Friday, February 29, 2008

Houston Traffic

I overslept by an hour, which isn’t entirely surprising given the previous day I had.

The wind also wasn’t exactly gracious in defeat from the prior day as it shifted to the east to try and bitch slap me again. I expected to have a south wind so I just shook my head and began to pedal right into the wind again.

The day was mostly overcast and cool, but humid. I began sweating seconds into the ride. I was fortunate in the morning as the road I had intended to ride on was in the process of being turned into an Interstate. That being the case, most of the new frontage roads were already complete, in perfect shape and had very little traffic.

By 1:00 the wind got the road in on the conspiracy against me as the road condition deteriorated significantly. It is never really a pleasant ride on rough road. It does a number on my body, not to mention my bike. Further, there was a stretch of highway with no real shoulder and a 4-inch drop to whatever shoulder there was. The shoulder wasn’t rideable and staying in one of the lanes of traffic was suicide. I won the first few rounds of Russian roulette, but decided to quit before my luck ran out. I got on the shoulder and bumped along at 5 MPH for half a mile until I saw a frontage road. I had to walk across a ditch to get to it, but the riding was much better as I crossed the Colorado River.

I realized that I still hadn’t seen a Texas Longhorn. Also, I hadn’t seen a single Texas Speed bump, a.k.a., armadillo. I had already given up on the rattlesnakes.

I was getting pretty good at planning my arrival in large cities at rush hour. In this instance I even managed to do so on a Friday no less. Traffic getting into Houston was just brutal. Traffic was bad enough throughout the day, but near the city even worse. I have to admit; it is pretty intense riding when having to play an aggressive form of defense. It may sound odd, but I have to watch myself, yet assert my right of way in traffic.

At 5:45 I was just outside the Houston City limit. I was in the very well developed area of numerous office parks. As the light was fading, I figured I would stay at the very next hotel that I happened across. Before long I found a Super 8, stopped and pulled out my laptop to check my map. I located the area in which I actually wanted to stay in relation to where I was and figured I could make it in half an hour and decided to go for it.

I was riding along potholed roads like an NFL running back. Sometimes I was juking left and right through the potholes and traffic. Others I was riding the equivalent of smashmouth football, straight up the middle. I just needed to make time before it got totally dark.

It turned out to be my lucky day as I came across a bike path that ran through Houston. It was almost as if they expected me to be late. The path ran west/east along a small park and brae (river). I wasn’t making very good time as the path crossed a few roads and I had to wait for cars to pass, but I was out of traffic and making my way across town. Just off the bike path, I found, surprise, surprise, a bike shop. I figured I had pushed my luck far enough, so I bought a small light for the back of my bike. I also checked out my chain, which was going to need to be replaced very shortly as it was quickly nearing the end of its useful life. I threw some air in my tires, asked for directions and was on my way.

Eventually I found the area of hotels I had been looking for. Unbeknownst to me there was a rodeo and massive barbeque cook off being held in the area. Not only that, but the following day was a marathon and parade in Houston. Needless to say, I checked several hotels, all of which were full. I found an Econolodge that had a smoking room for $100 a night. A hundred bucks for an Econolodge and a smoking room nonetheless? I don’t think so. I am a value investor.

I had enough and was ready to pony up whatever one of the business hotels was going to charge me. As a last ditch effort I cashed in some of my hotel points and finally settled in to a hotel by 8:00.

A college buddy of mine lives in Houston so I gave him a call to perhaps meet up for a drink, but he was actually on his way back from New York. I just grabbed some dinner in the form of the largest meatball hero I had ever seen and called it a night.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Victory in Victoria

I know I said I was going to leave the wind out of it, but it plays such a big role in my day. It is impossible to neglect mentioning it, especially when it smashes me in the face for hours on end at 20-30 MPH. But more on that later.

I didn’t get as early a start as I was hoping to in leaving San Antonio. I was actually staying a real hotel; as there was some choice opposed to say in Salome, AZ. The bed was comfortable, the breakfast was a nice touch and I was even sent on my way with orange infused water in my water bottles.

I took it easy getting out of town. I have to say that San Antonio had the least traffic of any large city that I have ridden through. It seemed that anyplace in San Antonio was only on a mile or two from a highway, which all the traffic used. While the roads weren’t exactly in the greatest shape, with no traffic I was able use an entire lane to dodge potholes without worrying about getting run down.

As soon as I got out of town I was slammed with the wind. When I had checked the previous night, the winds were forecast at 20 MPH dead in my face, but when I checked in the morning, it got upgraded to the 20/30 MPH range with higher gusts. I wasn’t expecting to make great time, but as always, with every turn of the cranks I was closer to my destination by however small a distance.

As the day progressed the battle between the wind and I heated up. I just kept on pedaling. My back began to ache. In the first six hours of riding I had only stopped twice, both times to eat. Perhaps I should have taken a few more breaks. There was one point where I thought my spine was going to collapse. I had to pull over for a few minutes and stretch. When I started the trip in Los Angeles, I had concerns about my back holding up, but had been gaining confidence as the trip wore on. Today was the worst it had been on the entire trip. The people that drove past could probably see me grimace.

In the updates from my 2005 ride I went off on a town because they had posted a list of their High School Championship teams going back to the 70’s. Fall City, Texas has the new record. Their list of championship teams posted on a sign right at the entrance to their town goes back to 1950. There was probably only one other town against which their team competed as even now there is only one town every 40 miles. What are “regional champs" and “bi-county champs" anyway?

It was getting late in the day and when I started to do the math, I wasn’t going to make it to the town in which I was planning to end my day. Not only was I moving too slowly against the wind, but my back wasn’t doing well and I was just tired. Getting 6 hours of sleep a night, which is about what I have been averaging, is not nearly enough rest.

I was 15 miles shy of Goliad, TX when I figured I should just stay in that town for the night. Those last 15 miles were a struggle. I had been in the saddle for 7 hours 20 minutes when I reached town and it was 5:15.

Remember Goliad! It is not as memorable as “Remember the Alamo" but it too was shouted by Sam Houston, leader of the Texas troops, at the Battle of San Jacinto. A large group of Texans had surrendered to the Mexican commander, Santa Anna, at Goliad thinking they would be imprisoned. Santa Anna ordered them executed. At the Battle of San Jacinto Sam Houston was hoping to avenge the deaths of those lost at the Alamo and Goliad. The Battle of San Jacinto was a victory for the Texas that would ultimately lead to Texas being annexed by the United States.

I was exhausted. The battle with Mr. Wind took its toll. For some reason though, when I saw a sign letting me know that Victoria, my initial goal, was 27 miles further on, I just had to go for it. I knew I would never make it before dark. I just didn’t want to fail to make it to the town in which I was planning to end my day.

I knew full moon was coming up in the next few days, or was it new moon? I wasn’t sure. As you may well image, I haven’t had many romantic nights with young ladies recently, gazing up at the sky, so I didn’t know if the moon was waxing or waning. I was hoping it was a full moon so I might have a bit of light.

There was construction work being done on nearly the entire stretch of road between the two towns. Initially it was problematic as there was one lane in each direction cordoned off by cement barriers. Cars backing up behind me weren’t exactly thrilled as they were probably on their way home from work. After the first few miles the new road that was being built was nearly complete, but not yet open to traffic. Today, it was open for a bicycle though. It was only eight miles where I was able to ride on that road, but it was better than being in traffic at dusk with no lights.

By 6:15 cars put on their headlights. By 6:45 it was totally dark. There were no streetlights, so I did the best I could to use the headlights from the cars to help me out. The wind had calmed down when it got dark which was both a blessing and hindrance. I was able to ride faster, but I was not able to see the road. It happened many times, but at one point I ran over something particularly large and metallic. I was really hoping I didn’t end up with a flat. Changing a flat tire in the dark would not have been fun. I tried to make out dark or shiny patches in the road and steer around them. There were a few times though where I gave the handlebars a white-knuckle death grip, stood up on my pedals and hoped for the best. Well, that and I used “The Force".

I had made it to Victoria, Texas just after 7:30. I had been turning the cranks for 9 hours 12 minutes, which only got me 117 miles. Had I ridden for that many hours on the day I averaged 21.1 MPH I would have covered nearly 195 miles. I was fine with my progress though. While this trip is about seeing America, it is also very much about challenging myself. It took all I had to finish the day in Victoria and it is an accomplishment that no one can ever take from me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Remember the Alamo

I took a day off to check out San Antonio. Obviously, I went to have a look at the Alamo, which I nearly walked right past without noticing. I thought it would be larger. The city sold off most of the property around it for development and kept only a small portion, including the building with the famous fa├žade that is shown on most post cards.

I spent a good deal of time ambling about the Riverwalk, which was quite pleasant. During the day it is not nearly as crowded as at night when all the bars and restaurants come to life. I was told that about 250 people fall in the river each year; most likely due to the fact that open alcohol containers are legal along the Riverwalk.

I have also had more questions come in. Some of the more common ones were along the lines of:

What do you think about all day?

Many things really. You would be surprised how much time I am actually concentrating on what I am doing, especially in heavy traffic, on bad roads or where there is a lot of debris on the road.

At times I do math in my head, trying to estimate how long it will take me to get to the next town or my destination for the day. I also reason through possible choices of my route. Out west though, most of the time I don’t have to worry about that as there are very few options.

