Friday, December 7, 2007

The Tao of Cycling

This bit of esoteric rambling was inspired by Justin in Buffalo, New York, United States, planet Earth, Milky Way Galaxy, a fellow seeker, dreamer, a man in love with adventure of the body, mind, and spirit. Ride well, brother!

These are some of my thoughts on the metaphysical aspects of cycling as they pertain to some of the ideas, symbols and metaphors of Taoism and its close relative, Buddhism. I find great pleasure in contemplating how worlds intersect, how we have so much in common even though at first glance all we might see are contrasts. That cycling should lead me to Eastern wisdom isn't so strange. Endless hours in the saddle knock loose all kinds of vagrant ideas, most of which are, thankfully, lost in the crosswinds of the ride. Perhaps you'll wish this line of thinking joined its orphaned siblings on the prairie breezes, so read on at your own risk. While not exhaustive, my informal discussion here might inspire others to look deeper into the implied meaning of what they do. We are, as humans, the symbol makers. Our dreams inspire and enrich our lives, and, as John Muir said, "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." In thinking about this singular act of cycling, I find it hooked to much else in the universe, the one place, experience and life.

For me, this silly contraption of tubes and wires serves as more than physical transportation. Two principle schools of Buddhism are Mahayana and Hinayana, translated as "Greater Vehicle" and "Lesser Vehicle" respectively. Hinayana seems to be a term coined by members of the other school to exalt their own position: We are greater; they are lesser. That debate does not concern me. The metaphor of a spiritual practice as a vehicle does. In fact, the word metaphor itself comes from Latin terms that translate roughly as "a carrier of change." The technical explanation of metaphors involves the terms "tenor" and "vehicle" as well: tenor is the subject, vehicle the new image that carries the change of perception. For example: Life is a rat race. Life is the tenor, rat race the vehicle. So all of the terminology is hitched one to the other, all of it tangled up in the ideas of conveying, transporting, accomplishing a purpose, transformation. And the purpose of any meaningful journey is to become other that what we were.

Central to these Eastern schools of thought is the concept of the unity of opposites, the idea that the poles are connected in an intimate, unavoidable, necessary way. Symbolically, this is graphically demonstrated in the Taoist symbol at the top of this post, the Taijitu, or "diagram of the supreme ultimate" wherein the light and dark flow into each other and contained in each is the beginning of what it is to become. This symbol is dynamic, a concept central to the philosophy it signifies. The light moves into the dark as the dark moves into the light. One cannot exist without the other. Indeed, all the universe is an interplay of opposites: light and dark, negative and positive, good and bad, life and death, desire and fulfillment. Each of these concepts is meaningless without its opposite, all expressed in a process, a flow, a wheel of being and non-being.

Here the connection to the act of cycling emerges. The wheel of opposites, the cycle of Samsara (life, death, rebirth) as the Buddha calls it, carries us through many incarnations until we reach Nirvana--if we are doing the work. Nirvana is not a place like Heaven as it might be understood in the Christian sense, no clouds and angels and harps, big white bearded dudes in Lazy-Boys pointing fingers. Nirvana can be achieved here and now. It is a centered place wherein the enlightened one is outside the forces of fear, desire and social pressure. The cycle of Samsara is spinning around the focused, blissful, unmoving being at the center who has found, paradoxically, connection to and separation from the whirling madness around her.

In the notions of movement and stillness, of opposites married we slip into the heart of cycling. To ride a bicycle is to engage in a strange and wonderful dance. We must move but also remain still, and only in finding the proper flow do we make progress. We teeter on a razor's edge between disaster and success (motion), and this point is a blissful stillness that we can master only by shutting off the thinking, conscious mind and attuning ourselves to the wisdom and innate knowledge of the body. This is a rolling meditation. To see a child master a bicycle for the first time is to witness the bliss of being. In the chaos of Samsara, the escape, Nirvana, is found at the center, the still point around which the hurricane of life and death and rebirth rotate, so we need to find the eye of the storm. Fittingly, we can only make progress on a bicycle because we are attached to the hubs at the center of the wheels, the still points. The opposites of movement of the rims and the stillness at the hubs makes the vehicle.

Riding a bicycle, then, becomes not only something fun and practical. The device and the act of riding it are metaphorical for how we should lead our lives. As we balance the bicycle, so too must we find balance in our lives and search out the still places, the eddies outside the turbulence, the Nirvana at the heart of Samsara. As the bicycle is the most efficient mode of transportation ever devised, so too can it lead us to a personal economy of body, mind, and spirit. The spokes of the wheel, the lines of connection to the rim are those lines that link us to the world. Our stillness, our bliss, our sense of fulfillment are built upon these whirling lines. We cannot exist without them. But here is another lesson: If a wheel is quickly spinning, where is the safest place to touch, the spokes and rim, or the axle, the hub?

