San Francisco to New York to San Diego

May - July 1990

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Week 6

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.

Chris meanwhile 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 duck quesadillas.

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 nearly 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 governor of New Mexico, apparently either checking out or leaving after having breakfast.

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 did 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 over.

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 traveled 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, if 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 on my right; this of course could not be Shiprock, as that was supposed to be 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 possible.

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 pretty well.

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 wind 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 minutes.

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. 

June - Sunday - 3.9 miles/2982 total
Grand Canyon Village

Chris 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.

Week 7