Monday, 30 November 2009

Day 920 - Terlingua Ghost Town

We left Van Horn on the US90, a road that would see us for most of the journey to San Antonio. Before too long we were ready to stop for lunch so we leant back against the gate of a boarded up house, nobody had been there for years, until we sat down, then the owner arrived and wanted to go though the gate. As the day progressed the mountains faded into the distance, we were cycling through ranch land, dry grasslands as far as the eye could see, fences both sides of the road and all the gates firmly locked. There were no tracks at all leading away from the road, but along our left hand side ran a railway crossing over little bridges, it looked as though this was going to be our only option, still, we hadn’t seen a train all day. With the light fading by the time we were checking the fourth bridge we decided we had better stay and camp there. As we cooked our dinners in the dark a train came thundering past. We settled down for the night and just a few minutes later another train came past (photo). For some reason I felt so much more vulnerable lying in the tent, the whole ground vibrating for what seemed age as an apparently never ending train came past. With a steady flow of trains I was soon getting used to it, then a car pulled up. I heard two men talking then torch light lit the tent as they came across calling out in Spanish. “Hi there” I called back as I was confronted by two border patrol guys “Are you American citizens?” they asked “I am but….er hang on, no I’m not, I am English.” I didn’t get off to a good start being half asleep. “Can I see your ID” they said so I asked for their identification then handed over my passport “You’re Australian” they told me “No I’m not, I’m English” clearly we weren’t being questioned by the smartest of guards. By this time one of them thought it might be a good idea to check Robin’s ID and stood looking at it for ages not really knowing what to do. They decided we were here sort of legally so headed of we a “be careful”, odd that, I thought we were being careful. They left just in time for the arrival of the next train. During the gaps that there were no trains or border patrol I was kept awake be the more subtle sounds of a mouse nibbling at my rubbish. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep I have ever had.

In the morning we continued following the railway but never saw another train. We arrived at Marfa, it was 26th November, Thanksgiving Day, a National Holiday when families get together and stuff themselves with food, a sort of Christmas without the pressies. Most places in town were shut. I have asked various people the history of Thanksgiving and I am rather taken with the least likely of the lot. When the early settlers arrived in what is now New England they were a bit short of their crops and were getting a trifle peckish, well, more like rather hungry…actually they were starving. The local Indians took pity on them and saved their lives by giving them food, so the following year they invited the Indians for a Thanksgiving meal and a tradition was started, though by the next year they didn’t bother to invite the Indians, they couldn’t, they had shot them all and pillaged their land. Today I was told a story that was far more likely that even seemed to have documentary evidence, so I won’t bother to tell you that one. We took the 54 south, on the map it looked as though it would be quiet, it headed down to the Mexican border, but being a holiday it was full of traffic heading home for a long weekend. We were heading towards mountains again, the road rolled along nicely towards Presidio. We thought we were in for another night close to the road as everything was fenced in again on both sides, but with about 10 miles to go before the town the fences disappeared. Robin spotted a part built house so we headed across to see if we could camp there for the night. The floor and walls had been built and then it seems to have just been left, so we camped right inside it, it felt luxury to have flat, clean ground and plenty of space around us, no dirt, rocks or spiky things to make life so difficult at times. It was a warm night too, most nights dip below freezing but here is was around a jolly warm 8 degrees c so I slept with the tent open, I didn’t even bother to close it when it started raining.

The rain was drying as soon as it landed, when I got up the ground wasn’t even wet, but by the time we set off I was cycling in the rain for the first since my arrival in the US. By the time we had reached Presidio I was already feeling cold, but after we had stocked up on food for a few days and called into a gas station it had already stopped raining. Presidio wasn’t your typical American small town, being right on the Mexican border it felt just that, Mexican. Spanish seemed to be the main language and with horses and rubbish parked out the back of the gas station and chickens ruling the roost it felt very different. With the bikes feeling much heavier loaded with food we set off along the 170 that hugs the Rio Grande and the border. The first few kilometres were easy going, then we entered a valley and into the Big Bend Ranch State Park, the roads became steep, no great elevation gain but the steep ups and down were in complete contrast to the normal gentle climbs. The scenery was fantastic, most cars were tourists being the holiday weekend, but tourists here are Texans. We talked to some, lovely friendly people that than gave us lovely tasty food. We reached the steepest and longest hill of the day, appropriately named Big Hill (photo). But big hills normally have a downward section too, I whizzed down the hill leaning into the corners, then as I went around the second bend I noticed a wooden cross beside the road, it made me remember that the bends have to taken with at least a little caution, it as only later that I discovered it was the final bend of another cyclist. We stopped for lunch by the river. Here it was narrow and fast running, just a few metres away was Mexico, but in this there was not a single border patrol vehicle, the area far too rugged even for the most determined. At Lajitas we turned away from the river and thankfully left the steep little hills behind as we were tiring, from there on we were faced with the longer gradual hills again, but a faster decent brought us to Terlingua Ghost Town and another Couch Surfing stop only this time I was gate crashing a couch that Robin had arranged before we bumped into each other. The town survived off mercury mining and Mexicans had lived and worked here, but the company went bust so there was nothing for the people here so they moved out, the houses falling in to ruins. People have slowly moved into those ruins and built houses and it now has a flourishing population of 29, though that drops down to just four hardy souls during the summer when it tends to get a tad warm. We made our way down the rough tracks to find Cynta outside on the patio waiting for us, another warm couch surfing welcome was on offer. Before we settled in we were given the basic instructions of the place, which were very basic considering there are no sewers here “Ok, women can use the chemical loo in the bathroom but men have to go to the outhouse over there up the hill, but you only do your poop in there, that’s all it is for”. “Where are you supposed to pee then?” I asked, Cynta held her arms out saying “Anywhere you like. Most men pee in the street, if you do that Doug will probably wave at you when you are going. The only time peeing outside is a problem is if you pee in the same spot for 6 months and it doesn’t rain, then it begins to smell, otherwise it is not a problem”, so that’s what I do, even in the middle of the night I get up and go and pee in the street.