So the next time you ride your bike, you're not just out for a ride. You're engaging in a spiritual, a metaphysical act. Grin and spin and be one with your Schwinn.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Last Photos

These are not in perfect order, but they depict the mood of my final days. Also, note videos posted a couple of entries down.

Saddleback Butte at sunset:

Sespi River area:

The top of the last climb, the Pacific beyond:

Ojai Valley Bike Path:

The Mojave Desert:

Fittingly, a jerk honked at me as I took this picture:

On the big descent from Pine Mtn. Summit:

Mojave cobbles:

Pine Mt. Summit:

A photo of a big, recent burn:

Looking back towards Mt. Pinos from the big climb above Lockwood Valley:

The road down to the Lockwood Valley from Frazier Park:

Looking down into the Lockwood Valley:

Lockwood Valley Rd. area:

Jodi--who somehow puts up with my fits of madness:

Bar Harbor, Maine, before:

Ventura, California, after:

Sunday, November 18, 2007

End Times

Heavy with water for a dry camp and a fresh load of food and fuel, I grunted up the steep hills and slowly left the noise and aesthetic cacophony of Barstow behind me. Adios burger joints, car dealerships, liquor stores and motels. Until we meet again....

I pushed hard into the sharp afternoon light. The sun was diving into the horizon, and I felt a weakening, light-headed sensation that tells me I'm about to crash. I needed more calories, quickly. I crammed a Clif bar down my gullet and, twenty minutes later, two fists full of peanuts. I stood impatiently by Mojo and chewed quickly, conscious of the waning light. Gotta keep moving... The food did the trick and held off the developing calorie crash. I needed a camp. I wasn't desperate, but I was getting concerned. The developed areas were holding me back. I knew that if I kept pushing, I'd get beyond it and into some open desert, but where?

Finally, the sun almost down, I found a rarely used dirt road that led into a region of low hills freckled with widely spaced, anemic creosote bushes clinging to dusty grey soil. The plants had little green and looked barely alive, which is strange because creosote likes living in the bowels of Hell. I guess, even for Hades, this was a low-rent district. Still, it would do for me. I pushed the bike up into the rounded lumps several hundred yards back from the road--not perfect isolation, especially the occasional train noise, but all I needed. A chilly breeze cut through my camp from the west and too soon I was standing in the dark.

To the uneducated, the desert seems a mostly dead place. They are mistaken. Not as overtly flamboyant in expression, this land hides its life like a sharp poker player, keeping the cards out of sight. Hinting, bluffing, insinuating, the life of the desert is shifted to the dark side, veiled by sand, rock, and night. When darkness falls, the creatures emerge to hunt and forage during a more hospitable time. Unlike humans who so often seemed determined to make the worst of it, the animals here must be smooth operators, opportunists.

As for me, I found a mostly flat patch of dirt and spread out my tarp as a base of operations: Headlamp on, rig chair, set out stove, the familiar actions that I repeated almost every night. I cooked and ate while the stars saturated the heavens such that even the fetid glow of Barstow could not impugn their glory.

As I finished eating, I glanced up and perceived a problem, a puzzle--a gift? Twin stars were set down near the ground. They glowed bright and close-set then dimmed, vanished, reappeared. Eyes. Intelligence. I was being watched. The eyes, like the Cheshire grin, implied the beast. Silently, they winked, shifted, advanced, retreated. I was certainly the object of great interest. At last I could stand it no more and advanced with my light and camera, the eyes now holding me in a steady gaze, unblinking. What was this bold creature? With each step I expected it to vanish, bolt into the night, but the eyes did not flinch. Each of us mesmerized by the other, I slowly moved forward and could see ears sticking up--a rabbit? No, these were triangular, arrow tipped. Then all was clear. It was a sly desert fox come to beguile me. Not Rommel returned to tango with Patton who did maneuvers not far from here, but the small dog-like carnivore. Light gray, a perfect fluffy tail, piercing eyes and curious character, it stayed around for some time, circling my camp, even at one time approaching to within a few feet of me. It placed a tentative paw on my tarp and scampered off into the night. Perhaps some coup counting ritual for foxes?

How long it kept me in sight I cannot say, perhaps the rest of the night. No doubt, it distrusted tall, skinny men with strange bicycles. I was the interloper, after all. The cold night air cut over the ridge behind me. The stars burned and wheeled across the sky. The eyes of the desert studied me from a safe distance as I crawled into my own nylon burrow and waited for the sun.

