blown up into the tent and gotten everything wet. Luckily when we got there we found we had put our tent on one of the only high and dry spots in the tent area, whew! Unfortunately Greg's sleeping pad and some clothes got a nice misting of rainwater on them, but luckily we could dry them fairly easily.

Greg seems to be able to sleep through many things, like raccoons fighting, or other strange noises outside of the tent, probably because he knows that it is nothing to worry about. Tonight he slept through the loudest gusts of wind I have ever experienced while camping. I was not afraid of the wind blowing around us, mostly just afraid of the possibility of branches blowing and breaking from the trees around us. I was actually sitting up in the tent, watching the wind strain the tent poles and sometimes bracing the tent with my arm. Finally, I also fell asleep but boy, what a storm!


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Algodones Dunes to Blythe, CA

A cotton picking tractor in a cotton field. Below those mountains in the distance is the Colorado River.

Once the hopper on the tractor is filled with cotton it empties it into the machine in the background. That machine is like a huge trash compactor. It smashes the cotton into huge rectangle shaped bales.

Real sand dunes

Dani is following the first rule of sand dune safety, always stay hydrated.

You can see that we trudged deep into the wilderness for our campsite.

This is looking the opposite direction from the wilderness sign. That is a irrigation canal.

A good view of the dunes

This is part of the off road area, those lines in the back are vehicle tracks in the dunes

Checking out the dunes

Wilderness campsite with unruly hair do: free, Cup of coffee: some work to boil water, but pretty cheap, Mexican pastry: too expensive for the quality, The combined experience: priceless

Algodones Dunes to Blythe, CA
Day 51 75 miles

We woke up in our wilderness area in the dunes and enjoyed a nice sunrise. We were up and active before most of our motorized vehicle riding compadres, so we were able to enjoy some silence with our breakfast. Once the sun got a bit higher, the RV doors started opening, and the sound of motors starting surrounded us. We were ready to get on our way and leave this very strange, but oddly beautiful place. We ate some jelly rolled Mexican pastry for breakfast that we bought from the market yesterday. It wasn't particularly good but we had to eat it all. The name was so long that we just started referring to the slices as "Mexicans" It sounded pretty hilarious to a couple of road weary bicyclists when Dani said, "Greggy finish eating your Mexicans."

We loaded up the bikes and headed out. Yesterday we were below sea level, so from here it was a steady but gentle climb to about 1,000 feet through sand dunes and the Chocolate mountains (named for their dark brown color). About 15 miles into the day we reached the top of the divide and took a short break. The wind was picking up, but it was from our back. When we took off again, we realized that with a very slight down hill matched with a tail wind we could easily ride at 20 miles per hour. The riding here was super fun! Not only were we riding at 20-25 miles per hour with normal effort, but there were nice rolling hills that we would power up, and then coast at even higher speeds, up to 30 mph, down the other side. The hills also broke up the long straight-aways into more interesting terrain. We were planning on stopping for the day at Palo Verde, about 50 miles from our starting point, but we reached that town at a little after 1:00 pm. Not only was it early, but this town was not much to look at and we couldn't even find any food.

We decided to ride on without having much of a plan. We figured we would figure it out as we rode. After Palo Verde, the riding was no longer down hill, just flat. The tail wind was still a bit help, but instead of coming from directly behind us, it was just quartering at our backs. Still, much more preferable than a head wind. We quickly realized that we could keep riding for a good while. Blythe, the next town, was twenty miles away. We rode some nice low traffic roads through agricultural fields. Oddly, many of the fields in this area were being harvested, and the crop was cotton. We rode into Blythe on nice deserted agricultural roads. We reached the middle of town by not much after 3:00pm. We stopped for groceries, but realized there were no campgrounds in Blythe, only hotels. We really didn't want to stay at another hotel, so we found a KOA on the California/Arizona border, right on the Colorado river, only 5 miles away. We decided after such a long day in the saddle we would find a good place to eat a late lunch. We stopped at a decent looking Chinese place and found that the meals were less than $7. We ordered up and got big sized portions. Almost as soon as we finished eating my stomach started to hurt. I asked Dani if she noticed anything on the menu about MSG, and she said that they disclosed that they did use it. I wish I would have known. By the time we reached the campground, I had bad stomach cramps. They dissipated and we went to get in the campground's Jacuzzi and relax. My stomach cramps went away, but I still did not feel right for the rest of the night. Despite the MSG, we both thoroughly enjoyed the Jacuzzi and nice warm showers at the campground, if you can really call that camping. It is supposed to rain tomorrow (for the first time in six months) so we will see what happens.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

