Friday, 30 October 2009

Day 889 - Ash Fork, Arizona

From the spot where I camped I was surprised to find that it was only a couple of kilometres to the Arizona border. Arizona is I think, the only state not to have daylight time saving during the summer months, so it was time to put the clocks back one hour. That would mean I would have to be up at 05:30 and it would be dark by 18:00. I didn’t like the idea of that much, so I decided to run on my own time. This had the advantages of a lie in every morning, I could cycle until 19:00 if I wished and the added bonus that all the shops would be open an hour longer than they realised. But what the heck, time is a funny old thing, what difference does it really make, I will still be up at first light and still looking for a place to camp just before it gets dark, its all a state of mind really and my mind doesn’t like early mornings. I soon passed through Fredonia, the place was shut, they obviously don’t like early mornings either, so I just carried on through. The road turned east and headed through the desert, today would be a day of climbing as I was heading towards the Grand Canyon North Rim. Twice people stopped me to ask direction, I am hardly an expert on the place but I was able to point them both in the right direction, there aren’t exactly a lot of roads around here. From a distance the road looked flat, but it was definitely heading upwards, then it turn south along a ridge, there were now pine trees everywhere and a long gentle slog eventually brought me to the junction at Jacob Lake. I called into the lodge for a fix of coffee served by Mrs Grump, and sat down at the bar near a couple eating their dinner. We soon got talking, they were Mike and Rene from St George heading for Williams for the weekend where they would take a train to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, somewhere they had never visited despite living relatively close by, they had always been to the North Rim. They were fascinated by my journey and kept asking me buy me dinner, I must be losing weight and looking thin! Having not long eaten my daily dose of bagels I kept refusing, but I eventually cracked when Mike said “They have the best milkshake I have ever had”. I took up the offer and went for a thick strawberry shake. It was served in a big carton with about 25% of it sticking out of the top and whilst it may not have been the biggest milkshake I have ever had it was most definitely the heaviest, I wondered if I would be able to move after eating it. I was fabulous, but the really good thing is that after visiting the North Rim I have to retrace the 44 miles on the spur road and pass the lodge again, it would be rude not to try another one. I left soon after Mike and Rene and as I started to cycle somebody called out from an RV “How long have you been cycling for”. I am easily distracted so stopped for another chat, the guy told me he cycled, mainly along the Californian coast, so I told him about the thousands of cyclists I had seen along the coast riding the Lighthouse Century and he exclaimed “I was on that, WOW! It’s you, I remember seeing you heading the other way”, it’s a small place the USA you know. I have met so many nice people in the USA and received so much good will, I really appreciate it all, it gives me such a good lift at times. Sometimes I just want to hug people, but I am not sure the Americans are ready for that, may be I should go and hug a tree, after all if it is good enough for the Japanese Shinto Buddhists then it is good enough for me. May be it is that I cherish these little meeting while I am travelling alone, perhaps I wouldn’t feel the same way if I were with others, but that is also one of the good things about being alone, you are free to react, talk and act on instincts that aren’t always possible if you have to discuss things first with somebody else. I carried on down the spur road through lovely pine trees thinking that it was ideal camping, then they were replaced with burnt trees, mile after mile of burnt trees, until at last the living variety returned. I found and nice little spot to camp that so reminded me of the New Forest. I was camping high up at over 8,500ft so expected a cold night so tucked myself under the trees to at least gain a little insulation.

Despite it being -2 over night I hadn’t been cold, at least not until I started packing away the tent. By the time I was on the road both feet and hand were frozen as was all the water. I was glad when the first climb came along. I was soon riding through lovely meadows with woodland to the sides, though I still had a 45k ride to the North Rim, though I made good time and was there within a couple of hours. The North Rim is much more low key than the south rim and only gets about 10% of the annual 4 million visitors, though that is still about 1,000 a day on average. All of the amenities were shut, there were just a hand full of people there. The Canyon sneaks up on you and suddenly you have an amazing vista in front of you, completely the opposite to a mountain. At one of the view points I was asked to take a photo for a family, they were from Corby, Northants and it wasn’t long before I was handed a can of beer, and I can assure you it is going down very well as I write this. You could clearly see across to the South Rim and the fault line in the rock. I sat and had lunch in the sun with the company of a beautiful Blue Jay, though judging by the noise it was making it was a little bit pissed off that I didn’t give him any. There are also some lovely Kaibab Squirrels around here, they are almost black with big bushy white tails that seem to light up when the sun is behind them. I tried to go for a walk, but on the nearby paths you instantly lost the view. I headed off to the trailhead that descended into the canyon and walked down as far at Coconino Lookout, where it really felt as though you were at the top of a mountain. A voice from behind said “I can push the button for you if you like” referring to taking a photo for me, “I thought you were going to offer to push me over” I replied, there being another long unprotected drop. It was pretty cool on the rim, but drop down a few feet and the temperature really rises, I dread to think what it must be like in the middle of summer. I talked to more people in the car park. People are always amazed when I answer their questions about where I have come from and where I am going to, everybody seems really pleased to have met me, I seem to be taking on celebrity status for the first time since I was in Bangladesh where you were a celebrity for just being a foreigner. I started to cycle back out. It may have only been 14 miles as the crow flies to the South Rim, a little longer on the path through the canyon, but it is 220 miles around by road. I called in at a petrol station for a little food and water “Can I fill up my water please?” I asked, “No, we have water but we don’t fill water bottles, you will have to buy the bottled water” I was told, “I have the money, but I wont be spending it in here” I replied and went across the road and filled up at the lodge, no questions asked. This is the first time I have been refused water in the USA, most are only to keen to help and be friendly. I rode back and camped in the very same spot as I had the previous night, I could hear the wind through the trees but at ground level it is well protected.

It was another cold night, but I remained warm and snug tucked up in the sleeping bag with my head covered, the cold only hits you when you have to get up in the morning. I rode back to Jacobs Lake and called in at the lodge for another thick milkshake and a coffee, a bit of an odd choice at 9am on a cold Sunday morning. I ordered a butterscotch and vanilla milkshake and as the staff walked by I said “It’s a great milkshake, but I only had vanilla”. A minute later they returned and said “Sorry, it was our mistake, you can have it for free”. At $5.25 I thought that was a very generous gesture, something I had not expected at all. A voice from behind me said “Is that your bike outside? I am Matt, another cyclist, I am heading from the top of Alaska to the bottom of Argentina”. We chatted a while but as Matt was going to stop for a bite to eat I carried on. The next 50 odd kilometres were as good as all down hill, heading east and then north around the Grand Canyon and alongside the Vermillion Cliffs, which were just wonderful in the lovely rich red colours. Having dropped down the trees disappeared, it’s odd, in the European mountains you head above the tree line, here you seem to have to go below the tree line. I really enjoyed the scenery, to be honest I found it more appealing than what I had seen of the Grand Canyon the previous day, may be it was because I was moving and seeing it change the whole time. I stopped for a coffee at Mable Canyon to see if Matt would catch up. Somebody asked “Were you at the North Rim yesterday, I think you were walking down just behind us. Have you cycled all this way already?” They were Howard and Nancy from near Phoenix, “Give us a call if you come through Prescott” they said. Matt arrived about 15 minutes later, to be honest I was happy with my own company for a while, I didn’t really want to cycle with anybody else, but I had no other reason not to. So having both filled up on water we set off together. Within a couple of kilometres we were crossing over the Colorado River, it had dug itself well down in the rocks and rather reminded me of the Corinth Canal. At 3,500ft this was the lowest Matt had been for over 3 months, it wasn’t to last long though, we were soon climbing again. I very quickly realised that Matt was good company, we talked easily and in fact the kilometres and the climbing slipped by unnoticed. What I did notice was that the road was completely fenced in, may be finding a campsite would be a challenge, but as we were beginning to think we would struggle we found a wire gate that just had a notice saying “Keep gate closed”. No sooner had we gone through and found a suitable place to camp than a bunch of horses with a tag along donkey arrived, though thankfully they eyed us with caution. We cooked our own dinners and shared stories of our trips, there was so much to talk about.

