San Francisco to New York to San Diego

May - July 1990

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Week 5

11 June - Monday - 148.5 miles/2030 total
Seward to Woodward

We got up at 4:30 so as to be ready to leave at 5:00, but it was still very dark.  Trying to get back to Guthrie from Seward, we woke up a few dogs,  and then did a large loop around a lake that turned into a dead end.  It took us some time to get ourselves oriented and heading west on OK 33 again. 

At Kingfisher, we found an old but crowded lunch-counter-and-booth restaurant for breakfast.  In fact, we each found it separately, as Chris was ahead and I didn't see his bike until I had stopped at the restaurant.  There we ate too many pancakes, and got into conversation with a group of oil people.  I got a good description of what a gas well looks like, for future reference. 

Back on the road, the headwind (from the southwest) was intense.  Stopping a few miles after Kingfisher, we were overtaken by one of the oil people in his pickup.  He stopped to commiserate; we were obviously having a problem making any progress.  Meanwhile the wheat harvest was in full swing and forty foot semi trailers carrying wheat were barreling past us in both directions.  By Watonga ("the buckle of the wheat belt") we were both fed up with the wind, and Chris suggested changing our route, not going west to Amarillo, but instead heading northwest into the Oklahoma panhandle.  I wasn't sure this was going to save us any grief, but I was very much in favor of going out the panhandle; it just seemed more inviting than Amarillo.  With hindsight, the route through Amarillo would probably have been better - at least a little shorter. 

We found the local Pizza Hut and had a quick lunch there, then headed out OK 3 toward the panhandle.  As we were heading northwest, the headwind became a crosswind, and sometimes a tailwind, much easier to deal with.  We started to make some decent time.   

The seventy or so miles to Woodward have blurred together in my mind.  It was along here, I think, that I saw cactus for the first time on the trip; a lot of the terrain was very dry.  This was a great improvement over eastern Oklahoma; it may have been hot, but the dry air made it less painful. 

Approaching Woodward, we stopped at a Chinese restaurant for dinner.  We then rode north of the town (almost a city) to Boiling Springs state park, on the banks of the North Canadian river.  The park, in spite of seeming completely isolated, was pretty nice; it was large, the campsites were big enough, and there was a swimming pool.  But on arrival, I was completely exhausted; we had done 148 miles, half of that against stiff headwinds, and a lot of the rest of it very fast.

June - Tuesday - 0 miles/2030 total

I was still very tired when I got up in the morning, and since it was 100 miles or more before the next campsite, I pretty much insisted that we stay put for the day to rest.  As the wind was worse, if possible, and we were about to turn west into it, we agreed not to ride. 

So I slung my hammock under a tree, and read and dozed.  It was hot, in the 90's, but as long as I stayed out of the sun, the heat was bearable.  Chris rode into town to get some groceries, and he came back with some bread, cold cuts, and fruit for me.  That meant I didn't have to move all day, but in the afternoon, we walked half a mile or so to the pool, where Chris swam and I read.

13 June - Wednesday - 133.9 miles/2164 total
Woodward to Guymon

We had decided that the headwinds we had been seeing didn't start up until nine in the morning or so.  So we figured that we should try to leave as early as possible, as long as there was enough light to could see; we got out this day at about five.  We had to wind our way back into Woodward where we found a cash machine.  By the time we got out of town, the sun was up, and we passed a construction crew already up and working on the road.

In fact the wind did pick up around nine, and we were riding against headwinds of twenty or thirty miles an hour.  The going was very hard, through semi-arid rangeland with a few cattle.  There were stores every twenty or thirty miles, starting with the one in Fort Supply, where I grabbed a junk food breakfast.  I had been expecting less in the way of civilization in this part of Oklahoma; in fact I had been afraid we might be going half the day without finding a store.  This turned out not to be so, but it was hard enough getting from one to the next as it was.

I had noticed that there were fewer  pumping jacks and more  "christmas trees," - gas well wellheads (as I had learned in Kingfisher).  These were small but complicated collections of narrow-diameter silver-colored pipe. Along with the christmas tree there would often be some kind of drying mechanism.  About halfway through the day I passed a huge installation that climbed up a hill along the road.  It covered several acres, had huge diameter pipe sprouting from several points on the ground, and and next to it was a shed full of what was either drying, compressing, or pumping equipment - big machines, lined up one after the other, running under a single roof parallel to the road, like a giant, growling chicken coop. 

Just after the gas installation there was a crossroads with a busy cafe. I caught up with Chris here and we had some lunch.