The next day I camped in Saddleback Butte State Park after almost sixty five miles of effort across open country. I had to contend with some wind, but, thankfully, nothing brutal. I knew a weather system was coming through and my plan was to be resting on the day it did most of its mischief. And so it came to pass. On my rest day, as I was safely tucked in behind a wind shelter, the storm moved through. A rim of clouds in the western sky thickened and congealed, beat the sky black and blue-grey until the San Gabriel Mountains to the south were smothered in a fast moving wall. The winds sharpened, and I was grateful for my banging plywood barrier. Clouds of dust filled the air and deposited a fine grit over everything. Twice that day I was visited by Craig from a nearby town. We talked bikes and life--what else? Another road angel, he even brought me a map to assist my navigation of the wilds of Lancaster. Thank you, Craig!

My ride into Lancaster was more than I could have hoped for--clear, quiet, a pleasant tailwind. I sailed the creosote seas at nearly 20 mph for many miles. All the while, I kept looking over at the Tehachapi Mountains, my home only a long day's ride away. Soon, I thought, soon enough. Lancaster is a typical example of the expanding desert communities all over the West. For all the fretting and hand-wringing about a present housing slump, this placed seemed to be on full bore development. I feared for my sweet Leona Valley and what open space remained. With limited water, how could the development continue? A long stretch of steady riding took me at last to the wind-blown regions to the west. Plains of long dead grasses and low, scruffy vegetation dominate the landscape just beyond the final "Notice of Development" signs. I felt like I just escaped the houses spreading across the land like a hot oil slick.

The clear dome of the sky met the mountains to the south, west and north, no trace of smoke or haze or bad attitudes to obscure the outlines or dull the details of color and form. My home peaks swept up almost 5,000 ft. from the valley floor. The long ridge to my south was not nearly as high, but I would climb over 1,000 ft. even so. Effort, strain, distance--every view worth having extracts its price. I camped in the embracing arms of the San Andreas fault, the tectonic crease whereby California will at last be shed from the mainland, much to the delight of Heartland conservatives. Too bad they'll have to wait many millions of years.

I pushed on the next day through some hills of startling steepness. I was hardened to the mountains at this point, so no hill was too much. As I looked over at my home, I thought I would be more annoyed or conflicted or something about being so close and not simply riding home, but this was a game, and games have rules--in this case to reach the Pacific, to conclude my quest. To go home before achieving that would dilute the experience, corrupt the narrative. Each journey has a natural arc or flow. For my story, a stop-over at home, besides requiring lots of extra miles, would amount to an unacceptable plot malfunction. Home, Jodi, all of that was for the absolute end of the trek. Now, the protagonist had to continue alone, see it through, however it might conclude.

In Frazier Park, I made a brief blog post and looked about for a place to camp. Everywhere I turned, everyone I talked to seemed to shut me down. I was in town early, hardly past lunch. Why stop? The sun was high, the mountains calling. Keep riding and see what the road provides. Climbing still, over 4,000 ft. for the day, I grunted out of town and towards the National Forest. Outside of Lake of the Woods (where's the lake, anyway?), I took the first promising dirt track and galloped Mojo up into the trees--success! My last wild camp would be wild, pines and my tent pitched beside Mojo.

My final camping meal consisted of hot chai and cold sandwiches--canned salmon, avocado, wheat bread, mustard. I needed to eat through the last of my food, so I sat in the dark forest and munched sandwiches. I was out of sight from the road but not the air. A Forest Service helicopter trailing a massive water bucket made some passes, and I instinctively whipped off my bright windbreaker. Gotta keep it stealthy, eh? No rangers came calling, and as the night settled down, the chopper landed for good, the stars graced the heavens. I set up my tent and faced the end of my journey. I was excited, anxious, happy. I lay there and thought about all the miles I'd covered, the days and weeks and months, now, of riding. How could I be so near the end? How could this be? The next day I would stand on a high pass almost a mile in the sky and look down on the sea. Will it be enough when I reach it?

The wind sighed in the tall pines that overhung my camp. An occasional car rumbled by, the drivers oblivious to my presence. But soon, the cars would stop coming and only the stars would keep me company. When I reached the ocean, when at long last and finally I reached the ocean, would it be enough, when I reached the ocean?

Galumphing unto Zion

The mountain wall of the coast range blocked any view to the west, rising as it did in a 1,500 ft. wave. Highway 33 snaked and twisted out of sight, up, always up until it wasn't always up. Then it would be down, always down--a Zen koan road. What had the cyclist in Gorman called it? "A terrible climb"? No, it was a beautiful climb. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I didn't find it that difficult, especially now, after crossing a continent. My second time around, I wasn't worried. A good steady piece of work. Recent burns in the area detracted somewhat from the beauty, but much of the character remained. My end-of-the-tour high would not be dimmed. I geared down and winched my way into the sky.

The first, highest summit marked the penultimate climb. From my previous ride in this country, I knew one significant climb remained. Fittingly, I would not be free until I could see the ocean. Knowing it was there over the next ridge wouldn't do it. From Pine Mtn. Summit, almost a mile up, I flew in grinning joy down into sycamore-lined canyons, through narrows of glowering stone, under rock towers warm in the afternoon sun. My enchanted descent rivaled any on the continent.

