Sunday, 18 April 2010

Heading to the border

Kingman to needles

it was a 50 mile ride from Kingman to Needles, half of which would be on the “historic” route 66. whilst I was in the museum yesterday I came across a cross section of the route. It was downhill, then uphill before going downhill once again...sweet!

Leaving the motel just before 7am I turned left and free wheeled  downhill. 12 miles later I was still free wheeling :) A few miles of flat followed and then the road went uphill fast, I went uphill slowly. Two and half hours and ten miles later I had reached the top of the pass (3350ft ASL).

The climb may have been slow but the scenery was beautiful. Wind worn rock ridges and flat top escapements and deep narrow valleys the road made its way around them all. The road was quiet (well it was a Sunday) the thermaling raptures were silent and the only noise I heard were the scuttling of unseen lizards, birdsong and the rustling of the stiff leaves of the arid scrub plants as the wind gently blew.

From the top of the pass it was a 5 mile blast downhill and into the “old wild west town” of Oatman. It looked like an old movie set that had been taken over by souvenir shops selling cheap tourist tat. However it was a real town with an old gold mine on the outskirts of town. So, go back 150 years or so....

Leaving Oatman it was about 25 miles to Needles and after safety passing several asses that were blocking the road it was an 18 mile free wheel down into the valley where the Colorado river flows. Hitting bottom I turned left and an hour later I was crossing the river, leaving Arizona behind and entering California (where you can't smoke in!)

I found a cheap motel near the interstate with a restaurant and bar nearby. More importantly the motel had a washing machine and so for the 1st time since leaving England I was able to wash my clothes!

Needles to Blythe

It is 96 miles between these two towns...96 miles across the desert. From Needles the nearest place to get water was 50 miles away at Vidal junction, so when I left I was carry 12 litres of water with  me (which was about 8 litres more than normal). Yesterday I came down one side of the valley and today I would be going up the other side of the valley.

The road had a slight uphill gradient to it but that combined with the strong headwind made it hard work. The sky was thankfully overcast so my water consumption wasn't to high. Highway 95 isn't a dual carriageway so when the trucks and large RV's passed by I  hoped no traffic was coming the other way!

So the day continued uphill into the strong headwind, mile after mile. 20 miles later I had crossed over a ridge and went downhill for a few miles before once again I was going along a road that had a energy sapping shallow gradient (of about 3%) into a 25mph head wind. By now I still had 30 miles to go till I could have a cold drink in the shade. The road was straight all the way!. I arrived at  Vidal junction just after 3pm and spent 45 minutes in the shade enjoying the cold bubbles in the coke can.

Now it was only 49 miles to Blythe, too far for me to make it there before the sun went down. I therefore decided to travel down the road for an hour or two before camping on the side of the road. 90 minutes and 17 miles later I went over the crest of a large dip in the road and I saw a sign that was displaying two of my favourite words in the English language.... “cold” and “beer”! Therefore I decided to spend the night in the RV park and not on the side of the road. For $10 I got a flat grass area to pitch my tent on under the shade of several large trees, a hot shower, a picnic table to serve diner on, a general store that sold me a couple of ice cold cans of beer whilst being on the bank of the Colorado river!

In the morning I was up before dawn and sat on the bank of the river, coffee in hand, watching the sun rise.

It was only 32 miles to Blythe so I was looking forward to an easy day in the saddle, man was I wrong! The wind had picked up and it was blowing hard, right into my face. Four hours later I still had 6 miles to reach the city limits and the road, now flat, was crossing open farm land. The wind was so strong that I was down in 5th gear struggling to maintain a forward speed of 6mph. I finally made it to Blythe and  found a cheap motel half way down the main street (the main street is about 5 miles long in a town of only 12000 people!) had a shower, turned on the AC to Max and crashed out on the bed for an hour or two.

I'm having a day off  tomorrow and hopefully on Thursday when I get back on the road the wind will have dropped or even better spun around by 180 degrees so that I have a tailwind!!!

Blythe to Brawley

Well I woke up early on Thursday morning, eager to get back on the road. Whilst having my usual breakfast outside the motel room I decided that the almost gale force winds blowing across the pre dawn sky would keep me here another day (well, I ain't in no rush!)