Also, when I see signs for towns, rivers, what have you, the name may remind me of something and an entire stream of consciousness starts from that. One thought brings me to another and carries on for hours. The town of Castroville was a perfect example. There are so many places to go from there, thought wise. OK, so I am not saving the world, but its not like I am singing the Meow Mix song the entire day.

What do you have to fix/maintain/repair on your bike?

The most obvious are flat tires. Fortunately, I don’t seem to get many. Whether that is due to having durable tires or that I concentrate on avoiding debris on the road, I’m not sure. Speaking of tires, I got 5,000 miles out of my last set, but these, which are the same model, do not seem to be holding up quite as well. I may have to replace my tires in the next couple of thousand miles.

Another thing prone to wearing out is the chain. A chain will normally be good for 1,000 or 1,500 miles before it stretches. If the chain stretched more than a 1/16 of an inch, it will generally do damage to the teeth on the cassette that drives the back tire. At that point, when the chain is replaced, the cassette has to be replaced as well or the chain will skip. It’s worth spending the $35 on a new chain rather than having to worry about replacing the rear cassette.

Other than those things, there is the normal lubrication of moving parts and adjustment of the cables. The cables for the brakes and gears tend to stretch over time and have to be adjusted. That and a little cleaning on a regular basis is it for the most part.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Slow and Steady

I had advance warning that the wind wouldn’t be friendly in the morning, so I started out early. I didn’t have high expectations of making any serious time so I just kept turning the cranks and slowly moved along.

This stretch of road I was riding on was called the “Texas Hill Country Trail". For the last two days, there was just one hill after another. The climbs were nothing that would make me suffer, but enough to give me a good workout.

It was quite clear that I was encroaching upon civilization. There were towns every ten miles as opposed to 35 and traffic was getting heavier. In the last bit of open land there were a few signs advertising dove hunting. It may be big business in Texas and what guy doesn’t like to shoot his own dinner, but there was something strange about gunning down large numbers of doves, the international symbol of peace.

I passed through the town of Castroville on my way to San Antonio and postulated how the town might have gotten its name. No, it wasn’t a bunch of communists that made their way north from Cuba, but rather settled by Henri Castro and a small group of Alsatian people. The town claims to have a large Alsatian influence, but either I wasn’t in the right part of town or all that time I spent in eastern France wasn't the Alsace region at all, but some massive plot to misinform me. I was going to ask some people in Castroville what they thought about Castro stepping down and turning power over to his brother, but I think it would have missed the mark in that audience.

I knew I was getting close to San Antonio when I saw large jet aircraft in the distance. I figured it was military aircraft taking off from Lackland Air Force Base, where my brother, Mike, went to Basic Training when he joined the Air force a bunch of years ago. Sure enough, they were doing exercises with large transport aircraft. As I rode past the base I was thinking how I never had any desire to ever be in the military.

At times I looked more like a bat fluttering around on the side of the road than a cyclist. To counteract the heavy cross headwind that was blowing I had to lean hard to the left. When a car or truck came by, they would break the wind and I would immediately jerk left and then get pushed back again by the wind when the car passed. People probably thought I had been drinking before getting on the bike. Wouldn’t be the first time.

I am officially debunking the prevailing wind theory. For a few days I thought there was some merit in it, but no longer. I may write to Myth Busters so that they can prove that the prevailing wind at ground level is a load of crap. A cold front had (thankfully) come in overnight and along with it were some 30 MPH winds.

I’m beginning to get as bored of writing about the wind and dog chases as you probably are of reading about them. I’ll leave the dog chases out until one succeeds or at least gets really close. The wind, well, its an integral part of my day, everyday, either in its presence or absence.

In thinking about it, there are only a handful of things that are important to me while on the bike: 1) wind speed and more importantly, direction, 2) condition of the road, 3) temperature, 4) precipitation, 5) condition of my bike, and 6) my physical condition. Sure there are some other things, but overall, my list is what makes make day go ‘round.

As I rode into San Antonio, I took the scenic route so as to stay off some heavily trafficked roads. I booked a hotel downtown right on the Riverwalk, so I had free reign of dozens of bars and restaurants for the night. I sampled some of the local specialties, such as Lone Star and Shiner Bock. The place was jumping even for a Tuesday night. It had been a couple weeks since I cut loose. I even made some friends who invited me to join them for a few drinks. Those drinks were well earned over the past few days.

Not My Best Day

When looking at the ride for the day I thought about making the 160 mile run to San Antonio in a day, but as my back took a beating yesterday, I thought it would be a foolish endeavor. It would leave me with what I thought would be an easy 70-mile day.

I got a late start as I figured I would knock out the 70 miles in no time. How wrong I was. Taking 15 minutes to check out of my hotel was going to be a harbinger of my day.

It seems to always be windy in Texas. It’s just like using the spinner on a twister game though as you have to wait and see which direction it is going to blow. Today the spinner was against me.

I started out by riding past Laughlin Air Force Base, which was just outside town of Del Rio, Texas. There were more planes in the sky than flies on a dung heap. Most of the planes were old school single propeller planes, but there were quite a few. Perhaps they were bringing the old planes back as they can’t afford to keep replacing the crashed stealth bombers at 1.2 billion apiece. Think about how much money that is: $1,200,000,000. If you had that much cash it would put you in a club of wealth with fewer than 1,000 members. Seriously, think about it. What would you do with 1.2 billion? Not only that, but after the one stealth bomber crashed the other day, the military still has another 20 of them.

A few more bass boast came past. Either the owners were playing hooky from work or they fished for a living. Though on a slightly smaller scale than the Stealth Bomber, I never would have guessed that someone could earn a million dollars a year catching bass, which is what the top fisherman can earn. I would have guessed that you would need a commercial trawler to make that kind of money in fishing. I wouldn’t need a million a year, but if I could find someone to pay me to do the things I am doing, I wouldn’t be disappointed.

The day was heating up quickly and the wind was in my face. I was poking along until I hit the Kinney County line and the road conditions went from good to abysmal. The road yesterday had a short-lived reign at the top of the worst road list. I couldn’t believe that the road was in as bad shape as it was. If it were any worse, I would have had to trade in my bike for a mountain bike. I wasn’t in a good mood. I was so angry that if there were any dogs around, I was going to chase them.

While I had three strikes against me, there was nothing I could do to change them. I spent about half an hour mentally cursing Texas, The Department of Transportation and Kinney County. The thing about a trip like this though is that you can’t focus on the negative or it just grows. It is sometimes difficult to remain positive in tough circumstances, but whining about it will do me no good.

I grabbed some lunch in a town that came along after 30 miles. I was wiped out. I downed a 32-ounce drink in no time. I wasn’t at all hungry, but knew I had to eat something. I sat like a zombie eating my sandwich. I was more tired after 30 miles than I had been after 118 the previous day. I wasn’t exactly fired up to get back out on the bike, but I did.

As I pedaled on I stopped once or twice to catch a breather. The day was really getting warm, although I didn’t think about how warm it actually was. It felt like my head was in a sauna the entire day. The water in my water bottles heated up to the point where I could have made tea. No joke.

I was barely moving along, at times riding at 10 MPH. At one point I had enough. I called a time out. I found some shade under a tree that was growing on the side of the road and sat there for nearly an hour. I needed to change things up and that was just the ticket. When I was ready to head off again, it seemed a little cooler and the wind was calmer. The road was still garbage, but my whole attitude changed. I was on some crappy road, so what?

A couple miles down the road was a border checkpoint. I asked if I could fill up with water and the guys invited me in their office. I filled up on nice cold water and talked to the three guys there. I stood in the AC and had a chinwag with the guys. I told them my story and they filled me in on the minutiae of the life of a border control agent. Again I wasn’t champing at the bit to get back on the bike, but this time because I was really enjoying the conversation.

Not even a mile further down the road I hit a new county and smooth road. The day just kept getting better for the most part. I noticed that my front tire was making some noise and not rolling as smoothly as it should. I didn’t think much of it and was going to check it out later. The wind up was that the road must have damaged a section of the tire wall and there was a bulge from the tube putting pressure on it. I was able to fix it by putting a folded up dollar bill in there. If someone steals my tires, they get a one-dollar bonus. A bigger problem, for which there is no fix, is that one of my spokes is trying to pull its way through the rim. I’ll keep an eye on it.

The last 20 miles went by in a flash. I made it the 70 miles to my destination for the night and when I pulled into town, the thermometer on the bank clock said 97 degrees. And that was at 6 PM.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Rough Road Ahead

I felt sick most of the night, due, I think, to my dinner. I am having a problem in these small towns getting nutritious food. I had to settle for a hamburger, fried burrito and chicken fingers for dinner the night prior. Eating like that isn’t really conducive to maintaining a level of health and stamina that is required to pedal a bicycle 100 miles a day.

As I had 118 miles to ride until the next hotel, I got started at 7:30. The morning met me with temperatures in the 40’s. I probably could have used the leg warmers and long fingered gloves, but I figured I would tough it out for the first half hour until the sun rose over the mountains.

I always enjoyed riding early on Sunday mornings as I could see towns as they woke up. As I was in the desert I was hoping to see some morning wildlife. I didn’t see much, other than a woman feeding a deer just outside her front door.

The landscape looked very much the same as it had for the previous few days, but yet more barren if that was possible. Every now and again I would see a deer-hunting blind in the distance, but little else. Periodically there would be a sign declaring the existence of some canyon or another. The funny part was that many of the “canyons" were no deeper than an above ground swimming pool.