As I am now in company I had a lie in until 7am having discovered that Matt, like me, has decided not to put his clock back an hour having entered Arizona. We were still on the road at about the same time as I normally am, settling back into the remainder of the climb. We approached the junction with the 89, we could see the vehicles running along the top of the cliffs to our left, but thankfully we were to turn the other way when we joined it. Scenery wise it was somewhat less attractive than of late. We passed through villages, scruffy little places, and lots of Native Indian roadside stalls with big signs and flags saying “Open”, though the tables were empty and nobody was there. We stopped at The Gap and bought some food, everybody living around here are Native Indians, though unlike the Aussie Aboriginals they are all very friendly and are as easy to talk to as anybody else. We had a fast and furious 54km either gently downhill or on the flat to another scruffy little town of Cameron. There we stocked on food for the evening and water and set off on the road to Grand Canyon and easily found a stony bit of land to camp on beside a dry river bed. It was only then that I realised the big mistake I had made, I had forgotten to buy any bagels. Oh poo! No breakfast for me, I can’t ask Matt for any more of his oats, I had some this morning then promptly dropped half of them on the ground. We chatted away as we cooked and I guess unsurprisingly we have a lot in common, even down to our love of maps. Talking to Matt about cycling the length on the Americas has really made me envious, I would love to ride that route. Cycling seems to make the world a smaller place, yet there is always going to be something else to see, somewhere else to go, there just never seems to be enough time.

Since I talked to Nan at Zion National Park I have been thinking about relationships too. Nan said that she could never go on a long trip as she wanted to keep her relationships at home, and that got me to thinking about how I react now to people. I feel I enter a comfort zone very quickly, may be that is because I have little long term contact with people, so I have to get to know people very quickly. The same sort of thing happens when I meet people for a little longer, such as Matt. Within a couple of days it feels as though we have been together for far longer. I guess with so many short conversations that when I am actually with somebody for a few days it really feels much longer. Some of the people I meet for a short time I really feel that I would like to get to know better, but who knows, if we had more time we might find our differences too and perhaps wouldn’t become friends anyway. Yes, I miss those longer, deeper relationships, but I am also very happy with things the way they are at the moment.

Back to the road, the long climb to the Grand Canyon. I set off a few minutes before Matt and by the time I reached the viewpoint over the Little Colorado River there is still no sign of him. The viewpoint is a little off the road and whilst I was down there I saw him cycle past so I quickly made tracks. There was a slight tail wind but I still assume it will take me a while to catch him as he is faster than me anyway and he will also be trying to catch me! About a mile later things change drastically, suddenly I am heading into a headwind, it gets stronger, much stronger. At times gusts are so strong I have to stop and really brace myself just to stay standing. It gets worse still, about every 100m I am stopping and bracing myself waiting for the gusts to pass, I know I have no chance of catching Matt. I saw a large area of dust heading towards me, I stopped and braced against the wind again, turning my head just before it arrived as dust and large bits of grit were hurled at my bare legs and neck, it hurt. I approached a native roadside jewellery stall, but before I got there I had to stop a number times in the wind, then I realised Matt was there watching me approach, I felt a real wimp, then I discovered that that he had been doing exactly the same. Neither of us wanted to leave, but we couldn’t stop there all day, just the day before 54k had seemed so easy, now 25km seemed almost impossible. As we departed a car driver wished us luck telling it was cold at the top and winds were forecast to be 30-60mph. We couldn’t cycle side by side, Matt went in front. I had my head down into the wind and when I was stopped by it I looked up to see it had stopped Matt too. At other times I saw Matt blown to a halt, then a couple of seconds later the gust would hit me, it was tough. Strangely enough after a few miles the gusts died down just leaving a steady wind to go with the steady climb. We arrived at the National Park entrance, took a lunch break and carried on for the next 6km to Desert View and the first view of the Grand Canyon from the south rim. I have to say that despite the heavily overcast weather it was more impressive than from North Rim. It was cold, it was windy, not the place to hang around too long so having paid a visit to the old Watchtower we made our way to the café to warm up. The people of the next table eventually asked where we were going, then we were aware that all eyes were in us, it seemed that everybody wanted to know where we were going but only those on the next table had the courage to ask. We stocked up on food and water and headed out into the cold having been told that snow had been forecast and on departing the next viewpoint at Lipan Point where we could hardly see a thing, the snow arrived all too soon. There seemed little point in carrying on and seeing nothing so we went in search of somewhere to camp. With the temperature also forecast to be very low we decided to share one tent, a bit cramped, but much warmer. It was already freezing as we cooked, though thankfully the snow soon stopped.

By morning the skies were clear, but the temperature had dropped to -6 degrees, it was impossible to stay warm whilst we packed up. The road continued along the south rim giving frequent viewpoints. In the clear morning we could see the Canyon in all its glory. As we moved along the rim towards Grand Canyon Village we could see the weather closing in, it looked like snow was on it‘s way. Before long the clouds were obscuring our views it started to snow and it became pointless in even heading down to the viewpoints, we made our way to a supermarket and café where I drank a vast amount of coffee that at least warmed me up as it continued to snow. I went out to the bikes, the cold hit me despite the temperature rising to a balmy 0 degrees! It was still snowing when we left. We called into Yavapi Point where there was an information centre. We called in to find out the weather forecast. The woman Park Ranger told us it was drop to -11, “S-H-I-T!” slipped out, I held my hand to my mouth “Oops, sorry” I said, she put her hand on my shoulder “It’s alright, I am used to it. I used to teach and said the same thing by mistake in front of all the kids”. We made our way south away from the Grand Canyon and camped a little before Valle where once again it was below freezing as we cooked. So at least I did get to see a little of the Grand Canyon, probably a bit more of that than I saw of the Pacific Highway. I was far more impressed with the view from the south rim than the north rim. The north rim only gets about 10% of the visitors, that’s fair enough, you only get to see about 10% of the views.

When we got up this morning it was -11 degrees outside, -7 inside the tent. Our breath had frozen to the inner tent causing it to ‘snow’ every time we touch it. I was amazed how warm I had been through the night, only my feet had been cold and that is despite only having a 2 season sleeping bag, probably only suitable down to about 5 degrees. The water bottles were just solid blocks of ice, there would be no coffee to warm up with. Breakfast went the same way, it had been stored outside in the freezer overnight. Whilst it was ok in the sleeping bags, lying there wouldn’t get everything packed away. It was bitterly cold outside, just touching anything, even fabric made our hands painfully cold. By the time we left we were both very cold and had eaten nothing. Thankfully Valle was only a couple of kilometres away, so we called in at a café for a prolonged breakfast and by the time we left the temperature was above zero. We made good progress, it was still cold but nowhere near as bad as yesterday. We reached Ash Fork knowing that it would be a much warmer night, only going down to around -5 degrees. There were a couple of motels there, so we decided to check them out, so here we are enjoying the warmth and space of one of them. Motels are a little on the expensive side when you are on your own, so here was an opportunity to share the costs and have a room effectively for half price, and added to that Matt had passed 5,000 miles today and was only checking into his 2nd motel. We travel in very similar styles, we both camp and couch surf and even the bikes are loaded the same. The forecasts heading for the weekend are saying it will be back to normal temperatures, I can’t say I am sorry.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Day 882 - Kanab

First stop before leaving Cedar City was the supermarket. The one I went into had everything I wanted but for just a few cents more you could get at least twice the quantity, so with the thought of saving a little money I spent a few cents more. It was only when I carried the stuff out to the bike that I suddenly thought it might not have been such a good idea after all. Also with a some truly fantastic scenery ahead of me I bought a bagful of “Oooohs!”, a bagful of “Aaaahs!”, half a bag of “Wows!” and one “Fuck me….that is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!” just in case of an emergency. I also bought another bagful of bagels, you can never have enough bagels. So with a fully loaded bike that I could hardly move I set off up road 14, the one that goes up Cedar Canyon. Whilst I had stayed with the Dalton family, Lynn had recommended a flatter route that would have been a little longer but much easier alongside the freeway, but I had looked at a couple of maps, one showed the pass above Cedar Canyon at 9,900ft and another showed a mountain summit beside it at 9;500ft. I chose to believe the later assuming the pass would be at about 8,000ft and as I was setting off from 6,000ft that would be easy. The scenery was well worth it and another big change from heading into Cedar City, now there were canyons, trees, greenery, rivers….RIVERS! Hang on a minute, I know what makes rivers and I also know I don’t like it. I soon passed a sign say 8% for the next 15 miles, and by heck it was too. Progress was painfully slow, I was already replanning things as I had wanted to visit Bryce Canyon the following day and at this rate I wasn’t going to reach it until next week. After what seemed like hours I did get to the top, it was at 9,910ft, I should have listened to Lynn, but despite it already being late in the day the Canyon had been lovely to cycle through. I never got the great descent I was expecting either, more of a plateau with odd bits on downhill and a few annoying bits of uphill. I had unusually got through all the water I was carrying so stopped to refill, but then couldn’t resist and enormous coffee at Duck Creek Village where one thing lead to another and a large piece of fudge brownie found its way into my stomach, closing followed be another large piece. I knew it would be good fudge brownie, the guy serving it had the most enormous stomach, high recommendation indeed. I reached the junction with route 89, turned north and just rocketed along with a tail wind, I might just salvage some of the day. 30km whizzed by, I was loving every second of this effortless cycling along on the flat and the only reason I stopped was because I found a nice little track into the hills and a perfect place to camp.