Friday morning I was back on the road just after dawn and after 15 miles I had left the green of the fields behind and headed out into the desert. It was 40 miles to the next watering hole and after crossing 2 valleys and endless miles of “dips” I arrived at Glamis, where there was a rail road, a shop and a huge expansive of sand dunes. The only reason the shop was there was to cater for the all the people that come out of the towns with their dune buggies and quad bikes to spend the day or weekend blasting over the towering sand dunes nearby.

After resting and rehydrating in the cool blessed shade for 45 minutes I was back on the bike, heading to the Brawley only 27 miles away. By now it was nearing 3pm and I had been on the road for 9 hours...3 hours later I arrived at Brawley and checked into the 1st motel I came across.

A few hours (a a few litres of gaterorade) later I was clean, fed and relaxed, basking in the glow of self achievement caused by cycling 88 miles in one day (a personal record I might add!) and the slight sun tan I had picked up :)

The following morning I cruised the 23miles to the town of  Calexico, right on the US/Mexican border. I'll be here for Saturday and Sunday night before getting back in the saddle early Monday morning.

Turns out it was actually Tuesday morning....

Calexico to Highway 94 (junction 65 on Interstate 8)

Damn, what a day I had!

It all started out so well, I left the Border Motel on 4th street just after 7am and after filling up with water and coffee at one of the many gas stations in town I was on my way.

Heading west on highway 98 I was making good time and just over two hours later I had travelled 20 miles, I was feeling good. With less than 6 miles to go to the gas station and the extended rest stop I passed a very large sign that read


that sign didn't lie!

Twenty minutes later I was several gears and mph's lower. Stopping for a quick drink, Philip pulled up alongside me. He's in his early 50's and was cycling from somewhere in Florida to San Diego with two other people who were a few miles behind. They had been on the road since the middle of February and it was their penultimate day on the road.

Back on the bikes he slowly pulled ahead of me and went straight onto the interstate. I turned right into a nearby gas station! Just as I was leaving the pit stop I bumped into Philip's companions, two ladies, one in her 40's and the other in her early 20's. Another chat followed and then I left them to their break.

Now, for the 1st and only time I was on the interstate. It was 10 miles to the top of the pass travelling along a wide hard shoulder with a 8% worries!! The head wind was gusting up to 40mph and I was in 1st gear. After 2 miles something went “ping” in my ankle and after a very short while it became obvious that walking would be better. It was hot (95f in the shade....what shade!!), windy and the road was long. With about 5 miles to go to the top the girls caught up with me and then passed me by.

Then I hit the wall.....I found out I had absolute no energy left!

60 minutes later I still had 3.5 miles to the top of the pass but I was sitting under the interstate in the cooling shade of a bridge, facing up to what would be a very very long day :( Just then one of the many border patrol trucks I had been seeing all day stopped in front of me. An angel got out and said that “my friends” further up the road were worried about me! She offered me a lift and without any hesitation I replied “yes please, thank you ever so much” On the 3rd attempt at trying to get my bike into the back of the enclosed pick up. I remembered that my bike had “S&S” couplings and so I could split the bike in two...doh! Chucking the bags on the back seat I jumped into the front and off we went.

Once over the top of the pass we carried on the 5 miles to the next petrol station, “my friends” weren't there so I mentioned that we would be going on to highway 94 a further 10 miles down the road. She dropped me off a a local store/gas station and after a cold drink and an ice lolly I biked the ½ mile to the only motel in the area. Once there...I turned the A/C on and collapsed on the bed!

Tomorrow I only have 30 miles to cycle to the border :)

many thanks to Philip and his two friends for looking out for me and asking the border patrol to make sure I was okay...turns out I wasn't :)

Last day in the US of A (28th of April 2010)

It was 28 miles to the border and the Mexican town of Tecate. It was a cold, windy and wet day. I thought about staying in the motel for another night but as it was a crap motel with no services I got on the bike instead.

