Monday, January 01, 2007

12/29/06 Pine Valley to El Centro. 79 mi., 14.3 avg.

22F when I awoke in Pine Valley this morning. Frost covering everything. I thought an open lean-to tarp configuration would ventilate well enough to prevent that, but in still air the frost formed just as well on both outside and inside surfaces. Made for a snowy egress. I was at Major's Diner when it opened at 6 and din't leave there 'til 7:30 after the sun was up. Got a little chilly breaking camp but was soon sweating as I climbed out of town on Old US8o. Beautiful cycling day in beautiful mountain country, beneath a cloudless sky of robin's-egg blue, through crystal-clear air suffused with the scents of pine and juniper and sage. Not a trace of the noxious brown haze that covers the coastal megalopolis. Several hours of ups and downs, culminating in a ten-mile, white-knuckle descent on I-8 from Jacumba down to Ocotillo. Set a new personal (bike) speed record of 53.6 mph. Trailer trucks are limited to 35 mph on the 6% downgrade, so I ended up passing a few in the breakdown lane. Sweet revenge! Unfortunately, I doubt they could hear my maniacal laughter over their engine noise. Perhaps it's just as well. Bicycles are forced to exit I-8 at Ocotillo and I had to parallel it on S80 over to El Centro. This is one of the roughest road stretches I've been on; the blacktop literally broken up for long stretches. It's also a major ORV playground, with a huge dust cloud being constantly replenished by bikes and dune buggies playing in the sand next to the 'highway'. Only one flat tire on that ten-mile stretch, which I considered lucky given the road surface. As I entered Seeley, just before El Centro, I entered the beginning of the intensely cultivated part of the Imperial Valley. I passed the largest accumulation of hay bales I've ever seen. Literally miles of huge pole barns, stacked to the rafters with millions of bales of hay, along with more piles, some covered and some not, out in the open. It seems that every field out here had huge stacks of hay next to it. Some of the fields had signs reading "IA Sludge - Keep Out" The odor left no doubt about what kind of sludge they were talking about. The other permeating odor was vaguely reminiscent of Malathion, or something similar. Chemical dispensing tank-trailers were abundant. The whole place renewed my determination to try and eat organic whenever possible!

12/30 El Centro to Blythe 105 mi., 13.3 avg. 7:50 saddle time.

Long day! Started at 6:45 am, 40F. Clear, calm and flat for the first 40 miles to Glamis. I stopped and asked a farmer if the hay was locally grown for export or imported to use as mulch on all the crops. Turns out that alfalfa hay is one of the valley's main crops and goes to livestock and dairy farms all over the southwest and California. They store it there until it's needed because it won't rot in their dry climate. Made me wonder how much of this huge agricultural area is devoted to growing meat instead of vegetables. That thought was reinforced when I passed one of the biggest stockyards I'd ever seen just east of Brawley. Stretched for over a mile along the highway and at least that far back from it. Over a square mile of wall-to-wall steers being fattened up for slaughter to coat the arteries of America. As I continued east from Brawley, I passed out of the irrigated, cultivated portion of the ImperialValley and entered the Sand Dunes National Recreation Area. This, too was covered with a huge cloud and it became apparent that this is where the hundreds of SUV's towing ORV's that had been passing me were headed for the holiday weekend. There were literally thousands of bikes, quad-runners and dune buggies of every shape and size roaring all over the dunes for miles.The whole area, including the dozens of parked RV clusters, was covered with a cloud of sand dust thick enough to burn my eyes and coat the insides of my nose and mouth with fine grit. Stopped for lunch at the one store in the middle of all this. People were lined up ten deep at the registers and the parking lot out front was a constant roar of arriving and departing ORV motors amid the all-envelopig dust cloud. Charming spot! I'd been making good time to there, but CA78 heads up into the Chocolate Mountains, next to a naval gunnery range and for the next 30 miles, climbs a couple of thousand feet via a constant series of short hills and valleys. The desert floor is folded into huge ripples there and the highway is like a roller-coaster climbing up and over each and every one. Most of it is standard two-lane road with about a foot of shoulder outside the white lines, but some of the shoulders are bermed off for drainage, with the 45-degree sloped curbs extending all the way in to the white lines. This is scary because this road is heavily travelled by trucks, as well as a lot of trailer-hauling RV's, and the dips are deep enough to hide them completely in both directions. The hills are just high enough and steep enough to slow you down to lowest gear and if you have trucks going both ways at the same spot, you're inches away from becoming a red stain on a bumper. Couple this with the fact that thare was now a 10 mph headwind blowing that funneled through the cuts at twice that speed and it made for a very long afternoon. I was very relieved when I finally emerged into the valley of the Colorado River at Palos Verdes with only 30 miles to go to Blythe.

12/31 Blythe, CA to Buckeye, AZ 120.6 mi., 14.3 avg. 8:23 saddle time.

I'm in Arizona! The published route leaves I-10 and heads northeast through the mountains to Wickenburg and then down into Phoenix, but when I got to the turn-off, I coud see a dust storm brewing up that way. I elected to stay on I-10, which was also a flatter and some 25 miles shorter route to Phoenix. I didn't think I could make Phoenix; it would've been a 140 mile day, and I was right. It became too dark to see the pavement clearly in Buckeye, about 30 miles west of Phoenix, so I called my friend Paula from there and she came and picked me up. I'll resume from there Tuesday. A nice riding day through the desert, with grand views in all directions of the typical Southwestern scenery; sharply defined mountains beyond vast, empty plains dotted with cacti and creosote bush. Very gradual ups and downs; you don't even realize you're climbing until you have to downshift one gear to maintain cadence. The interstate has to be the safest riding I've done. The breakdown lanes are wide and mostly smooth and almost all of it has rumble strips to warn you if traffic approaching behind you crosses into your domain. Aesthetically, it leaves a little to be desired because of the traffic and noise, but when your life's on the line, the extra few feet of seperation between you and forty tons of flying steel are very comforting. On secondary roads with a foot or two of shoulder, you often don't hear traffic coming until it thunders by, inches away. I'm still not used to it and have that constant awareness that every time, I'm literally a foot or two from sudden death, with the deciding factor being whether or not the passing driver is sober, or on a cell phone, or just paying attention. The caveats on the interstates are that you must be really careful to look behind you before crossing exit or entrance ramps; I'd have been dead several times over if I'd not done that and been passed by traffic I saw but didn't hear coming. That said, the interstates are, I think, the safest way to travel and obviously offer more direct routes. At this point, I'm sensing the finish line and am motivated to "git 'er done!" Let's just say that, if you're in front of me between Phoenix and El Paso on I-10, you'd best not be in the breakdown lane!

1/1/07 I regret that I've missed the opportunity to respond to several comments on a more timely basis. Not that many libraries open on weekend nor available to use at motels along the way. In answer to a few of the questions that had been posed by commenters;

As you can tell from the above, I'm no longer in California, but arrived in Phoenix on New Year's Eve. I'll be here for New Year's Day before heading on towards El Paso. The purpose of my trip is to raise awareness and hopefully motivate folks to contribute to research towards finding treatments and eventually a cure for Friedreich's Ataxia, a progressive neuropathy from which my son, TK, suffers. To that end, I've been talking about the disease with many folks I've met along the way and giving them the website address for more info. I also just wanted to see if someone of my advanced age and tender constitution could make such a trip, so there was an element of personal challenge involved, too. As in many things, I've discovered that while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak, particularly the tush!

Happy New Year!

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