I phoned home yesterday and talked to my Mom.
You guys still having fun Matt?
Yeah Mom, overall things are good and we're having a good time.
So you're going to keep going then? she asked unable to hide the slight disappointment and ever-present worry in her voice.
You sound like you want me to say no Mom, I responded, reading between the lines of her loving inquisition. What would we do if we quit Mom, come home and live with you and Dad?
Well, honestly that sounds pretty nice to me Matt.
I cannot fault my mothers' concern and there have certainly been a couple days in the past weeks that hanging out in my parent's basement and drinking beers on First Street in Snohomish has sounded pretty appealing. It is nice to know that I have a safety net to fall into, but as we crested the Continental Divide and rolled down into Silver City, New Mexico late yesterday afternoon I felt the momentum of our journey pull us further east.
No, Mom we're going to keep rolling.
On October 4th we pulled out of Flagstaff with a frigid high Arizona wind pushing us south along National Forest Service Road 3. Tall Ponderosa pines towered above scrubby oaks trees turning golden in the cold autumn nights at 7000 feet. The warm sun cast a shimmer off the chain of beautiful lakes lying in the wide open valley of the Coconini National Forest. We spent a chilly and windy night spooning for warmth in our sleeping bag and were slow to the bikes in the freezing morning. A bone-chilling ten mile descent was remedied with two cups of hot chocolate and an hour by the fire of the Happy Jack Lodge, returning feeling to frozen fingers and toes and motivating us back to the road. Travel by bicycle is an amazing experience of the senses, and never is it so true as when loosing elevation. As we descended over 5000 feet on Highway 87 through the towns of Strawberry, Pine and Payson Arizona the robust of flora of the mountains turned to scrubby Junipers as the temperature creeped up 10 degrees with every 1000 feet lost. That night, we camped among the Tall Saguaro Cactus and lay sweating in the sweltering heat of the Sonoran Desert with the lights of the Pheonix metropolis glowing over the Mazatzal Mountains to the south.
An old Snohomish friend greeted us on bike outside of the city the following day and guided us through the concrete jungle of Phoenix to his abode in Chandler. It has been several years since Jon and I have hung out, but we got right back to our old tricks and dispatched with a half-rack of PBR as we wrenched bikes under the hot afternoon sun. Things went from bad to worse that evening and found Jenny, Jon and I at the local drinking establishments adding insult to injury. Nobody died, but my hangover made me shiver at the thought of alcohol a week later. You can take the boys out of Snohomish, but you'll have a hell of a time taking the Snohomish out of the boys.
Twenty-five miles of indistinguishable urban blocks with identical Mormon Temples every quarter of a mile gave me the feeling of being hamster on an exercise wheel as we escaped the urban sprawl of Phoenix and peddled into strong headwinds and dust storms east on the Superstition Highway. Flattened coyotes and aggressive drivers put me on edge and again left me wondering just why I considered bike touring an enjoyable pursuit. I held my temper and my middle finger as a car hugged the small shoulder of a double lane highway and blasted the horn, remembering that Arizona boasts some of the most liberal gun laws in the United States and retains an air of the Wild West in many of the small towns. We arrived at the Oak Creek Campground at dusk and were treated to a night of fine sand being blown into our shelter, a car nearly running over our tent at 2am and heavy rain storms to top it all off. Living the Dream.
The rain ceased in the late morning in we emerged from the tent and sat about drinking coffee and drying gear until past noon. We pedaled east through Miami and Globe, AZ, the copper mining capital of the World. Huge strip mines chopped down mountains scarring the landscape forever, but providing jobs to hungry families and wire to a thirsty global economy dependent upon the transfer of electricity. As the sun moved low in the western sky we raced against the evening into the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. One purpose of this adventure was to take myself outside of the comfort zone that I have come accustomed to in my little bubble of the Pacific Northwest. Nowhere have I felt this stronger than standing outside the Grocery in Peridot, Arizona. Jen had gone into to buy groceries and I stayed behind to watch the bikes. High on the list of the atrocities of my European ancestors is the treatment of the Native people of this land and the cutting stares of indifference from the dark Apache eyes made me conscious of my whiteness like never before in my life. As I stood and did my best to be invisible, a young man approached me.
Not to be racist, but we don't see to many white folks around here. Where you from?