Cynta is an amazing woman. She worked for years as guide on the rivers here and in Latin America and has a wealth of knowledge. She isn’t blessed with the best of health, but you would never really know it, she has a real zest for life and does an incredible amount of work in the community. She bought the land here 10 years ago, just a few crumbling walls and has created a beautiful home (photo, where I am now typing these very words) with fantastic views towards Big Bend National Park. She drove us to the park, high into the mountains and into the basin of the volcanic region, then on to the hot springs by the river near Rio Grande Village. There we relaxed in spring water of 105 degrees f, then dipped in the cool river water, wow! To start with we were on our own, but by the time we left there were about 24 in the small pool, more were on their way. Back home she cooked some dinner then said “Here, put some of this spicy Shit on it” and handed me a bottle labelled “Special Shit”, not her label, this was shop bought. I took a walk around the ghost town, wandering through the cactus, looking at the ruins and artefacts that had been left behind, rusty tins, half buried bottles, old cars known as cartefacts, what a place, I have fallen in love with it, one of the best and most unusual places I have been in a long time. I called in a the “Ghost Town Café”, I only had a coffee, I was glad that was all I was having I could hear them cooking. Everybody working there was either smoking, coughing or spitting and I couldn’t help but wonder where the phlegm was ending up. We talked about life the universe and everything, we took the four dogs for a walk picking up others along the way. When we go out in the car the doors are left open, the dogs stay there and run around barking excitedly when we return. Life is simple here, but it is a great place to spend a few days but an even better place to live a few years.
This is Robin's blog, she gives a far better and more detailed account of this wonderful place and Cynta our amazing host.

A cold front is forecast, everybody is talking about it, snow is on the way. Cynta has invited us to stay until the front passes over. It’s a tough life!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Day 915 - Van Horn, Texas

Pat and Nori who I stayed with in Alamogordo are badminton players. It would have been nice to have had a game with them but unfortunately the only courts in town were having their floor relayed and so were out of action. I discovered on the last night that they are New Mexico State veteran doubles champions and Pat has been state singles champion for the last 6 years, so on reflection it appears that the new floor saved my embarrassment.

Having stocked up on food I made my way out of town turning onto route 82. From the turning it was 16 miles to Cloudcroft, uphill all the way with an elevation gain of 4,300ft. After a couple of days rest I felt really good, I was even enjoying the climb and making good progress heading up. It made for some fine views looking back across the valley to White Sands in the distance. I was too hot, but it cooled as I climbed and headed into the tree line. Near the top I passed a parked car, the driver stood outside watching me “Well done, that’s impressive” he said as I passed which made me feel good and confirmed I was going well despite not having any breaks on the climb, then he called out “I have never seen anybody cycle that slow without falling off!” That rather wiped the smile off my face and put me firmly in my place. Another mile saw me at the pleasant little town of Cloudcroft at an elevation of 8,700ft. I had a look around the old wooden shops, very colourful and some of them were tempting looking cafes. Time was getting on, shadows were already long and I wanted to descend a little before I camped for the night, it was sure to be cold. The descent was very gradual, no chance of freewheeling but fast cycling never the less, though even slow cycling would have seemed fast after the long climb. There were plenty of camping opportunities near the top but as I dropped down there were houses and ranches all the way along. After another 16 miles I reached a free and empty campsite. Despite wanting to carry on further I was unlikely to find a better spot to camp, so I called it a day. It was already cold, I was glad to get in the tent and get a brew on the go.

I had been comfortable overnight so was surprised to find that it was -5 c outside. Camping in the cold is great so long as you don’t get out of your sleeping bag and as yet I haven’t perfected packing up and cycling whilst remaining nice and warm inside it, but I will no doubt have plenty of opportunities to perfect the operation in the coming months. At least it is a dry cold here, it doesn’t have the same impact as when it is damp. With a slow day yesterday I knew I wouldn’t make it to Artesia in one day. It was still -2 when I set off and after just 2km I even cycled passed a gas station with a sign saying ’Free Coffee’. The road was still heading downwards through attractive scenery, the sun was warming things up and all was right in the world. The decent continued where it had left off the previous day, gentle but making for fast riding. I was going well again and covered 80km without a stop. I was approaching Hope, I was hoping for a coffee, but it didn’t look good. I called in at the little wooden store and sure enough they served coffee, they even put a fresh brew on for me so I made myself comfy in the large soft chair right beside the fire. I got talking to the owner Fran (photo). He told me that there used to be 7000 people if Hope, but the water ran out, the orchard crops failed, ranches could no longer support their livestock and people left. That was a long time ago, but now the population is down to just 75. Water is still there, the loo flushed, I don’t see what the problem is! I am getting good at talking, it’s all to do with travelling alone, you have to talk to somebody. I have also noticed that the amount of free coffee I am given is directly proportional to the amount of talking I do, Fran refused payment. I tore myself away from the fire and carried on. I was still going well, I made it to Artesia in good time, I even made it to 20km beyond, so having covered 145km I had made much better progress than I had expected. It is still at around 3,000ft, but it is flat, for the first time in weeks I can look all around me and not even see a hill, let alone a mountain. There must surely be some more lurking around somewhere.

I made good time in reaching Carlsbad. My intention here was to use the internet for about an hour and then head of for the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, a further 20 miles down the road. My plans rarely work out and today was no exception. Everybody seemed to be talking to me, I was getting nowhere fast, there were even another two cyclists at the library and what’s more we were all heading for Austin, Texas. Doug had been here a couple of weeks waiting for a part for his bike, Ari and his friend who I never saw were looking for work, so it looked as though I would still be leaving on my own. They approach was different to mine, they had spent the previous night sleeping outside a large Walmart store, so I told them all about Couch Surfing, Ari looked really pleased, I felt I had done my good deed for the day. As I was about to start riding a voice called out “I just heard you talking in there, are you from Scotland” a guy asked, “No, they talk funny up there, even I can’t understand them, I am from England”. He started talking about his friend “His name is Guy Lutman, have you met him, he is a lovely guy”. That always makes me laugh, people expect you to know everybody, of course I haven’t met him, this is a big place….but hang on a minute, I went rummaging around in my bar bag and came out with a business card “Yeah, I have met him, about two hours ago”, this must be a smaller place than I expected. I clearly wasn’t going to make it to the caverns by closing time, so sat and chatted to all and sundry, then wished Ari all the best and eventually left town with enough time to head out and find a place to camp. I found a good spot nobody would ever pass, but a couple of hours later to my surprise I heard nearby voices, though I don’t think they saw me.

