Across Arizona and beyond

After the caverns the wind started to blow strongly against us and we fought our way through to a camp, perhaps just 25 kilometers (16 miles) from the caverns. The tent howled all night under the wind. The following morning it looked at first like the wind had changed direction and we had a very strong tailwind for 6 miles. Alas, it gradually shifted again and we struggled to keep our bikes straight as the now side wind was sending us to the centre of the road. Then we took a slight turn, and by the time we made it to the State line into Texas we had a full frontal headwind, complete with rain and hail. We were super cold.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

About 10 miles after the above picture was taken we made it to a rest stop. Ian started talked to someone and she offered me a lift to El Paso. I had 2 minutes to take a decision. I didn’t like the idea not to cycle to El Paso as planned, but strong, violent, winds were forecasted for a while apparently and there was nothing between there and El Paso, which would have been a 3 days ride for me had everything been fine. Picturing my tent getting slammed by the wind, I caved in as I did want to try and keep it alive until the end of the trip, even if it was approaching. By now I had booked ticket planes to France and decided to loop back to Los Angeles in the next month and a half.

In a few minutes I had said my goodbyes to Ian -who ended up, I learnt later, fighting off headwinds for a good 12 miles before his turnoff, but afterwards had tailwinds all the way to his destination for the day, 80 miles further-, pushed my bike into the horse trailer attached to the lady’s truck with her help and Ian’s, and was now headed to El Paso at the speed of a car, in a car… Quite a shock. Gladys was a horse trainer in her fifties or sixties and was going back home for the Christmas period after 6 months away. 

Three hours later I was in El Paso.

IMG_5344.JPG

IMG_5350.JPG

IMG_5339.JPG

IMG_5349.JPG

I found El Paso bewildering. At the end of the streets in the southern direction, you’re in Mexico, you just have to cross a bridge over to the other side, 50 meters further, which you can see clearly approaching EP, but is beyond a high fence all along. The buildings on the other side seemed mysterious, and I would have been tempted to cross to see them more closely if Ciudad Juarez on the Mexican side hadn’t had such a bad reputation. Not that you exactly feel like you are really in the US in El Paso, though. Everybody addresses you in Spanish in the shops, and except for skyscrapers in the background, the streets just reminded me of Baja.

El Paso had particularly elaborate murals.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I treated myself to a private room in an hostel, out of the cold which was still there at my arrival in El Paso though the wind had disappeared, and took the bus the following morning to Tucson.

The bus took most of the day. At my arrival I stayed with a Warmshower host, Dylan, who oriented me to what I needed in preparation for my upcoming route and put me up while I also got out on the rocks at Mount Lemmon. We had interesting conversations about what’s involved in short-term vs long-term travel, and about finding your place in a city, working environment and community.

Tucson has a great network of bike paths, some of them are quite scenic:

IMG_5353.JPG

I went out to Mount Lemmon with Monique and Francois, whom I met via a local Facebook climbing group. We also had the company of Monique sweet pup, Stella. Mount Lemmon has tons of fantastic rock-climbing on granite, lots of sport routes on different crags all around the mountain (also some trad and bouldering). Monique and Francois are quite better climbers than I am, so I ended up top-roping the lines they set mostly, and thus trying to climb routes usually quite out of my comfort range.

The scenery is unbelievable.

IMG_5411.JPG

IMG_5404.JPG

IMG_5389.JPG

IMG_5376
That’s me fighting gravity

There would have been more than enough climbing possibilities in Tucson area to keep me there for a while, but I had other plans.

From Tucson I rode to Phoenix. Cactuses were everywhere and created interesting vistas, but I didn’t find that stretch of road the nicest. Perhaps because I had to get used to wildcamping and freecamping on my own again, and for some reason the area did not inspire me too much, though I was happy to be on the road again at my own pace. I followed the 10 to Eloy and Coolidge, then the 87 to Chandler. Near Coolidge I met another cyclist who had come from Apache Junction and told me the road was fairly pleasant to cycle from there.