Amazingly, by the time we were done eating, the wind had calmed considerably.  The struggle of the morning turned into an ordinary day's bicycling, if a day of 134 miles in serious heat can be called ordinary.  Several miles out of Guymon irrigation started. The countryside was now flat and green for long distances.  Large diesel pumps fed water into big ditches by the side of the road and through the fields;  this water was then sucked up into the self-moving wheeled beams that moved the length of fields, spraying water from above.

Each big town we came to in Oklahoma had a collection of  grain elevators, visible from a distance of at least six miles from town.  These elevators were set alongside rail lines, which always seemed to run north-south, and so generally crossed our route at right angles.  Because they could be seen from such a long distance on the flat terrain, we almost always thought we were closer to a town than we were when we caught sight of one.  So we seemed to go on forever through irrigated fields before arriving in Guymon.

Guymon had a visitors center in a public park, with a little building housing toilets, sinks, and a shower.  The shower wasn't too clean, but it was better than nothing, and we took advantage of it.  We also camped in the park, as it was listed in my camping guide some locals said it was alright.

Before pitching our tents, though, we found the local Pizza Hut, where talked with a local farming couple with a small kid, who told us to expect a very beautiful ride through the rangeland west of Clayton, NM.  After dinner, we found some ice cream (at a Dairy Queen) and set up camp on the park lawn, putting an empty rubbish basket over a sprinkler head that had been running earlier, just in case.

June - Thursday - 69.6 miles/2234 total
Guymon to Boise City

This was the worst day yet.  It was a constant struggle against a painfully strong and hot headwind.  The wind was blowing at least at thirty miles an hour.  That is, the component blowing directly at us was at least thirty miles an hour.  We heard a weather report describing winds above forty miles an hour, but the wind direction was forty-five degrees south of our course.  The temperature was in the low one hundreds by the middle of the day.

We got a late start, convinced that the wind would die down in the afternoon, as it had the day before.  It was our plan to try to make it to Clayton, NM that day, 115 miles west.  This looked reasonable, on the map.

The map showed no towns on the route west from Guymon until Boise City, sixty-three miles away.  And that's how it turned out.  The area was all rangeland, ranches, with their houses and buildings sometimes visible way off the road.  And at about the halfway point, a little beyond the town of Eva, a dot on the map off to the north of the road, there was a convenience store where I bought food and something to drink.  But other than road traffic, there were few other signs of civilization.

Toward Boise City, there was some irrigation, and there were farms.  At one point I found a group of a few trees, after looking for some shade for several miles, and I stopped underneath to eat an orange and drink some of my water supply, which was quickly running out.  A pickup truck pulled over, and the driver - he was an electric company worker - started a conversation, I expect just to make sure I was alright.  I was, but barely.  The guy offered to go find me some water; he said a relative of his lived nearby, but I turned him down.

Very soon after starting up again I reached an intersection where another major highway joined our route about seven miles east of Boise City.  The road turned directly into the wind at this point. I found Chris here, in not much better shape than I was; he had been resting too.  Neither one of us had much water left.  We could see the town in the distance, but we knew by now that that didn't mean we'd be there anytime soon.

The last seven miles into town was the worst riding I'd experienced on the entire trip. Each turn of the pedal took all my energy.  With each few feet forward into the force of the hot wind I could think only of how much farther I had to go.  I had only a few ounces of water, by now hot, left in one water bottle; the other one was empty.

As we approached town, buildings began to appear by the side of the road. I looked at each one hoping that it was a store or a gas station; none of them were.  Then I saw that the road made a long curve around to the south of the town, cutting northward across a bridge that crossed railroad tracks.  We slowly worked our way around the curve, painfully climbed over the bridge, and at last we were a hundred yards or so from water.  On the right had side of the road was a Dairy Queen.  Chris beat me there, but not by much.  We just sat there drinking lemonade for a while.

Feeling better, we pedaled slowly toward the center of town, where I saw a  little gift shop and ice cream parlor, with a sign out front advertising fresh limeade.  I hadn't had limeade since New York, so we stopped.  We had lunch along with the limeade, and after hearing that we needed a campsite (there was no way we were going to make it any farther that day), the owner called the town manager to see if we could stay in the town park.  We could, so we headed over, past the county courthouse and past a little league game, to a tree-shaded square next to a swimming pool.  There were no showers, and the swimming pool turned out not to be open that day, but we figured we might be able to sneak in after dark.