The following morning I reached Whites City, hardly a city, more just a row of tourist’s shops. I asked somebody the way to the caves “Are you going up there on that?”, “Yes, I think so” I replied “Well you will able to coast the whole way back”, “Oh, I thought I was there, how far is it?”, “About another 7 miles”….oh poo! Today wasn’t going to go to plan either. The climb was gentle, I would rather not have had this bonus climb, but other than that I quite enjoyed it, the views across the plains from the top were well worth it. There were options for heading into the caverns, either an hour’s walk or an elevator, this is America after all. I chose to walk, not many people did. As I was about to enter I was given a briefing which included being told only to whisper as sound carry very well down there. I didn’t have to worry about that, I had a much bigger problem, my shoes. The metal cleats on the bottom ground into the rough surface, the noise echoing around the caverns, people stopped to see what on earth was going on. It acted as a good ice-breaker and got me chatting to the Rangers that were down there. I think my accent helps with talking to people, I become somebody of interest, but I also think I have become a real gas-bag, so watch out for when I return Cathy! The path twisted its way down through various caverns dropping to 750ft below the surface. On entering the Big Room, the biggest cavern in the US, I met up with all those that had come down via the elevator including bus loads of soldiers who seemed to be on a route march, I think they were afraid of the dark. The cavern was incredible, a massive space dripping with stalactites and other wonderful formations the names of which I can’t remember. At times there were views down into lower caves, the place was vast. One area was called the Fairyland, a very good description, full of all sort of goodies that sadly don’t come out of photographs, due to the lack of light. I made my way up in the elevator, the shaft being through solid rock that took 2000 tons on explosive and 9 months to complete. I had lunch with a view at the top, joined by a small army of wasps. Where did they come from, this country hasn’t had any bugs that have been a nuisance. Heading back was a coast, downhill all the way. I had to retrace right past where I had camped the previous night. A little before the turn-off I saw a cyclist coming the other way, surely it can’t be Ari already. I pulled over, it wasn’t Ari, it was Robin from Seattle, 10 weeks into a tour around the country. That is going some, everybody I meet seems to be travelling so much faster than me, they all make me feel so idle. She too was heading for Austin via Big Bend National Park. We talked at the roadside for a while, she wouldn’t reach the caverns by last entry time, so I suggested we go for a coffee and camp the night together. At the grocery the woman said she wasn’t allowed to make coffee after noon, but she still kindly put a pot on for us. She must have been able to tell that I am now an addict and would have caused trouble if he didn’t put any on.

Being as we were both heading for Austin I asked if Robin would like some company. She wanted to visit the cavern first. Now I am never fond of tracing my steps, but going up that climb again was beyond a joke. Robin is faster than me, I struggled to talk and keep up with the climbing at the same time. As we parked the bikes a passing woman said “Wow, I saw you at the bottom of the hill and you re here already, you are fast!”, odd that, I am told how slow I am when I am on my own. Robin walked down through the natural entrance to the caves and I met her an hour later by taking the elevator. Being a Monday it was much quieter down there and I was surprised at how much I saw that I hadn’t seen the previous day, so well worth a second look, especially as the ticket lasts for three days. We dropped back to Whites City and tried to stock up on food. The grocery we had been in yesterday was poorly stocked, most of the shelves were empty, so I just bought beans and a tin of pears. “How much are the pears?” I asked, they didn’t have a price on, “Oh, let’s call it $1.50” she replied, “That’s very reasonable” I said rather stupidly “Ok, $2 then” she answered. We set off south down route 180 into a headwind, it was hard going all the way, but we worked together sharing the load at the front which made it a little easier. We stopped at a rest area and filled up on water, it tasted terrible! The wind didn’t get any better, but a climb just made things worse. We were both tiring so called it a day and found a rocky area to camp in. Robin is clearly less fussy about where she camps. I walked around looking for a good spot, she was stood by the bikes and when I returned said “I really need a place to camp, I am getting cold, this will do”. It’s not a place I would have chosen, but it was perfectly comfortable, perhaps I worry too much about a perfect spot, not that it ever is.

The climb continued the following morning, all the way to Guadalupe National Park. Robin has an annual pass and could get me in for free. We did a walk of 4.5 miles up to a natural set of steps and beyond to a slot canyon. The National Parks here are all worth a visit. When we returned to the bikes there was a note from some other tourists who were on the campsite. We called in for a chat. Three ladies, Murchie and Nicole were just 2 days in to a year long tour, Murchie inspired into the ride because she was sick of baby sitting the grandchildren, she couldn’t get away quick enough. Nicole was also training for a marathon in January, and I thought just the cycling was tough enough. We set off after lunch and reached the pass immediately, a nice swift drop down, then turned on to the very quiet route 54 to Van Horn. It started off straight then turned into the mountains. After Robin had repaired a couple of punctures and had spent too much time chatting back at the National Park it was clear we would not reach Van Horn, we were a little low on water and food, but had enough to survive. Despite being totally remote all the roadside gates were locked, so as it was getting dark we lifted the bikes over a bit of broken fence and stopped for the night. Food was basic, I pinched some of Robin’s carrots and dipped them in peanut butter, I am even getting to like the stuff now. Peanut butter is very popular here, the supermarkets have shelves full of the sticky ’orrible stuff, the Americans have it with everything “Peanut Butter ice-cream would be nice” I joked “Hmm, that’s my favourite” Robin told me. I then found out she wasn’t joking either.

It was another 20km into Van Horn, just down the road is El Paso. Over a week ago I was looking at El Paso from the other side, so I seem to have come around in a big circle, perhaps that is why I seem to be taking so long to cross the United States.

I took the last photo on the way into town. Van Horn? It's a car horn!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Day 909 - Alamogordo, New Mexico

I sat outside the library in Safford waiting for it to open, it should have opened 15 minutes earlier according to it’s opening times. But it was never going to open, it was 11th November, Veterans Day and a National Holiday. I left on the same road as I entered, route 70. It climbed very gently for most of the 30 miles to Duncan, then when it came into view the road dropped back down. I stopped at the visitor centre, they had free internet access so I ordered a large coffee and settled down. They were a friendly bunch and even refused payment for the coffee as I left. Another few miles bought me to New Mexico, ‘The Land of Enchantment’ and also the land of fenced in roads. I spotted a barbed wire gate, undid it and found a secluded spot to camp for the night.