IMG_5415.JPG

I made my way through the sprawl of Phoenix, which I didn’t find that bad on my way in, but I didn’t explore the city much.

I stayed with an awesome Warmshower host there, Dave and his family. The area they were living in was probably my favourite part of what I saw of Phoenix as it didn’t feel as you were still a gigantic city, and the views around were beautiful around sunset.IMG_5419.JPG

IMG_5425.JPG

Sharing of bicycle adventures past and futures, local or far and wide, with my host came just at the right time. It was great to hear all about Dave’s inspiring bikepacking trips in Arizona and around, more so as I had to revise my route plan, again.

After Phoenix I had planned to do one half of the Fools Loop bikepacking trail…. going north through the Black Canyon trail, go visit Arcosanti, and then go to Flagstaff on roads again via Camp Verde, Cottonwood and Sedona, before taking the 89 or 89A up to Zion and then the 9 to Saint George. St George was a place I really wanted to go to for climbing, its mild winter climate compared to the rest of Utah and its fascinating rocks… And I was also looking forward to cycle through these parts of Arizona and Utah which were meant to be super scenic. At that point I had checked with Warmshowers hosts ahead if it was doable at that time of the year, still expected some cold weather but not as bad as we had done in Colorado, and I was prepared to do a few motels along the way to make it easier on me.

Alas as I made it to Phoenix, the weather forecast for the 10 days or so period I was planning it would take me to cycle to St George from Camp Verde, just after Christmas,  took a turn for the worse… Ice, snow, winds and below freezing temps were now to be expected.

After some insight from Dave I crafted an approximate alternative route from the outskirts of Phoenix to the Parker Dam between California and Arizona, via Wickenburg and Hope, before taking the 95 across the state line in Nevada and then the 15 to Saint George from Las Vegas area.

While perusing the map he also made me discover multiple possibles off-road endeavours, including a bikepack through the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge or inspiring myself from this. I will definitely have to be back in Arizona for more bikepacking style cycling… but perhaps with more readiness for roughing it or/and an adventure buddy..

For now however I could still go up to Arcosanti and back to Phoenix as the weather for the few days ahead in that specific area was still clement. I could have done the whole Fool’s Loop then but fancied something more mellow on my own. I chose to follow the highway up to Arcosanti, with some dirt back roads thrown in the middle for good measure, and decided to ride the BCT part of the Fool’s Loop on the way down, thinking it had more information available and water and resupply options than the Tonto Forest part. 

Cycling through Phoenix’s sprawl was much more exhausting on the way out than on the way in and seemed to take forever… I camped almost as soon as I was off the highway. The dirt back roads between Anthem and New River were ATV tracks which in parts turned very sandy and rocky. Hike a bike here I am.

IMG_5429

IMG_5431.JPG

IMG_5434.JPG

IMG_5436

Just outside of Arcosanti I camped on the BCT… Those hills were pretty tough to me but I found a quiet spot with a ready-made firepit and nice views to myself except for a few passing cars below.

IMG_5437

Time to visit Arcosanti, which I was looking forward to.

An “experimental” city/community funded and designed by Paolo Soleri, an Americo-Italian architect, it has been though out with the intention of not using cars to go from one end to the other and of saving space by designing it differently than an usual American “sprawl”.

Soleri coined the term “Arcology”  to describe a discipline at the intersection of ARChitecture and EcOLOGY. Arcosanti is not off-grid but its residents try to reduce their carbon footprint, though Soleri transplanted some cypress and olive trees in the Arizonian desert and they used a lot of cement in addition to silt.

It’s always in construction since the seventies and have been stagnant for a few years, but some of the youngers residents out of the nearly 70 people living on site are confident they’ll be able to speed up things a bit in the near future. They also sell bronze bells they make onsite following a specific method Soleri perfectionned, and are all very artsy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To me it looked a bit like some European modern city centre had been recreated here in the desert.

I’ll be looking forward to see how it evolve in the next several years. With an overloaded bike thanks to the Christmas period during which I couldn’t count on some resupply shops to be open, it was now time to set off on my mini off road adventure !