I was within reach of Bryce Canyon, though turning off onto route 12 brought me to the start of another long climb. This one took me through the lovely Red Canyon, not spectacular, but the colours were beautifully rich. Up on the next plateau made a nice easy fast route to Bryce, then south into that wind that had pushed me so nicely along the day before. Route 63 was a 21km dead end road with lots of view points across the canyons. I missed the first view deciding to get the climb and the wind out of the way and enjoy the return, but after a while the thought of a rest and enjoyable view took over. The view points were all of wonderfully eroded stones in the foreground and views down the canyon, really spectacular. The further and higher along the road the stronger the wind became until right at the top it was blowing me well across the road in exposed areas. But I still hadn’t seen the most spectacular views that I had wanted to see, I had cocked it up really, time was getting on and I had to rush to return to the viewing areas I had missed right at the start of the Park. Once away from the gusty summit I made pretty good time and reached Bryce Point as the sun was already going down. Being a dead end road the only vehicles were tourists and I could see from the number plates that they were from every corner of the US, a truly National Park. Some people talked to me saying they had passed me a number of times, but I still had other view points to try and see before it was too late, so I was soon off to Inspiration Point and Sunset Point where at the latter I decided I would rush no more and just stop and enjoy the scenery (photo) if the fantastic amphitheatre that Bryce Canyon is. Disaster struck, one of my bags split open, the evening air was full of “Ooohs” as they just couldn’t wait to get out. It was about 17:45 before I decided to leave, I still had a few miles to go as I shunned the opportunity to pay to use a busy Park campsite instead choosing to leave the Park and retrace my route back to Red Canyon. The southbound bit was huge fun, east along route 12 was a slog into the wind, but I made it to the campsite with just a little light remaining. This place was ideal, I had spotted it on the way up, it was closed, my favourite type of campsite as it is both empty and free and you don’t even have to hunt around for a flat bit of ground.

I had been told it would rain the following day and soon after my alarm went off it started spotting, but I am no fair weather cyclist, it wouldn’t stop me so I packed everything whilst staying in the tent. It got worse, it started thundering, it didn’t look nice outside, so I unpacked again and put the kettle on. The 5 degree temperature and rain seemed much more bearable with a mug of coffee in hand. Ok, so I am a fair weather cyclist and I didn’t pack away again until it stopped. I was in for a tough day heading back south along route 89, but when I got there I could hardly believe that the wind had completely turned, I now had a gentle tailwind, though I soon stop to replace me sanals with shoes and socks, it was cold. Black clouds covered the mountain tops in the direction of Bryce Canyon, my timing had been to perfection. I reached Long Valley where I had joined the 89 a couple of days ago and continued straight on south towards Zion National Park, the road was dropping, the wind behind me and I just flew for the next 18 miles to Orderville, life was SO good. I had passed through Glendale, a lovely sounding place name, but most of it seemed to be a car junkyard, so in comparison Orderville fitted its name. Another climb and attractive run on route 9 brought me to the east entrance of Zion National Park, so not being able to camp anywhere in national park except in the campsites I did a U-turn and checked the campsite I had just passed. They want $15 and as I didn’t want to give them $15 I found a lovely little spot in the bushes a little down the road. It was a quiet night as the road is for light traffic only and there is a $25 charge, so nothing really used it overnight. It was quiet until about midnight at least when I heard a group of deer crashing through the undergrowth very close to me. I leapt out of bed yelling, I had visions of them plough into the tent. I kept hearing them during the night, but I just had to shout out to hear them go running off.

It was a cold descent to the park entrance in the morning. Once through the entrance the landscape yet again took a dramatic turn, everything around me was just amazing. I had arrived with a view of leaving the park by the afternoon, but I already knew it clearly wasn’t going to happen. I could have stopped at every corner and taken photographs, the rock formations were fascinating (photo), some looked at though they must have been man made, nature surely couldn’t have produced what I was looking at. I was heading down to Zion Canyon and arrived at the long tunnel. The literature I was given at the entrance stated I couldn’t cycle through, “but Park Rangers are there to assist you between 8am and 6pm”. Assistance came in the form of “I haven’t got time, you will have to ask for a lift off a pick-up”. It was easy enough, the first person I asked, James from Kanab said “No problem, I was wondering how you were going to get through the tunnel”. The other side of the tunnel was a series of switchbacks with huge mountain walls either side, dramatic stuff indeed. At the bottom I turned up Zion Canyon where cars are not permitted, only Propane powered buses. I passed a sign saying “For your own safety buses will not pass you until you pull over and stop” and it was true to its word. I stopped at the Grotto, time to leave the bike behind and head up on foot to Angel’s Landing, a walk suggested by Lynn. There I met Steve, Helen, Dave and Nan. We talked for a while before they set off whilst I was still dinking around. The walk was spectacular, I could see the path cut into the rock way above me reached on a sealed path and another series of switchbacks, through a canyon and more switchbacks until we popped out at Scott’s Viewpoint. I sat and chatted to Steve, Helen and another couple John and ? (Oops I have forgotten her name already). I whiled away the time, I could have chatted for hours in the lovely sunshine and fantastic scenery. Here there were two routes, “Are you heading up Angel’s Landing?” they asked, “Yes, where does it go from here?” and they pointed it out to me, “You can’t walk up there surely, that’s far too dangerous” I stated, but I looked hard and sure enough there were people heading up “Oh shit!” I thought. So we went our separate ways, I was somewhat concerned knowing how slippery it is to walk in my cleated cycling shoes. There were chains to hang on to, I held on, I wasn’t going to let go, not even to let those coming down past, I still valued my life. In places the chains were used to pull yourself up where there were few foot holds. In places one wrong footing and there was a sheer drop of 1000ft, each year people make that little mistake. I found in nerve racking the entire time, but I was determined to reach the top, I had seen pictures taken from there, they were spectacular. Slowly but surely I made my way up, talking and joking with others to try and relieve the tension. “Only another 10 minutes” I was told at one point, but to me it was STILL another 10 minutes. But I made it there, then it just slipped out “Fuck me….that is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!”, I just couldn’t help it, but I was so annoyed, I was saving that for Grand Canyon. Thankfully an old lady with a zimmer frame who had passed me on the way up had one spare and gave it to me. Sadly my camera’s wide angle lens was not sufficient to capture the whole scene (photos), but I sat and enjoyed the surrounding for 30 minutes, or was it that I was just even more terrified of going down. It turned out to be far easier heading down due to the fact that I put my camera away so had an extra hand, and the use of my backside. I found it incredible that they let idiots like me go up there in completely the wrong attire, but what the heck, I survived. Back on the sealed path my legs were beginning to hurt my walking muscles were yelling at me “Oi, what the hell are you doing? Get back on your bike. You can’t expect us to just get up and take you up a blooming great mountain when we have been laying around with our feet up for the last 2 years”. I crouched down to take a photo, a voice from behind me called out “The ice-cream van is here”, some people are so cruel. I had lunch back at the bus stop, then Steve and Helen arrived and invited me to share their campsite pitch for the night. I couldn’t turn down a sociable evening and it also gave me more time to head to the end of the canyon and walk up the river to where it squeezes its way between the high cliffs, though to get the most out of the walk about 5 miles of river walking is involved. So I spent the evening with Steve, Dave and Nan, we chatted away the evening in front of a lovely camp fire. I’ll tell you what, life is SO good.