Morning brought another bash into the headwind. I was still on route 70, though New Mexico had no sponsorship for litter clearing, in fact they had no litter clearing of any description, there were bottles for the whole of the 46km to Lordsburg. How come discarded bottles can be so evenly spread? There was hardly a 10m stretch that didn’t have bottles littering the road. The wind wasn’t too bad, but it did keep my maximum speed down to a frustratingly low 18kph. Lordsburg was the only town of any size that I would pass through in the next few days so I would have to stock up there with food there, but arriving at 11:30am I had just missed closing time on all the shops… about 10 years. Everything was boarded up, there was nothing, it looked like a ghost town. It did have motels though, the cheapest motels I have seen anywhere at $26, but if they had offered me a room for free I still would have stayed in the tent. I have seen some pretty run down towns in the USA, but this was the ‘run-est’ down of them all. The only place that was doing business was Flying J, a truck stop. They stocked a little food so I wasn’t going to starve, but they had nothing I wanted. Things were so bad that I had to buy bread and peanut butter, I hate peanut butter! I ate some before I set off, it was yuk. I had some with strawberry jam to help disguise the taste. I really wasn’t looking forward to the afternoon’s ride, into that headwind but this time on Interstate 10, a freeway, and being a busy road compared with route 70 would probably mean it would be knee deep in bottles. I set off and to my surprise I was soon motoring, flying along never going slower than the mornings maximum speed, I had a big smile of my face, that peanut butter was good stuff, I love peanut butter. May be I have had a peanut butter deficiency for the last couple of years. It is so good it even made the wind change directions. I covered the 40km in no time and reached my exit. I stopped to contemplate carrying on along the freeway I had enjoyed it that much, there were hardly any bottles either. But sense prevailed and I went south on the 146 for the 19 miles in a side wind to Hachita, crossing the continental divide along the way. I arrived there with an hour of daylight to spare. I couldn’t find the post office so asked a couple working on a fence, I also asked them if they knew where Sam Hughes lives “He lives there, next door”. Ok, so not much of a coincidence, it’s not exactly a huge place, but it is another shabby place, every building looks as though it as about to fall down, including Sam‘s house and the churches (photo). I stopped outside the post office to see if Wizard Dave or the Jaguar King would show up….nothing, nada, not a sausage! I am sure that if Dave was a real wizard the he would have known I was there. I went back to call on Sam. The door was wide open but he was out though his little dog was in, a cute little thing no bigger than a loaf of bread. The woman across the road called me over, “Just camp in Sam’s yard, he wont mind, people camp in his yard all the time.” The Continental Divide Trail that runs from Mexico to Canada starts/finishes nearby and Sam is a ‘trail angel’ who helps people out with lifts and drops water off etc. He arrived back as I was swinging in his garden chair “I have just been shopping” he said, “Where do you get your food?” I asked, “Deming, 52 Miles away”. I told him I came through Lordsburg “There are no shops there. That place is too dumb to die” he told me. “Here, give me a hand with my groceries. I only went to Deming to buy these and I came back with a new pickup as well”, a recurring problem by the look of the 4 other vehicles in the yard “I need a 4 wheel drive to ferry the walkers and the cyclists around” he told me. “I take it you have met the dog, his name is Bear, come on Bear dog”. We went inside and chatted over a cold beer. I looked through his visitors book and saw that Christine had been there on 9th November 2007, 2 years ago almost to the day. Sam told me about his gold prospecting, “Every time I go I find gold, the only problem is that I never find enough to cover the cost of the petrol to get me there”. He showed me where to camp “I don’t want you to camp there, I have been watering it for you campers and I don’t want you waking up with a wet arse!”
Sam was up before me, had been out and returned with a wolf skin, you can never have enough wolf skins! I had sought out Sam for some advice of getting a new 6 month visitor permit from the Antelope Wells border crossing 45 miles south. He suggested I head 45 miles east to Columbus. I was glad he said that, I wasn’t looking forward to the 90 mile round trip south, so I said farewell and set off into another side wind. His instructions to get there were spot on “Go to the end of the road, turn right and when you reach the stop sign in 45 miles, that is Columbus, there is nothing in between, not even a junction“. The road was very quiet, most of the vehicles were Border Control vehicles complete with little ’mobile prisons’ on the back. The road runs along, and about 3 miles north of the Mexican border. As I rode along the wind swung around again and I cruised the last few miles at 35kph, then turned south and made very slow progress over the last 3 miles to the border. It turned out to be a waste of time, they wouldn’t renew my permit, even if I left and came back I would still only have until March 15th to be out of the USA. The guy I spoke to was pretty thick mind, despite telling I wasn’t going to Mexico and hadn’t come from there he kept asking how long I would be in Mexico and when I said I wasn‘t going there he then kept asking how long I had spent there. Still, it was worth a try. I stopped for a coffee in Columbus, it felt more Mexican than American that’s for sure. I set off east again through 60 miles of nothingness towards El Paso, still running just north of the border. As dusk was on its way a Border Control guy stopped me. “You know this road is very dangerous, there are lots of problems with drug smugglers and people trafficking. Where are you staying tonight?”, “In a tent, beside the road” I told him. “We have a post 40 miles ahead if that is any good for you” he told me, but there was no way I wanted to ride another 40 miles, so I told him roughly where I would camp. A few miles further on he was parked up beside the road “If you head up this track you can camp near the hill on the left and I will let the nightshift know you are there”. That was pretty good of him, but I felt pretty sure that if I tucked myself away as usual I would be pretty unlucky to be stumbled upon be anybody, other than the fact that my tyre tracks through the sand would lead directly to my tent. I found a suitable spot and set up the tent distracted by a wonderful sunset. The wind picked up and gave the tent a bit of a shaking, then suddenly it dropped completely. There was total silence, I could here every little movement outside which just made me listen even harder. I have seen so many hares in the desert, I suspected there was some nearby. I think I preferred it with the wind, it didn’t play tricks on the mind. I could hear howling coyotes nearby too, I presumed that meant there weren’t too many people in the area. There was no moon light, it was very dark, so long as I didn’t use any light I would surely be fine.

When I am cycling I need a sugar fix and getting that has been pretty easy in the USA. In Phoenix I bought some jelly beans, they are normally pretty good, but I think I ate too many and they did some weird things to me. Me vision went a bit funny and the following day my legs felt as though they were about to cramp up, nothing to do with cycling, no, no, no! I gave the second packet I had to Julie to take to work with her and gave her a health warning. Since then I bought some Spice Drops going cheap. They look like fruit pastels, but unlike the jelly beans you can’t eat too many as they taste disgusting. They are flavoured with spearmint, cloves etc, but the worst ones are the Deep Heat flavour. They taste so bad that I cover them in peanut butter to improve the flavour.

So what can I tell you about New Mexico? Here are a few useless facts: It’s the only state to include ’USA’ on vehicle license plates: Lakes and rivers make up only .002% of the states total surface, the lowest ratio of all 50 states. With that in mind the weather forecast for the next two days stating there was 10% chance of precipitation didn’t scare me: The City of Truth or Consequences was once called Hot Springs and changed it’s name to the title of a popular radio quiz program. (Oxford could change it’s name to “I’m Sorry, I haven’t a clue” ideal for a University City! People could then say “I graduated at….I‘m sorry, I haven‘t a clue“: The state constitution officially states that New Mexico is bilingual and one in three families speak Spanish at home, and Spanish must be used in all truck stops (Actually I added that last bit based on a survey I did on the one truck stop I have been in).