IMG_5473.JPG

Well, if I thought the BCT was going to be mellow, I was still in for some suffering as it turned out….

I slightly overlooked the fact that even a non-technical, all singletrack trail can get tricky with a loaded bike…At first the smooth and compacted, and fairly straight trail at the beginning lured me into a canyon where I ended up mostly walking the bike for several kilometers (rode 50 or 100 meters, walked 50 or 100, and so on) because it got really switchbacky and cornering on a rocky terrain with a loaded bike is tricky.

IMG_5497.JPG

IMG_5487.JPG

IMG_5490.JPG

IMG_5493.JPGNot to mention that on one side there were rocky outcrops, and on the other, a frank dip and/or loads of cactuses, so you really don’t want to slip or fall!

IMG_5486.JPG

IMG_5532.JPG

IMG_5504.JPG

IMG_5505.JPG

It’s a shame because otherwise the singletrack is still compacted and it’s a really nice flowy, enjoyable ride when you ride it. And it’s unbelievably stunning.

IMG_5501.JPG

IMG_5511
Not a bad camp for Christmas night.

IMG_5515.JPG

After having dragged my bicycle for most of the afternoon and having only covered about 20 kilometers (12 miles) that day, the next day which was Christmas day, I reconsidered my ambitions and took a broken but boring dirt road for a bit…Until I crossed the trail again, and, attracted by the stunning vistas I had seen the day before, in a pure moment of masochism thought it probably wouldn’t get that bad again.

IMG_5517
Find the trail…

Long story short I almost got stuck after crossing a stream at a spot where I had to push the bike uphill on a steep sandy section. After faffing around considering my options I ended up removing most of my gear off the bike, pushing the bike through the crumbly section, putting everything back on and then still had to get through a few tricky bits, before finally making it to a road, completely trashed. I had covered even less ground than the previous day.

IMG_5521
That very steep section is about 3 meters high.

IMG_5535.JPGLesson learned from the ruthless and relentless but magical BCT. I’ll come back maybe one day but certainly not with a loaded bike. Given there are a few dirt roads and double tracks in that area a loop more suitable for loaded bikes could still probably be worked out.

I camped near a trailhead. After too much time enjoying the warm atmosphere of a typical 90’s roadside cafe the following morning I headed out on the pavement to Wickenburg, covering a whooping (compared to the previous days) 90 kilometers (56 miles) in despite of some headwinds.

IMG_5537
A famous cafe on the outskirts of Black Canyon City, near the BCT.

IMG_5539After stopping to enjoy a rest day for my sore body in Wickenburg I had more headwinds to look forward to the next few days before making it near to Parker. It wasn’t very strong headwinds but they were persistent enough to feel really tired after a full day feeling the wind in my face. I seemed to have gotten to a point where my energy and my pace while cycling solo were back at last though.

Following up the Parker Dam Road was quite a change, and pretty scenic especially compared to the roads I had followed after Wickenburg, where there wasn’t much happening. I went from cactuses to palm trees, and the desertic landscape now included nice lakes and strange rocks. Unfortunately I never saw one of these “burros” (donkeys gone back to the wild in that area), but at night I heard a angry one near my tent.

IMG_5540.JPG

IMG_5557.JPG

IMG_5562.JPG

I did see some bighorn sheep really close though !

IMG_5570.JPG

There’s great camping to be had in this area as well, and the relative lack of traffic on the back road is really relaxing. I kept going on the 95 past the Dam, busier but still had some nice views for a bit…

IMG_5573.JPG

IMG_5581.JPG

Then I made it to Lake Havasu, where I was enjoying another break pre-New Years Eve.

