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.


caff said...

Oh blimey another long post just when I thought I was catching up...I am now still one behind. Will get to my laurels and catch up over the weekend!! Your journey through Utah is sounding amazing. After such stunning scenery where else is there to go?!! Loving your photos :-)

Maria said...

OMG those photos. And you comments about relationships pull a string here to. We are in the middle of making plans to fly home, the $ spent, but I don't think I am brave enough to bike and camp it! We have had a most amazing journey from our perspective - but I still envy yours. Keep travelling, keep posting.

dad said...

In the 1960's when I worked at Willings I knew a chap who had been to just where you are at the moment and he lent me several sets of miniature slides. they were set in a disc made of plastic and smaller than a CD. But with the aid od a battery operated gadget you could view stereo images of the Grand Canyon and Bryce and other scenic wonders. So in a small way I have experienced what you are seeing.

caff said...

Just catching up with your Blog. In your Kanab posting you stated "I stopped to replace my sanals with my shoes and socks..." Am I to assume this means you replaced your sanity with your shoes and socks?!! I can see you made the right decision if you then spent the following night shouting at and chasing deer in the dark!! So how did you know they were deer if it was dark?! Did they say "oh deer guys it's that mad cyclist again"!!

John Harwood said...

When you get a few spare moments and you are really, REALLY bored, I have just uploaded over 100 photos from Byrce, Zion and Grand Canyon.

caff said...

Flippin heck -11 degrees and sleeping in a tent. You are quite barmy!!! So where's the next post? I've caught up. Okay I have still to check out the photos in detail. All exciting reading and viewing :-)

Lorna said...

I was not really, really bored, but I have looked at the fab photos! They are breathtaking. Your enthusiasm for the country certainly comes across in your blog although I'm not sure I'd be able to camp with those temperatures!! Thanks for sharing:-)

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