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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Phoenix to MacDonald Observatory

This longer span journal approach to blogging my trip is definitely different. It's harder to think back and remember all the details, some as far as a week back, rather than fresh in my mind from the day. I haven't written out a blog since two states ago!

So, we biked through the Phoenix metro after leaving my aunt and uncle's place, to Warmshowers hosts 60 miles away on the other side of the metro. Phoenix had surprisingly good infrastructure and it was an enjoyable ride. Our hosts live in an amazing retirement park with no end of things to do, whether biking, tennis, hiking, biking, jewelry, woodcraft, whatever it may be. Bill even took us to spend some much needed time in the hot tub, before Gerri provided us with a wonderful dinner. At dinner they discussed the dangers of the highway 60 route we were planning to take (even using an unused tunnel rather than the scary one on the highway) and seeing our wide tires, suggested an alternate way from either that route or the official ACA route going well out of the way.

We talked it over during the night and ultimately decided to take their "third way", with a lot of climbing, and 20some miles of what we were told was "good dirt". We saw a cool museum of things from Superstition Mountain, including parts of old wild West movie sets, a ghost town, and the underwhelming destination of so many, Tortilla Flats. The paved part of the road up to Tortilla Flats had more traffic than we expected, and it was two lane with no shoulder, but the drivers were mostly polite. The dirt part...was much rougher than we expected. Cars had left huge, bike-shaking washboards, and there were rocks, ruts, and intense switchbacks. At one downhill stretch, Joel and I held our brakes the whole way down. It was a lot of intense downhill, and a whole vertical mile of uphill. I think I have hardly ever been as tired as I was when we got back on pavement at last (I will not forget the man who stopped to tell us it was further left than we think when we were over halfway theough the 22 mile dirt stretch) and shortly after came to our camping spot on Roosevelt Lake.

The next morning I took a photo of my bike at that lake, submitted it, and it got in Bike Rumor Pic of the Day! It was a small accomplishment, but I felt awfully good about it. That day we did even more climbing and descent on our way to Globe. We were beat, and we got ourselves a hotel. Joel went to dinner at a Mexican joint nearby, while I went had to go see Besh-Ba-Gowah. I walked a ways to get there, with a threat of rain, but it was well worth it. It was a major permanent habitation of the Salado tribe, and a trade center for many neighboring tribes, until drought apparently brought conflict to the region and forced them to leave. We have no idea what they called the place, as Besh-Ba-Gowah is a name given by the Apache when they later found the place, nor do we even know what the Salado actually called themselves. So many mysteries, so much history, and I could feel it permeating the ruins as I walked amongst them. If you get to Globe, you must go. After visiting the ruins, I got dinner at a nice Mexican restaurant, different from the one Joel went to, and then promptly went back to the hotel and crashed.

We made it to Safford the next day. We had an interesting host there, an impressive academic whose focus was history but he had a love of quantum mechanics that had led him to teaching a lecture series on it. We went out to dinner with his other academic friends out in the desert, with a gorgeous view of Mt Graham. It was a fun night with a lot of discourse I could only partially follow.

From there we biked to Lordsburg, a long but uneventful day. Most of my impression I am left with of that road is simply how much trash was left along it. What's more, alcoholic trash, shards of beer bottles shimmering in the sun, piles of more beer bottles and cans collecting in every bush at every low spot. New Mexico has one of the highest rates of bicycle fatalities, and if people drink and drive as much as that road would indicate, it comes as no surprise to me. Our free campground for the night at Veteran's Park was at least fairly nice.

The next day the wind was insane. But in a good way, mostly. It was an intense tailwind, increasing more and more through the day. We were scarcely going less than 20 mph the whole day, and with my gearing, I could easily have gone 30, though Joel could not with his. We got to Deming along I-10, and had a tough decision to make. We had planned to go to Columbus, turning south toward the border, but if we did, our awesome tailwind would become a dangerous crosswind. We could stay there with lots of daylight left to use, or...we could go another 60 miles, and do an unprecedented 120 mile day for either Joel or me. We chose the last option. It was wild. There were threats of dust storms that concerned us, but thankfully we never experienced much. The shoulder got gravel coated for a bit, which was not fun, and we actually lifted our bikes over the fence to get to the largely parallel frontage road, which was much better. We could scarcely stop the whole time, as the wind threatened to blow us over. I needed Joel's superior mass and strength to help hold me upright at one point to make a text. In a surprisingly short time, we made it into Las Cruces. The wind shifted some toward the end, and going got much tougher the last few miles. Last minute plans for a host fell through, and we were beat, so we decided to get the first hotel we found (which was overpriced and not very good, but I won't complain).

From Las Cruces we biked on through El Paso to camp at Hideaway Lakes in Tornillo. On our way into El Paso, we ran into a cool group of cyclists who warned us the ACA route on Mesa Rd was not the safest, and after some discussion of how to direct us, ultimately ended up just leading us to where we had to go. It was fun riding with other people, and even though I felt like we were going slower than we otherwise would, the miles went by quick in their company. It was easily the most eventful part of the day.

The next day we biked on to Van Horn. We spent some time on a beautiful rural road along farm country on the border where we saw lots of bird life and livestock. We also passed through a number of old towns that were towns no more, with some interesting abandoned buildings. But most the day we spent on the interstate. We ultimately got another hotel in Van Horn, feeling worn out from the 90 mile day, and wanting time to grocery shop and get dinner. We forgot it was Sunday, and after our walk to the grocery store on the other side of town we barely had time to shop before close, and then the cantina we stopped at had a long wait time so we went for Wendy's, which has nothing for me as a vegetarian, but I was able to get a big microwaveable burrito from the gas station and was satisfied. I stayed up just long enough to see totality on the lunar eclipse.

The next day was brutal. It was only 75 miles, but 4500 feet of climbing (Google wrongly indicated 4000) and as soon as we turned off the interstate (goodbye I-10, we had some good times) at the non-existent town of Kent, the wind was devastating. It was a headwind, it was a crosswind, it was a soul-sucking, energy eating wind. It was one of the hardest days I have ever had in the saddle. At one point, we made the decision that I should keep going my pace rather than waiting for Joel to catch up, to ensure that one of us get there before dark. I made it with more time than I thought, but then after reaching Macdonald Observatory, was uncertain of where to find my host, and I had no cell reception and hadn't for many miles. Thankfully, with a little help I got on track. I showed up at the door to find them playing music with friends, and waited for them to finish their piece, hoping I did in fact have the right door. Right as I had rallied my host, Steven, to get on the bike rack and go after Joel, as soon as we had gone just down the hill to the visitor center, than there he was, having made it on his own. We treated to a wonderful meal and a well needed shower and a blissful night sleep in bed.

And today, we got a very necessary rest day, our first since Surprise, Arizona. Joel and I took care of the things we needed to, and I also got a chance to bike the little ways further up to the highest highway in Texas where one of the telescopes is, and also to take a really awesome tour of that telescope, as well as the more modern, and one of the largest in the world, Hobby-Eberly Telescope. It was a great day, probably one of my favorite rest days I've had on tour. Despite how cold and windy it has been today at this high elevation, I will be sad to leave here and our awesome hosts tomorrow. But, we have to push on. There are many miles yet to go.