El Centro to Algodones Dunes

So this is what is looks like below sea level

An irrigation canal below sea level in the Imperial valley. Interesting to think that this water would have to run uphill to get to the ocean.

El Centro to North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area
Day 50 40 miles

Today we left the hotel somewhat late. We always have these grandiose plans leaving early in the morning. With a roof over our heads, a warm shower, and a clean bed, it seems logical, but it usually does not pan out. This morning we slept in. Then we decided to eat some breakfast and write on the blog. By the time we checked out our bikes and got ready to go it was 11:30.

We filled up both of our one gallon bladder bags with water today. We are going through a 70 mile stretch of desert with no water or any services at all for that matter. We had a hard time figuring out the perfect way to anchor the bladders to the trailer, but we eventually figured out a suitable way. We rode out of El Centro toward the town of Brawley. We planned on stopping for groceries in Brawley, but when we got there, we were surprised we could only find was a little Mexican market in a town over 10,000. We found enough groceries, but the selection was meager.

We rode East out of Brawley and rode down below sea level through a valley full of agriculture. This is part of the Imperial valley, a valley that is supposedly the most bountiful agricultural area in North America. Riding through this area, however, it didn't look like much. The land is just valley bottom desert that is laced with irrigation canals. The soil looks like little more than sand as this is a real desert. this area only gets 2 inches of rain per year. The water in the canals is from wells all around the valley. The ground water has been drawn down so much that in some places the ground itself has actually subsided around 30 feet! Crazy. We reached the lowest point either of us have ever been, around 120 feet below sea level. Then we began to climb back up and suddenly the agriculture field disappeared and we came out into open desert and the beginnings of sand dunes. This higher land out of the valley isn't too desirable so it is owned by the BLM.

We rode into an area that is dominated by sand dunes, it is called Imperial Dunes. There is an off highway vehicle area here called Glamis that is famous for off-roading with ATVs, dirt bikes, and dune buggies. On peak days there are up to 130,000 people here with their OHVs. Luckily there were not nearly this many people around when we got to this area. We saw on our map that there is a campground here on the BLM land, so we stopped at the ranger station along the highway and asked about where we should camp. The reaction of the rangers was priceless. There we were, two bicyclists at the biggest off road motor sport place in the country asking for a campsite. The ranger said, "You want to camp here?" It was getting late so we said we were just looking for a safe place to put up our tent where we wouldn't get run over. Paradoxically, the North side of the highway is a wilderness area, so the ranger said we should just set up our camp on the other side of the highway.

We took his advice, but what a weird place. We could hear the scream of engines all around on the South side of the highway until a bit after dark. We saw everything from tiny kid sized dirt bikes to dune buggies with four seats and huge V8 motors. No one was in a tent but us. Everyone else either pulled big fancy camper trailers or drove bus sized RVs to the dunes. We couldn't imagine what all of the other people must have thought when they saw us. Never the less, we set up our tent on just the other side of the wilderness boundary, and locked our bikes on the just the outside of the wilderness boundary (bike are not allowed in wilderness). We flipped the BOB trailer upside down and used the bottom of it as a little table to cook our supper of burritos. A few people partied until about 10:30pm, but the whole place quieted down after that and we actually slept pretty well.


