Being easily entertained, saguaro cactus spotting kept me busy all the way to Phoenix where I was lucky enough to spend a lovely evening with the amazing Suzanne, Don and Sammy. We sat around the fire drinking beer and chatting into the evening and it was quite wonderful! Goodness me I have met so many amazing people on this trip haven’t I!
The next morning, with directions for a safe route to Wickenburg my stop that evening, I set off in the Arizona heat. The temperature over the past week had being getting higher and higher as I wound my way down from the mountains. In fact, at one campsite I had chuckled to myself at some “keen bee” cyclists who had been up and on the road by 06:00 however now I was starting to appreciate why. By early afternoon it was so uncomfortable with both the sun from above and the reflected heat from the tarmac below an early start was essential… and this was the winter, imagine how unbearable it would be the summer! Bryce would have been sweating indeed with his back brake on or not!
My day’s surroundings were to be desert but luckily for me I had not a barren scrub land through which to ride but a desert in bloom. There were flowers all over the place and a surprising amount of green. It wasn’t exactly the dry, arid scene that I had been expecting (although more of that was to come) and it made for a very pretty day’s ride.
My camp that night, Horspitality RV Park, was would you believe it a camp for horse owners with a large campground alongside stabling for over 90 horses! I’d never been anywhere like it and it was pretty cool other than the fact that so many horses in the vicinity bought on my allergy and I had a sneezing fit to rival one of my Grandpa’s (those that know the Smith’s will no doubt have been present for one of these epic sneezing fits. 17 at a time… only 17, no more, no less… seriously… by the end he’s usually sliding off his chair in exhaustion! Poor Gramps).
I also liked the garden and the helpful signs…
The horsey theme continued the following morning where I ate breakfast at the Horseshoe Cafe in town. It was an amazing little place with most of the patrons wearing cowboy hats and boots. The waitresses also had an amusing argument in hushed tones only feet away from me – what is it with me and fighting waitresses!
Just as I was jumping on my bike to hit the road two other tourers pulled up for breakfast and we stopped to say a quick hello. It was a shame really that I could’t stay to chat but seeing as they had already cycled 40 miles that day and I had only made it 2 miles I thought I should be getting some distance under my belt. They were to be cycling the same direction as me anyway so we said farewell expecting to meet on the road a few hours later.
As it turned out they didn’t actually catch me up until our stop that evening in the small town of Salome (well done legs, you must be getting strong after all!) where they very kindly invited me for dinner. Joe had biked all the way from Florida like myself and had been joined for the last week or so by Chris.
My dinner companions had a bit of a schedule to keep so were up and on the road by sunrise the following morning to tackle the 60 mile stretch to the town of Blyth. I was certainly not up at sunrise but nonetheless pedalled my way through more un-desert-like desert into Blyth later on.
When I reached the town of Quartzsite I stopped for a late lunch and intrigued also took a few minutes to pop into “Rockmania”. It turns out Quartszite is in fact famous for it’s rocks and, if rocks rock your boat I have no doubt that you would be a happy rocky bunny indeed. There was everything from quartz, obsidian, emerald, sapphire and amethyst to name but a few. There was also a pretty damn impressive circular fossil from Morocco over a meter in circumference and covered in fossilised plants. Labelled as between 250-450 million years old I daren’t even take a photo in case my flash were to and damage it. Commenting on it’s age to the bloke standing next to me we marvelled at how well preserved it was only for him to (and I still can’t really believe this happened) reach out and touch it!! I was totally speechless and while he wandered off unfazed I could do nothing more than stand there gawping!! I suppose I could have taken that photo after-all!
Leaving the odd sights of Quartzsite behind I arrived in Blyth and after taking a few wrong turns found my way to my warm showers host that evening; B&B Live Bait. I’m not sure quite how to describe Live Bait, a convenience store, a fishing ground, a bed and breakfast? It may be all of these but no one description does it justice – it is so much more. A small store on the outskirts of town, generous owner Wayne let’s cyclists set up camp by the fishing pond. Throughout the day they are joined by locals stopping by either for a beer, a snack, a game of pool or just a chat. People are friendly, welcoming, interesting, genuine and ever so kind. I immediately felt at home, so much so in fact that I stayed 2x nights enjoying the atmosphere and company.
What a lovely little stop it was in Blyth and to top it off the ride out of town was really pleasant as it cut through the cultivated land. I even saw a crop spraying plane skim the surface of the fields next to me – I never realised they flew quite that low!
The scenery may have been pretty but the day was hot and I was pleased to arrive at the Algodones dunes that afternoon where I was hoping to find somewhere to camp. Things started off well as within minutes I bumped into the friendly Erin, Bryan and Caspian who, can you believe it, two days earlier had met Zach, Bryce and Cisco up in Nevada! What a small world we live in!
We had a nice chat and Erin and Bryan were kind enough to give me a whole list of things to do in San Francisco before we waved each other goodbye and I set off merrily into the sand dunes looking forward to a night in a real desert.
What an adventure I hear you say, sleeping amidst sand dunes. Well I had thought so too but I should have sensed that things were not meant to be when this happened…
At the time, with peanut buttery fingers but undeterred I wandered around the dunes feeling very happy with myself and taking in the scenery – it really was beautiful.
However, after a while the wind started to pick up. “Ooo this makes it authentic I thought” as the sand started to whip up to my knees and fly off the top of the dune peaks.
Unfortunately, what was initially an amusing desert event soon turned into the windiest night of my trip and before long I felt like a national geographic explorer braving the elements to show the world just how hostile to life the desert can be! I attempted to capture the wind in photos which as you’ll see below proved to be a pointless endeavour serving only to fill my beloved camera with tiny sand particles. I eventually changed tact and attempted to take a video which does a marginally better job but please forgive the shaking as I had to have my eyes squeezed tightly closed throughout the entire thing to save them from being gouged out by flying grains of sand!
My attempt to take shelter failed miserably when the wind proved to be too much for my tent to take when combined with the lack of solid ground on which to pitch and I ended up giving up and taking the limited shelter there was on the picnic bench at the far end of the car park. At least I was above the whipping sand… kind of.
As the sun went down the sky slowly turned red, orange, yellow, pink and crimson… well at least I think it did. I wouldn’t actually know as I was sat on the top of my picnic bench facing east wrapped in my sandy sleeping bag with my eyes tightly shut…
As I sat there with my eyes closed, the sun setting behind me in an unseen display of colour I wondered what on earth I was doing…
…oh yeah that’s it, I’m cycling across a country and it’s awesome. That’s what I’m doing!
So it was a happy ending after all (ahhhh) but I can’t pretend I’ll be jumping at the chance to spend a night in the windy desert again. Quite how I avoid that when I have to get from China to Turkey overland I’m not quite sure… one sandy step at a time folks!