I survived the night close to the Mexican border, but you guessed that by the fact that I am writing this. Before I left I stood and looked across the wonderful landscape in front of me. It made me look at it through different eyes. Somewhere out there, unseen to the naked eye, there were probably people walking north, heading in this direction, heading for the ‘promised land’. In front of me was a man made border and the people living on either side live very different lives. Sure, some of those people heading in this direction would have bad intentions, but the majority would probably just be seeking a better life for themselves and their families. I could relate to them a little bit, my request to stay longer had been rejected, but unlike them I am sure I can eventually have my request accepted. I made my way back to the dirt track that would take me to the road. Somehow part of a cactus with thick spikes had become embedded in my leg. I pulled it out and blood started to flow down my leg and soon my foot was covered in blood too. Still a puncture of the leg is easier to repair than a puncture of a tyre. About 5 miles further along the road I heard a couple of gun shots, thankfully not aimed at me, probably just another wildlife lover out for the day. I reached the end of the road and back to civilisation. I turned north and made my way along a valley, now I was riding amongst farms and trees, such a stark contrast to just a few minutes ago. I had already covered 80km and was in need of food, but there is never anything when you really need it. I found a restaurant in the middle of nowhere and had a late Mexican breakfast. Just a few miles further on a woman stopped her car and took some photographs of me and called out as I passed. I stopped and we chatted, she was a professional photographer and gave me one of her card. I instantly recognised the photo as the one hanging next to me on the wall in the restaurant. She, like me, had worked in IT before turning to photography and had no qualifications or training but was making a living from her work and was even looking at opening a museum. I liked her saying that “you have to live your passion”. I found her inspirational. It seemed to take an age to get to Las Cruses, though it was pleasant passing through orchards of Pecan nut trees with their last throws of autumn colours. Once I starting heading into the city it meant that I was committed to getting out the other side and time was against me. Signposting was typically useless. I was looking for route 70 again, it left the city as a freeway, yet nobody seemed to know how to get to it. I asked another couple the way “Can you tell me how to get to route 70 to Alamagordo?”, “Yes Sir, head down that road, past Madrid then right on Main Sir”. It’s all very polite around here “Yes Sir”, “No Sir” though it sounds very strange to me. I thankfully didn’t have to go too far, it was getting dark, I spotted some scrub and camped amongst it, about 200m from a large gas station with a Subway.

That Subway proved to be too tempting by the following morning so I wasn’t really on the move until I had consumed a bucket of coffee. Straight away a climb was looming ahead of me, strange, it hadn’t been there the previous night. Perhaps coffee was having the same effect on my eyes as the Jelly Beans, but my altimeter soon confirmed that it wasn’t just the coffee. The good thing is that I was climbing without any effort, the wind was giving me a good push. I passed the last town/suburb of Organ and before long was heading over the pass of San Agustin at 5719ft. The descent the other side was nice, but the wind a little unnerving. Once on the level again the wind was coming the other way, progress now seemed mighty slow again. To both sides of the roads were military areas with White Sands Missile Test Centre to my left. This is a sensitive area, I even had to have my passport checked, but by late afternoon I had arrived at White Sands National Monument. Let me give you a brief description of the place: It’s a National Park full of White Sand, there, that didn’t take long did it. With a strong wind still blowing and only a couple of hours daylight still remaining I decided to go into the park the following day so passed my time in the visitor centre and the gift shop where I managed to talk my way into a couple of cups of free coffee. I carried on a couple of miles, left the missile testing area and found a wildlife area where camping was permitted. There were signs showing binoculars pointing to the viewing areas, but they were also for hunting, so this wildlife/hunting thing was raising its head again. I guess you can spot stuff with your binoculars and say “Oh look, isn’t that wonderful, I have never seen one of those before….aaah and look, there are its babies, that is s-o-o cute”, then you can blow its brains out! This place was catering fully for the wildlife enthusiast, so if you didn’t want to take the wildlife home and hang it on the wall, you could camp and cook it over a fire, instant gratification. I had some time to spare before it got dark, I had a little snoop around for any wildlife….I saw nothing, diddly squat. I guess some bastard had been there before me and shot the lot! I don’t know if it shows, but I am still struggling a bit with this American wildlife issue. Since Phoenix where it was hot every day, the weather has been really nice for cycling, sunny but not too hot, I have been able to cycle in shorts, t-shirt and sandals from morning until evening. It’s been pretty flat too, though still at about 4,000ft elevation. I was camped right beside a lake and for the first time the temperature was dropping rapidly, it was obviously going to be a cold night, so it was timely that the third and final zip on my tent should jam and lock solid. It looks as though it is time for a new tent.

By morning the water bottles were frozen, I hadn’t expected it to be that cold. I made my way back to White Sands National Monument, and well worth a visit it was too. The road through it was only about 8 miles long to a dead end, but an incredible sight (photo). The roads were packed gypsum and the sand was stacked at the side. With it being a cold morning it felt as though I was cycling through ploughed snow, the picnic area at the end being a surreal sight indeed, they looked like barbecue fires in the snow. The further into the park the less vegetation there was until at the end it was just pure sand. I climbed up some of the dunes to look at the views across to the mountains and promptly broke the park rules by taking some of the sand out in my shoes, tut, tut. I rode the 15 miles or so into Alamogordo, I could see it as soon as I left the park, it looked downhill all the way, which it definitely wasn’t, and seemed to take an age to get there. I was Couch Surfing with Pat and Nori. When I arrived they were just about to have dinner with a couple of family members, Florie from California and Joe from Miami, so I was made very welcome by them all and had a really enjoyable evening.

The following day Pat decided to take half a day off work and came back to pick me up and take me on a little tour. Pat is ex-military and now works as a civilian and the Holloman Air Force Base, so that is where the tour started. It’s a large base with about 10,000 personnel. The base had everything from churches to a shopping mall and bowling alley, a complete self contained community. The whole site is purely for testing and I saw various aircraft both in flight and on the ground including a little remote controlled aircraft that was circling above. From there we went via a cycle shop to the Space Museum, aptly here as much of the space technology is also tested here at White Sands. Incidentally, the world’s first atom bomb was tested on the sight on 16th July 1945 and less than 3 weeks later the real thing was used on Hiroshima in Japan. At the Space museum was Sonic Wind No.1. Dr John Stapp used this to test the effects g-forces had on the human body, tested at White Sands. The guy was a nutter, he strapped himself to the thing and a bunch of little rockets on the back took him pretty quickly along a track to a speed of 632mph. That was the easy bit, the deceleration was back to standstill in 1.4 seconds and I still can’t understand why it didn’t kill him. I guess if you are doing the test yourself you carry out your research beforehand pretty thoroughly. The museum was fascinating, but I am no rocket scientist, so most of it was way above me, but I found the simplest thing the most incredible. It was outside and called the whispering dish. There were two small satellite dish type things 20m apart and with one of us at each dish you could face the dishes and whisper into the centre of them I could hear as clearly as if Pat was right beside me whispering in my, amazing.