I felt relieved to have been spoken to and I explained our story of travel from Seattle. A friendly conversation ensued and before we departed, Curtis went to his car and retrieved a gift of Peridot, a precious and beautiful opaque greenstone found only in a few places in the world and mined by the Apache people on their ancestral homeland. I felt honored and humbled and exchanged a quartzite crystal gifted to me by my friend Cliff as we shook hands and wished each other well. With darkness approaching, Jen and I rolled south on Indian Highway 3 into the heart of the Apache Reservation and pulled out into a dry wash hidden from the road. No sooner than had I set up the tent did the pack of mangy feral dogs come sniffing up the wash behind us. I quickly located my canister of pepper spray and stood my ground as the pack stopped at 25 feet, confused by the unfamiliar scent of rank cyclists. A tense 5 minutes of posturing and mutual marking of respective territory with urine brought the conflict to a peaceful resolution and we retreated to the tent as the temperatures dropped below freezing. Despite the remoteness of our campsite, Jen and I were awoken in the early hours of the am by the sounds of screaming voices, blaring music and breaking glass. Not 100 yards from our tent, the local youth had decided to set up their evening festivities and we lay wide awake for hours praying to avoid an encounter with a group of drunk and feisty teenagers.
An orange sun on the horizon signaled a thankful deliverance from a sleepless night and morning dawned with a thin veneer of ice on all of our gear. Options for forward progress presented themselves; return to the Highway 70 or take the scenic route through the Reservation over Coolidge Dam and up the Gila River. I left the choice to Jenny and we we soon found ourselves speeding downhill 12 miles and over the 200,000 crumbling concrete structure dedicated by the 30th President of our county in 1930. Unbeknownst to us, the 25 miles of Indian Highway 3 on the east side of the dam were is in such a case of disrepair we would find it better to ride the intruding desert rock and sand that is slowly replacing baked, cracked and failing asphalt. Despite the rough ride that punished our bums and left our hands bruised and sore, the ride through the remote desert was an experience that I will not soon forget.
Small town Arizona passed quickly in a tailwind as Jen and I headed east up the Gila River Valley through vast fields of blooming cotton between the towering Gila and Santa Theresa Mountains. The roads were painted red with crushed locust, who for some reason congregate on the asphalt to mate and feed on their fallen brothers. I am sure that passing motorists were quite entertained seeing me on my hands and knees photographing these strange insects of biblical legend.
Three Way Arizona arrived and was just what it sounds like. A lonely convergence of three highways in the middle of the desolate desert. A family pulled up in a huge Dodge Ram kicking a cloud of dust over Jen and I as we devoured ice cream bars in the shade of the crumbling stucco building. Boys and girls alike dressed in Wrangler's, T-shirt's and camouflaged baseball caps with varying firearm logos piled out of the truck. The the patriarch inquired just how in the hell we got to where we were and shook his head in disbelief when we told him where we were going. Jen and I have gotten into the habit of responding with a cheerful and enthusiastic thank you! when folks wish us a sardonic good luck with that!
Up we climbed again, 3000 feet into the Big Lue mountains with expansive views of the arid southwest Arizona desert falling away to the west. We crested the 6,300 foot pass and were immediately transplanted into a different world back among tall pine trees, bushy juniper and cool mountain air. We slept soundly on the New Mexico border in an empty Forest Service campground. Signs on the bathroom door indicating that the 'facility is closed' and overflowing garbage cans reminded us that our nation is run by spoiled and bickering children dressed up as adults. I digress.
We descended into the 'Land of Enchantment' and were greeted by breathtaking views of the rolling grasslands of the New Mexico Desert and the high mountains of the Continental Divide beyond. New Mexico felt friendlier than Arizona as drivers gave us a wide berth and ranchers in massive trucks waved and gave friendly nods from under their huge cowboy hats.
Yesterday was Jenny's 38th birthday and she was HIGHLY motivated to take a long hot shower and sleep on a bed that doesn't inflate, with her head resting on pillows instead of her puffy coat. The booming metropolis of Silver City was over 60 miles and another 2500 foot climb east, but home to the finest lodging establishments for hundreds of miles. Into a strong headwind I struggled to keep up with Jenny most of the day and was reminded of how lucky I am to be married to a woman whose most decadent birthday wish is to spend just one night at the Holiday Inn!
Our tight budget dictates that I am sitting at the Silver City RV park typing at the picnic table for our second night spent at this great little town in the mountains. After a much needed rest day, Jen and I will head east again tomorrow and make our last climb over 8000 feet in the United States before turning south and heading for Texas. My mustache is filling in nicely and my cowboy shirt is pressed and clean, I just hope the folks of the great Lone Star State will take kindly to my sandals and socks! I guess there is only one way to find out.