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.