San Francisco to New York to San Diego
May - July 1990
18 June - Monday - 12.6 miles/2457 total
We had some errands to do; since we were taking the day off, it seemed that
getting them all done fairly quickly should be no problem. It
didn't turn out that way.
I needed a new
pump, and I figured it was about time to replace my tires. They
had nearly 2500 miles on them, and I was worried that one would give
out on me in the middle of nowhere. My pump had
been deteriorating since just after Clayton. The problem was what has always
happened to me in the past with Zefal pumps: the inside of the tube
rusts, damaging the seal and making the pump harder to work.
There were four
bicycle shops listed in the directory for Taos, as well as an outdoors
outfitter that sold bicycle stuff. One of the shops was
closed for the month. That left three, and after visiting each of
the three at least twice, I turned up only one kevlar belted tire of
the right size. The kevlar belt was something I thought would be
essential crossing the deserts where I had heard there would be cactus
thorns on the road. Later I realized that the real threat was broken bottles, not thorns. The one
tire I put on the rear wheel. The only pumps I could find were
mountain bike pumps, and after experimenting, I didn't think I'd be able to get enough pressure (100 psi) out of one for my
tires. So I decided to risk going on with the pump I had.
Chris needed to
replace his freewheel. His damaged one was a seven cog Shimano
version, but he soon found out that no shop in town had a seven cog
freewheel with a wide enough range. He eventually settled for a
six. And getting the damaged freewheel off the hub was not easy;
the splines that mate with the freewheel remover tool had cracked off,
and ad hoc tooling was needed to do the job.
had found an amazing roadside lunch stand, which he pointed me to as
we crossed paths going in opposite directions between bike shops. A local
restaurant had set up a "cuccino mobile pronto" as an
experiment and a prototype for a chain; it was like a lunch
truck, but it served restaurant quality Italian food. I had a
grilled chicken breast on a tortilla, which with a soda came to five
dollars. And there was some good gelato, so I had some of that.
Eventually I did
a laundry while Chris went off to a movie - Dick Tracy. I didn't see him until after dinner, which I had at a
pricey Mexican restaurant near the plaza. where I had
19 June - Tuesday - 95.4 miles/2565 total
Taos to Chama
We left a little after dawn, heading
northwest. After a few miles of shallow downhill, we stopped at
the bridge across the Rio Grande Gorge. The gorge was impressive
without being spectacular; the
striking thing about it was how invisible it was until we were very
close to it. The river has cut very deeply into a nearly flat
plain with no other features. The whole region was barren and
deserted, although the land was fenced and there was a clump of
buildings a few miles to the west of the gorge. As there didn't
appear to be any way to get across the river for miles on either side
of the bridge, the whole area to the west must have been completely
isolated until the fifties, when the bridge was
built. We stopped on the far side to eat the breakfast we had
bought as we were leaving Taos.
We continued across very dry, gently rolling rangeland to Tres Piedras,
which as far as I could tell, had only a filling station and a
diner, called The Diner, where we stopped for lunch.
A few hundred yards up the road from the diner was a national forest
ranger office. There the ranger told us that we were about to enter a 48
mile stretch with no services and no water, so I filled up my water bag
with two gallons. As it turned out, I didn't use any of it, and anyway there were plenty of windmill wells along the way,
pumping water out of the ground, so I wound up lugging that two gallons
- sixteen extra pounds - up the highest pass on the trip for no reason.
The first half of the 48 miles was through Carson National
Forest. The first bit was a steep uphill through lightly
forested, very dry land; there were "extreme fire danger" signs every
once in a while. Eventually the trees ended and we saw lush grazing land, obviously well
watered. The terrain was beautiful in a
sub-alpine sort of way. And the road continued to climb, continuously, for miles. In fact, the climb went on for 35
miles. At the top there was a vista point overlooking
the Brazos Cliffs, off to the north, with a sign giving their elevation
as ten thousand feet. It looked like the overlook point was also
at about that level; I didn't realize how high I had climbed until I
got back to New York and looked on a map and found that the road
reached roughly 10,500 feet at that point.