Then I stood at the bottom of the last climb. I parked in the shade of a deep road cut and took a break, ate and drank, chewed on my thoughts of the conclusion and drank in my conflicting emotions, the stillness, the perfect autumn sky. The mountain wouldn't climb itself. I couldn't wait forever. This thing had to end. I clipped in and pedaled for the top. This is my last climb, my last mountain pass, the final miles of a dream.

I did not remember every turn, every corner. Was this it? This? This? No. Still more. Good. Don't finish. Never finish. The ride goes on forever. Life is the ride, the ride is life. Then a gap, only blue sky beyond, a break in the ridge, a turn in the road, a staggering drop down and down and down through convolutions of tilted earth and folded canyon out to a blinding mirror laid out between the coast and the Channel Islands...the Pacific Ocean, the far side of the continental plate.

I reined in Mojo at the very edge of the abyss and climbed off. Damn it all to hell, Scotty! That's the Pacific-freakin'-ocean! Land's end! You've done it. You've done it.

I punched the air. I yelled. I cursed and sang and danced a cyclist's happy dance in the dirt at the edge of the world. You've done it. Anyone seeing me from afar would assume mental illness, a schizophrenic plugged into his voices again. And they would be right. I was mad, insane, possessed by voices of delight, relief, joy unbounded, a divine madness I wished on all of humanity. I sat down beside Mojo and ate lunch and gazed out over the other side of my country, a view almost one hundred days from where I'd begun to ride.

Then I let gravity take over, an addiction, a high-grade narcotic, speed and corners, leaning out over the edge, pulling back, leaning out once more, the brakes whirring a song of restraint then letting go. Let it go. Let it go. Everything? All of it. Let it go. The sublime serpent of Highway 33 uncoiled beneath my tires, releasing me from the journey, the quest, the first half of my earthly life. The wind roared in my head and the road took me out into who I was to become. No regrets, no turning back. I rolled and rolled and rolled into the arms of Zion.

I stayed the night in Ojai with a fine host called Val. The last road angel of my epic, he opened his home and gave me refuge. We talked of my trip, his life, Ojai, but I was in a different place, a limbo of spirit, incredulous, stunned. How could this be the end? How could it ever end? Wasn't there another state, another mountain range? What's that next time zone? Keep pushing, keep pushing.

But when I climbed from bed after a fitful night, no struggle remained. I had no need to push. The ocean broke on the sand fifteen miles away--down slope. A quiet bike path separated me from the water, my wife, the life I'd left behind. Jodi was on her way. Django would be there. It was time to finish.

I took the final miles very slowly, hardly pedaling most of the time. I let the chill of the shadows ache in my fingers. I needed to feel everything. Slowly, slowly. The path curved gently between creek and road, trees and ridges that now and then blocked the sun. Cyclists passed me and they had no idea where I had started my ride. I was just another lanky fool on a goofy bike. Perhaps they smiled, but I moved on, propelled by my private knowledge, a secret imperative. Each pedal stroke, every breath, kilometer after kilometer counted down, brought me closer. This was not Zeno's tour. I would reach the end. I rolled as if in a tunnel, a path that cradled me from coast to coast. Images of the start played across my mind. The plane is just coming in from Boston. The clouds roil with my stomach. There is talk of not landing in Bar Harbor at all--but we do. Grey, damp, strange, in my foggy nausea, I stagger from the plane and search for my bags. Somewhere nearby the Atlantic waits for me. Good God, what have I done?! You can't do this, Scotty. But you've got to. You can't start. You can't finish. The serpent tightens around me and squeezes. Then I turned, a palm tree, a highway underpass, a final strip of bike path, then sand, the ocean wind, surfers cutting turns. The Pacific in its salty glory curled and rumbled hardly one hundred yards away.

I called Jodi on the cell phone. She was here! I pedaled the short distance down the beach and found her with Django and the car. Jodi's shock of tight black curls, her slim, muscular body--that was her all right. Django looked up when I rang my bell. His whole body wagged as he ran towards me. His dark fur glowed in the sun. I rubbed him all over with a ferocious joy. And when I stood up and at last held Jodi in my arms, I knew I was home and that my long ride across the country was over. It was indeed enough and more than I could have ever dreamed.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Lost Videos

Here are a few of the videos that I wanted to publish during the ride. I often didn't have the time or the connection speed to get these slices of cycling knavery up and running. Be warned, I am not Francis Ford Coppola.

Fighting high winds in western Illinois:

Open road madness--HP Velo fans will understand. Everyone else will want me locked up!