After a lie in I said farewell in the morning. We had been together for such a short time yet I felt so comfortable with them, all lovely people. I had to retrace my way back up the climb, I reached the tunnel and was greeted with “You can’t cycle through the tunnel, you will have to hitch a lift”. I again managed to get a lift from the first person I asked, a government vehicle, “I am not supposed to give anybody a lift” I was told by the friendly guy, “Don’t worry, I am nobody” I replied. Once cycling again I was amongst that fabulous scenery again. I was glad I hadn’t retraced last night as I now had much more time. I stopped around every corner, it was incredible, to each side was a different landscape and with each of those were thousands of little landscapes, different colours, textures, rock formations, vegetation growing in seemingly impossible places, I could have stayed for hours. I was sorry to leave Bryce Canyon, but I really struggled to leave Zion, probably the best scenery that I have seen on the entire trip. Once out of the park I was still in beautiful scenery, the eyes could see it but the mind couldn’t, it was still full of images of Zion and it took a long time to re calibrate the mind. I talked to so many people, some of which I would see further down the road and they would stop for another chat, people are so friendly here, though I guess it helps that we are all here for the same reason. I reached Kanab, it has a famous past known as Utah’s little Hollywood as many westerns were filmed here including some of John Wayne’s films. As I made my way into town I passed a sign saying “Welcome to Kanab, the greatest EARTH on show” and with a compass below pointing to Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Powell River and Grand Canyon, you could hardly argue with that.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Day 876 - Cedar City, Utah

Cross the Sierra Nevada from California into Nevada and it is like entering another world. California is a bit bigger with a population of some 36 million compared with Nevada’s 2.5 million, 600,000 of which live in Las Vegas. With that information alone you can be pretty sure that the landscape is going to be somewhat different. This is the desert south west where they enjoy 350 days of sunshine each year, on the other 15 days the UK gets it!

I seemed to be in no rush to get away from Reno. Having said farewell to my couch surfing host Deborah and her wonderfully behaved Labrador, Rowdy, I spent a good few hours sorting out a few things in town before I departed, I even managed to replace the water bag I had lost. The only one suitable was bright red, not a colour I really wanted, but I guess that will mean there is less chance of leaving it behind again. Heading out of town was a doddle, I left the same way as I had entered, then turned off east towards Virginia City. I could see the road passing through the hills and guessed it wouldn't be that much of a climb, I was wrong. It was one of those climbs with lots of annoying false summits, plus I had no idea what height the pass was at, it always makes it feel longer, but having said that it was probably the nicest climb so far, the views across the valley to Reno were just wonderful. By the time I reached the pass it was getting a bit late and a tad cold. I arrived at the lovely little gold mining town of Virginia City with no time to do it justice. It was one of those towns you see in old westerns with wooden sidewalks, saloons with guys wearing cowboy hats and everything full of character. Now days its all very touristy though, I gave it enough time to buy some very expensive food before heading down Six Mile Creek to pick up the US50. I was at Dayton, I missed my turning for the back road, and beginning to think that I was in for another very late finish, but this aint California, Nevada is much more desert like, it was so easy to find a place to camp, all I had to do was pull off on a little sandy track and head far enough away from the road and choose a sandy spot to lay my head.

The sky was clear, the sun up and bright, but it was still cold. I was in for one last flat day before the hills really started again. With a very slight tailwind I seemed to race along with ease, I arrived in Fallon wondering what I would do with the rest of the day. I chilled out with a coffee, stocked up on food and made my way out for the long stretch with basically nothing before Austin some 112 miles further on. One difference noticeable in Nevada are the casinos everywhere, there are even banks of slot machines in the supermarkets, only to willing to relieve you of any spare cash that you saved on your weekly shop with your loyalty card. I had entered Fallon on US50, a busy dual carriageway, I left on the same US50 but now a very quiet single carriageway road. Fallon only has a population on 7,000, so where did all the traffic go, it can’t have all stopped in town surely? It was from here onwards that the scenery really showed its class, desert scrub with mountains either side, really picturesque, I passed salt flats, mountains and a large sand mountain all with a perfect blue sky as a backdrop. It was dead flat for the rest of the day and I chose to stop an hour before dark and just before the first climb. Camping here is heaven sent, such a welcome relief after being in California. With an open vista I could see the nearby designated campground with a few RVs in it, but tucked behind a couple of little hills I was totally relaxed, nobody is every likely to notice you in this vast landscape.

The night was cold, pretty well all the nights here are cold, the water is generally frozen in the morning, but once the sun comes up the temperature rises quickly. With a leisurely start at about 8:30 the temperature is already around 6-9 degrees and still warming rapidly. Just after I set off I spotted another cyclist heading out of the scrub towards the road, a guy from New York and heading west, the opposite way to me. We chatted a while, both dressed for a cold start, but by the time we started cycling our separate ways we had already stripped off a layer. The first climb was completed, but the gears were playing up. A quick investigation showed that I had the same problem as Christine had, the cable was frayed and jamming, though it is so much easier to fix if you know what you are doing. I was back on the road with a new cable in place within 30 minutes. I guess the fraying had been happening over time, gear change is oh so smooth now. I did find it a little disappointing that not a single person stopped to check that I was ok, though I am sure they would have stopped if I had flagged them down. I filled up with water at Middlegate, which from what I could make out was just a bar but a board on the outside claimed a population of 17. I approached a tree, a rare enough sight in these parts, but this one looked odd even from a distance, things were either hanging or growing from it. Closer inspection showed that it was full of shoes, hundreds of them. The road was very quiet now, but I turned off onto the 722, discovering what quiet really is. After 8km I hadn’t seen a single car, I passed through the little village of Eastgate without seeing a single person. I was now climbing, a big climb, it dragged on and on, though the scenery changed dramatically as it entered a canyon, twisting and turning its way through the steep sided valley. It topped out at about 7500ft, the start of a series of passes over 7500ft that had to be crossed in the next few days, though during that time the road rarely dropped below the base level of 6000ft. Suddenly the road popped out of the canyon revealing a dead straight road ahead. This was also a feature that would repeat itself in the days ahead. In Nevada the mountains generally run north/south and with the road running east/west it was a series of passes followed be descents then dead straight roads across the valleys to start heading up the next pass. You could see things in the distance, but it took an age before you reached them, cars passing stayed in view for such a long time that I wondered how on earth I would ever get there. I camped out in the valley, the sunset was lovely, but with such a huge vista I just couldn’t capture the scene or the atmosphere in a photograph, I will just have to etch the scene in my memory, but knowing my memory it won’t be there for very long….oops, there it goes!

Frozen water bottles and another small pass greeted me first thing in the morning. The pass was called Railroad Pass, I could understand why as I bumped over the regular breaks in the road that made it feel as though I cycling along a railway line. Once over I was greeted by a 25km straight. I ride along these practically everyday and come evening I can remember almost every bend I have been around. Sometimes I emerge from the mountains into a valley, cross the valley to disappear into the next mountain range 30 miles later and can still look back to see where I had been cycling for the last two hours. I arrived at the little town of Austin, population 350, and set about looking for the food store, but before I could say “yum, yum” I was out the other side without seeing one. I doubled back and called in at the garage which had the basics, at least I wasn’t going to starve. “Where do you do your food shopping?” I asked, “In Fallon, 112 miles that way” I was told, a bit of a nuisance when you get home and discovered you have forgotten the milk! I reached the top of Austin Pass, whizzed down and up Bob Scott Pass to fill up with water at the campsite there at the top, only to find all the water taps had been turned off. I was only after a top-up so I just scrounged a little off a couple in an RV. Heading along the next long straight I was once again stopped by the police and told to get off the road, though this time it was only briefly for my own safety as a very wide vehicle passed carrying one of those huge dumper trucks. One more pass was completed for the day before I headed down a track to camp in the open in the scrub. I just love camping in the open here, the vistas are amazing and you get to see the sun go down behind the mountains, I just sit outside the tent and watch in awe. Later in the evening I am treated to a fantastic display of the stars….isn’t life great?

I completed what was probably the longest straight at about 35km the following morning, the climbed up into the lovely little town of Eureka. I asked some people where the library was and got talking to them and was given apples and pears to take with me. It turned out I was at the museum and they said I could use the internet on their PC as the library would be closed. I carried on talking to the lady there, we talked about the simple life in a desert town like this compared with her home town in Virginia on the east coast, “You get to appreciate the little things in life” she said “not that I know anything compared with what you are experiencing. You don’t need much in life really do you, just shelter and a bit of food…..OH! And Jesus. Do you know Jesus? Isn’t he wonderful?”. From there I headed for Raines, the towns food market, which I can honestly say had more moose and deer heads hanging up than in any other supermarket I have ever been in, in fact the last Safeway I went in didn’t have a single one! Can you believe that? I was told by two separate people in Eureka where the best place was to get a shower was, perhaps I should have taken the hint, but I didn’t, another hill was beckoning. The climb was soon conquered, Pancake Summit, who on earth would think up the name Pancake Summit for goodness sake? I dropped down into another valley and thought I would have trouble finding a place to camp, the scrub was close packed, there was no room to put a tent anywhere, but I just followed my instincts, up a gravel track, off up a little rutted track, into the scrub about 100m and there was the only little open patch I had seen the whole time. I am sure I am being looked after. I sat outside the tent as the sun went down watching the odd car cross the valley and climb into the mountains on the other side. Seeing how long they took to get across made me wonder what on earth I was doing on a bicycle, but what the heck, there is no rush.