I had met so many nice people along the way, but there are always exceptions. I do my best to stay on the shoulder of the road, but for the most part today, there was no shoulder, but rather a collection of gravel. I ride in the road quite often, but when I hear a car coming from behind me I get over as far to the right as possible. Today though a trucker thought it would be fun to share a lane with me while he was going 70. There was a perfectly good passing lane with no cars in either direction as far as the eye could see, yet the trucker didn’t feel the need to move over a half dozen feet. Jerk.

As I was still hugging the Mexican border, I had the chance to speak with another border patrol agent. This guy had a different opinion on the construction of a wall between the US /Mexico than the last agent I had spoken with a few days prior. This guy wanted the equivalent of the Berlin Wall built between the two countries. Texas has a different policy than Arizona on illegal immigrants. In Texas they send them to prison right off the bat, then process them for deportation. The sentences grow exponentially for each time they are caught. The agent was saying that many people that had previously tried to cross in Texas now try and cross in Arizona, which is overwhelming the border patrol there. Despite the prison sentence in Texas, the agent was telling me that he caught 15 people today and 7 yesterday. It seems like the work of Sisyphus.

I had to ride on 30 miles of the worst road of the trip. The 30 miles really did a number on my back. I had to stop once or twice to take a break from the pounding on my spine, not to mention the pounding on my bike. From the worst road I had ridden on, it had turned out to be the best. The road turned in to the equivalent of a sheet of glass. After riding on that bumpy road it felt like riding on a cloud. In the time it took my feet and arms to stop tingling though, the road changed back to the same old garbage I had been riding on.

As the day wore on and I got closer to the Amistad National Recreation Area, I kept seeing trucks with bass boats in tow. I would later come to find out that the BASS Club World Championship was being held March 13th & 14th in the area so stay tuned!

Eventually, a town began to appear out of the desert. At first it was a building here or there, but eventually I was in a full-fledged city. I had a little more in the way of dining options, but as it was Sunday night, many places were closed. I also wasn’t going to get on my bike to find food, which left just Subway and Little Caesars. I couldn’t decide between the two so I had a sub and a large pizza. It took me all of 15 minutes to chow down 3,000 calories.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

More Desert

The hotel in which I stayed solved the train noise for me by providing earplugs. Despite getting to sleep relatively early, my body didn’t want to get out of bed right away. It was the best sleep I had on the trip to date.

The day was much warmer than the past few mornings, a sign I was heading further south. I started the day in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt with my jacket over the top, but I took off the jacket within five minutes.

In the first hour and a half, the road twisted back on itself several times, so I had the wind both with me, against me, and everything in between.

There was little going on during the ride as I was just riding through desert. I had a ride of 80 miles for the day and only one town along the way. I made use of the waypoint by talking to the guy working at the gas station. He was a local from the Marathon area and lived there his whole life. He had some interesting tidbits about the area and answered one of the questions I had been wondering about.

I had seen a bunch of dead animals run down on the side of the road: dogs, cats, coyote, boar, various birds, antelope, a horse (I couldn’t figure that one out), skunk, raccoon, desert rat, loads of rabbits, but no snakes. I thought that perhaps birds could carry a snake away instead of dining in the street, but my new friend told me quite simply that they aren’t out yet. He mentioned that if I waited a month I would see plenty of them, as they like sunning themselves on the asphalt.

In thinking about the animals, I was wondering about the Texas Longhorn. In my past travels I have seen the Zanzibari Red Colobus Monkey, the Ganges River Dolphin and the Yellow Eyed Penguin, none of which have more than a couple thousand left on the entire planet. Now here I am in Texas and there are allegedly over 250,000 of these longhorn characters, yet I haven’t seen a single one.

After my lunch break I made some great time. I cruised along and knocked out the last 50 miles in about two and a half hours, making it to Sanderson, Texas by 2 o’clock. I inquired at the store about how far it was to the next town with a hotel/motel. The answer: 120 miles. The decision was made; I would be staying in Sanderson, Texas for the night.

What to do with my afternoon? As it turned out, I met a German couple, Klaus and Doris, who happened to be biking around different parts of the globe. They were obviously fit, but were also competitive athletes, Klaus being 68. It was so great to talk to a couple that could fully understand what my life has been about for the last three years. Everyone puts their own slant on travel, but we were able to connect on so many different places and experiences. What I enjoyed the most was sharing stories of people’s kindness to travelers, regardless of where. Even today when I was stopped on the side of the road I had a car stop and ask if I was OK. I think that individual travelers break past any barriers, political or otherwise. Not only do I have a better understanding of how the world works after my last few years of traveling, but a few years ago I didn’t think it was even possible to have the understanding of people and cultures that I do now. I am sure that there are other people that could take it to another level.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Dogs, Prada and 1,000-Miles

The problem with the towns out this way is that they were founded because of the railroad. What that means is that the towns are situated right near the train tracks. Further, that translates to trains rumbling through all night. It has been over a week since I haven’t woken up in the middle of the night because of a train. There are worse problems in life.

I got a relatively slow start in the morning. There was a cross-headwind, which didn’t help me out. I was riding due south, so I figured as I swung around east, the wind situation would improve. I felt sluggish right out of the gate. I was thinking how unhappy I would be if a dog decided to give chase. Of course you know what happened.

My wish yesterday was to be chased by a poodle instead of a big scary dog. I didn’t exactly get my wish, but close, a Chihuahua. Whenever I hear a dog bark the adrenaline kicks in and I start pedaling harder before I even look. When I saw that scrappy little fellow I just started laughing. I could have out-walked that dog. I didn’t need to be on the bike. Not 15 minutes later though, I heard a strange clinkety-clank sound on the road behind me. A ninja dog snuck up on me without barking, that bugger. I took the usual course of action by pedaling like mad, but this dog was on the portly side. It was another easy win. I like to think the dog situation is going to get better, but I know it is only going to get worse. I hear that Louisiana has dogs running around like pigeons in New York City.

I knew it was going to be a day of about 70 miles to the next place I could get food and water, so I planned accordingly. I carried some extra water and loaded up on energy bars. As I pedaled along, on the side of the road was a Prada Boutique. No I’m not kidding. I thought it was a mirage. I can’t get anything to drink for 70 miles and there is display of Prada shoes and handbags. It just didn’t register. When I went up to the store I realized that no one was in it. As it turned out, it was an art installation. I would have preferred a 7-11.

Just after passing Prada, I looked at my odometer and realized that I had hit the 1,000-mile mark since setting off in Los Angeles.

A little further down the road I came upon the town of Valentine, Texas. I have to call it a town as it had a US post office, despite it being unmanned, but the place was a ghost town. There must have been a collection of houses somewhere off the road upon which I was riding, as the town fielded a High School football team. The team name: The Pirates; The Valentine’s Pirates. Personally I would have gone with something like the Valentine’s Angry Cupids, but I think they wanted to disassociate themselves from the holiday.

A little farther down the road and also filed under strange sights, was a dirigible. There was a blimp just sitting in the desert. Again, I was confused. At first I thought the border patrol used it to “patrol", but as I pedaled past the road that lead in its direction, there was a sign that read “US Air Force Satellite Station". Government money was spent on the thing; that was all I needed to know.

Finally, after 71 miles I came across the town of Marfa. The town looked out of place out in the middle of nowhere. There was a bustling main street and off it were art galleries, a museum and a courthouse that would look at home in the middle of some European city. The towns claim to fame was that the movie “Giant" was filmed there in 1956.

I don’t normally have a sit down lunch, but the idea of being in a town after 71 miles grew on me. I was able to grab a sandwich at a Subway and some ice cream at Dairy Queen, although I probably should have skipped the ice cream. As I left town I felt more sluggish than I had in the morning. Fortunately, the road was in outstanding shape...for a bit.

It is surprising that when doing a ride like this, the road condition plays such a role in my outlook on the day/trip. When the road becomes smooth after riding on questionable roads for 30 miles I feel like I can ride forever. Its time like that when I think I should try and ride a 200 mile day. But an hour later the road turns to a rutted up, pot hole riddled mess that I wonder how long it will take me to ride even the next five miles.

I stopped for the night in the town of Alpine, Texas. The town had a historic hotel that was first opened in the 20’s. I didn’t necessarily need to stay there, but when I found out that their restaurant served German food and had a microbrewery, the decision was made. While they had “shipping" problems bringing in some supplies (What? Did the covered wagon not make it over the pass? I got there on a bike. I don’t see why they can’t truck in some Bratwurst.) I was able to find something that scratched the itch.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Central Time Zone

I got my earliest start of the trip so far, leaving at 8. I was hoping to beat some of the rush hour traffic, but fortunately, the route I was riding for the morning ran parallel to I-10, which absorbed most of the traffic. It was a warm morning, which found me riding in short sleeves for the first time since California.

The morning went by in an instant. I was riding with a crosswind, which wasn’t all that bad. I tried to use some of my sailing knowledge in a terrestrial setting by angling my back to try and catch some wind. The results were negligible and with the condition of my spine, wasn’t worth the effort.

I had my first real dog race of the trip. Throughout the morning I had a number of dogs bark at me, but there was one that wasn’t fenced in and bolted after me. I stood up on the pedals and started cranking. I caught a glimpse of the dog and pedaled harder, much harder. The dog looked big and mean. Why don’t I ever get chased by a poodle? There were a few cars coming up from behind me so I crossed the road in front of them, hoping to put them in between the canine and myself. It didn’t really work, so I just kept pedaling. At 30 MPH I didn’t seem to be gaining any ground on the dog. When I looked over my shoulder, Sparky was still on the run. Eventually though, victory was mine. Some people try to tell me that the dog probably wouldn’t bite as its just being a dog by chasing me, but as someone who has been bitten by a dog, I don’t want to take that chance. I also have the full compliment of rabies shots just for good measure.

You would think that after nearly running out of gas in the desert yesterday I would plan my day on the bike a little better with water and food. I always seem to get into a rhythm while riding and think, “I’ll stop at the next place". One of these times there will be no “next place. I was able to grab some water at a small Mexican restaurant. While there I had a burrito. It wasn’t a Taco Bell or Del Taco burrito, but the real deal. For people living in the Southwest, they can get real Mexican food rather easily. I on the other hand learned about Mexican food from Taco Bell. Heck, I kept seeing signs on the side of the road near El Paso that read “Menudo". I had a feeling that it wasn’t referring to the boy band that came to fame in the eighties, but I didn’t know it was soup.

Later in the day I had to ride on my favorite road, I-10. I was surprised to see that the speed limit was 80. Like alcohol consumption by teens in Europe though, being that it is not entirely illegal, there are not nearly as many people that abuse it. If the speed limit on the New York State Thruway were suddenly jacked up to 80, I think a significantly larger number of people would be driving 90 than do in Texas.

When riding on I-10 the wind was at my back. I was able to make some time. I was keeping it in the upper 20’s for the most part. I pushed it in the mid 30’s for a bit and put it over 40 for a mile, but I didn’t want to burn myself out. There was a 1,000-foot climb to get over the Diablo Mountains, but it was a steady incline.

There was a 5-mile downhill to get to Van Horn, Texas, my stop for the day and the Central Time Zone. I would have liked to ride further, but the next hotel along my route was more than a handful of miles away. The day actually turned out to be the easiest 115-mile day I had ever ridden. Sometimes I don’t mind the relatively uneventful days.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Side Trip - Part II

My first stop in the morning was the Roswell UFO Museum. Roswell is best known for the 1947 Roswell Incident (despite the town trying to re-brand itself as the Dairy Capital of the Southwest) where some debris was allegedly found that was thought to be from an alien spacecraft. Whatever did happen back in July 1947, the Government did a fairly good job of covering it up. Regardless of what really did (or didn’t) occur, I don’t think the general public will ever know. If something was found there, it would be fairly easy for the Government to prove by just showing what was found. However, if nothing did actually happen or nothing was found, how would they prove that? I’m not sure if I believe in intelligent alien life, but our universe is pretty big. Earth is like a drop of water in the ocean in comparison.

In not making a decision, you make a choice; you choose not to make a decision. That was what I had done with my camera and miraculously it had come back from the grave. I just hope it will hold up at least until San Antonio, as chances of getting anything before then are slim.

My main goal for the day was Carlsbad Cavern National Park. I am a fan of spelunking (caving), and had been told that Carlsbad could possibly be the most beautiful in the world. I prefer caves where I can crawl through a narrow passageway and get dirty, but I think the National Park service would have frowned on it if I attempted to do so in their cave. So along the paved cave trail I went. The cave was sizable, although not the longest (Mammoth Cave, Kentucky) or with the biggest cave chamber (Sarawak Chamber, Borneo). But it certainly was an afternoon well spent. What stood out the most for me were the straw stalactites, named so as they look like drinking straws hanging from the ceiling. As far as the most beautiful cave in the world I am not sure. I had seen seem rather exquisite caves in Vietnam, China and Borneo. It was visually intricate and pleasing, but I will reserve judgment as to whether it was the most beautiful.

I was 160 miles from El Paso and had half a tank of gas. I figured “no problem". In the desert, the stretches of emptiness are staggering. On a bicycle I plan ahead and always try to make sure I have enough food and water. In the car though I didn’t think about it. Leave it to Chrysler to invent an engine that eats gas like a V8 and only gives four-cylinder power. Walter Chrysler would be proud. As my drive wore on I had serious doubts as to whether I would make it back to El Paso before running out of gas. I was eager to come over the next hill or around the next bend to see if there was a gas station there. I had passed two places along the way that claimed to have gas, but both were closed. I was literally sweating it out as I even turned off the AC to try and conserve fuel. With 60 miles still to go the fuel light came on. One of the problems with being by yourself is that it gives you too much time to think. My opinion as to whether I would make it to El Paso or not changed by the minute. Climbing a big hill: I won’t make it. If the gauge goes below the “E" a little before running out of gas I can make it. Why is there a traffic light in the desert? And why is it red? I’m not going to make it. Surely there has to be something before El Paso, I can probably make that. I have had more drama in the car than on the bicycle. At least on a bicycle I don’t have to worry about running out of gas.

The gas gauge hung tough when it hit “E" and I made it to a suburb of El Paso where I could fill up, but just barely. There is no way I would have made it to El Paso proper without filling up. That’s my final answer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Side Trip

I took a day to do a little side trip. Initially when I planned out my route I was going to ride a little further north through New Mexico, but plans change. As I still wanted to see a few things in the mid-New Mexico region I figured I would take a day or two, rent a car and check things out.

I picked up a rental car in El Paso and drove north. I started out by hitting up the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. For those people that don’t have the time or interest in visiting the deserts in North Africa or the Middle East, White Sands is a 275 square mile approximation of what it is like to be among the sand dunes. Granted, the Arabian Desert is about 1,000,000 square miles in size (about 5 times the size of Spain), but you can still get an idea of what it feels like to be among sand dunes at White Sands. And those dunes in White Sands are unique because, well, they are white. The dunes are comprised of gypsum as opposed to quartz (as is most sand), giving them their white color.

The nice thing about the park is that people are able to freely wander around the dunes. I of course had to take advantage of this. I have been in large deserts before and learned just how easy it is to get lost. There are virtually no identifying markers to remember as one dune looks just like the next. Also, when the wind is blowing, it can cover your footprints in a matter of seconds. Luckily, the wind stayed calm and my prints were visible as a last resort, but I had my compass with me in any event. Sand dunes are quite remarkable despite being nothing more than a collection of sand. Seeing them one after another until the curvature of the earth pulls them from view is an amazing sight.

I had a little problem with my camera in the park. The problem was that it died on me. The lens motor didn’t seem to want to do its job. After taking nearly 25,000 photos with that camera, I figured it had taken its last photo.

I drove to Roswell, New Mexico where I had planned to spend the night. I raced around town looking for a place to buy another camera, but my only choices were Target and Wal-Mart. Neither had a camera that I would have considered even as a temporary replacement though. I figured I would wait until I got back to El Paso to pick up something new.

I rounded out the night with dinner and a few beers, deciding what to do about a camera.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Welcome to Texas...I Guess

I thought that the day was going to be just an ordinary day of riding without any drama, no glory and no misery. As it turned out, the day had: fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters...wait, no, that was the movie Princess Bride. My day had a new state, a flat tire, Mexico over my shoulder and a role played to some critical acclaim by the wind.

I had two route options for the day: one of which was the all too familiar I-10, with the other option taking me right along the Mexican border for 60 miles. I wanted to ride the latter route, but I couldn’t get confirmation that the road along the border was paved. The night before I spoke to a police officer who said it was paved, but that wasn’t enough for me. It was 30 miles just to get there, so if it wasn’t paved, I would have to ride another 30 miles back to catch I-10. My hotel was right down the street from the Department of Transportation, so I figured I would ask those guys in the morning.

When checking out of the hotel the woman behind the counter reminded me it was Presidents Day, so the DOT would be closed. I took a shot in the dark and asked the woman if she knew if my potential route was paved. Not only did she know, but she had driven that route a month ago. It was enough for me.

The day started out just fine although it was cold. I had cut corners off a plastic bag to put over my socks and keep the wind off my feet. While the wind was calm in the morning, it picked up as the day wore on. Overnight the wind changed to the exact opposite direction and was against me again, but it wasn’t that bad. It just knocked off a couple of MPH off my speed.

About 30 miles into the day, my bike was riding funny. I wasn’t sure what it was, so after a bit I pulled over to check it out. Flat tire. It was a slow leak in my back tire. Obviously, I had everything I needed to fix a flat, but the doubt crept in my mind. I had decided to go with only one spare tube, so other than a patch job, that was it. I had picked up a small thumbtack size wire in my tire. It looked to be a piece of the steel belt from someone’s steel belted radials. I suspect I had run it over on I-10 yesterday and with the further riding today, pushed it in enough to cause a slow leak. While I was at it I also plucked out about half a dozen pieces of wire and glass that lodged themselves in my tire. A half hour later I was off again.

At the only store I would pass for the day I stopped in to fill up on liquids. I also bought a pre-packaged sandwich that wasn’t dated, which I knew was a mistake. I took one bite and tossed it. I had to make do with energy bars.

At the store, which was just off the Mexican border, I had inquired about exchanging USD for Pesos out of curiosity. I have been to many border towns where there was a huge market for currency exchange. When I had gone from China to Nepal I was accosted by no fewer than 20 moneychangers at the border. Here though, there was no currency market. The guy from the store said I could change all the USD I wanted just over the border. I would think the legal implications across the border are more lax.

On this part of the ride I thought about passing through a section of Mexico. Being that I didn’t have my passport with me, that idea was out. I usually don’t even go to the mailbox without bringing a toothbrush and my passport, but here I was without my passport.

There was almost no traffic on the border road. There were a couple of instances where I just looked down at me feet for 60 seconds at a time as they turned the cranks. I didn’t have to worry about running in to anything. I was surprised to come across a few guys from the National Guard who were repairing some dirt road, used by the border patrol I would guess. The guys didn’t know anything about it, other than that they were told to fix it. At least they were given a bulldozer to do so.

Further down the road I saw a border patrol jeep parked on the side of the road. I had a chat with the guard. He told me some good stories about people sneaking into the US and walking two or more days to I-10 to try and hitch a ride. Similarly, he mentioned that a lot of drugs came through that area in the same fashion. It is am impossible task for the border patrol to do what they are doing. They just have too much ground to cover and not enough staff. The majority of the border between the US and Mexico is divided by nothing more that a 3 ½ foot high wire fence, nothing more. I also asked what he thought about putting up the wall that was proposed. His thoughts were that it would work for a little while, but eventually people would find a way over, under, around or through it. Before leaving I also asked his opinion about the leniency on illegal aliens that is being discussed. “Don’t get me started", was his reply, to which he added, “What would be the point of me being here?

The other piece of advice my border patrol friend gave me was that this part of Mexico was no place for me to be. He mentioned that the drug wars are in full swing and there have been a large number of killings on both sides of the border.

I wasn’t moving along all that quickly, but those green reflective mile markers came past relatively quickly. I guess I just didn’t have much to worry about on my bike for the day. I also thought that perhaps I should have brought an MP3 player. I could have gotten one of those Spanish language courses.

The desert just seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t imagine that it would ever end, but after 110 miles it finally did, in El Paso, Texas. El Paso was not even remotely like what I would have expected. I knew it was in the desert, but I guess I was just thinking Houston and Dallas. Stranger still was that there was no sign whatsoever letting me know I had crossed from New Mexico to Texas.

I had another race against daylight. Getting the late start waiting for the DOT and a flat tire set me back. I knew I wanted to be on the east side of town and had a hotel in mind, but couldn’t find an easy way to get from where I was to where I wanted to go. I wound up on some sort of freeway and knew I didn’t want to be there in the fading light. I cut through town and had to consult my map (laptop) several times. I didn’t necessarily feel safe doing so, especially after talking to the border patrol agent earlier in the day. Eventually though I found my hotel and called it a day. I ate an entire large pizza for dinner and am ready to call it a night. Adios.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Welcome to New Mexico

My carpet had dried somewhat; at least to the point that it didn’t splash with each footfall. I didn’t exactly get a jump on the day and as soon as I was leaving the motel, a guy pulled up on a bike. He was riding across from Florida. He and I had a different approach on gear. Whereas I am a minimalist, he had enough gear to make a summit bid of Everest. We had different riding styles as well. He had been riding for the previous three hours while I was REM sleep. We chatted for a few minutes and went our opposite ways.

Within a few miles I hit the New Mexico border and immediately the road surface change...for the worse. The road looked recently redone, but with chip seal as opposed to the standard asphalt that most people know. It was a screw loosening, bone-rattling ride. I wanted to step up the pace, but I had to keep it at 15 MPH for the most part so as not to hammer my bike. My bike really wasn’t made for this kind of riding. On my 2005 ride I had destroyed my back rim in San Francisco, but as the bike was new, the manufacturer replaced it under warranty. I just didn’t tell them that I put 4,000 miles on it in 2 months.
The road also made it difficult to get comfortable in the saddle. With that, it also fatigues the arms and shoulders quite quickly. My bigger problem was that my back was acting up with pounding it was taking. With a few exceptions, I had been really spoiled by the good conditions of the road upon which I had been riding. It had to end some time.
The landscape was changing to more of a high desert. There was dry yellow grass carpeting the ground. There were no Saguaro cacti to be seen, replaced by larger shrubs.
As I rolled into Lordsburg, the only real town I would see for the day, the road improved markedly. I was just hoping it continued that way. Lordsburg was a town founded in 1880 on the route of the Southern Pacific railroad. The town was a base for miners in the area.
At present day, Lordsburg is a town that is an exit of the all too familiar I-10. I found some roads on my map that might keep me off I-10 for the day, but it was also possible that they might be dirt roads. I didn’t want to take that chance.

The wind picked up a bit and was at my back again. I was thrilled and stepped on the gas. My pace went from 15 to 27 MPH. Five miles flew by. Then 10. Then 20. I kept my pace in the upper 20’s for the most part, but was able to keep it over 30 for five miles. At one point I was cruising along at 37, ran out my gears and was looking for a higher one.

At the Continental Divide there was a souvenir shop that also sold fireworks. I figured I would celebrate my crossing of the Continental Divide by blowing something up. The only problem was that the shop only had the aerial fireworks.

Where I had crossed the Continental Divide was at less than half the elevation than when I had crossed on my 2005 ride. My crossing of the Continental Divide in 2005 was dethroned as the worst outing on my bike by the events two days prior. In theory, my ride was all downhill from the Continental Divide.

I was making some serious time. The next town past where I had planned to stop was 60 miles down the road and I had three hours of daylight left. I thought about making the run, but in looking at the map it wouldn’t get me anything. It would only leave me with a short day somewhere in Texas, as the hotel/distance between towns just wouldn’t work out.

Riding 96 miles took me 2 ½ hours less than the same distance on that miserable day, two days prior. I just felt sorry for that other biker I met in the morning. I had been through it myself in 2005, so I didn’t feel all that bad.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Good Recovery

The alarm went off at 7:30 and I was in no way ready to get out of bed. After a couple of minutes I managed to get up and go over to the window to have a look out of the window. I paused a couple of seconds before I pulled the curtain aside and when I did, the ground was wet. Fortunately it wasn’t raining and the weather report said the sky would clear throughout the day. It was 36 degrees though.

Between lolling about in bed and taking a long hot shower I didn’t get pedaling until after 8:30. Within two minutes of riding all the cleaning I did on the bike was for naught. It was a chilly morning and I was regretting not taking some plastic bags for my feet. I had planned on bringing shoe covers but at the last minute decided I probably wouldn’t need them. Not one of the smartest decisions I had ever made.

I was able to ease in to the day with a long downhill to start me off. Also, there was no wind to speak of, so I considered that a win.

Shortly in to my ride I stopped to talk to a few guys on the side of the road that were going coyote hunting. They shared a story with me that mountain lions have been chasing down cyclist as the looked like fleeing prey. I wish I didn’t know that, but I pedaled on. We would leapfrog one another throughout the day as they kept driving to new hunting spots in the same direction I was heading. Nice guys.

By 11:00 I got my first bit of real sun. While it felt awfully good, I didn’t dare open my jacket more than a few inches. By 12 though, it had warmed up significantly and the day took on a whole new demeanor. The chances of me getting rained on abated and my legs felt better. It was such a pleasant ride.

I stopped in a small convenience store to pick up some sustenance for the next 40 miles of riding. As I was in there a guy came in with a handful of change to get what he could in gas. I have been to places in Asia and Africa where poverty is a way of life, but it isn’t really something I think about in America. Sometimes we get isolated from certain things as we all live in our own little world. The great thing about this trip is that it exposes me to so many new things, good and bad.

By early afternoon there was an American flag waving in the direction I was riding. Finally! I had the wind at my back. It hit right when I needed it. I had planned on riding about 115 miles, but had a cut off at 75 if I didn’t make it to a certain town by two o’clock. I wanted to be sure I didn’t get caught as I did last night. While the morning was a bit sluggish, I was able to knock off 30 miles in a little over an hour to beat my cut off time by 15 minutes. Man, did I love that wind.

Many of the tiny towns that I had passed had seen better days. For many of the businesses I wouldn’t think they were open other than there being an “open" sign in the window. One good one was a gas station that had closed back when gas went for $1.24. The sign was still up.

The last 30 miles of riding was just glorious. The landscape was so wide open that at one point I could see the road 5-½ miles ahead (I clocked it). There was so little traffic in the afternoon and the sun was shining. All I could hear was the turning of my cranks, my tires on the road and the wind blowing from behind me. If anyone who remotely enjoys cycling was along with me this afternoon, they would instantly see why I am doing this ride. Had they been there 24 hours earlier, they probably would have questioned my sanity. I would ride a week of days like today before having to ride another day like yesterday.

Another great thing about the day was that I didn’t need any directions. I stayed on the same road for 115 miles. It bugged me that the shoulder of the road was in pristine condition; as was the road. There was no traffic on the road so I rode there and let the shoulder go unused. Where was that shoulder when I needed it on that freeway back in California.

I had to climb 3,600 feet on the day, but I barely noticed it with a few exceptions. Everything was coming up Kevin. The worst past of my day riding was dodging the periodic tumbleweed that came across the road.

I ended my day in a tiny town with only one motel. It was a gas station/motel really. Initially I had passed it thinking the place had been long shut and was glad I didn’t have to stay in a place like that. No, that was the motel. It was open. I was thinking back longingly to my room in Salome that had the goat outside my window. Worse yet was that when trying to turn the bathroom faucet on it didn’t work immediately so I didn’t think about it. When I came back from dinner at the lone cafe in town, the faucet decided that it wanted to work that whole time. I came back to a sopping wet floor. The last thing I wanted to do was spend a half hour mopping the carpet, but I did the best I could. I squished around in my shoes for the rest of the night.

Friday, February 15, 2008

My Harderst Day on a Bike...Ever!

I had to return the rental car in the morning so I got a late start. A cold spell had come in so I didn’t think it was so bad as it would give the day a chance top warm up a bit. As it was supposed to rain, it reinforced my thinking that it was a good idea to wait until it warmed up. It would cost me later though.

I had spoken to someone at a bike shop yesterday to get some advice on getting out of Phoenix. I hit the jackpot on the route getting out of the city. There was a series of bike routes that connected the 40 miles out of Phoenix and its suburbs.

I felt awfully sluggish in the morning. So much so that I checked to see if my brake pads were rubbing on my tires. No dice. My legs were concrete. It was probably the worst day for a dog to bolt after me, which happened. When he came close I yelled as loud as I could, which seemed to get him to back off. It was a good thing as well as I didn’t have time to get my foot unclipped in the event I had to defend myself.

It rained on and off for the first few hours of my ride. The temperature started in the low 50’s and dropped as I gained in altitude. Not pleasant in the rain.

Eventually I had no other choice but to get on a two-lane highway. There was only one way to get to the town I was going to. As it was Friday afternoon, traffic leaving Phoenix was rather heavy. While there was a small shoulder to ride on, it was covered in rudder strips. Those are the things that make noise when you drive on them, in the event you doze off in the car and start heading off the road. I rode on the highway for the most part. There were at least several times that I pulled in my left elbow fearing it would be clipped by a car closing in on me.

Later in the day all of the cars coming over the pass in my direction had their lights and windshield wipers on, so I knew what to expect. The rain came down heavier until I was fairly well soaked.

I rode through Tonto National Forest, which obviously isn’t traditional forest with evergreens and the like. I really wished it wasn’t completely overcast, as I am sure the park was beautiful. There was some greenery growing and shrubs taking up the space between various types of cactus.

Mile 76 was the longest mile of my life. It seemed like it took an hour for my odometer to click over to 77. I knew I had about another 20 miles to go and just kept thinking back to a 20-mile loop I regularly rode back on Long Island. Only 20 more miles. The only difference was that Long Island is devoid of mountains.

For the day I had climbed over 4,000 feet and my legs were feeling it. It had gotten colder, so much so that when I exhaled I could see my breath as a big white cloud. I was sucking wind on a couple of the climbs. At one point a saw a sign that was pointing out a 6% grade for the next 12 miles. Foolish me thought that it was downhill. Perhaps it was the picture of the truck going downhill. It was just pointing out that the hills coming up would be at a 6% grade, both down as well as up.

It was getting late in the day and being overcast, light would soon be fleeting. I still had my share of climbing to do and I was soaked. Water was absolutely pouring down the sides of the road. I now see how flash flood can catch people off guard.

I kept climbing. The rain turned to snow. It was my 2005 ride all over again. While the snow was sticking to the ground, it was not sticking to the road, so I was able to ride on. I was at the point though that when my brain told my body to do something, the odds were a coin toss whether my body could/would do it or not, with the exception of turning the cranks. It would be my only savior. When I had stopped to grab something out of my bag I had cut my hand, but didn’t even realize it until I got to my hotel.

It was nearly completely dark and there were no lights. I was now frozen and had to blast down hills in the dark. It had to hit the brakes to keep it below 30 miles per hour. The wind-chill of traveling at 30 miles an hour subtracts 15 degrees from the temperature. Assuming it was 30 degrees, I was in wet clothes in 15 degree weather in the dark. I had to stop to put plastic bags on my feet as I had lost all the feeling in the toes on my right foot. I would have put bags on my hands as well, but I just didn’t have any more.

I would periodically have a car creep up from behind me. I had no lights on my bike, so absent some reflective material, I wasn’t very visible.

I had no choice but to pedal on. When I somehow finally got to the near side of the town I passed a Dominos Pizza. I stopped in and ordered a pizza to be delivered to my hotel (no I didn’t catch a ride with the driver). I kept riding on.

To add to my day, I got pulled over by the police before reaching my hotel. The first time in all my days riding a bike, I got pulled over by the cops. His beef was that I was riding in the dark without light. I agreed with him, as I hadn’t planned on riding in the dark at any point in my trip. He pointed out a route I could ride through town that was lit and would get me to my hotel. Of course I got lost. Now I was hoping that my pizza didn’t beat me to my hotel, as I hadn’t yet checked in.

When I pulled in the parking lot of my hotel it was 7 o’clock and the thermometer read 41 degrees. I was never so happy to be finished riding. I was exhausted. I was shaking as I was checking in and by the time I got to my room I had to keep myself from throwing up.
I was just shot, but I couldn’t neglect my bike. I had to rally and spend an hour cleaning it. The bike was just filthy and needed some serious maintenance.

I heard that some places got up to 18" of snow, so I consider myself lucky, but I hope to not have too many more days like this one. Oh, and I have about 115 miles planned for tomorrow. I hope it stops raining.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sightseeing in Phoenix

I rented a car to get me around Phoenix so that I would be able to see the sights. I never needed the service before, but Enterprise will pick you up. I really didn’t want to ride over to pick up a rental car.

I started by heading to downtown Phoenix. I was told not to expect much coming from New York, but it was quaint. It was like a combination of the downtown areas of Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio. It was small but there were at least a few things to see and do.

Next stop was the Heard Museum. It focused on Indian (apparently that it the proper term again these days) history. It was well worth the stop as I got to learn a bit about the lands that I was riding though, not just giggling at a bola tie exhibit.

I hit up Scottsdale as I was told it was worth a look. I agree that it was. I wasn’t looking to make any purchases, especially not art, which seemed to be on sale eat nearly everywhere. I didn’t need to pedal the next 4,500 miles with a Renoir strapped to my back. The area did have a ton of shopping and some pretty nice restaurants and bars where you could sit outside.

My afternoon was rough. I got stuck in rush-hour! I haven’t been stuck in rush-hour for nearly three years. I would rather have had my bike. I am sure I could have gotten back to my hotel sooner. Next up on the list of frustration was trying to get cash from an ATM. The first place I stopped the ATM was out of order. The second place the ATM worked only until I tried to withdraw cash, then shutdown. It didn't give me money, but deducted it from my account. The third I had to wait for some woman trying to do a corporate takeover at the ATM. I knew I was in trouble when she picked up that phone on the ATM. I bailed.

I wanted to leave the afternoon behind and being the hockey fan that I am, I had to catch the Coyotes/Stars game that evening. I was concerned that I might not get a ticket (as now I had no cash and couldn’t scalp), but the arena was about a third full. I attribute it to: 1) Valentines Day and 2) Shaq was supposed to be playing his first basketball game for the Suns on the other side of town. In any event, I had a few beers and got to see a good hockey game. Phoenix won. A solid end to my day in Phoenix.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Now Arriving in Phoenix

I was up early to catch the restaurant when it opened at seven. The only problem was that the guy that was supposed to be working overslept, so they remained closed. The gas station had a few snacks so I had to opt for that instead of what I hoped would be a filling and nutritious breakfast.

I got rolling at 8:15 on freshly paved road. It was a bit chilly; to the point were I went with the jacket. While for some reason I didn’t feel comfortable in the saddle, it was a pleasant morning.

My first stop for the day was in the town of Aquila, a largely Hispanic town. It looked like a rough place as the few business there had big metal shutters or bars on the windows. There was even one house that was completely surrounded by a fence topped by barbed wire. It was a new slant on the American dream and white picket fence for sure. The people in the one shop I patronized though were as nice as could be. It was just another example showing that looks can be deceiving.

Later in the day I came across the town of Wickenburg, AZ. It was a town of historical significance as it was where the Wickenburg Massacre happened back in 1871. I stopped at the information center to see if I could get some, well, information. I was hoping to learn about the area and I was in luck as there was a museum in town that I was told was worth a look. The museum did a good job of portraying early life in the area, but far and away the best display in the museum was of Bola Ties. What was a staple in the male wardrobe in the 80’s in America is Arizona’s official neckwear. There were bola ties in every imaginable shape, size and color. It took me back to the days of parachute pants, fat laces and Members Only jackets.

By late afternoon I hit the suburbs of Phoenix. I was quite entertained by Sun City, AZ. The town had a very wide center median on certain roads to leave room for golf cart paths and hundreds of orange trees. I was told that the oranges were of the sour variety and could only be used for marmalade, so any thoughts I had of reaching up and grabbing a refreshing snack were dashed.

Hitting the suburbs of Phoenix in the late afternoon meant only one thing: that I would be riding through Phoenix at rush-hour. That was some fine planning on my part. My planned riding route went out the window as soon as I hit the city line. I had to get creative to stay out of traffic, but I managed to find some lesser used roads to get me across town. As far as city riding is concerned I didn’t think it was all that bad, but it's not like I would make the “Phoenix Traverse” my usual Sunday ride.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Welcome to Arizona

I experienced my first earthquake in Blythe, California. I was sitting around last night and everything around me starting shaking. I thought it might be from heavy traffic on the Interstate, but no, it was my first earthquake.

I was sad to leave Blythe this morning, as I would miss the Blythe Jazz festival by only a few days. What? You didn’t know that Blythe is second only to New Orleans as a hot bed of Jazz?

It was another warm morning with the sun shining on me and the wind blowing right in my face. I was only a few miles from the Arizona border to start the day, so I figured it would be a non-event. I had an easier time getting into Yemen. I first had to work through a maze of roads that would lead me to the overpass. I knew I couldn’t be on the highway, so I ended up on some kind of pedestrian path. The path was composed mainly of sand with rocks scattered about. I managed to pedal up to the bridge with some anxiety, dodging potholes along the way. Eventually though I had made it across the Colorado River and into Arizona. All this just to enter a state that is mostly desert.

I stayed off the highway for the next couple of miles, heading off into the desert and hoping to meet up with the Interstate 10 again in 30 miles. I started to get a bad feeling about where I was heading and stopped to ask someone before I left the last part of civilization. Sure enough, the road I was planning to take to get me back to the highway hadn’t been maintained since Harding was in the White House, so I circled back around and headed back on I-10. It was nice having the wind at my back at least for the few miles until I was back on I-10. It seemed that Arizona could care less if I wanted to ride on the Interstate for the entire length of their state. There was even a sign for me as I got on the highway telling me to stay on the shoulder.

I got excited when I saw my first Saguaro cactus. The Saguaro is the stereotypical cactus with the main trunk and a few arms growing off the side. To me it said I was making progress.

My day riding was defined by three long climbs. While the climbs were long, they were very gradual. I did notice them, but I didn’t really struggle up them. Upon descending the first of the climbs I got a free ride. I was able to keep some speed for a few miles without having to pedal. Finally, a break.

I stopped in the town of Quartzsite to grab a quick bite to eat. A fellow bike enthusiast came over to chat for a bit. When a few people around me heard my story I got bombarded by questions about the series of trips I have planned. There was quite a little stir in the rest stop cafeteria. I almost felt like a celebrity, almost.

In the town of Quartzsite there a hundreds of flea market stalls set up in bunches all about the place. Many were selling rocks that were collected from out in the desert. Others were selling everything from Betamax tapes to used sox; of which I was in the market for neither.

So there I was back on I-10. My cross-country bike ride is turning to a tour of I-10 to catalog all the garbage on the side of the road and suck in the exhaust fumes. I have a feeling I-10 is going to become more a part of my life on this trip than I would have thought.

I finally made my way off the interstate and onto a dubiously paved offshoot. I stopped for a drink at a store in the town of Brenda. Brenda is the kind of town that has an equivalent number of automobiles and off-road vehicles. About half of the vehicles parked in front of the store (notice I said “the" store as there was only one), were off-roaders. It seems that people live in RVs and use some type of golf cart on steroids to get around. I checked the notice board in front of the store just for fun and found some dowsing equipment for sale as well as the services of a claim staker being offered.

Also in Brenda was a Micro-light airstrip. A micro-light is basically a hang glider with a motor and is one of the airborne activities that have not yet tried. I went over to the RV parked nearby and inquired about taking a flight. Unfortunately, they only fly early morning or in the evening as during the day it is too windy. I can relate. The guy was booked for the evening session, so I was out of luck and pedaled on.

The whole stretch I had ridden along once off the Interstate was one big RV park. Granted, there is so much open space that it hardly seems like there are any around, but there are hundreds of RVs parked along the stretch. These RV parks line up all sorts of entertainment to try and bring people in. Concerts, bingo, you name it.

One other town I had passed through was Harcuvar. The town was so small that the “Welcome" sign also reads “Come Back Soon" Harcuvar was however larger than a town I had passed on my 2005 Cross-country ride, Wagontire, Oregon, which had a population of two.

My stop for the day was a town by the name of Salome. I don’t think you could call it a one-horse town, perhaps half of one. Initially, Salome was a mining town and as best I can tell, what remains of it still is. I was told though that cotton is a popular crop here and that a couple new dairy farms had just opened, so perhaps that will ease some of the hard times that seem to have befallen the town. I saw quite a few “For Sale" signs hanging in windows that seemed to have been hung there many years ago.

Initially I wasn’t even sure there was a place to stay in town and when I got there I wasn’t really ready to stop riding. As it was another 100 miles to Phoenix and I lost and hour riding into the Mountain Time Zone, it was my home for the night.

I ate at the town restaurant, which closed at eight. As I am used to eating later, I had to rush in there to make sure I got some food or I would be out of luck. This town certainly wasn’t Blythe and all of its fast food restaurants. This was Salome, the restaurant didn’t take credit cards and I had a goat outside my motel room window. Sitting next to me in the restaurant was on old-timer that looked exactly what I thought an 1800’s prospector would look like. He had long white hair and a bushy beard to match. He had the obligatory cowboy hat and the watch, well, not the watch. But the rest of him reminded me of a prospector.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Not Necessarily Planned Day Off

Life always seems to get in the way. I had a number of administrative things I needed to take care of, so I had to take the day off from riding. I had been planning to take a day in Phoenix as I had never been there, but some things just can’t wait. I still may stop in Phoenix though.

As I had a little time I figured I would plan my attack on Phoenix. It seems that getting in and out of major cities is the hardest part about riding a bike cross-country. I started by visiting the California Highway Patrol or CHP. My sympathy to the three remaining die-hard fans out there, but they no longer go by ChiPS. In any event, CHP referred me to the Arizona Highway Patrol, who referred me to the Arizona Department of Transportation, who transferred me to the Department of Public Safety who then handed me back to the Arizona Highway Patrol. Needless to say, I am on my own.

I have been getting a number of questions about my trip, gear, etc.. On the days I am not riding, I will try to answer some of the more frequently posed questions.

Question: I didn’t see an MP3 player on your equipment list; do you have one with you?

I don’t. This trip isn’t just about riding a bike across the United States. Part of this trip is about experiencing what is out there along the way. Having an MP3 player takes away from that; at least for me. Also, I don’t think it’s very safe. Many cyclists wear MP3 players, but I like to hear when cars are coming up from behind me.

Question: What kind of maps are you using?

Inasmuch as I have a laptop I am using mapping software. It is interactive so that it lets me plot out distances as well as zoom in and out. One of the best features is that it shows hotels across the country. When I plan my route I can gauge in which town I might reasonably find a place to stay. It’s not perfect, but it is a good start.

In addition I have topographic software that shows the elevations of any route I choose. It can build a side profile so that I can see what I will have in the way of hills for the day. I didn’t have the topographic software for my 2005 ride as it isn’t necessary, but it is nice to have.

Lastly, I periodically supplement the electronic maps with a paper map. I find that county maps usually provide the right scale to be useful, but I can ride in and out of more than a few counties on a given day so that while the maps help, they don't help for long.

Also, I will almost always stop at bike shops if I happen across one, as they are generally a wealth of information. When there is no bike shop around I find myself speaking to people about the planned route. It doesn’t always work though. On my 2005 ride I had asked a local waitress in her mid-40’s about the route to the next town, 40 miles on. Her response was, “I don’t know. I have never been there".

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hundred Mile Day

I had a great start to the morning. I started riding by 8:30, there was no wind to speak of, there was little traffic on a Sunday morning and the road was in good shape. If things stayed like that for the rest of the day, I would be a happy man. Unfortunately though, there was a 2,000-foot mountain and 100 miles between me and the next town in which I could find a hotel.

As I turned off the main road to make my way up the mountain pass I had the opportunity to pick up a few last supplies in the town of Mecca. I am pretty sure that no one will confuse it with the one in Saudi Arabia. Aside from not having a single mosque, there was nary a Muslim to be found. I wasn’t sure where I would be able to find the next source of food or water, so I stocked up with bananas and an extra 32oz drink.

As I pedaled on I passed through farms of oranges and red peppers. Having lived in a city for quite some time, it’s not something I would normally think about. City dwellers go to the supermarket and pick up fruits and vegetables without ever having seen how they were farmed.
Further along I saw a number of animals, including: rabbits, desert rats and a roadrunner. At least I thought it was a roadrunner. There was no “Beep, Beep" caption bubble, nor was a coyote chasing it on a rocket, but I’m pretty sure it was a roadrunner. I even spotted some 16" carp in one of the canals.

The climb up the mountain was slow and steady. The road wound through canyons of red rock and sandstone. The only traffic was the occasional motor home or pick-up truck towing quads and dirt bikes. The area is heavily used by off-roaders, but there were still very little in the way of traffic to speak of. While the climb was steady and not nearly as bad as I thought it might be, I kept waiting for a break. It never came though. The climb was 10 miles before the road gave me a breather with an ever so slight downhill section. I paused a couple of times to look back and take in the view. I had earned it.

I was almost disappointed when I got to Chiriaco Summit. The climb up Box Canyon Road was just so pleasant compared to riding out of Los Angeles and on the Freeway. Not only that, but I was climbing up the leeward side of the mountain, so I was protected from the wind.
At Chiriaco Summit I had to get on Interstate 10. Initially I had mixed feelings about riding on the highway again, but after a couple of miles with a wide eight-foot shoulder I felt better about it. The main benefit of riding on the highway is that when the big rigs come flying past I get an extra push from the draft. Its only fun for me if I can do it on my terms, not when I am forced to ride right next to 80,000 pound trucks passing 14 inches from my left arm.

True to form, as soon as I crested the summit the wind hit me straight on. Yeah, ha, ha, the jokes on Kevin again. I was actually going faster climbing up the mountain than descending. I thought when I had gotten to the summit that the hard work was behind me. No such luck. I’ve learned that I can’t come up with any expectations, as I can never know what I will be up against. Having things turn out worse than my expectations is much worse than the upside when things actually turn out better than them.

Services for the day were far and few between, 20-miles here, 25-miles there. The last 40-mile stretch was devoid of any place to get food or water. The last town in which I stopped before that stretch was in Desert Center. Just off the highway exit was a gas station that looked like it was right out of 1950. Nothing was paved. It was just dirt with a couple of pumps lined up and a sign out front telling all those in desperate need of gas that they would be paying $4.29 a gallon. I remember when I lived in France in 2000/2001 and gas was the equivalent of $6.00 a gallon. That was pre-Euro and when the dollar was much stronger than it is now, so I generally don’t complain about gas prices. Not that I have to worry about that now. As I didn’t need gas and didn’t want to be left out of the price gouging, I went to the cafe down the street. I ended up with a chocolate muffin and a drink for 150% of the normal price.

When I left Desert Center and got back on the Interstate the wind was kind enough to stop. It was exactly what I needed. I was able keep my speed in the mid-20’s for a better part of the last 40-miles.

In the last few years visiting certain countries I was always disappointed with the amount of litter I saw. I should have looked at my own country first. Despite the $1,000 fine for littering, the side of the highway was a mess. Aside from the things tossed out of car windows there were enough screws, nails, bolts, hooks and hinges to fill a hardware store. Strangely, there were enough tools to stock a modest workshop and a sufficient number of bungee cords to strap down King Kong.

The sun was out in full force and I am sure no one will give me any sympathy when I say it was bit warm; in the mid eighties. Apparently, the sun was off to my right during the hottest part of the day. I ended up burning the outside of my right arm and the inside of my left arm. Add to that the tan lines I have from my bike gloves and shorts that are as straight as a ruler and I am quite the sight.

I pulled in the town of Blythe, CA, late afternoon. The first thing I noticed about Blythe was how many fast food restaurants there were. Actually the first thing I noticed was that gas was $2.81. The second thing I noticed were all the fast food restaurants. Other than In and Out Burger, there was every fast food chain I think I had ever seen. I had to have someone point out to me a place where I could get something to eat from a place that didn’t have a chain from coast to coast.

My final mileage total for the day was 103.8, which left me just 3 miles from the Arizona border. Burning all those calories, perhaps I could have used some fast food

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Rough Start

Lets get one thing straight. There is no such thing as the “prevailing wind". I am convinced that the wind will prevail against me no matter what direction I am riding. This morning the wind was blowing straight out of the east. On my 2005 bike ride, heading from that direction, I would have bribed, maimed or killed for wind straight out of the east. Worse yet was the sound of the wind in my ears for hours on end. To get an idea what it was like, drive your car around for 4 hours all the time keeping your head out of the window. It was a disheartening start to the day.
The next kick in the teeth came in the form of a road that I wanted to take being a dirt road. It wasn’t all that bad as it only added a couple of miles, but it would have been nice to have it show up on my map as a dirt road.

The worst part of my day was having to ride on the freeway. It wasn’t like yesterday, just having to cross a bridge and then being done with it. I had to stay on the freeway for 10 miles. The problem was that the shoulder for the most part was spaghetti thin and covered in gravel and broken glass. At times it was even non-existent. With the wind blowing through the mountains I got pushed around, but did my best to stay as far to the right as possible. The speed limit was 70, but as we all know, few people actually drive at or below the speed limit. The cars and big rigs just blew on by. I wanted to be there less that they wanted me there, but couldn’t actually convey that to them. I just couldn’t find any other way from point A to point B. It was 10 of the scariest miles I have ever pedaled.

When I got to the next town I saw a bike shop and made a quick stop. My new best friend, Mike, told me that riding on the freeway is sheer insanity. What I think he wanted to say was sheer stupidity, but he was being polite. He added that there was in fact a way around that freeway despite not being on my map. Strike two for the map. I ran my intended route for the next few days past Mike and he told me that what I had planned made about as much sense as me riding on the freeway. He made a suggestion that took me south of Joshua Tree National Park as opposed to north of it. It would also mean that I would have to spend about 70 miles riding on the interstate. He explained that riding on I-10 was generally safe and even legal as there was no other way to go east from there. I had mixed thoughts.

As I got closer to Palm Springs I noticed a few wind turbines. Then more. And more. There were literally hundreds of wind turbines littering the landscape. I say "littering" the landscape as they weren’t those cute little Dutch models, surrounded by tulips and people dancing in clogs. The turbines were 200 feet tall, towering over the desert like some postmodern forest. Riding through any area with that many wind turbines nearly guarantees that there will be wind. The kicker was a big yellow sign that read, “High Winds Ahead".

When I got to Palm Springs I saw a sign listing the elevation at 475 feet. I didn’t realize that I had descended over 2,000 feet from San Gorgonio pass. With the wind holding me back I didn’t pick up any speed while descending.

In the afternoon the wind died down and let me make some time. I felt surprisingly good after fighting the wind all morning. The last 35 miles flew by.

I had to go to a few hotels to find a place with room at the inn. The hotel I had found had nothing but a bar in walking distance, so I stopped in for some grub. About halfway through my meal it started: karaoke! I ate faster. I had intended to stick around for a beer, but I couldn’t bear the singing. As I was walking out, on came Stairway to Heaven.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Escape From LA!

Before setting out in the morning, I really didn’t think about my day being the start of what will be 10 months of physical exertion. It just seemed like I was going out for a bike ride. My starting point was 7400 Hollywood Blvd, my ending point when I rode from New York to Los Angeles in 2005. Fortunately, I was staying just around the corner. I also lucked out with the weather as it was going to be sunny and in the mid 70’s.

I set off at 10:30, hoping rush hour traffic would have died down, but there is always heavy traffic in LA; one of its big detractors. Starting my ride on Hollywood Boulevard didn’t help the matter. I did however get to ride along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, featuring all the household names, including: Ray Harryhausen, Rodney Bingenheimer and John Cromwell.

On my very first day riding, not 10 miles in I hit my first detour. There was a bridge that was out. Not that I minded I couldn’t go over the bridge, but I didn’t know how to get where I was going absent of riding on Highway 101. So here I am, my trip not an hour old and I am fracturing laws by riding on a highway where non-motorized vehicles are not permitted. After that I felt like a rebel and even blew a few red lights just for good measure.

I could tell I was making progress out of LA when I passed through the bail bond district followed by the auto glass district. It reminded me of Singapore. When you need X in Singapore you go to the shopping mall/area where all they sell is X. If you need Y, that’s on the other side of town, never mind the convenience of spreading out the products or services throughout the city. But I digress. I did get a kick out of the guys standing in front of the auto glass shops holding signs and attempting to flag cars into their shop. I never knew there was such competition between autoglass installers. Hey, at least you can do all your window shopping in one spot. OK, I promise to keep the puns at an absolute minimum.

By the early afternoon I got out of the bulk of traffic. I was finally able to ride on roads for a few miles at a stretch without having to worrying about blocking part of a lane of traffic. Drivers love when I do that. California drivers are so patient and are kind enough to let me know they are behind me by laying on the horn and screaming obscenities out the window. That only happened once.

I had the San Gabriel Mountains in view for most of the day. As they loomed in the distance, I just kept thinking that I would have to duel with them in the next day or two. The only real hill climbing I did was in Chino Hills and in Riverside. I was blown away by Chino Hills as it could have been in Switzerland. There were rolling green hills and the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. The only thing I knew about Chino was from the TV show "The OC" and they didn’t paint a very kind picture of it. As a side note, no self-respecting person that lives in Orange County actually calls it the OC. It is also not be confused with the Orange County in New York, home of Orange County Choppers. Hey, I left from Hollywood so I figured I would throw in a couple of Television tidbits. The climbs in Riverside seemed to go on forever. It was near the end of the day and I was feeling it. The only upside is that I finished the day in Moreno Valley, which meant I got to descend what I had climbed. Wait, if I am in a valley that means I will have to climb out of it tomorrow. Nuts.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Bike Ride T-1

My bike is tuned, my gear is packed and I have the torn off corner of a California map that I hope will guide me out of the urban sprawl that is Los Angeles. I had initially planned on leaving on the 7th, but things don’t always work out as planned. While I spent the winter out in Los Angeles, I had a few last minute things to do in NY before setting out, so I jumped a flight back. While I finished everything I needed to in NY, I really didn’t want to get off the plane back in LA on the 6th and start pedaling the following morning. I’m flexible.

The flight back from NY made me a bit nervous as Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado were completely blanketed in snow. I am planning to ride further south, but weather in the southwest this time of year can be a crapshoot.

On the flight back to LA, my back wasn’t feeling 100%. I traveled the globe for two and a half years participating in any and every adventure sport or activity I could find (especially the ones that insurance companies frown upon) without incident, but back in September I added to the collection of herniated disks in my spine in the comparatively tame games of tennis and golf. I would rather collect stamps or refrigerator magnets than herniated disks, but I guess I don’t have a choice at this point. People that are 80 can play tennis and golf without incident, but as usual I had to take it over the top. I fidgeted through the 6-hour flight while thinking of the near 60 days I would spend hunched over my bike.