Cruising the Erie Canal Tow Path:

My posse in Ordway, Colorado:

Cruising the San Luis Valley, Colorado:

360 degree view of the New Mexico/Colorado border:

Cranking the grade over to Oatman, Arizona:

Route 60 in New Mexico:

I'm Baaaaack!

The recumbent knave has landed. Repeat: The recumbent knave has landed! On Thursday 15th of November, 2007, at 9am, I pulled to a stop on the edge of the sand in Ventura on a warm, brilliant day and thus concluded the pedaling portion of my American odyssey, all 4,661.71 miles of it. I'm going to post a few more entries to provide some detail of my last days and upload some photos and video, so you'll have a bit more coming. I'm home now, feeling really strange and very happy. A HUGE thank you to everyone for following along and providing me with moral support.

More to come from the Elite Recumbent Cyclo-Nut.


Biker Scotty

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

One More for the Road

This will be the last post from the road. I've landed in Frazier Park after a big day of climbing--3,500 ft. I'll have to do at least that again tomorrow. I'm just feeling super fit and excited to be on the road and nearing the end--but the cycling is fantastic, too. The best of all touring worlds.

The weather is simply spectacular--cool, unbelievably clear, a bit breezy. Today I had virtually no wind for the first half as I battled the steep climbs on Rt. N2. You'll get some pictures later, but it's a fantastic ride with little to no traffic most of the time--bliss! I hit some spankin' cross winds as I climbed to Gorman and the Frazier Park turn, but then it was turbo tails all the way up the long climb to Frazier Park proper. Here I've got to dig up a place to flop, and tonight it's pizza and a few brews at the local pizzaria. I could log some more miles, but I've done enough for one day. Lots on tap for tomorrow, but she's going down, ladies and gents, she's goin' down. Sometime tomorrow afternoon I'll look down on the Pacific for the first time. I won't dunk tires until the next morning, but there's one spot on the last high pass where you can look down the twisting mountain road and out to the ocean.

It's a bit strange and wonderful to be here. Was it all a dream?

I'll have lots more to say and pictures/video to post after I get home.

Cheers from the road and the Elite Feral Recumbent Cyclo-Tourist waging human-powered jihad against the forces of gravity and the awesome span of the North American continent.

Be well. Be safe. Be cool.

Biker Scotty---out!

Friday, November 9, 2007

We are Borg!

I am Borg, Velo-man, half bicycle, half human, a 21st Century Minotaur. After almost 4,400 miles, who can tell where the bicycle ends and the man begins? Do I exist for the bike or does the bike exist for me? We're an old couple these days, swapping fluids (sweat and chain lube), grinding away the hours in this steady continental crawl. The desert expands and swallows us whole. Distance, sand, wind, the chocolate volcanic mountains sawing away on every horizon.

I've entered California. I can hardly believe it. I'm on my last week of the tour and very happy that I've chosen to cut across the Mojave and the coastal mountains to finish in Ventura. The riding has been wonderful, even the stretches along I40. In a couple of spots I've laughed in the face of regulations prohibiting bicycles on the interstate. Access to water and escape from a slice of Route 66 compelled my actions. The water needs are clear enough, but for those unaware of the section of Rt. 66 from Ludlow to Newberry Springs, beware. The route may be so wonderfully "Historic!" but the pavement is prehistoric. It isn't pavement. It's anti-pavement, the worst of all possible "improved" road surfaces. Jodi and I pedaled it once on the trike tandem, and I vowed to never repeat the experience, even with my soft-ride Mojo. So after a good night in the desert outside Ludlow, I sidled onto the lovely shoulder of the main highway and motored like there was no tomorrow. I ate up the miles, frequently cruising in the high teens. Traffic was light, the morning cool. Uber biker, however, can be stopped. My nemesis was Kryptonite in the form of a drywall nail. Even super goo in the tube couldn't withstand that bit of devilish chicanery. I'm an old hand at fixin' flats, so in no time I was up and zooming.

I arrived in lovely Barstow a little before noon and celebrated with a Starbuck's coffee and a newspaper--good coffee, bad news, as usual. I've decided that a night, let alone TWO, is unthinkable in this place, a raunchy clot wedged in between I15 and I40. I loaded up the mule with a big wad of chow, and I'm heading out for the great beyond. Camping has been a blast, and I'll take a rest day at Saddleback Butte St. Park about 70 miles down the road.

The desert miles have settled into my bones, the long, lonely arrows of pavement that draw me on and on and on. When the going gets tough, I pull out the MP3 and dose on a little Creedance Therapy--or some such elixir of rhythm and rocking and melody to drive my egg-beater cadence and so chew the distance that separates me from the coast and home. What can I say? This continent is going down. I've been lucky and graced and blessed to travel this road. The last few days will be packed with challenges, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Bring on the mountains so that I may taste the sea.