From that pass, it was pretty much all downhill to Tierra
Amarilla. Over the first part of the descent, something like
eight miles, I pedaled only once, for about fifty yards. If it
hadn't been for the stiff wind
that appeared on the west side of the pass, I would have gone even
farther without pedaling, and probably would have set a speed record
for the trip.
At Tierra Amarilla, I found Chris finishing up some lunch at a diner,
so I stopped to eat as well. We then pedaled the fairly
flat thirteen miles north to Chama, where we registered at an RV park
listed in my campgrounds book.
An hour after we arrived, another cyclist rode in and took the campsite
next to ours. He was British, in his early twenties, riding
alone on a mountain bike from Vancouver to El Paso. He told us
how he had crossed mountain passes in blizzards and hail, farther north.
20 June - Wednesday - 116.1 miles/2681 total
Chama to Farmington
A few miles west of Chama was the continental divide. As a major
geographical feature, the divide wasn't worth much; in fact it was
downhill from Chama, on a flat stretch of plain, and at an elevation of
only 7000 feet. If there hadn't been a marker there where it
crossed the road, I wouldn't have believed in it.
Westward to Dulce, the terrain stayed unremarkable. Dulce was the
beginning of the Apache reservation, and I stopped to look for a
place to eat breakfast, eventually finding Chris in the restaurant of
the local chain motel. Just as I walked through the lobby, I saw the
of New Mexico, apparently either checking out or leaving after having
West from Dulce, through the reservation, was more rangeland, rolling
and sometimes hilly, but not difficult riding. Eventually the countryside turned to
semi-desert and desert, and I was surprised to see an area of gas wells
as we came back into a piece of the Carson National Forest. In spite
of the dryness, though, there were stores every twenty miles or so, so
getting water and food was no problem. Approaching Bloomfield,
there was suddenly a lot of very green farmland. There
seemed to be water all around; I could see from time to time a stream
of water falling off a cliff face along the road.
Approaching Farmington, the landscape got drier again. The road
turned to four-lane highway, and got very busy as it was near rush
hour. I had passed Chris some time before Bloomfield; he was
sitting under a bush in the near-desert, eating some lunch. I had
decided at that point to try to make it into Farmington as fast as
possible so as to find a bike shop before closing time. We agreed
to meet at an RV park near the main highway in Farmington.
In Bloomfield I had found a yellow pages and discovered that I really
would have to go as far as Farmington to find a bicycle shop, but it
look like there were a couple there. At the outskirts of
Farmington, I called the most likely looking place, got some
complicated directions (Farmington is a small city), and made it there
in reasonable time. The place was crowded. They
didn't have what I needed most, a kevlar-belted tire, so as my front
tire was beginning to look a little ragged, I bought a standard
tire. I also found the replacement pump I needed, although in a
color I really didn't want (white).
Chris was at the campground when I got there. The place was dry,
barren, and flat; there was no grass around except for the little lawn by
the office. A little later I walked over to a Seven-Eleven a
couple of blocks away, passing a lot completely covered with prairie
dog holes. Coming back, I noticed smaller networks of holes all
My tent by this time was in bad shape. The waterproof coating on
the fly was delaminating. It was lucky that we had had no rain since
Kentucky, and expected none for the rest of the trip. There were
by now several holes in the mosquito netting, but we were finished with
mosquito country. One serious problem was the tent poles, though;
they were made of carbon fiber or fiberglass, and one was
delaminating. I spent a little time gluing this back together,
with reasonable success, and I figured the tent would last to the end of the trip.
21 June - Thursday - 143.4 miles/2825 total
Farmington to Kayenta AZ
Leaving about dawn, we headed west toward Shiprock on heavily
four-lane highway. Away in the distance, several miles out from
the town we could see the free-standing vertical rock formation, the
remains of a
volcanic magma plug, that the town of Shiprock is named after.
What a great navigational aid that would have been later on in the day,
only I had been paying attention!