All night long there was a rustling around the tent that I failed to locate, but come morning I discovered a funny looking bug underneath the tent, a weird looking thing if ever there was one. Another couple of climbs brought me to a huge ex mining area with the biggest slag heaps I have ever seen, giant man made hill. Ely was the town next to it, deserted on a Sunday. I made my way to the biggest supermarket I had seen in days and parked outside was another bike belonging to Chris. Chris is an American and had cycled all the way from Maine in just 2 months, it made my pace seem rather leisurely. We sat and chatted a while and some people have the knack of making you feel good without even realising it. Another couple came up to us from the RV and chatted with us, “Do you know where we can get a shower around here?” they asked and Christ replied with “I have no idea, I haven’t had a shower for two weeks”, so clearly I had no need to worry. I also brushed up on my American with Chris and discovered that the reason I receive funny looks every time I ask for a tap to fill up my water bottles is because they call tap a faucet. A tap is what draught beer come out of apparently. I could have sat and chatted for an age but we were heading in opposite directions, time was getting on and we both needed to head out of town to find a somewhere to camp for the night.

Thanks for all you comments and email wishing me birthday greetings, I guess I had better tell you what I did on that day hadn’t I? Amongst other things Nevada is famous for two things and as it was my last full day in the state I thought I would give one of them a go. The first thing is gambling, but we all know that is a mugs game. The only winners from that are the casinos, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many of them. The other thing is legalised prostitution. Hey, it was my birthday, it’s legal, I am single, I wouldn’t be hurting anybody, so why not give it a go. To cut a long story short, I was useless. Nobody showed the slightest bit of interest in me, I think I must have set my prices too high. I was looking forward to a bit of extra cash too, though I guess I would have only spent it on drugs as I need some more aspirin. Actually, I did do something different on my birthday, I had two cups of coffee before I started, an easy thing to do after another cold night and frozen water bottles again. I also intended to drink coffee at every available place I passed. The mission was accomplished, not difficult on The Loneliest Road in the USA. Having just dropped down from Connors Pass and the highest pass on this leg of the journey at 7722ft, I arrived at Majors Junction, hardly a major junction, but the only building was a bar, so with coffee in mind I ventured in. “Any chance of a coffee?” I asked, “We don’t have any on the go but I can put a pot on if you like”. So I settled into a comfy sofa in the bar full of nick knacks, the ceiling covered in one dollar bills, and the walls with pictures of deer and elk. The Americans love their wildlife, but they are never happier than when half of it is hanging on the wall, and there was plenty hanging around here. I sat back and watched the news for the first time in weeks. I saw footage of a gunfight in a bar in Ohio, somewhat alarmed by the number of people in one bar that were carrying weapons. I felt slight reassured though when I heard that 17 shots had been fired and not a single person had been injured, I guess the effects of alcohol has to be thanked for that. I got ready to leave and went to pay for two coffees “$1.50! Is that all? How much if I have a third one?” I asked, “Still $1.50”, I was told so I settled back down again. I eventually tore myself away from the comfort and went out into the wind, the road carrying on downhill on another long straight. At the far end of it I looked back and was mighty glad that I wasn’t heading up the hill. I turned north and with a good push from the wind I raced along, though as the road slowly turned through 180 degrees I was soon paying the price. The Sacramento Pass at 7154ft was the last one over 7000ft and with news of a storm for tomorrow I was mighty glad to be heading down a bit, from here on the base would be 5000ft and the passes at around 6500ft, it was surprising how much warmer it would be at night, frozen water and feet would no longer be such a problem. I had trouble finding a campsite, I wanted to camp somewhere before Baker with a bit of shelter just in case the storm arrived early. I climbed a rough track towards some trees, but it took me 45 minutes to find a spot which wasn’t stony or covered in scrub and then I was facing the wrong way into the wind. So all in all a better birthday than the rough time I had in outback Australia last year, but nothing exciting, other than the scenery that it. I did get one pressie, a book arrived in the post at Reno from Christine, Clear Waters Rising. I have started reading it today, I think it is going to be good.

The wind got up during the night, with the tent pitched in the wrong direction all I could do was hope that I didn’t get too much of a battering, which thankfully I didn’t. I did get a bit of rain, though by morning there was no evidence that it had rained at all. They say things go in threes and as I walked the bike back through the scrub to the tack I caught the front mudguard, it snapped in two, the third bike problem since my arrival in USA. It is now held together with black tape, the same as the rear mudguard has been for the last 18 months. Come to think of it, if I took all the black tape off the bike it would fall apart! I was surprised to find the return to the road was over 2km and with a loss in height of 100m. Back on the road I had a tail wind most of the way to Baker, then as I neared the little town it switched around doing it’s best to send me back again. Baker was a small town to do my resupply at, but when I got there, there was a sign on the only food store saying “Closed Monday and Tuesday”…great! I found a café that also claimed it had groceries. It did, but they were basic, it looked as though the next 84 miles would be covered by eating bagels and marshmallows. I talked easily to the guy who owned the place and with another bucketful of coffee for $1.75 it was a while before I eventually left, actually, I only left because he was closing! I left with “This storm will only last for two days” ringing in my ears, soon to be replaced with just the sound of wind ringing in my ears. The wind was hitting hard, those long straights seemed a whole lot longer when taken with such effort and just 8kph, to add to the pain there were markers for every mile passed just to emphasise just how slow I was going and how long it was taking me to get anywhere. It was rather depressing, I kept working out how long it was going to take me to reach Milford and if it was really such a good idea to be heading out with little more than a days supply of water and a bagful of marshmallows. I did still have some bread, it was stale and destined for the bin, but I was now really glad to stop and eat it, though I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I did appreciate it. I made it to the top of two passes for the day, progress was a little faster down the other side, though I could see I was heading for a sandstorm blowing its way across the valley. It was another long long straight, I could see I would never maker up the next climb before nightfall, there was no shelter either, tonight was going to be interesting. A small clump of trees came into view, there was something white beside them, I hoped it was a house, may be it was just a van parked up. Slowly I made it there, it was a two roomed building with some stock yards behind it and no sign of any stock or that anybody lived in it. It was locked, but behind it was a little “L” shaped patch that was totally free from the wind, I reckoned I could just about pitch the tent there. I set to clearing all the rubbish, leaves and glass, the tent went in, just, the back peg having to be pushed through the fence. I could hardly believe my luck, here I was nice and sheltered, yet take just two paces and the wind hit me when I ventured out. I slept well, the sound of the wind never dying down, but the tent hardly moved at all, I was happy indeed.

Come morning the wind was still howling, I would have given anything to just curl up and go back to sleep, but I guessed by the end of the day I would be very hungry, I got up. To my surprise, despite being very sheltered the tent was covered in sand, as was anything else left outside. The clouds looked even more threatening, they looked as though they carried rain. The direction of the wind had changed slightly, the going wasn’t so bad, in fact by the time I turned at the end of the straight I swear I even had a tail wind. Heading down the other side I reached the dizzy speeds of 60kph+….for a while. As I turned into the next valley there ahead of me was another sand storm blowing across (photos), within a couple of minutes I was once again fighting a strong headwind. Still, I as going better than yesterday though still working very hard to maintain 11kph, but I thought that was good, until I realised my altimeter was telling that I was still heading down hill. Another long straight across a valley was taking forever and I was being sand blasted at the same time. I was now in Utah, it seemed noticeably different in the amount of vegetation, the last couple of valleys there was nothing, hence with a bit of a wind the valley floor came to meet me. Ahead of me was blue sky and clouds, behind it was grey, may be the end was in sight. The further I got across the valley the more the wind direction seemed to be changing until as I once again turned out of the straight I was being given another push up the hill. I was going faster uphill than I had been going downhill. At the top of the climb the sun was out, I was feeling warm so I decided to stop for a bite to eat. You had to hang on to everything, even a bagel was whisked away from me by the wind, but I can move fast when food is involved. The weather improved, the wind eased at long last I reached Milford, not a moment too soon. I stocked up on food and decided to push on a little further, but by the time I was nearing Minersville I was still going through agricultural land and wondering where I would find a place to camp, but a little track went off into the hills and I found a perfect little sheltered spot. For all my efforts of the last couple of days I was rewarded with a glorious sunset (photo), I guess it was all the sand and dust in the atmosphere that made it so good. I didn’t get a great nights sleep, mainly due to micey type things that were really bugging me. They kept crawling up the outside of the inner tent, I waited until they were right above my head and gave them a healthy slap that made them hit the outer tent then slide down between the two. I hoped it would put them off the exploration trips, it did eventually.