I'll be in the wilds, camping willy-nilly with hardly a Wi-fi or library to be found. I'm going rogue, going dark. I will most likely not be able to post again until the deed is done. I might get a chance in Frazier Park, but I'll likely be too wasted to do much but camp and crash.

Be well! This is Biker Scotty signing off for his last (?) dispatch from the Frontier of Human Powered Travel in the Great American Outback.

A foxy visitor:

Local artists along Rt. 66 before Amboy:

These Germans take their internal combustion seriously!

Relaxin' off the pedals:

A resident of Oatman, Arizona:

A doomed "World Famous!" buffalo burger:

I've been Knighted!

The Colorado River:

Wild camp along Rt. 66, California:

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Into the Mighty Mojave

I stood on a high pass and looked down 3,000 ft. to the Colorado River. On the other side, the desert mountains of California lay in rumpled brown ranks. In a couple of hours, I would be in my last state, home.

I still have several hundred miles to go, but I'm writing these words from Needles, CA, where I'll spend the night and push on for the deep Mojave tomorrow. I'll be following "Historic!" Route 66 for much of the way though some stretches of Hwy 40 will be unavoidable. I haven't much time, but I wanted to post a few shots and say that this has been a truly fantastic day, some of the best riding of the trip.

Mike and Mo led me out of Kingman, three bent riders storming the early morning streets. We left Mike at the turn to his work and Mo came along a bit farther. We dropped through a craggy, narrow canyon and out into the basin beyond. I left Mo and fell into a smart tailwind that pushed me on the gentle down grade for many miles. I devoured that basin like a lite snack. Then a big push up, up, up over Sitgreaves Pass, 3,550 ft., then huge, huge, HUGE descent through Oatman and all the way down to the Colorado River. I rolled down the mother of all bajadas until I was almost bored. Then, when I had to turn south, tailwinds again (heh, heh!) and I flew along, managing high teens to low twenties with minor effort. By 12:30pm California time, I was in Needles.

This town is something of a dump, but a motel and an early start tomorrow will get me out of here in fine shape. I've got a very long climb up I40 to get out of the Colorado River basin. I'll post next from Barstow, the finest little desert strip mall hell you've ever driven through.

Be well!

Monday, November 5, 2007

High and Dry

We'll always have Prescott. I'd been feeling antsy and needed to get back on the tour. My experience there was a little strange. Being with good friends in a comfortable, familiar place put me in a kind of tour-limbo, almost as if the thing was done, but, of course, it wasn't, isn't. The large woman has yet to clear her throat on this ride. The mighty Mojave still awaits my presence. I left on Saturday morning, cruising fast and easy some downhill miles to put some distance between me and town.

Route 89 north of Prescott has some busy sections near town, but as I got further north, the traffic dwindled, and I pedaled often by myself, accompanied only by thousands of acres of junipers that cover this northern half of the state. I arrived in Ash Fork on Highway 40 at 1:30pm, far too early to think about camping. I decided then and there over a beefy ice cream sandwich that I'd gun for Seligman, another 25 miles, which would give me 80+ for the day. Light to no wind, bright sun, why not?

I'm so glad I've chosen this northern route to the coast. Rt. 66 was pure magic--quiet, empty, I found myself often riding in the middle of the road. I camped a couple of miles outside Seligman, a bit too close to a railroad crossing, so my night was routinely punctuated by the roar of engines, the clanging of bells, the whistle's moaning cry. The expansive land to the north was a private ranch with restricted access. Little sleep for me, but I spent some contented hours looking up into the blazing stars so clear now that the moon has gone back into hiding.

My next camp, pictured below, was in Grapevine Canyon, a spot recommended by Mike Kitchens, my contact in Kingman. This was an idyllic little spot with magnificent cottonwoods and willows, cacti dotting the dark rock walls, a small stream purling like a zen fountain near my bed. Some dried cow doo-doo sealed the deal on Western ambiance. In the morning, when these pictures were taken, I zipped the easy miles to Kingman where I write these words. The Kitchens have kindly taken me in for the night. Their sweet hounds, the Three Stooges featured below, became instant friends. Joy, the dark-patterned one, is laying on the floor next to me right now. Corgies rock.

Here's the bomb, ladies and gentleman: Tomorrow I land in Needles, California, home state to the elite recumbent cyclo-tourist. A few stretches of I40 will annoy his ears, but most of the rest will be on quiet roads. Stay tuned for a bigger update from Barstow, if he can find an open library.

Grapevine Canyon:

Open country before Kingman:

The Stooges:

"Gum-gum is yum-yum, Dumb-dumb!":

Climbing a grade between Ash Fork and Seligman:

Route 66--Yo:

The stream in Grapevine Canyon:

A character on the road that you'll read about in the book--or see in the major motion picture to follow:

Grapevine Canyon:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bent Cowboy Chronicles

A line of pines presented a dark edge to an expanse of pale, late season grasses that ascended in waves to some unknown summit above me. The afternoon sun banked off the road and into my eyes, sweat running down from under my helmet. My legs, by some incomprehensible miracle, kept turning and churning, muscles, bones, cartilage, tendons that have carried me across the continent and put up with too many ridiculous demands. Good legs. Can't forget to thank them. Better send a card for their birthday.