It was still only middle afternoon, so we took some time to do our laundry at the only laundromat in town.  Afterwards, wearing clean clothing but still dirty ourselves, we headed out to a motel restaurant where we at least managed to fill our stomachs.

Back in the park, we set up tents, and when the little league game ended - it seemed to go on forever - we climbed the pool fence, one at a time, and rinsed off some of the sweat.  Then we went to sleep, but not for long.  After some late picnickers in the park had left, a jeep came by, shining its headlights on us, then driving around the park slowly.  This happened several times more that night.  Neither one of us got much sleep; we were too far from any houses for us to be heard if someone wanted to cause a problem.

15 June - Friday - 72.0 miles/2306 total
Boise City to West of Clayton NM

We got up long before sunrise. There was a bright moon, and that helped us see as we packed up.  It was still night as we pedaled around the courthouse square and found the road out of town, very glad to be out of the place.   For a while as we rode in the dark, we could see farms and farmhouses. A few times we heard howling that we at first thought was loud and unhappy cats, but after a while we figured out that it must be coyotes.

Thirty miles later it was just mid-morning, and we were entering New Mexico.  I never thought as I came into Oklahoma eight days before how happy I would be to leave it!  Already things were looking up.  The New Mexico countryside was dry but it had a pleasant, welcoming look, and it seemed less dry, somehow, than Oklahoma.  For a few miles beyond the border, there was a road crew repaving the highway, and there were enough workers and hangers-on around to make me feel that I hadn't been around so many people for days! 

We reached Clayton well before noon.  Chris was ahead of me and had spoken to some tourist office people who recommended a Mexican restaurant for breakfast or lunch. I had some really good huevos rancheros with green chiles, and got almost enough to eat. 

We had decided back in Boise City that we should start splitting our days in half, riding only in the early morning and in the late afternoon and evening.  We would take the middle of the day off and rest as much as we could in the heat.  We followed through on this plan in Clayton.  When we found out that the town swimming pool didn't open until two, we headed over to the county courthouse, where we napped on the lawn for a while, after going up into the cupola to see the view.

The swimming pool turned out to be next to the airport.  Chris actually wanted to swim; I only wanted a shower.  I got it, and afterwards I found a quiet place to shave in a little park next to the airport.  There was a softball game going on a few yards away, but there were shoulder-high wind shelters built to keep the wind off people barbequeing, so I shaved in one of these.

The airport was a tiny municipal one with a few private prop planes parked on the apron. In the couple of hours we were there only one plane landed.  I noticed a national weather service office in the airport building,  so Chris went over to find out what we could expect from the wind.  We were told that the headwinds we had been seeing were unusually strong; it wasn't usually like this.  That was just what they said in Oklahoma, and it wasn't very comforting!  But they weren't going to let up, so we figured we were in for it for a while.  Meanwhile, the weather service guy called the local radio station, and Chris talked to a disk jockey who let all of Clayton know what we were doing, telling people to watch out for us.

We had an early dinner at the Hotel Ekland, a famous old building that was in the middle of being renovated, and after buying a new flashlight to replace my old waterproof EMS one, we rode on westward, hoping to do about twenty miles into the rangeland we had heard was so pretty.

It was pretty.  The terrain rolled, and for a while the wind was still very strong against us, but the hills and the grasslands, and the arroyos and the falling sun were all very beautiful.  We saw deer and antelope, the antelope treating the barbed wire fencing almost as if it weren't there, bouncing across or slithering under it.  There were rattlesnakes who had come to warm themselves on the road, and sometimes they were difficult to miss as we rode.

It did turn out that twenty miles was about all we could do against the wind that evening before sunset.  We pulled off the road, wheeled our bikes through a gate and thirty yards onto the rangeland, and after looking around for snakeholes, pitched our tents.  What a beautiful evening that was!  It was the first time on the trip that we had camped away from civilization and completely on our own.   We were on a flat stretch of range, a bit in from the road, on a surface that was mostly solidly packed dirt covered with small, very short grey-green clumps of vegetation.   There were lumps of very dry cowdung everywhere.  The sky, as the sun set, was a mass of beautiful pink clouds, and there was nothing human around except for noise from the occasional car and the fence we had just crossed.

We heard coyotes through the night; once, a whole group sang out together, sounding like an orchestrated catfight.  We worried a little all night about rattlesnakes, but none showed up.  Chris thought we might have to deal with cattle in the middle of the night, but that didn't happen; there was no reason for them to bother us.