The whole night was dead still, it was the following morning too. I was heading south over the last pass before Cedar City, it was so easy going, the sun was shining, I was feeling good again. It felt so fast to be cycling at normal pace again, I arrived early and had lunch at a diner. I asked the couple on the next table as I was about to leave if they knew where the library was and the great thing about sounding like a foreigner is that it makes it really easy to strike up a conversation. We chatted a while before they had to return to work, they had my commiserations. I was staying with another cyclist, Iain Dalton and his family. The address was hard to find, I asked a guy pulling out of a turning. A couple of minutes later we pulled up alongside me again telling me he had told me wrong way and redirected me. I think I met him 4 times altogether as he searched out the place for me. The house was the very last house up a long hill, a fitting end to the hilly journey across from Reno.

Today I was reunited with my long lost water. It was a tearful reunion, at least I thought it was until I realised it was just the last few drops of water from the bag. As I had climbed up Carson Pass a couple of weeks ago I had been offered a lift by Dennis that I refused, but I met him a couple of days later at the top of the pass and he offered to go and search it out for me, so I had given him a little map of where I thought I had left it. He kindly went up there, found it and posted it on to me here at Cedar City. This is another advantage of being able to speak the language and being surrounded by friendly people.

The next stage should be interesting, it involves more sightseeing and doubling back on myself than getting anywhere, but with the wonderful sights of Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park and Grand Canyon I think it will be well worth while.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Day 866 - Reno, Nevada

It’s been a long time since I have posted, I have had two weeks in California. It’s a big state, but two weeks have been enough to give me a little flavour of the place. It’s an extremely diverse state, I cycled along rugged and impressive coast roads, through dead flat valleys and climbed high mountain passes. The population and climate are equally diverse. In the flat as a pancake San Joaquin Valley I rode 113k and only had to climb 94m all day, but on another day I rode uphill the whole time and climbed 1940m in just 70 kilometres. I have cycled though fog, I’ve sweated and suffered in heat over forty degrees, days that started at 30 degrees and the temperature just rose, and I have been chilled to the core cycling through the snow, a day starting a freezing point and dropping to -4 degrees. I had expected to experience all this in the US, but I didn’t expect it all in the first two weeks!
I stayed an extra day in San Francisco as a bike computer I had ordered had not been delivered to General Delivery, but a bit of research and a few phones calls located it in a UPS branch in the Mission District. This worked out rather well as it the only area in SF that I had wanted to visit but hadn’t got to. I had a little wander through the area, full of Mexicans and fantastic murals (photo), many of them works of arts to be admired.

So I said my farewell to Wendy and Dan who had been marvellous hosts to me for over a week, a great start to my time here. Whilst there I spotted a fantastic quote on the calendar on the fridge: “And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years”, how true. I was surprised to see that it was a quote from Abraham Lincoln. At last I was on my way, cycling down Market St, San Francisco’s main drag. It was determined for me to get a slow start, I was stopped at every set of traffic lights, and there were plenty of them too. Soon I was climbing one of the hills away from town and through the Golden Gate Park, apparently the largest city park in the world, it took me all the way through to the beach. The run south along the beach was hardly spectacular but it was a very nice way to depart from a big city, there were even odd bits of rugged coast to give a taster of what was ahead. I was using a map designed for cyclists which I have to say was very good when it came to avoiding the odd stretches of freeway along the coast. It had been generally inhabited along the way, so when I passed a beachside campsite I thought I would check the price and at a reasonable $7 I decided to stay. It felt very strange to be camping on my own again, this was when I really noticed that I had nobody to talk to. I didn’t have to wait long, another cyclist was approaching, his bike laden with so much stuff that you couldn’t see it, he had bits and bobs strapped on all over the place, including a large Brazilian flag on a pole at the back. He made straight for the shower block, the door opened and slowly he and the bike disappeared inside, the top of the flag the last thing to slip out of sight as though being eaten by some strange monster. After an age he emerged and set up camp near me, though I was in no mood to be sociable, as he set up his massive tent, his bike disappearing once more, this time inside the tent. I didn’t need to be sociable, it wasn’t long before a rather loud American, there are plenty of them, went over to talk to him, “WOW! I knew, I just knew, as soon as I saw you with all that gear, I just knew you had to be on a long ride….wow!” Another around the world cyclist I guessed.

As I was just about to leave the following morning Brazilian emerged from his 60kg of crap and wandered over for a chat, he was cycling north from LA to Portland, about 1000 miles and been on the road about 8 days. He was obsessed with the question of how to avoid hypothermia, every solution I gave him was thrown back at me, so I just gave up and said “The best way to avoid it at this time of year is to head south”. It was a cool start, with a bit of sea mist thrown in, but the sun soon had that burnt away to reveal a lovely sunny day, there were more good scenery of ruggedness and I even had a nice tailwind to push me along through it, things were going well. I passed through the large town of Santa Cruz that runs along the shore and merged in with the next couple of towns making it a long town drag at the end of the day. By the time I emerged out the other side I was ready to stop so called in at a campsite. The office was closed, though the sign pinned up informed me that it was a whopping $35! I could hardly believe it, there were a few people there but I managed to tuck myself away in a corner and away from everybody else so that it didn’t even feel as though I was in a campsite, though the picnic table and obligatory fireplace were a bit of give away. I went for a shower, it needed a quarter dollar coin, typically I didn’t have one so I went in search of some change. I approached a family and asked “Can you help me out with a bit of change please?” and before I cold finish what I was trying to say one of them immediately gave me a small coin “What’s that?” I asked, “It’s a nickel” he replied, I think that’s 5 cents, he assumed I was a beggar. I guess the difference between my tramp like looks and a beggar are a pretty fine line.

I left early in the morning, but honestly, it had nothing to do with leaving before the office opened so that I didn’t have to pay. I had been told that the state had run out of money, they were going to close all the state parks and campsites but had kept a few open and just whacked the price up. It was again foggy and cold, I was getting the idea that this was standard stuff for the coast. I was a little inland, passing through strawberry fields, full of Mexican pickers, at least I guessed they were judging from the Spanish radio blaring out the entertainment. The fog remained most of the day. I assumed I was heading through spectacular coastal scenery as the road climbed dipped and twisted all over the place. At times I could hear the sea below me, though I could rarely see it. It was all very disappointing, I passed no end of view points and car parks, but nobody was stopping at them, there was no point. By about 3pm it suddenly cleared, I could see what I had been missing out on, it really was fantastic, amazingly every pull over I passed had vehicles in with people out taking photos. I came to another basic campsite, a bit odd this one, it had a campsite sign and right next to that was a sign for no camping. Not knowing which was correct I camped discreetly again and had another free night.
The weather was looking better as I set off the following morning, the sun was shining and I could see clear blue sky as I climbed to the popular place of Big Sur. I managed to pass through it without realising I had arrived, there were odd clumps of buildings but no real centre, I had passed rightbthrough without knowing. Just out the other side was the Thingy Thingy Memorial Library, so I stopped to have a look. A sign stated it was the “Library where nothing happens” and true to form it was shut. I rounded the corner to a glorious view down the coast, there was no fog at all, I was in for a great day….but hang on minute, what are those trees doing sticking out of the sea? It wasn’t the sea at all, it was a perfectly flat layer of fog along the whole coastline (photo), which I all too soon dropped down into once again losing any view for rest of the day. I as beginning to become an expert on fog, here you can photograph it from 5000 different view points. As with the day before it cleared at about 3pm to reveal more wonderful scenery and to remind me of exactly what I was missing. I arrived at the attractive little cliff top village of Gorda where thankfully the only thing that I need to restock on was bread. I bought some for the extortionate price of $4.50. It rather reminded me of the bread in Japan, the one that said “Soft and soft, so soft I eat delicious”, though this was “Hard and hard, so hard I throw away disgusting!” At Ragged Point I met Steve, another cyclist, cycling from SF to LA and much faster me, but if I am carrying 40g of crap, he was carry 2kg of essentials, most of which seemed to be a sleeping bag. I carried on and at last found a nice little spot to camp in, tucked away amongst some pine trees. The only thing that disturbed me at night was a mouse constantly rustling things in the vestibule of the tent. Each time I brought the item inside, until eventually everything was in the tent.