Just west of town, a little way into the Navajo reservation, was a
giant modern shopping center, complete with giant modern supermarket,
that contrasted with the poverty that was visible all around it. We
bought breakfast and lunch food in the supermarket. Chris finished and
left a few minutes earlier than I did, and as I left, it slipped
my mind that I had turned off our route to get to the shopping center;
so I headed south along the four-lane US 666. After a few miles,
I looked up and noticed a rock formation that look a lot like Shiprock
my right; this of course could not be Shiprock, as that was supposed to
on my left. It wasn't until I had pedaled six miles into the
desert that I realized that it really was Shiprock, and that I'd gone
down the wrong road because both four-lane roads looked the same.
So I rode back, luckily mostly downhill, and made the
correct turn at the intersection near the shopping center, after having
done an extra twelve miles.
West from Shiprock, the country was irrigated - for a while. But
pretty soon I was in desert, rolling up and down long hills through
some nice rock formations. The road cut through some
hillsides, and in those cuts, the hot air seemed ten or twenty degrees
hotter than it was out in the open. Bad luck when the road
angled uphill through those cuts!
I stopped for something to drink at the village of Beklabito, just
before the Arizona border, where the heat was unbelievable.
The poverty there was pretty depressing, and I rode on as quickly as
From here, the road descended briefly to
the Arizona border, then continued on to Teec Nos Pos. This place
wasn't any more prosperous than Beklabito, but it seemed a little cooler.
At the trading post I bought a sandwich and more to drink, and heard from a
woman selling fried bread on the veranda that Chris was half
an hour ahead of me.
Sometime during the day, I stopped at a trading post for something to
drink and some ice cream. Outside, by the road, were a pair of
cyclists, a couple (man and woman) in their early twenties who were
crossing the country in the same direction as we were. They
had decided to hitch into Kayenta, and from the way they were talking,
it sounded like they were going to hitch their way across the Arizona
desert and the Mojave. They had come across Kansas, and somehow
missed the headwinds we had seen in Oklahoma. They said they
were behind schedule, and in the heat couldn't go fast enough
to get to California in time. As we were ahead of schedule,
making very good time, and wouldn't have even thought of hitching, that meeting made me feel that we were doing
The rest of the day was spent pedaling through hot and dry
desert, some of it very pretty canyonland, climbing out
of one canyon and into another, stopping every twenty or thirty miles
at trading posts. We met up about forty miles from Kayenta,
having already done about one hundred miles (at least I had, with my
extra twelve miles), and agreed that we would find a motel room in
Kayenta, as there was no campground listed anywhere soon.
The last ten or fifteen miles of road into Kayenta were being repaved,
all at once rather than section by section, and we rode through gravel
and dust for all that distance. I arrived in Kayenta a little
after dark, where Chris had discovered that of the two motels in town,
one was booked solid, and the other, a Holiday Inn, wanted ninety
dollars for a room.
I found Chris talking to some tourists, bicyclists (but not riding
here) who were staying at the Holiday Inn. They suggested that we
sneak into the pool to rinse off, as we were obviously not going to get
a shower that night. We then had some dinner
a restaurant nearby.
I had noticed a small airport as I rode into town; this seemed like a
reasonable place to spend the night, especially since looking for a
campsite somewhere else was
going to be difficult in the dark. So we spread out sleeping bags
on the tarmac, almost under the wing of a small prop plane, and
with the airport beacon periodically flashing by us, went to sleep.
22 June - Friday - 99.1 miles/2924 total
Kayenta to Cameron
Waking in the morning, we found a scorpion on the ground between
us. This meant, of course, checking shoes and clothing for more
as we got dressed, but he was alone.
It was warm enough as we left town; but it got hotter and hotter as the
day went on. Monument valley and the Navajo National Monument
were off to our right at Kayenta; we didn't take the side-trip, but we
did see a few big rock formations in the Monument, off in the distance.
The road now was descending consistently. After a while, we came
into an area that looked fertile, almost; there were herds of goats
behind fences and a few strays wandering across the road.