The White Mountains were my first test in Arizona. No snow yet, so they were shimmering gold and piney dark green. Route 260 was my path across some of the highest terrain in the state, a fact seemingly little known to National Forest Service employees I'd left behind. A wild-eyed bike rider flying high from the wide lonesome of New Mexico, I'd rolled into Springerville, Arizona, needing food and information--in that order. An attractive Mexican place soon caught my eye. A huge celebratory Chimichanga with south-of-the-border brew had a very short life expectancy when I walked in. I cut an odd figure among the small town locals, a pair of police officers and their friends, others dressed in casual jeans, t-shirts. My Chernobyl-green jersey clashed with the Old West decor--replica lever action rifle, horse shoes, the usual iconography. For such a short period of history, the Western mythology has tremendous staying power and commercial value. I suppose my cycling togs and clacking shoes were no greater an affront to the "Old West" of the place than the ubiquitous Budweiser advertisements.

After lunch, I headed out of town and stopped at the Forest Service for that much needed information...

Beware, cyclo-tourists, elite and otherwise, beware the women at the National Forest Service information center in Springerville, Arizona, for they know not of what they speak!

Let me preface this brief tirade with the comment that Rt. 260 from Springerville to Show Low is well worth riding. As indicated on state maps, the road is indeed "scenic"--lots of trees, open glades, the occasional view up to forested peaks or down into valleys. No quibbles there. She's scenic all right. I enjoyed the ride immensely although riders should know that traffic could be an issue during peak vacation periods in the summer.

But, and here it comes, I went into that office seeking not to confirm any aesthetic merits Rt. 260 might possess. No, dear readers, no. I wanted specific information concerning my chosen path. Consequently, I asked a few specific questions, such as 1) How far is it to the turn off to the campground that the attractive employee suggested I use? And 2) Do I need to be concerned about any major mountain passes? In other words, what kind of climbs was I going to face?

To the first question, the slim, blond one answered immediately, an indication of certainty and familiarity with the route in question: "Fifteen miles." To my second query she had the presence of mind to first ask if I were an experienced cyclist, implying that my fitness level would be an important consideration. That I had already told her I was cycling across the country should have been a clue here. Regardless, I replied in the affirmative. Then she paused, deep in thought, her eyes looking at some unspecific point over my right shoulder, scanning the interior of her mind like Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. "I'm trying to visualize the road," she said. "No," she said, finally, "there isn't much climbing on Rt. 260. It rolls along, kind of up and down to Show Low." I then asked about Highway 60, the alternate. They were both emphatic that it was much, MUCH worse, with a huge climb mid-way. Thus reassured and assisted by these two helpful, friendly women, I set off confident I would reach camp before too long.

I did indeed reach camp, but it was not due to any overload of excellent information. Rest assured. These Forest Service employees were so utterly, totally, completely, amazingly, astoundingly, staggeringly, egregiously, mind-bogglingly wrong as to nearly defy my ability to apply a proper string of adverbs. For crying out loud, ladies, what the hell were you thinking! Don't you ever get out of the office and actually see the forest you are supposed to know? Good God!

First, this one in my favor, the turn off was about ten miles out of town, not fifteen. No big deal. Pleasant surprise. But again, a clue, eh, Holmes? And the climb, you ask with white-knuckled anticipation? Biker Scotty, what about the climb? By the time I finally reached the summit, I had powered through a good twenty miles and ascended over 2,400 ft. to probably the HIGHEST PAVED PASS IN THE STATE (emphasis mine) at over 9,300 ft.--higher even than Ponchas Pass in the Colorado Rockies, a saddle ringed by 14,000 ft. peaks. Now, one can easily imagine higher passes--the Upper Saddle on the Grand Teton and the South Col of Mt. Everest come to mind--but give me a spoke-busting break. How is it possible that she, an employee charged with knowing key information about the National Forest visible from her back window, didn't know even this most basic, fundamental topographical fact? Simply amazing. Such ignorance should be criminally actionable, if you ask me. Maybe a civil suit? Her powers of visualization must be dim indeed. Harumph.

Before the summit, I spent two nights in a deserted campground outside Greer, at 8,500 ft. After all the climbing from town and late in the day, I was feeling grumpy, ornery, feloniously inclined towards incompetent government employees. For the first time in weeks, some moron had honked at me in anger for being on the road. I descended from Rt. 260 towards the campground, and all I could think about was having to climb back out. My cranking was making me cranky. I'd come to recognize this end-of-the-hard-day condition. Worn down and strung out, ready for a camp that seems out of reach, I get short fused, impatient. Zen goes down the toilet.