It was funny to stroll around Lake Havasu City. In the late 60s an eccentric Amercian billionaire decided to go after the purchase of the old London Bridge, which was too old and weakened to withstand modern traffic in Central London, and that the City of London was selling…

As you can see in one of the pictures below the position of every stone in the bridge was numbered and noted on a plan before the bridge got dismantled. The stones were then shipped via boat and trucks to the Arizonian desert where a man-made lake had been created, and the bridge rebuilt… Turns out the history of each London Bridge is quite interesting…

With the rebuilding of the bridge in the middle of nowhere (at the time) came the construction of Lake Havasu City around it. You don’t get much quirkier and more kitschy that the British “Trafalgar square” recreated in the city center.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leaving Lake Havasu on the morning of the first day of 2019, it was tough going. Full and cold headwinds of 40-50 kilometers (25-30 miles) an hour minimum were waiting for me. I struggled up a hill and down it before managing to pick up a bit more speed on the highway 40. Still I only managed the 60 kilometers (40 miles) to Needles, on the Californian side, that day, which felt more like 120kms (80 miles), and arrived in town after complete darkness had fallen. I found a motel room and thoroughly enjoyed a warm shower and warm night after fighting the wind all day.

The two following day there were stronger winds still. I only cycled into Fort Mohave the first day out of Needles and camped nearby. The second day I basically sweared my way into Laughlin. I really should have kept going on the 40 after Needles to go to Palm Gardens but didn’t know what was waiting for me on the 95. Almost no shoulder, lots of urban traffic and overall an unenjoyable road to ride -even more so as I was dragging myself at a slug pace against the wind, and again struggling not to get sent in the middle of the road by side winds-.

Bullhead City and Laughlin, crossing into Nevada, were two of the less bicycle-friendly cities I have ever encountered. Well, to be fair, they were not planned to be. In these resorts and casinos cities I could have dubbed mini-Las Vegas, it was impossible to find a cafe which had direct access from the street, as you had to go through half of an hotel-casino to get there. I googled the library but found out it was somewhere remote from the actual city. No warm stop for me then ! The crossings were also quite difficult to manoeuver on a bicycle with the uninterrupted oncoming traffic.

IMG_5594.JPG

Very luckily for me leaving Laughlin the wind finally receded. I had a long uphill for a dozen miles or so before freewheeling into Palm Gardens, and thankfully just as the daylight faded out I found a place to freecamp.

IMG_5596
Leaving Laughlin

The next day as the wind was not an issue anymore I managed to make it all the way to Boulder City. On the way I passed Cal-Nev-Ari. You will have guessed which states lines it’s close to !

IMG_5599.JPG

A little bit before Boulder City the landscape started becoming quite interesting, with some Joshua trees and various cactuses popping along the highway. I was really happy to have come that far.

IMG_5602.JPG

Past Boulder City I followed the lakeshore road and then the 167 through Lake Mead National Recreational area. The weather was grim and rainy, but it made the area even more scenic, the grey sky magnifying the colors of the rocks and features around. There were even some separated bicycle paths at the start, and that’s where I saw what might have been a coyote, or a maybe even a wolf given its dark fur, running away with a limp just 2 meters from me, below the road. It was really quick but I stopped there for a while, feeling slightly scared and very lucky at the same time.

IMG_5608.JPG

IMG_5611.JPG

IMG_5616.JPG

IMG_5627.JPG

IMG_5628

IMG_5630.JPG

IMG_5634.JPG

As the afternoon progressed, after a few challenging hills, rain started to pour down, it got cold, and I felt a bit strange in this remote landscape seeing almost no one that day. I decided to make it past the freecamp I was initially thinking to camp at, pedalling under the rain in the dark for a couple of hours. I was stopped by a policeman who was concerned for me at some point, but ultimately made it to an official campground down the road from Echo Bay, just before my bicycle lights ran out of battery. At that point the US government was in shutdown and people were allowed to stay in that specific recreational campground for free, which was a nice bonus. It was great to be able to warm up in the heated bathrooms, and I was somewhat happy to be surrounded by some campervans as the rain worsened, though the campsite was fairly quiet given the shutdown and the weather.

The next day I still had nice views and the hills kept me switched on as I pedalled on to Mesquite, eventually rejoining the highway 15. Utah, and St George, were waiting for me!

One thought on “Across Arizona and beyond”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s