Descending some more, the land became flat, and was farmed in a few
places. But eventually the fields gave way to bone-dry desert,
where there was nothing but an occasional Navajo rug-and-pottery stand.
At Tonalea, where there was just a trading post and nothing else, we pulled
over and spent the early and middle afternoon dozing in the post
laundromat, where it was air-conditioned.
Descending into Tuba City, the air got hotter and hotter, even though
it was late afternoon. I stopped there for a sandwich and a cold
drink, then continued on through the Painted Desert, and through a lot
of wind, toward
Cameron. That last fifteen miles southward toward Cameron was
pretty bad. The desert was drab here, it was hotter than ever, and the
made pedaling more and more work.
We stayed the night in Cameron, at an RV park that was just a barren stretch of flat dirt behind a grocery
and gas station, where there was at least a laundromat.
Setting up our tents that night was hard work, and rather than
trying to get my three tent pegs into the hard ground, I took some line
and tied my tent down to a picnic table and some rocks. It was
just as well that the tent was tied down, too - the high winds kept up
well past midnight.
Chris rode back to the town to find something for dinner while I did
our laundry. I didn't finish all of my share and left some of it on the picnic table, and by
morning the plate was empty - some stray dogs had licked it clean.
23 June - Saturday - 58.0 miles/2982 total
Cameron to Grand Canyon Village
The ride up from Cameron to Desert View was a bit of a relief, even
though I started out the day tired and just got more tired as I
climbed. It was not a long distance up, just 32 miles, and with
the elevation the air got cooler. It helped, also, to be past all
the blanket and pottery stands.
There was a gate at the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park, where I
paid my two dollars and continued on to Desert View.
There I found Chris outside the snack bar, where I had a
fast-food breakfast. We had made a point of trying to get up into
the park as early as possible, but Chris had found out at the gate
that there would be walk-in space available for hikers and bicyclists
at the campground at Grand Canyon Village, no matter when we arrived,
even though reservations were required for cars. Chris went
on ahead, and I stayed around for an hour or so, resting on the veranda
of the snack bar and then climbing the tower at Desert View.
Eventually I got on my bike and continued on, very slowly. There
were at least half a dozen overlook points along the East Rim Drive; I
stopped at every one, as well as at the Tusayan archeological
site. So by the time I pulled into the campground, Chris had been
there for a while; he had stopped very little on the way,
missing most of the views.
The views were in fact too scenic to be real-looking. What the
Canyon really looked like was a two-dimensional backdrop, hanging
somewhere off in the far distance, photographed in soft focus.
This was true from every vantage point, whether I looked directly
across, or off into the distance up and down the Canyon, or down at the
river. Everything looked as unreal as a postcard.
The campground was huge, cost two dollars a day, and was very nice. And it was cool - this was the first time we'd been
in really pleasant temperatures for any length of time since
Arkansas. There were small trees all around, shielding us from
our neighbors, and the campsites were definitely big enough. We were in a communal campsite, a spot to put all the
last-minute bicyclists and hikers who arrived without reservations. We were alone there for a while, but after a few
hours a pair of Germans rode in and pitched tents a few yards
away. They were riding cross-country too, but west to east, and
they had hitched a ride across the Mojave desert.
That afternoon I showered in the huge shower building, made up of a lot
of little shower cubicles that had coin slots like laundromat washers, 75 cents for five
I then wandered into the village, where there is a big contrast between the famous old railroad
hotel there (the El Tovar - 1905) and the group of lodges surrounding it, designed in late
fifties upscale institutional design. Eventually I met up with Chris and we went to have dinner at a
restaurant in the village.
24 June - Sunday - 3.9 miles/2982 total
Grand Canyon Village
and I spent the day in hammocks but in different places. Chris
hiked a little down from the canyon rim and spent the day
reading. I stayed at the campsite, sleeping, reading, and
listening to the radio. I remember leaving three times during the
day: for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Each time I cycled down to the supermarket
near the campground and bought enough for one meal.
Otherwise, nothing happened that day, which was just as well. I needed the rest.