18 Grit Highways

20120930-171729.jpgWe finally met a west-bound cyclist named Pete, who was 32 days out of Jeckel Island, Georgia. Traveling on a Surly Long Haul fitted with all around Ortlieb panniers and a total weight of 35 pounds. He’s averaging just over 50 miles a day depending on towns, water and food. It was fun to pass on tips about the route from San Diego and learn of an alternate route into Austin.

We got an early start out of Sanderson which afforded the above view of the sun rising out of the scrub bushes. Not the great tailwind we had yesterday, only 7 out of the north which helped. We needed the help too, because the road turned to 18 grit surface, which for those who’ve never “wooded” a boat bottom or stripped fiberglass off a boat bottom to fix blistering, it’s like pebbles on a sanding belt. For the first time ever I started to be concerned for the tread on the tires, which reminds me, I should go check.

20120930-174223.jpgBy mid-morning we were in much greener low rolling country just off the Rio Grande and a stones throw from Mexico, where the Purple Sage is in full bloom. We also traveled thru the Silver Spike location where the east and west railroads met up completing the southern rail link across the states. Seems the big challenge was spanning the Pecos River which according to the Historical Marker took $250,000 in 1864.

20120930-175239.jpgPhoto is of the highway bridge just south of the railroad bridge location. Mileage was again over 90 but only 5,200 calories. We’re just 30 miles north of Del Rio, Texas where we turn toward San Antonio.

Tailwind thru fog


Interesting day after our lay day of rain in Alpine, Texas. Determined to get back on the road and with the Doppler radar showing no rain in the immediate vicinity, we headed out shortly before light on the pooled and puddled town streets. You could feel, but not see, the water coming up off the tires, as west Texas towns don’t have storm drainage or even grading for run-off. Guess they just wait for it to evaporate.

Just as the natural light turned up,so did the clouds come down. We must have ridden in wet misty clouds for a couple of hours. If we’d been driving at higher speeds you’d have to call it a dense fog. It was actually okay, because we soon picked up a strong tail-wind that gusted to more than 15 knots. This old highway used to be the main highway between El Paso and San Antonio, but since they built I- 10 traffic, as well as the towns has virtually disappeared. We probably saw less than four vehicles in the first couple of hours. One of those was a local Sheriff making his patrol some 30 miles from our start. Only reason I mention him was that I was doing about 36 MPH down the middle of the south bound lane in a tuck, just to see how fast the wind would let me go on that flat deserted highway. No indication from him I was a bother, then or either of the two times he passed us in the next hour.

The other notable milestone was that we passed the 1,000 mile mark on our Southern Tier tour, but who’s counting. I took this panorama photo (new iOS 6 photo feature) when Ivan’s cycle computer turned 1,000 miles.

We’ve bivouacked in a highway junction town of Sanderson, where almost everything has moved on. Most every store front has a Closed sign posted and we’re lucky there are still two motels and a Cuba, New Mexico style gas and convenience store for food. Dinner and provisioning for the next 90+ mile day takes imagination.


Lay day


A drizzable day. The weather service predicted 90% chance of weather and that been an underestimate so far. Late last night we made the decision to “lay over” because of rain and low temps. High today was to be near 64 degrees, so wet and cold, not to mention hazards of dodging puddles and tire splashes, put us in rest mode.

We did take time to service the bikes, especially the chains and cables. Ivan even installed his bomb-proof thorn resistant tube on the rear wheel.


Long and flat … continued


A portentous blog title yesterday. Today was indeed also long, over a hundred miles long, but still longer by the “elements”. We no sooner rolled the bikes out the motel door than Ivan announced his rear tire was flat. This element was iron in the form of a steel wire fragment which had to be removed from the tire casing with tweezers. Next was the elements of H 2 and O because it started raining within 10 miles and pretty much lasted all day. Another element was the recently chip and sealed highway, where they use the smallest version of river rock, something akin to that small stone look you get in aquariums. Combine those two water on the highway and rough surface with less than sleek rain gears and you’ll lose about 3 miles an hour.

Fortunately there was a full service bicycle shop in our destination town of Alpine where Ivan was able to replenish tubes and patches.  He’s also now going to try a thorn resistant tube.

We did roll thru the famous town of Marfa however missed it’s old town streets and sights which Jean tells us was well worth viewing.  Just outside of town is the Marfa Mystery Light viewing post where the atmospherics show still unknown sources of light on the horizon. Here’s a photo of the bronze plaque explaining the site.

Details of the day’s ride were just over 100 miles, 5,460 calories, plenty of rain and 8 flats in 6 plus hours riding time.


West Texas – Long and flat…so far

20120926-190936.jpgNot really fair to start with a large photo of myself, but I’ve little to say, so I’ll let the photo say the first thousand words. I’d label the photo 80 Mile Siesta, which wasn’t really a nap just a few minutes off my saddle and off my feet. There wasn’t any place to sit except on the roadside edge while we ate the last of our two part lunch. We’d spent almost the entire day on I-10 and this frontage road was a welcome respite.