16 June - Saturday - 90.0 miles/2396 total
West of Clayton NM to Cimmaron

Getting up in the morning, Chris was packed and ready a minute or so before me. He was pedaling down the road as I strapped my sleeping bag and tent onto the rear rack.  With everything ready to go, I realized that I had a flat tire from a slow leak overnight, so it was another twenty minutes before I was ready to go.

Ten miles down the road, I came across Chris working on his rear wheel.  His freewheel was falling apart.  It was making strange noises, and the cogs were free to move a little side to side.  We were miles from any bicycle shop - it was unlikely that there would be one in Springer or Cimarron, the two towns we would be going through that day.  He could still ride, but he wanted to see if there was something he could do to tighten things up mechanically, if only for a while.

So I rode on, unable to help.  At Gladstone, about halfway between Clayton and Springer, and the only inhabited place along the way, there was one building, a general store that made sandwiches.  I got a sandwich and a banana, which I started to eat at a table inside the store just as Chris pulled up.  He had stuffed some straw between his rear hub and the chainstay; that seemed to help.  At least he thought things would hold together for a while.  As it turned out, they would have to hold together all the way to Taos.

The headwinds had been with us all morning; we had started out too late to get the benefit of the early morning calm.  From Gladstone, we climbed up to a 6400 foot pass that  was the highest altitude we had seen yet.  From there, we could see the Rockies for the first time.  Way off to the northwest there were snow covered ranges that we knew must be 60 miles away in Colorado.

We next had a nice long descent through Abbott, a hamlet that had recently become a ghost town.  By the side of the road there were hulks of cars from the fifties and sixties, a road sign with the town name on it, but no people.  We had heard that the place had been deserted after the water table fell and the wells couldn't be dug deep enough.

After some more descent, we were in Springer, a fair sized town with stores and restaurants and a museum.  We stopped for lunch, and into a pair of cyclists who had just finished eating and who were following the Santa Fe trail from Santa Fe to Missouri.  Their wives were driving behind them, carrying gear, and the four of them were staying in hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Since we had decided to start taking daily siestas, we rode up to the park by the town's museum and lay in the shade napping for a couple of hours.  Then we headed northward, toward the only stretch of interstate we would be riding on for the whole trip. There was not really any way to avoid the three miles of I-25 north of Springer without taking our chances on dirt road.  But those three miles were an anticlimax.  They were flat or downhill, wide-shouldered, and over with very quickly.

Heading westward to Cimarron, we started the climb up the eastern slope of the Rockies.  The first stretch west of the interstate was flat, but pretty soon there was an uphill grade that got steeper and steeper, and eventually we realized that the mountains were blocking the wind.

Cimarron was a group of single story frame buildings along a strip.  The Philmont Boy Scout ranch was nearby, and on the road that leads to it we found a historic old hotel, the St. James, on the road to the RV park we were staying at.  The hotel was built in 1880, and apparently Jesse James had stayed there.  Some of the rooms had had their Victorian decor restored, and there was a serious restaurant, where we had a very good, not too expensive dinner.

17 June - Sunday - 60.7 miles/2457 total
Cimmaron to Taos

Taos was next, less than fifty-five miles to the west.  The route there would take us through what we had been promised would be stunning scenery, and up and over what we thought would be the highest pass we would be crossing.

The road up from Cimarron to Eagle Nest was pretty nice.  The first part of it was through the pine forested Philmont land.  After a while, the terrain got more rugged.  The road ran through Cimarron Canyon, a deep canyon with a trout stream (with a lot of fishermen) paralleling the road.

We kept climbing, crossing a ridge above Eagle Nest, then descending into the town, a resort with hotels and lodges on the shores of an artificial lake.  We thought there might be a bicycle shop there, but no luck; so we went on.  The road turned up a flat valley, following the shore of the lake, then passed the road leading off to Angel Fire Ski Basin.  The climbing got serious here and the highway suddenly started a series of switchbacks, climbing a major ridge to Palo Flechado pass at 9101 feet.

From there, it was all downhill.  There were campgrounds at intervals along the road, all of them nicer than what we stayed at in Cimarron, and what we were to stay at in Taos.  The air was a lot  drier on this side, the vegetation was more desert-like, and the architecture had shifted suddenly to adobe.

The ride down was a beautiful drop, but the wind was against us, so we never managed to get up to any serious speed.  But we were finally seeing other bicyclists. 

Once in Taos, we tried to find the local AYH hostel, but it turned out to be a fair distance out of town.  We wanted to stay in town, as we were taking the next day off, so from my campground directory we chose an RV park, not too far from the center of town.

Week 6