Since my failure at the border to get a visitor permit renewal I have slowly been accepting that things are not looking so good for an extended stay here. Christine, with her extensive knowledge of the US and love of searching out information has today just about put the final nail in the coffin with the information she has provided me. My only chance left has been to get a permit extension, but it will cost $300 and you need a very good reason to stay any longer than 6 months and if they refuse your request you get no refund and your existing visa which lasts 10 years will be made void. I suspect that if I apply and say “I don’t want to cycle north in February as it makes my poor little tootsies a bit cold” that I might well get rejected, and as I may want to return in the next 10 years it is a big gamble. So I am slowly but surely beginning to realise that this trip is finally coming to an end and that I have to be in New York by the middle of March. It then looks as though I will have to return home and face the music. I have enjoyed this trip immensely, I still am and I don’t want it to end.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Day 902 - Safford

I stayed a little longer than expected in Phoenix, I was glad I did, On Friday evening Julie took me out for a meal at a Mexican restaurant will meals that would have been a challenge for any hungry cyclist. It seems that no matter where you go in Phoenix it involves a long journey. On Saturday we met up with Julie’s father at the Desert Botanical Gardens a fabulous place full of large spiky things. I loved some of the names of the cactus plants, names such as Organ Pipe Cactus, Old Man of the Andes and Toothpick Cactus to name just a few. There were some lovely birds to spot too as well as a great butterfly house full of Monarch butterflies (photo). Afterward we ate at a bar/café where my education in American sports continued and I returned the compliment by educating them in soccer in general, but Norwich City in particular. Later on I was able to report that we have beaten the mighty Paulton Rovers 7-0 in the FA Cup. I was then shown around Scottsdale centre, the old town full of wooden shops filled with everything a tourist might want even though they never realised it. There were horses and cowboys there too, one sat on a horse playing the guitar and singing. He was given money, though I couldn’t work out if was to sing or to stop singing! Times are changing for the cowboys, there were signs in the bar windows stating that firearms were forbidden.

It was time to leave on Sunday morning. A simple thank you hardly seemed enough considering Julie had made her home my home for a week. I was her first Couch Surfer, I just hope I haven’t put her off the idea. The good thing about stopping for a few days is that by the time I leave, me and all my clothes are clean. The bad thing about getting a puncture after just 5km is that I end up filthy again before I have even worked up a sweat. The rim tape had slipped and the rough edges on the inside of the rim had caused the puncture, it looked as though the rim tape would need replacing soon. After another 10km having repaired another puncture with a rapidly diminishing sense of humour, I was changing the rim tape much sooner than I had expected, I ended up filthy, my legs were black and for some reason whenever I repair a puncture my face ends up filthy too. Having already made a late start it looked as though I wasn’t going to get very far. I had used the cycle path by the canal, it was so much better than using the main roads and well used by cyclists. I chatted to a guy on a bright green and yellow bike, “Nice colours” I said assuming he was a Norwich supporter “Yeah, I did it this colour so that the stupid motorists can see me, it cost me $300 to get it resprayed, it used to be black”. He was dressed entirely in black, I decided not to tell him of the cheaper and much easier option. My rear mudguard started rubbing against the back wheel, I had to stop for another repair, replacing the black tape that was no longer holding the thing together. At some traffic lights I caught up with a lady on a long wheel base bike taking her dog for a walk. Bogchai was her name, a nickname that had been with her since she was two. We chatted away for about 30 minutes, time was slipping by again but so what. I passed through Tempe and cycled out on Apache Trail that turned into Main St. I was dead straight and went on forever, a constant row of strip malls on either side. In fact in went on for so long without changing that my cycle computer decided we had stopped and refused to start again. I had done enough repairs for one day, this one would have to wait until tomorrow. I wasted more time talking at a supermarket. I used the restrooms to clean up applying soap to my legs, but as I tried to remove the soap it just lathered up, the harder I tried the worse it got, so I just left with soapy white legs and hoped nobody would notice. As it was getting dark I knew I wouldn’t make it out of suburbia despite having ridden 50 miles. I spotted a campground and went in. It was $25 a night for a tent and just what I needed after a frustrating day. But hang on, what was happening to my sense of adventure, I still had a few minutes of daylight, something would work out surely, so I carried on. Just a couple of kilometres further on it was getting too dark, there were odd blocks that weren’t built on and one had a dry river bed with a few bushes so I tucked myself in there. If I stood on the nearby bank I could see houses and streetlights all around along with 2 churches, but this would be home for the night even if it was a little noisy, I suspected nobody would see me there.

I was soon out of suburbia the following morning on the busy route 60 heading east. At Florence Junction the road started to climb, I climbed most of the way to Superior, a place with an ironic name but with some nice murals (photo). As I headed into the dingy little centre a woman called out “I saw you go up Gonzales Pass s-o-o slowly, I thought you would never make it”, “Yep, that’s sounds like me”. “Where are you going?” she asked “Globe”, “Oh, have you been there before?”, “No, why?”, “Oooh, do you have to go there, it’s up hill the whole way….” great, 25 miles of it, this woman knows how to cheer people up “….well, there is the occasional bit of downhill…..” ah, that sounds a bit better, “….but it’s all uphill”…, she was confusing me now!!! I sat and had lunch and watched postie doing her rounds in her Postman Pat look-a-like van, then she parked right beside me and locked the van. She hadn’t done that before so she must be doing a long visit, but she returned 20 seconds later and drove off. That means she locked it because of me, do I really look that dodgy? The road did indeed climb, you would expect it to to reach a place called “Top of the World”, but it wasn’t up hill all the way to Globe. As I was almost out the other side I met a couple of young cycle tourists, Jerry and Eric from near New York and on their way to San Francisco. We chatted a while and it turned out they we staying with a Warm Showers host, and that is exactly where I ended up too. We stayed with Larry and Susan, parents to 8 children and 21 grandchildren, I guess another cyclist was nothing to them. We were all made very welcome and Susan cooked up a wonderful lasagne and I had only thought the other day how much I would love one. I really admired the spirit of Jerry and Eric, both about 20 and both taking a short break from their degrees, having only met each other twice before they set off on their journey. They had saved up their money and even made their own panniers, but they loved what they were doing and talked about their trip with such enthusiasm. Jerry said “I have learned far more in two months on this trip than in two years of studying my degree”. That’s great, if the same ratio works for me, by the time I get home I will be a bloody genius!