The only interesting event(s) of the day were repairing Ivan’s two flats. We actually “booted” his tire because of numerous cases of sidewall damage. All in all, it was a 5,900 calorie – 90 mile day. We’re currently in Van Horn, Texas about to head south toward Del Rio, Texas which will be over hundred mile day.

Southern New Mexico

20120924-200633.jpg Southern New Mexico has been an unexpected treat to see and ride thru. Riding east from Globe, Arizona to Safford was dry and littered. Out of Safford you head into the mountains and eventually climb a dry almost barren pass to about 6,400′ head toward Silver City, New Mexico. Lots of rolling hills but at least it’s greener, in fact the transition at the top of the pass was most remarkable, almost like the changing sets of a theme park. From hot and dry to green and cooler. No wonder the border is where it is.

I’d hea20120924-210140.jpgrd of Silver City and imagined it to be close to a New Mexico version 20120924-210320.jpgof Durango or Bend, Oregon, but there weren’t any tall pines that I remember. However, just north and east of town is super ride toward Emory Pass (8,200′) with deeply forested steep canyon that was a pure delight to climb up thru. Only bummer was the wind was on the nose for the 19 mile descent on th other side. Rather than make it a 112 mile day we opted for stay in Hillsboro, a cross between living movie set of a 1950’s stage stop (actually a relic of a copper mining boom) and a contemporary ghost town. 20120924-210227.jpgExcellent 1950’s style chocolate shakes and homemade pies.

On into the Las Cruces valley which was unbelievably rife with agriculture of many kinds. Not just the famous Chilies from Hatch, but potatoes, cotton, corn, hay, alfalfa, dairy farms and most surprising acres and acres of pecan orchards. It made the trek into Las Cruces that much faster seeing all cultivation just north of the Mexican boarder.

Oh, we finally saw another touring cyclist loaded with all his panniers a bedroll on the backrack. He was out of Gila Bend of all places and just making a 3week loop up to the Four Corners, including a section of the Great Divide trail (Del Norte to Chama) and on back thru Silver City to Gila Bend.




Southern Tier first week

The first week of the east bound Southern Tier must be the hardest for several reasons, even with sag support. Establishing a routine would probably be the hardest. Making sure that you’ve packed, charged and loaded all those things that you’ll need for the day’s adventure. Because the first week’s route is primarily thru desert and limited re-hydration resources, you’ve got to pay extra attention to food and water. Our capacity for liquids is just over a gallon at 136 oz comprised of a 3 liter hydration bladder and two 20 oz water bottles. We carry Gatorade, for the electrolytes in the water bottles, and plain water in the hydration bladder, which gives a range of about four hours or a little more. If there is a convenience store of any sort we can augment liquids easily.

Food is a bit more problematic in that we’re burning close to 5 000 calories a day and that’s a lot of food to consume. At the one week point we are already tired of forcing down big Mexican or Italian dinners each night. Eastern Arizona, has had some great Mexican restaurants, but a large combo plate after a full day’s exercise is hard to eat even when it’s delicious. I will admit to enjoying several 850 calorie milk shakes mid-day, and they weren’t a problem as they were cold and delicious. We’d settled on taking two Subway sandwiches for the long hauls without a lunch possibility, supplemented with bars and gels along the way. If we know there might be a diner midday we’ll plan on that, but across the desert that hasn’t been a possibility.

Part of the organization hassle is provisioning the night before, when we’re tired and ready to put up our feet up. Because we’re departing by 5 am on the desert stretches, it’s impossible to find anything open that early. Also because we’d been traveling a couple of hours in the dark we have to make sure our headlights and tail lights were charged, not to mention phones, cameras and my iPad. Add in the necessity of washing your riding togs and blogging, then your non-riding time is filled up quickly.

I now understand why my friend and touring partner for the latter half of the Southern Tier Don Ahlert, says that he’s glad he did it, but won’t be doing it again. I’m sure the question most will ask is “Isn’t too hot?”. Actually I found that when your are riding you don’t notice the 100 degree temps. I did feel like my skin was taking a beating even with SP 120 sunscreen. Hydration is the big issue, we consumed over 240 ounces one day and were still thirst unquenched when we went to bed.