Boulder Oaks to El Centro, CA. My First Miserable Day

Nasty broken pavement for twenty miles

The view on our long downhill

The infamous "wall" along the Mexico border. Notice how it just ends on the mountain. I am sure that immigrants willing to risk their lives to come to America look at that and think "there is no way I am going to climb up that hill to reach the land of milk and honey."

The last pass on the big hill

Greg playing a warm up game in the morning at the campground.

The desert

Some really odd barrel cactus

Steep hill but nice shoulder on Interstate 8

Boulder Oaks Campground to El Centro, CA
Day 49 70 miles

This morning we woke after a long nights sleep to cold and wind. The better part of the night was windy, so windy that it covered our tent with dust. The noise of the tent rattling woke us up periodically, but we still got plenty of rest. When we got out of the tent we realized it was COLD. Really cold compared to the warmer air by the ocean. It was probably around freezing. Welcome to the desert. We huddled in the tent until the sun came up enough to eat breakfast in some sunshine. After we ate, we packed up quickly because we didn't have to wait for things to dry thanks to the desert air.

Even though the sun was out and not a cloud was in the sky, the air was still very cold, and the wind was howling. We pedaled out of the campground straight into the ferocious wind. It was blowing 15-20 mph straight into our faces. We both hoped the wind would go down soon. We immediately began climbing toward the town of Live Oak Springs. When we were not in protected places the wind beat down upon us. It easily gusted up to 35 mph at times. Then without warning it would switch and blow from the side making our loaded bikes hard to handle.

We finally reached Live Oak Springs and I (Greg) was freezing because of the cold air and wind. Dani dressed warmer but I was only wearing a t-shirt and shorts. We had to stop so I could put on pants and a long sleeve. We continued on into the hellacious wind which rarely gave us reprieve. Even downhill sections were hard because as we picked up speed, any shift in the wind would throw our bikes around making us slow way down to regain full control . We usually average 13-15 on flat ground, but today we were lucky to ride at 8 mph. To top it all off, my knee was beginning to hurt worse and worse. I started the day by compensating as much as I could with my healthy right leg , but after about 20 miles of trying to power the huge load up hill and into the wind, my right leg was too tired. I then started using my left leg and my knee got progressively worse. We were riding so slowly that in three hours of riding we had gone less than 20 miles.

We finally reached the last summit on this hill and were rewarded with a 12 mile downhill. The wind did die down enough for us to relax some and enjoy coasting down this huge pass. When we reached the bottom we turned onto state route 80. The wind had died down substantially here at the bottom and the temperature was much nicer. The pavement, however, on this road was horrible. By far the worst we have ridden on so far. Many gravel roads are in much better condition than this piece of pavement. To give you an idea, the road was littered with potholes, some of them 4-6 inches deep. Then, every 20 feet there was a crack that ran from shoulder to shoulder that had a couple inch high lip on it. I was afraid one of us would surely break a spoke. We didn't, but our bodies took a huge pounding. Our arms and wrists were worn from just keeping a hold on the bars, and our butts were sore from the constant jarring. If nothing else, the condition of this road prevented us from making good time.

We rode really hard, and for the last ten to twenty miles my knee was giving me some pretty intense pain. When we reached El Centro, the sun was getting low, and we knew the campground was still 6 miles away. We talked about getting a hotel, and figured if we could find a room for less than $50 we would do it. We found a room for $40 and treated ourselves to a nice relaxing night and a warm shower after a really hard, really sweaty day. Today was the first day where I realized that for a portion of the day I wasn't enjoying myself. I thought about that for a second, one day out of fifty I didn't have fun. You have got have a few of those days in there every now and then, because it made me realize how much I am really enjoying this trip.


PS we will probably not be able to blog often until we reach Phoenix. There are very few towns between here and there, and the ones that there are probably are too small for internet. We will try, but don't worry if you don't see a new post for 4-7 days.