After breakfast we went our separate ways. I raced along to Peridot making such good time that I decided to chill out a while and drink coffee and eat doughnuts, they just looked irresistible and tasted great. Back on the bike the pace suddenly slowed right down as the road rolled and I went straight into an annoying headwind. It was a slog for the next 40km to Bylas where this time I had a well earned rest. I had been cycling through a Native American reserve and through these places you seem to see only Indians. As I sat outside a store eating again a car full of them emptied out and walked past me “Where are you going?” they asked “New York” I replied, “What, on that bike?”, “Yes”, “Will it get you there?” Oh dear, it would seem that both me and my bike are looking a bit dodgy these days.

Adopting a highway to clear litter seems a popular thing in the western world these days, and route 60 is no exception. Each mile is sponsored with a sign on the mile post, but there seem to be far more miles than there are businesses so people adopt them and have them in memory of their deceased loved ones, signs such as “In memory of Dan Andersen III Jr, you are missed and loved”. There was a different one on every mile posts, I was getting a bit depressed, was there anybody left alive around here? It felt like I was cycling through a very long cemetery. As well as getting depressed I was getting annoyed, these people pay good money for sponsorship and people are supposed to clear the roadside litter, but this road was a junkyard, there was so much litter is detracted from otherwise very attractive surroundings. The road wasn’t even very busy, there must have been years worth of rubbish out there and clearly no litter had been removed since those signs had been put up, it looked as though the authorities had been doing the opposite and actually dumping litter there. Sponsorship is not working as it is supposed to, it seems to me that it is just an optional extra tax. As I neared Safford the land turned agricultural and man made litter was replaced by the more natural litter of cotton grown in all the surrounding fields.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Day 896 - Phoenix

It was hard to leave the warmth, comfort and luxury of a nice cosy motel, but it helped seeing the local weather forecast; it was due to warm up nicely in the next few days. Actually, we were so late in leaving that it had warmed up considerably by the time that we eventually got going. It wasn’t the most exciting of days though with a slight tailwind and a slight downhill trend in the morning we fairly raced along. After a lunch stop the trend went slightly uphill, just to remind up that it can’t always be that easy. As we approached Prescott the landscape turned rocky, hiding any view of the town from us. Prescott was a stopover for Matt, he had arranged to Couch Surf with another cyclist, Justin, who worked in a bike shop in the town. We were early so went along to the shop to meet him, a very nice easy going guy who even offered a couch to me as well, I took up the offer. It was Friday evening, the night before Halloween, and Halloween here is taken seriously. Back home it sneaks up on you and you only realise it is the 31st October when the ‘trick or treaters’ come knocking at the door. Here it is like Christmas, it is in your face for the month leading up to it, the shops are full of merchandise, pumpkins are everywhere and people decorate their houses, it even gets an extended coverage on the local news. For the occasion Justin had organised a little bike ride…a pub crawl race! Having met at the bike shop at 20:30 we were off, though Matt and I were soon lost and trying to find street names in the dark. We arrived at the first place just in time to see the last person leaving. It was cold out still, we abandoned the idea of a race and had a leisurely drink. But this was ‘Halloween Eve’ people had come out in fancy dress, we shared the bar with a priest, a cat and a frog amongst other things, I just went along dresses in my best clothes, making a good impression as a fancy dress tramp. We did our best to enter into the spirit of the event by heading to the last but one pub, arriving as the others were leaving again. We also joined them at the last bar and were then the first to leave soon after midnight. Neither if us could manage the beer or the late night, I was soon crashed out on a warm comfy sofa.

So I departed Prescott on my own, another late start giving the advantage that it was already warming up, I warmed up even more on the unexpected climb, but then the vista opened up, the road wound down the mountain side, then a nice swoop down to Wilhoit. In Yarnell I passed an antiques shop that I guess sold stuffed animals judging by the sign out side that read “Santa Fe House - Home of brand new dead things”. On reflection, it could have been a butcher selling road kill! The road then swooped down into Congress, pretty much marking the end of the mountains for the time being and taking me below 1000m for the first time since California, though I suspect that I will have to climb again within the next few days. The road was fairly flat and straight, suddenly I was seeing the huge cactus plants that seem to feature on most Arizona road signs, though up until now I hadn’t seen a single one for real. I went through a gate and camped amongst the bushes near a dry river bed. I sat outside in shorts and t-shirt watching the stars, I could hardly believe I was actually doing that, a couple of days ago I was wrapped up and in the tent with a sleeping bag around me as soon as it was dark.

The ride into Phoenix was a doddle, slightly downhill and with a slight tailwind, it made for a fast ride, I felt good, incredibly good, totally content with life and my surroundings, I felt on an incredible high, I felt like singing but didn’t want to risk ruining the day of some unsuspecting person who might hear it. The occupants of a passing pickup threw a can of beer at me, it missed, it flashed across the front of me to become just another can among the hundreds already littering the side of the carriageway. It didn’t dampen my spirits, but did make me wonder if I had been singing without realising it. Once at the edge of the city the navigation was easy, it’s a massive city, but set out in a grid system. I crossed 111th Avenue, I just had to keep crossing all the avenues until I reached 35th Avenue, though it seemed to take a long time to reach it. There I was staying with Julie, Associate Editor of the magazine Arizona Wildlife Views and also a freelance writer. I sat and read a couple of the magazines, I was enthralled. About half of it dealt with the wildlife issues of conservation, surveying, protection, creating habitats etc, the other half of the magazine was all about shooting it! There were beautiful pictures of wildlife and the Arizona landscape that they live in, but turn the page and you are confronted by men holding shotguns and proudly displaying rather dead game and pictures of young boys holding up very dead squirrels by the tails. I was somewhat amazed by the contradictions, but I guess that shows the differences in culture between the Americans and Europeans, the Americans have been brought up on hunting, it’s what they do. Gun licenses and the shooting fees fund the protection of wildlife, so the hunters actually consider that without them the wildlife would not survive, a bit of a tough concept for me to get my head around. You may recall a couple of posts ago I said something to the effect of “…the Americans love their wildlife and are never happier than when half of it is hanging on the wall”, well at the time I said that in jest, but I am slowly coming to realise that it is actually very near the truth. In the evening we went another 25 miles across the city to see Julie’s father and watch the ball game, baseball, the New York Yankees were playing the Philadelphia Wotsits in the baseball World Series. I asked lots of questions and even began to understand a bit about what was going on, I even enjoyed it, though I did find out that the “World Series” was really just the USA. If we held a World Cup football tournament in England and forgot to invite anybody else, we still wouldn’t win it!