Arizona Highways

20120922-142045.jpgRemember the magazine called Arizona Highways? Those beautiful pictures of distant mountains, cactus, and sandscapes. We are seeing all those beautiful things and more. When you drive along the highway at 60+ miles an hour you can only focus on the far view, like cactus with special lighting or an Ocotillo turning yellow with the Fall season, maybe the morning alpenglow or Saguaro Cactus sentinels guarding their slope. Unfortunately the “more” mentioned above is even more visible20120920-190125.jpg riding a bicycle at 12 to 15 miles an hour. That “more” is the bar ditch and usually detritus that comes from the convenience store a couple of miles back. What occurred to me today while riding along seeing all the Adopt a Highway signs “in loving memory of [someone]”, was that they pay tribute to the memory of someone by throwing trash along their section of Highway. I guess the more trash in their section the higher you regard that person. Highway 70 south of Globe, Arizona has more trash per square foot than any other road I’ve seen. If Greenpeace rode bicycles there would be a major movement somewhere in that 20120922-141859.jpgneighborhood. The ride is great, but I did spend some 80 plus miles thinking about why littering was okay in this section of America and few other places. It could be that almost every vehicle here is a pick-up and every bit of trash blows out of the bed. It could be that the locals are primarily miners from the open pit copper mine. And it could be that these foothills are home to a large Apache tribe that appears 20120922-141955.jpgto be less affluent and environmentally aware than those in Colorado. BTW you should be checking Ivan’s Blog at jgicblog.com as he’s doing a blow by blow rendition of this Southern Tier ride. ; ;





20120919-170906.jpgSaddest thing I’ve seen along the roadside was this 3rd generation iPad squashed and slid over to the gravel shoulder. One wonders for miles, what was the occasion of it’s demise? Was it “set” atop a car while the owner searched for keys? Was it the source of a raging “domestic” (A Kiwi expression for a family argument), and the trumping spouse sent the Silver tablet out the window? Or was this final solution to not getting Siri to give an appropriate answer? Probably just pissed at AT&T service.

When I traveled the eastern half of the Southern Tier bicycle route a couple years back, we could tell what state we were in by the roadkill. Armadillos in east Texas, turtles in Louisana, and tiny deer in Florida. I guess since we were close to the Tech Center of Arizona near Chandler they run over iPads.


My second day, Ivan’s third, turned out to be much longer than we had expected. We originally planned to only go to Calexico but the downhill and easy riding in the morning got us to that destination about 9:30 AM. After a quick fuel-up of Gatorade, sandwich, and consultation with our SAG, we decided to carry-on towards Yuma – which would be a total of 115 miles for the day. The plan started out well but by the last 40 miles of the afternoon, the ride turned into very rough roads and hard going. Old Highway 80 became a desolate and abandoned road that was checked with expansion cracks every two to three feet as well as having serious asphalt deterioration. Even along Interstate 8 the shoulder was bumpy with raised joints every 10 feet. I don’t remember any of the back roads in Thailand being as terrible as these roads.

Needless to say, we were pretty done-in at the end of that day, and it wasn’t until the next day at about mile 80 that Ivan noticed that my rear wheel was out of true. It seems as though the pounding we took the day before busted my rear hub spoke flange, and one of the spokes was no longer anchored. I was able to carry-on by opening up the brake calipers completely.

We stopped at a roadside rest call Dateland, which has an historic airfield, not to mention super date milkshakes, and shortly thereafter we had another mechanical failure. Actually it was more of an electrical failure, a failure of the heart. Ivan noticed that his heart monitor reading on his Garmin was tacking up to the 170s. We rested for short while under an overpass where his pulse still wouldn’t slow to less than 150 beats and felt to this aging paramedic (me) like Atrial-Fib. We moved moderately to a rest stop and called for the SAG to pick us up at about mile 86 for the day. Our back-to-back centuries were foiled.

After a shower and short rest in the Gila Bend motel, the tachycardia and arrhythmia’s persisted, so we took Ivan to the closest hospital, which was in Chandler, south of Phoenix. As we all know once you “present” to an ER with any form of cardiac issues, they run you thru the gauntlet of tests and billable charges. 24 hours on the roller-coaster of tests, questions, waiting and with two differing opinions on the cause of the A-Fib, he was released famished and okayed to continue the ride.

A trip to Performance Bicycle was all I needed to replace the rear wheel. No questions, tests or waiting involved, but it wasn’t covered by MediBike either.

Climbing out of San Diego



I’m riding with old friends (or friends of long standing) Ivan and his partner, Jean, who is our support – or as she calls herself, the sag hag..His training over the last six months has proved successful and I had a hard time keeping up with him from the get-go. Fortunately living at altitude gives me an slight advantage on the hills.

We hit the road early this morning to knock off some of the climb out of. San Diego. Trying to beat the heat and wind, we calculated to leave at 5 AM and – I set my iPhone alarm for 4:30.  It wasn’t until two hours later that Ivan realized my iPhone must still be on MST. We actually started a 4 AM and none of the breakfast restaurants we planned on were open yet. It worked out great because there was hardly a soul on the highway and we certainly beat the heat, just not the winds. Easily, 25 knot winds were coming down from the mountains, but we only went over 4,000′ a couple of times.

20120915-172912.jpgWe finally found the Descanso Diner along the Old Hwy 80 road whose breakfast special was the Country Style Biscuits and Gravy – scrambled eggs between the sausage gravy and biscuits. Plenty food for the climbs ahead.

Kandersteg, Switzerland Hiking


Finally receiving some photos from the Swiss hiking contingent. The text messages say they are having a great time getting many all day hikes. Hopefully we’ll get something to paste in here from the hikers themselves. They especially liked the Jungfraujoch excursion and now are in the Kandersteg area.