Within 30 minutes my hands were numb, my feet sodded (gore tex = waterproof? My arse!) but at least I was going mostly downhill, slowly. The scenery was awesome but as the mist limited my vision to about 100m, the rain stinging my eyes and the gusting headwind (up to 50mph in places) made me keep my head down.

Three hours later the rain clouds had disappeared, the sun was making an effort to shine and I was free wheeling to the border. After a little confusion I remembered that I really did need a stamp and visa in my passport to enter Mexico...doh! I filled out the form and was told to take it to the bank a couple of blocks away for the visa payment. The six month visa would cost $262 which I thought was amazingly expensive! At the bank I was told I had to pay in pesos and it was at that point that I remembered that the dollar and peso sign were the same! Therefore I got my visa for less than £20.

I found a cheap hotel a few blocks away in the centre of town and whilst I was writing all this down in the shaded courtyard I realised that I never got an exit stamp from the US customs...Sod them!

So, 15 days on the road with ten days in the saddle...460 miles covered. From Tecate to La Paz is about 960 miles, should take me about a month then...????

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

On the road to Kingman

Day 1

This is it!!!!

What the hell am I doing????

I left the hotel around 7am for the 35 mile ride to a campsite on the shores of Lake Mead. After about 15 minutes I had gotten the hang of riding a fully loaded touring bike (thankfully!)

I had checked the route on google maps back on my sister's sofa last week. It only involved making one right turn, followed by one left turn. What could possibly go wrong? 60 minutes later I was in the middle of the desert (sorry, Las Vegas wetland nature reserve) on a dirt track heading in a direction that could be almost right. Not having a bike equipped with off road tyres meant that my speed was greatly reduced. As I wasn't in a rush, this was a good thing.

An hour or two later I appeared out of the desert and into the Las Vegas Lake Resort. A quick question of “where am I?” followed by “which way to lake Mead?” and I was on my way. Turns out I was only a few miles from the park entrance...sweet!

An hour later I was at boulder beach campsite. Due to the lack of water in the lake the actual beach was 800m away. For $10 a night I had a pitch, shade, a concrete picnic table and access to a toilet block that didn't have any showers. Yep, there's only about 5 tents here but many RV's.

When dusk came along I went gratefully to bed...

Day 2

I was up with the sun and a few hours later I was on my way. Leaving the campsite I turned left and headed to the main road a mile or so away. Halfway there the road's gradient increased and I quickly found out that my legs had no energy! Walking up the slope (and this wouldn't be the last time today either) I made it to the main road that lead to the Hoover Dam. This road's gradient was okay and so I cycled the few miles to the dam.

For some reason the dam looks bigger on the telly! Still it was a photo opportunity. Once over the dam I looked up and saw the road ahead of me...bugger! 20 minutes later I had gotten to the top and in one go I might add. A quick rest and a liquid refill at the café and I was off, hopefully downhill.

The downhill bit lasted about 4 minutes and for the next several miles it was mostly uphill, very slowly. On all of the steeper and longer bits it was a case of cycle for a bit, then get off and walk for bit. I would like to say that it was because I didn't want to stress out my ankle too much. That would be a lie, it was because I am an unfit fat bastard with pathetically weak legs.

Finally I cleared the last pass and the valley opened up before me. Its underlating road stretching out before me. The next place to get a cold drink of anything was 20 miles away and my energy levels were low. The fucking strong headwind was helping things either.

Two hours later I was still at least 30 minutes away from sweet beautiful shade when out of the heat mirage I saw a petrol station appear...and it was real! It also had an RV park and a bar (which was sadly closed). I decided to stay the night here and after chatting to the owner he mentioned that for $40 I could rent a static trailer for the night!

Its now early evening and I still have 5 ice cold beers from a 6 pack left. Tonight I will be sleeping in a bed after drinking the rest of the beers....well I am 40 years old today!!!!

Tomorrow I have a 50 mile ride across the desert to the town of Kingman or I wake up late feeling sore and weak and decide to try again the next day!

Day 3

I awoke just as the morning sun peaked over the mountains on the eastern side of the valley. The cold desert air chilled me in an invigorating way but no matter how glorious the day was my legs said no!

The trailer has a soft leather sofa which is just long enough for me too lounge out on. Cue cold drinks, movies, games and dozing the day away.

Day 4

After another great night's sleep I was once again up at dawn (or 05:45 to you). Just after 7am, after my usual breakfast,  I was on the road to Kingman. It was easy, cruising along at an comfortable 10 mph but after 20 minutes the headwind picked up and my speed dropped by 30% for the rest of the day...bugger!!!!

Thankfully the 1st five hours in the saddle were spent under a overcast cloudy sky, great conditions for crossing an arid landscape. Every 10-15 miles or so there were little rest stop shops for cold drinks and an ice cream. By midday I still had about 20 miles to go and with the gusting headwind my road speed was down to a measly 7mph (and that was on the flat bits). Still, it wasn't like I was just going to stop and give up! I carried on along the road, now under a blazing desert sun, head bowed down and with my eyes looking only several feet ahead.

For 10 miles the road was straight enough to make a Roman proud and when I finally came across a corner, with only 5 miles to go, the road went skyward. The climb was 2 miles long and sadly the last mile was spent pushing the bike, my tank was near empty and I really couldn't be arsed to drain it completely. Once over the pass (3737feet above MSL) it was down hill into the town of Kingman.

After a quick tour around the old town (why would I want to go the the new bit?) I checked into a motel 10 minutes walk away and crashed out in the chair with my naked feet on the stool and my hand holding a very large bottle of water...good times :)

The evening, after a Chinese, was spent watching TV, drinking the odd can of beer and massaging my ankle.

Day 5

Following a leisurely wake up I bimbled around the old part of “Historic Kingman”, founded in 1882! I had breakfast in Mr D'z diner complete with its fluorescent green and pink seats and then checked out the local “Route 66 museum” before wandering back to the motel room for some bike maintenance and looking at maps in the afternoon.

My original plan was from here, to go to the grand canyon and then head south to central Mexico. As you should know by now my plans change with ever increasing irregularity and as such I am now heading to Mexico's Baja California instead. Lets face it I could cycle (the 300 mile round trip) to the grand canyon but what would I do when I got there? Look over the edge and say “that's a big hole!” I wont be going trekking or riding any beast with 4 what's the point!

From looking at the map it will be a roundabout route because I ain't going to be cycling on the Interstate (even if it was legal) and sometimes it looks like that is the only road from point ?A to point B.

So, the 1st few days on the bike were as enjoyably hard as I knew they would be and the 116 miles I cycled so far is only just the start...

Friday, 9 April 2010

In the land of the obese... the overweight man slim?

Er....No! I'm still a fat bastard

The ten hour flight to Vegas took 12 hours. The computer in Manchester that works out all the load info for Virgin had crashed, so not a single Virgin flight could take off till the computer was fixed or the pilots had worked out all the math on the back of a napkin. Hence the two hour delay.

Clearing customs took an hour but at least there was no wait for the baggage.

Las Vegas is 8 hours behind Wokingham so when I finally crashed out at 11pm I had been awake for over 24 hours. Fun times this jet lag thing!

The next day I was on the bus to a shop to buy even more camping/travelling stuff. It took 2.5 hours to travel the 10 miles by bus and when I got back to the hotel I realised I had forgotten to buy a sleeping bag liner. I decided to have a smelly sleeping bag!

Las Vegas isn't really my kind of town. I find gambling to be quite boring (and also expensive). However the bar in the hotel/casino had several large TV screens showing sports. So it was a good weekend for Chelsea and Portsmouth, not so good for Spurs or Manchester united...happy days!

During the last day in Vegas I packed and then repacked my panniers several times, making sure each set of panniers were about the same weight. This is important...I think.

And then it was Tuesday morning....

bear in mind that since the middle of august all I've done really is

smoke fags
eat cheese
drink beer (with the occasional glass of my sister's wine)
sat on my arse
gained about 10 kilos in weigh (and that's me standing in a river in Egypt!)

and now I was starting a bike trip of unknown mileage and length. Plus I've never ridden a bicycle that was fully loaded with panniers before.