At some stage that day I passed the 50,000km mark, so to mark the occasion I have added a few statistics by popular request. Well, Aoiffe asked for some, but that out votes all those that said they didn’t want them, so here goes:

I am currently using the following:
8th chain
5th set of sprockets
2nd middle and large ring on the front mech
3rd brake blocks
4th pair of mits
2nd cycling shirt
7th pair of shorts
2nd bottom bracket
2nd front tyre
3rd rear tyre
Original wheels
Shortest time in a country: 2 days, Leitchenstein
Longest stay in a country: 5 months, Australia
Friendliest people: It would be easy to say the Aussies, but they are pipped by the Iranians for their everyday act of kindness
Hilliest country: Japan
Flattest country: Bangladesh
Most entered country: Thailand, 3 times
Still wearing original trousers that were looking tatty when I set of and aren’t looking much better now.
4th cycle computer
Highest elevation: Read on
Lowest elevation -0.3m: Paddled in various places
Time in company of other cyclists: about 11 months
Time alone: Work it out
Easiest place to find drinking water: Japan
Best desserts: Bangladesh
Been ill twice
Injuries: None, but odd bites and stings
Email received: 100s, but I still love getting them
Emails sent: A lot less than received, oops, sorry!
Bagels eaten in USA: 43.5
Favourite country: Tricky, but I really like Switzerland, Bulgaria, Nepal and Australia
Worst country: Hungary, the flat route I chose was a bore
Longest stay: Sydney, 3 weeks
Longest ride: 203km, pushed on by nutty police in Myanmar
Amount spent: Oh dear, dear, dear!
Worst maps: France
That’ll do ya for now.

As I left the following morning I was surprised to find another tent between me and the road. The road ahead was less dramatic, flatter and no fog to speak of. I could see seals down on the beach so stopped for a look. I think they were elephant seals, huge great piles of blubber that seem to either be asleep or picking a fight with the seal next to them that had just woken them up. From their size I guess they also find time to stuff themselves silly with fish. There was a cycling event on, which I later discovered was the Lighthouse Century, there were hundreds of cyclist coming the other way and I began to realise how the Queen must feel waving to everybody. I stopped in the pretty town of Cambria, so by the time I was on the move again the first ones were heading back the same way as me though strangely enough only one person spoke to me. This was also the point that I left the coast and turn east inland along route 46, things were about to change very dramatically. Obviously my surroundings changed, now I had land on both sides of me, but also the land started to rise and I was heading into my first proper climb. The weather also took a dramatic turn. As I climbed up the temperature rose accordingly, I don’t think I have ever know it rise so fast, it was hot thirsty work, so I found the first bit of shade I could and sat and had lunch. It didn’t get any easier after lunch, it just got hotter, it had been 36 in the shade so it must have risen to over 40 degrees. I could feel the heat rising off the road, I could feel the hot air in my lungs and when I breathed through my nose it felt as though my nostrils were burning. To make things worse all this had been totally unexpected so I was not carrying enough water, I was getting very thirsty and the warm water was doing little to quench that thirst. As I started the descent I knew I needed water pretty quickly. Thankfully I was entering the wine region and before long I saw a sign saying “Wine Tasting”, so I called in and asked if I could taste their water which they kindly obliged with. Now every kilometre of so was a different vineyard, each with their “Wine Tasting” signs out the front, but my favourite sign was the one that said “Report Drunk Drivers”. I had crossed the hills and was nearing Paso Robles where I spotted a McDonalds beside the freeway. I just couldn’t resist it, I went in and had a medium think shake, not even I would be able to get through one of the large ones! I was reluctant to get going again, the air-con was just too good, but it had to be done. Finding my way through town was once again impossible as the only signs seem to be on the freeway, but the street naming really helps once you do know where you are going. I was told to turn right on 24th St, dead easy, you even know how many blocks you need to travel. Heading out was time to start looking for a place to camp, but once again it was a busy, busy road and all vineyards, things were not looking good at all. After a few kilometres I went down a small side road, but it was never ending houses all with about an acre of land. I turned up a gravel road only for it to come to a dead end at an airstrip, things were not looking good at all. I noticed the house at the end had some rough ground that they might let me use, so I knocked on the door. After a long discussion during which time Mike stated that his main concern was the safety of his family, I gave him my blog address. This seemed to add substance to what I was saying and then he and Helen kindly let me camp, I was relieved.

As I packed up the following morning a just felt I needed an easy day. It was going to be another scorcher and with no sizable places to pass through I was hardly like to get it, besides, I still had more hills to pass through. As I approached the front door to thank them for their hospitality Michael walked out to greet me and invite me in for coffee. We talked inside and he told me that they were heading off for church and would I like to join them. I declined, it was an hour and a half drive each way, but he asked again, so I thought why not, go for it. We headed back down the coast, during which time Mike told me that his full name was Michael Jackson, to a Baptist like church and what a great experience it was too. At the front was a full band complete with a wonderful lively “happy clappy” choir, hymns were sung with full hearts and waving arms from the congregation. During the service they kept talking about Sisters and Brothers, but there was not single nun or monk about, then the preacher said “We have a new Brother amongst us this morning”, he was looking straight at me. I was asked to stand up and introduce myself, which I did. The Preacher said “What do we say to John?”, “WELCOME” came the reply “and?”, “WE LOVE YOU BROTHER JOHN”, “and?”, “JESUS LOVES YOU BROTHER JOHN”. The Preacher then talked for about an hour, I heard every word and was mesmerised, the congregation often voiced their agreement, with the Preacher often saying “Somebody say Hallelujah”, “HALLELUJAH” came the reply. I was made to feel very welcome, one kind lady even tried to give me some money, though I declined it telling her that it was my decision to put myself into this lifestyle with a tight budget, but it was a lovely gesture. By the time I set off cycling it was still baking hot and 15:30. Thankfully I still had that tail wind giving me a healthy push, I had my much needed rest and now I was flying. I still managed to cover 60km, but that left me just over a pass on the busy route 41 with fences both side and nowhere to camp. I checked one or two of the gates, they were all firmly locked with signs making it known that I wouldn’t be welcome there, one gate had about 10 padlocks on. So soon after my departure from the Jackson’s I was already in need again, so as the light was fading and I was passing a ranch I cycled up the driveway. I don’t like having to ask for a place to camp but I had little choice. I think I have gained a fairly good judgement of what the answer is going to be and this one had “No” written all over it, but I was still very surprised by the response. Whilst I was still a good 20m from the building a woman came out yelling at the top her voice “YOU STOP THERE, STOP RIGHT THERE AND DON’T TAKE ANOTHER STEP”. It was hardly worth asking the question, but I asked anyway if I could camp beside her track to which she replied “NO! You carry on down the highway”. Now I don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms but I considered that her reaction was a little over the top, though in fairness I don’t know what her experiences have been like in the past or just how many American films she watches. With the wind still behind me I flew down the hill in the dark, spotted a small turning which I took and that brought me to a small track to open ground and a wonderful spot to stop for the night, though it was late.

I set off the following morning, another clear sky and already 31 degrees. I arrived in the small town of Avenal where I asked a woman the directions to the library. It turned out she was the wife of the Pastor of one of the towns churches and took me to meet him. We talked a long time and amongst many other things I learnt that the town had 16,000 people, 7,000 of which were in the prison I had just passed, and about 80% of the people in the town were Mexican. I was already aware the level was high as in the supermarkets Spanish was the language spoken and the shelves were full of tortilla and not a bagel in sight. I bought some marshmallows which I later noticed were described as giant. They were big, each one two mouthfuls, but the pack I had left behind were even bigger, each one the size of an apple. The Pastor asked if there was anything I needed. When people ask me that these days I take it as a genuine offer, so I asked if I could wash the shirt I was wearing. He took me downstairs to where there was hot water and soap, so I could at least get all the white sweaty marks out of the now crispy shirt. As I was now alone it seemed too good an opportunity to miss, so I stripped off completely and washed my shorts as well. One more climb and I dropped into the huge San Joaquin Valley, the food bowl of California. I was greeted with a head wind, which unfortunately meant that it was to remain with me for the next 3 days. I was riding past endless massive fields, but also orchards of almond trees, it was hardly exciting stuff, by the end of the day I was thoroughly bored. I knew I would have trouble camping, these were all massive farms with the fields being worked by Mexicans, big lorries were passing the whole time. I stopped at Five Points, a little village, and filled up with water there. I got talking to Daryl, he was locking up the shop where he had finished working for the day. I asked if he knew of anywhere further on that I would be able to camp and he pointed to the grass area behind his shop. I wasn’t overly keen, but I guessed I would nowhere better, so I made an early stop for a change.