I climbed again and at last found my campsite. I rolled through weakening, low-angled sun to my camp set in tall pines next to a small lake and meadow of dry tawny grasses. Deserted, empty, not a solitary soul, no RV's, no host, just Mojo and me, the lone cyclist, castaway, the last camper on earth, Omega Biker. The cold, with its long, probing fingers, began to search out my weaknesses. The sun was already low in the trees to the west, so I could not linger in my chores. Get that tent pitched and dinner on the stove. Before long, I sat down to my solitary meal in the trees in the White Mountains.

So was I lonely sitting alone at my table in the cold on this late October evening? Indeed. I missed having Jodi to share my thoughts about the struggles of the day, compare notes. We would not be curling up in the tent together to ward off the high altitude chill. Django wouldn't be snuggled up at our feet, his sharp ears ready to detect any intruders. But I wasn't completely alone. A line of honking geese banked in from the north in tight formation, bound for the water beyond the trees. I could hear the beating of their wings as they passed over in the closing darkness. Somewhere, lost in the forest to the east, bull elk called out challenges in their other-wordly trumpet, a haunting sound of the wilderness strange to my ears. We made a congregation of sorts in this temple of the woods--my rattling thoughts, the scratch of my pen on the note pad, the fading sounds of wildlife. As I at last settled into my bag and prepared for the long night ahead, coyotes howled and yipped and picked up the song of the mountains in autumn. They understood the value of a rising moon and told me I was not alone.

So passed my introduction to the state of Arizona. Too much more to tell for my little blog. You'll have to wait for the book to get the full story, but since my camp in Greer, I faced some bad traffic through Show Low and further west that is fueled by incredible amounts of development. Arizona in general is turning out to be less cyclist friendly than New Mexico. Since the Californians have invaded, what can you expect?

I eventually made my way, with much roady savvy and diligence to the edge of the Mogollon Rim depicted in photos below. I took the dirt road connector, which a local told me was "mostly flat"--ha! Yeah, right. Try 2,500 ft. of often steep, loose climbing. Still, the photos show why it was clearly worth doing. I want to try more dirt riding on Mojo but with proper shoes--wide, soft mountain bike tires. I did well nonetheless and did not push the bike at all. It was some of the hardest riding of the trip. Ugh! Although not very clear in the pictures, some of the ride was through a vast fire, the Rodeo-Chediski fire. There are great articles about the fire at the Cantor Law Group website: Rodeo-Chediski fire town meeting.

I battled extreme traffic to get into Prescott where I write these words and where I'll stay for a few days R and R. I was a whipped pup yesterday after almost 4,000 ft. of climbing, headwinds, and all the internal combustion madness. We're doomed, I tell you, doomed. Prescott is being loved to death, and I fear for her future. I love her still, and especially my friends here, but she seems headed for full-on Californication--of course with a veneer of plastic "Old West" lacquered on.

Although the fires in southern California seem to be settling down, I've decided to forego all the urban intensity of riding to San Diego and up the coast. From here, I'll head a bit north and pick up Old Rt. 66 through Peach Springs and down into Kingman. Then it's down to Needles and across the great Mojave desert along some pretty isolated, lone dusty roads--my favorite. I'll have a layover in Barstow, which should provide some "interesting" material; then I keep shooting west, both guns blazing, until I climb the mighty coastal ranges, about 11,000 ft of climbing three days, and drop like a stone into the Pacific near Ventura, end of the line, sweet, sad conclusion. In short, I'm almost done. You know you're a trans-continental cyclist when two weeks of hard cycling equates to being "almost done."

Since I'm in Prescott for a few days, you may hear more from me before I shove off. For now, this is a happily resting Biker Scotty signing off from the Frontier of Human Powered Travel in the Great American Outback.

Be well--or else!

Here are some photos from Arizona and New Mexico--in no particular order:

Atop the Mogollon Rim, Arizona:

Enjoying the traffic up I17 towards Prescott, Arizona:

This? This is my incredulous face up on "Mega Pass" above Springerville, Arizona:

Pines and naked aspen near the summit of "Mega Pass," Arizona:

Mojo on the Mogollon Rim, Arizona--Sorry, Wombatgirl, this beats Ohio:

The Rim:

Hello? Is anyone listening? The Very Large Array radio telescopes in the incomparable Plains of St. Augustin, New Mexico. Carol C., this is for you. You were soooo right about the phone!

Pie Town, New Mexico, on the Continental Divide. One can, in fact, get some mighty good pie there:

The notorious, doomed chicky chimi and beer:

Open camping in New Mexico:

The Omega Biker contemplates his fate: