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.

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