My guide book reliably informed me that Phoenix covers almost 2000 square miles. My legs reliably informed me that my guide would seem to be about right in its estimation. I set off towards the city centre, Downtown, on the bike. Being a grid system just seems to make the journey even longer. There were traffic lights every half mile with hardly anything changing in between. Phoenix is what Julie calls a ‘young’ city. Most buildings appear to be single storey, there are just a few that I notice that have a second level. Everything seems to be painted in a pale colour, a sort of magnolia city. Occasionally there are what they call strip malls, but I soon found out that these are malls made up of a strip of shops and are not malls full of strippers as I had expected! The malls are set back from the road and sometimes are even hard to spot. Having cycled south on 35th Avenue for a while and getting fed up with the traffic I turned east a few block and made for another road heading south which had a cycle path. There was nothing unpleasant about the cycling, in fact it gave me the feeling I was on holiday, there were wide roads with palm trees and little traffic, lush green grass lay between the street and the houses being sprinkled with water that comes from who knows where. I had the feeling the sea would come into view, but sadly it never did. I kept looking for the high rise buildings that would tell me I was getting close to my destination, they took a mighty long time to reveal themselves. The first stop was a little north of the downtown area at the Heard Museum dedicated to Native American Culture and history. It left me feeling they had received the same raw deal that the Australian Aboriginals had received as the white settlers moved in and said “Nice land, we’ll have that. Oooh, nice water, we will have that too” and promptly forced the natives out. As more settlers moved in the natives became a ‘problem’ and were forced to comply with the new society that was being formed by the settlers. Children were sent to boarding schools were they were forced to wear western clothes and had their hair cut, they felt they had lost their identity. Eventually reserves were set up that the natives were allowed to live in, though they felt as though they were in concentration camps as they no longer had the space and freedom that had been accustomed to. These still exist today and are governed by themselves separately to the rest of the State. An eye opener indeed. I made my way to downtown to have a little nosey around. There are a few tall buildings here, but this is no New York. The streets were quiet, little traffic, few people, no shops. I cycled around looking for the shops, I wanted to find a book shop so asked pedestrians “Sorry, I don’t know” was always the answer. I decided to broaden my approach “Can you tell me where the shops are?” I asked, I received the same answer. I spotted a guy with a cycle rickshaw talking to his mate sat on a bench, he would surely know his way around the city centre “Can you tell me where the shops are?” I asked again, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha…..where are you from?” was the reply, “England”, “Yeah, I thought so”. “So where are the shops?” I asked again, “What are you looking for?”, “A book shop”, “The library is the best bet”, “No, I need to buy one”, “You could buy one over there, but I wouldn’t”, “So where do you buy food, clothes and things”, there was a shrug of the shoulders, then his mate chipped in “If you follow the light railway north to the end of the line you might find a few shops there”. So downtown seems to be a business area, you head to your office in the morning, work your socks off, then head home again in the evening stopping off at a strip mall on the way home, but don‘t tell the wife. I didn’t dislike Phoenix, but I wasn’t falling in love with it either. I rode back, it seemed to take even longer. I called in for a culinary experience at Wendy’s, I had never been in one before, it was like McDonalds but worse. By the time I arrived back I had cycled 72km, I looked a the map of the city, I had gone nowhere, just a few blocks. I think some of the streets may have been missed off my map!

Here is a little bonus bit for you. Over a year ago now, I was cycling through Malaysia south of Kuala Lumpur when I stopped off for lunch at a little restaurant. I got chatting to the owner and his family and when it came to leave he refused to accept my payment, he gave me my meal for free despite the fact that he works 12 hours a day, 6 days a week to support his family. Whilst I was in South Korea I sent him a postcard, though I would never actually know if it ever get there. As I uploaded some photos the other day I spotted this (click here). Isn’t that wonderful? It is little gems like this that make travel and life so much fun. I had no idea that he even remembered me or had my blog address.

It is nearing time to move on, so let me tell you a bit about how I go about route planning these days. Firstly I have to thank Christine for her suggestions on most route I have taken so far, she has extensive knowledge of the USA and her suggestions have proved to be first class. But the way it works at the moment is that I have a rough plan to cycle across the southern States, then up the east coast to New York, the warmer route through the winter, but that still leaves a huge choice in where I actually head to. I ride along with only the next stopover in mind, in this case Phoenix, I might have a rough idea of where to go next, but that is about it. Heading to Phoenix I met and rode a few days with Matt, that opened up a whole new area…Mexico. It still remained just an idea to play around with, but since I have been in Phoenix I have been giving it some serious thought, doing a little research into the options, then when I have all the information I can set about choosing the final route to the next stopover. I have always wanted to go to Mexico and talking to Matt has opened up an opportunity and really whetted my appetite, but strangely enough it still somehow doesn’t feel right, it never has done. What does feel right it heading south east from Phoenix into New Mexico, then along the south to El Paso and onto White Sand National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. I can’t really explain why a route or direction feels right or not right, it just does, I suppose it is all about going on instincts, listening to my inner self, reflecting and trying to make the right choices for the route and in life in general. It may not even mean that I reach any of those destinations that I decide to head towards, something may happen along the way that may divert me along a completely different route, but that it the thing I have grown to love about travel without time limits, without having any firm plans or destinations that I feel I ‘must’ see, I feel an incredible freedom, I feel the joy of just being alive, living and enjoying each day as it comes.

At some stage along the route to El Paso I will pass through the small town of Hachita, a little town where nothing happens. I have been informed that I if I hang out for a few minutes around the post office I may get to meet some of the local characters. Apparently I am almost certain to meet Wizard Dave. Wizard Dave claims to be 60,000 years old and is some sort of expert in just about anything, well you would be if you were a wizard and had been around for that long. He normally hangs out with a close friend, Jaguar King, a youngster in comparison, a mere 10,000 years old. He is not very old at all, especially as he was born 10,000 year in the future. If they don’t show up I could always turn left from the post office and 3 or 4 houses down lives Sam Hughes…..that name can’t be real! He is easy to recognise, half of his nose if missing, he may well look very much like me as half of my nose is missing too! Sam thinks the other two are not quite all there, but he is most definitely perfectly normal. He deals in just about anything and amongst other things is a gold prospector, runs some sort of shuttle bus for cyclists and walkers being very close to the end of the Continental Divide Trail and also the local expert of UFOs being the proud owner of a number of bits that have fallen off passing spaceships. I will let you know how I get on, it sounds the sort of place that I might just feel at home in.