The following day was mundane to say the least, I passed no end of things growing, plenty of nuts, fruit, veg and even cotton, but that headwind was still nagging away making the knees ache. The highlight of the day was the street names through the valley, those heading north/south where 15th Street etc, those heading east/west were 15th Ave. Roads have been added over time, 5 ½ St was there, but it got even better with 17 ¾ St. Once again I struggled finding a place to camp, I just had to keep going until I found something suitable. At last I passed an old orchard that clearing was no longer used, so I made my way in. I picked up a click on the front wheel and stopped a little further in to discover that I had picked up dozens of thorny things, so I spent the next twenty minutes removing them with a pair of tweezers, one giving a tell tale hiss as I removed it. It was again late, it would have to wait for tomorrow.

I set off early, I really didn’t want to be seen in the orchard, it was cold, but the wind hadn’t got up yet, the going was easy. I went through the large town of Merced, once again without the benefit of any useful signposts, though a quick chat to a postie and it all fell into place. I fixed the puncture outside an office, the hole being so tiny I couldn’t find it, but the people inside kindly let me use the bathroom to put the tube under water. The dot on a map of Oakdale turned out to be a big city, I camped just the other side in a field that sort of looked like an old park, yet another place that I wasn’t happy with, but it would have to do.

I was awoken during the night by another creature at my rubbish bag, this time a cat had done a runner with it. When I set of in the morning I discovered I had been camped on church land, I probably would have slept much better if I had known that. The start of the day was also the start of another significant change in the landscape, gone were the fields, they were replaced with cattle pasture, there were hills in the road, even some bends, this was really exciting, I could hardly contain myself. To the right I could see the bigger hills looming, the start of the Sierra Nevada. Place names with dots on the map revealed just a single house on the road, there was little out here (photo). I arrived at the bigger place of Valley Springs, it was again hot, I had lunch in the shade before the really serious climbing started. For the last few days I had been below 100m, now I climbed from 250 to 550m in the heat, it was hard fought for climbing. I arrived at the junction with a bigger road, a left turn took me swooping down a fast hill, I lost every bit of the height I had gained, I was not amused. It brought me to Jackson, a small town of some 4,000 people, and one small but very well equipped bike shop. I called in for some more glue for puncture repairs, the other I had hadn’t been used for so long that it had dried up, but I asked the guy there to check out the gears for me, they seem to be getting worse over time. He spent about 30 minutes on it, including straightening the rear mech hanger that probably got a bit bent when I came off in Japan. When I came to pay he told me it was for free, “Tourists privilege”. It seems that Jackson and the Jacksons have been very good to me over the last few days. I carried on climbing, I was trying to get to Pine Grove before nightfall, there was a State Park I could camp in apparently. I just about made it having even turned down the offer of a lift, but by the time I had found the route out, up a long steep hill, and collected some water it was totally dark, once again I was looking for a camp site by torch light, I was eventually installed by 20:30, well after dark, I was tired, I really couldn’t be bothered to cook.

By morning I considered I had done very well in my site selection. What had seemed such a long hill in the dark the previous evening turned out to be just over 1km long. This was the day that I would really be heading up the mountain, I settled into a steady climb that would be there for the whole day. After three hours of climbing I stopped at a café for a bite and a coffee and took the luxury of reading the local paper. I went to fill up with water when I left only to realise that I had left my water bag back at the campsite, I was pissed off to say the least. I carry two of them but the only time through USA that I will really need two is across Nevada after Reno, bloody typical! Snow was being forecast for the next couple of days, I really couldn’t afford to go back a lose the best part of a day, I had to carry on to get over the passes before the snow arrived. The climb was between the trees the whole time, nearer the end of the day the scenery started to open up. The road dropped back down a little to a campsite I could see marked on the map, I had no intention of staying there, but when I found that it was closed it seemed to good an opportunity to miss, so I stayed there. Campsites here have their own large area complete with table, fireplace and bear safe to put your food in, the only thing I didn’t have was water and I was carrying enough. It was cold, but I still took a dip in the river, bracing stuff.

The remainder of the climb to Carson Pass followed in the morning. As I sat by a lake eating breakfast 4 cyclists passed. I was soon to catch them as they stopped and we chatted our way to the top, it made the climb seem much quicker. It was cold on top, but there I met the guy who had offered me a lift a couple of days ago, he was working on a building as a volunteer with the Ranger, the same one I had seen on the front page of the paper the previous day. It’s a small world up here. The view on the descent were just spectacular, it completely opened up, this was the kind of stuff I had come to the US to see. It wasn’t long before I was climbing to the next pass, Luther Pass and heck it was windy on top, a head wind that brought me to a standstill, though thankfully I was soon to change direction and it gave me a huge push along, very welcome. I dropped down to Lake Tahoe. I had been told that there was a drop off at the far end down towards Reno, the dash was on to get there before nightfall and hopefully miss the snow completely. I was slowed down by unexpected climbs, though the scenery was truly stunning, so worth the effort. Parts of the climb were nerve racking, a 45 degree drop on my side with no barriers. Odd isn’t it, if there are barriers there I can ride right beside them, but take the barriers away and sod that! I am going anywhere near the edge thank you very much. The lake was about 40 km long, it was lovely and picturesque, but the push was on to get to the top end and down the drop, I was still at 2000m, above the level that the snow was expected. Once again light was going, it felt cold, snow was surely on the way. With not much time left I passed a cheap looking campsite, I was now cycling through residential area, it would have made sense to stop, but I just had to push on. At last I reached the road heading away from the lake, but I was surprised to see that it was climbing, the light had all but gone and already it was starting to snow. As I passed a church I noticed a little flat land in the trees, so doubled back and camped there. It snowed a little more, it was cold, I was mighty glad to get into my little tent.

Come morning I could hardly believe where I had camped, there were houses around that I hadn’t even noticed the night before. There was snow on the ground, it was freezing, my water bottles had iced up, but the road looked good. As I set off I passed a sign saying “Snow tires or chains required 3 miles ahead”, how can that be I thought, it is supposed to be down hill. It climbed, it climbed and it climbed more, the temperature was dropping, ice was appearing at the side of the road, the further I climbed the more it stretched across the road until I considered it no longer safe to cycle on the shoulder, I moved to the main lane, though passing vehicles were very good, patient and giving me plenty of room. Before long there was snow across the whole road, the snow ploughs were out, one or two cars were heading back, I just had to carry on, the other way around was just too long. Would this bloody climb ever come to an end, every metre in altitude gained in the snow meant one extra to go down, I was not happy. A guy offered me a lift, I turned it down, though I knew if I came off I would regret the decision. He told me it was still another 20 minutes or so to the top. Not a moment too soon I reached Mt Rose Pass at 8900ft, (2700m) the highest I have been on this trip and it was biting cold at -4 degrees. The easy part as over, now I just had to get down again. Progress was slow there was large icy snowy patches all the way across the road, it was nerve racking with the brakes on but unthinkable to go across without them on at all. I quickly became cold without being able to generate heat from pedalling. I stopped a number of times to free myself from the concentration and to get the circulation going again, I was so desperate to be lower down where it would hopefully be a little warmer. I guess it did get warmer but by then I was chilled to the core, I had been riding downhill for 25km, my limbs were reluctant to start moving again. I followed the only sign for Reno, I checked that there were no signs restricting cycles, there weren’t, but I still ended up of what seemed to be a freeway, but with at times the largest shoulder I have ever seen, 3-4 lanes wide. Before long there was a siren from behind, I stopped and got off the bike, “Get back on the bike” came across the loud speaker. The police officer insisted I had passed signs, I know I hadn’t, but they were large and clear where I got off the freeway. I passed a McDonalds, this time I used it to just sit around and get warmed up before I made my way to my couch surfing host Deborah. We had a great evening at her brother Rick’s house by which time I was just about warming through again. I think I did just make it over the pass in time, looking back it seems there has been more snow, I have been very lucky. I joined Deborah and Rick at a Bikram Yoga session, yoga in a room with a temperature of about 100F and I don’t think I have ever sweated so much in my life.

So tomorrow I am on the move again, this time on route 50 across Nevada, described as “The loneliest road in USA”. It is going to be pretty cool at times, but at least I should have no trouble finding somewhere to camp.