I cruised the coast road, survived traffic hell in San Fransisco, modified the bike in Yosemite, survived death in Death Valley, lost no money in Las Vegas and cruised through a furnace to get to Albuquerque. Another fantastic month on the road.
(sorry folks, no pictures but coming soon )
I was glad to escape Canada with no more mechanical problems. Some hadn’t been so lucky as me. Timo had rescued another couple from the UK whilst I was on Vancouver Island, the diagnosis, blown gearbox and stripped studs in their Beemer. Lots more money than my problems and lots more weeks.
I entered the USA via the short but pretty ferry crossing to the Olympic Peninsular. I opted to follow the coast road Hwy101 all the way to the famous Hwy 1 that leads into San Francisco, on the map it looked like a three to four day ride; back in the real world it took me twice as long. The riding was good but the weather was getting too cold, I haven’t come all this way to ride in weather like that back in the UK. Coastal scenery was a great change from mountains and the wildlife was plentiful. There were more seals than you could wave a stick at, Redwoods taller than you could imagine and I even had a close encounter with a huge Humpback Whale. I also managed to find a riding buddy, John and we cruised together for a few days. John, tired of having cycled round the world a few times has now opted to ride a motorcycle to go see it all again. He was great company, laid back and full of interesting tales from past adventures. The motorcycling highlight of the coast ride was Hwy1. 200 miles of switchback turns on smooth tarmac with Pacific Ocean views. The first 100 was a joy, no traffic, the second hundred was ridden at 25mph sitting behind what seemed to amount to the entire population of San Francisco in temperatures of 95 Fahrenheit. Add to this having to drive through the heart of downtown and out over the bay bridges freeway consisting of 5 lanes of traffic. How the bike or I didn’t blow up I will never know, one thing learnt however. No more freeways.
I made Yosemite National Park the next day, once again riding in furnace like conditions. I have been here 8 years previous but had forgotten just how beautiful and how enormous the rock faces are here. El Capital is 1 vertical mile high! I had not brought with me any climbing gear and now sorely regretted it. To come here as a climber and not climb is torment. Luckily for me I met up with some UK climbers on Camp 4 and had one day on a 14 pitch route on the Royal Arches and got to practice some short Aid routes ready for my return to the valley. I also managed to hike up Half Dome again which in my opinion must rate as one of the best hikes in the world. I had only intended to stay for 2 days but ended up stopping 8 days. The atmosphere of camp 4 and the people and parties that go on there take a lot of dragging yourself away from. Its like you get absorbed into it all and can’t get out. Of note 2 of the UK climbers I met had just completed The Nose on El Capitan. This route took them 5 days, 2 more than standard which is not bad at all at the ages of 55 and 57. Bill and Anthony had achieved what a lot of climbers talk about but not so many do. Bill also achieved something else whilst in the valley. He gained the coveted status of being the second person to crash my bike, the first was another mate Nic who borrowed the bike after just passing his test. Bill wearing shorts and T-shirt narrowly avoided hitting a little girl on a cycle, opting to put the bike down instead. Luckily he was only lightly grazed, the bike and the luggage taking the sting out of the crash. I had wondered how good the luggage would stand up to a crash. The answer was real good, and I didn’t even have to find out myself the hard way. The only damage after a little kicking straight of various bits was two broken wing mirrors.
I finally left Yosemite taking with me the mother of all hangovers that had lasted 2 days. The night before there was a big leaving party which involved $3 plastic bottles of cheap Mexican tequila being passed around. My eyes as per normal were bigger than my belly and how it hurt! It was a great party full of famous and not so famous climbers and a great way to say goodbye to the valley. My stay in Yosemite had nearly caused me to end my biking trip, go get strong and go back out there to climb routes I have wanted to do for a long time. For 3 days I thought about this and have decided to carry on, as I would be passing up on a unique experience that I have invested a lot of time and money into. It was touch and go for a while but I am pleased now that I have carried on.
Next stop was Death Valley, the lowest point in the western hemisphere. Have you guessed it was hot there? Not only hot but also full of dangerous looking critters. 3 times I narrowly avoided missing Tarantulas crossing the gravel road. No lie they were as big as the palm of my hand and real furry. The next encounter came after dark walking back to my campsite. Some people had warned me to watch out for Sidewinders, small rattlesnakes, on the road. 30 seconds later I nearly stepped on one. This snake had the head back ready to strike and the tail rattling for all it was worth. A trip to the Laundromat was definitely needed the next day! I rose at 4.30 the next morning after sleeping on the picnic bench to avoid any contact with the ground. I don’t scare very easily, but snakes, they put the fear of god into me and as far as I am aware they can’t climb onto picnic tables! It was also a beautiful night and stargazing in the Nevada desert is something else. I managed to ride through and out of Death Valley by 9am. It was a good job as the temperature had hit at least 100 Fahrenheit by this time. I was glad to have made the effort, as the place is captivating. The landscape resembles something you imagine you would see on the moon, big salt flats, so dry and the scale is so big, the only drawback is the heat.
I made Las Vegas by midday and allowed myself the luxury of a hotel as it was too hot to camp. I also had my first “pull” by the police driving in. Real nice cop who was curious about the bike and the trip I was on. I am sure future encounters with the law will not be as nice as this one! Coming from a place full of natural beauty to one full of manmade glitz was a big contrast. I spent the night walking “The Strip” taking in the flashing neon, erupting volcanoes, water and light shows etc. I don’t gamble but went to see gamblers throwing big money away on tables and slots. Vegas was great to see but not really my scene, they do however serve very cheap beer and the people watching is fantastic.
Zion National Park was the next port of call. I arrived late at night and found a good car park to camp in. I didn’t really care that it was the car park for the local cemetery until 2 in the morning when a storm was raging overhead, lightning was striking very close and things were alight and spinning in the graveyard by graves. I not easily spooked but have seen too many movies to allow me to get any sleep that night. I later investigated the spinning lights, which turned out to be little windmills with LEDs attached. They looked much bigger at night you know!
Zion was spectacular, having deep red sandstone cliffs up to 1200 feet high. Another “must go back to with climbing gear” place. I spent the morning at Zion and headed to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for the afternoon. Again I am struggling to find words to describe how vast and spectacular the place is. I was lucky enough to watch an electrical storm pass over the canyon and see lightning start fires no more than half a mile from the lookout. I stayed at the lookout for at least 2 hours finding it hard to drag myself away. Had I known I was leaving to spend another night in the forest with storms raging all night I might have put up my tent there and then.
Torrential rain and lots of car bound tourists in the breakfast diner telling me how sorry they were for me that I was on a bike was the starting point for my 11 hour and 470 mile day that awaited. I rode through the Navajo reserves where Anasazi Indians lived in the cliffs and out of the rain towards Monument Valley. I passed though a town in mid parade and for the first time since visiting the arctic felt like I was in an unfamiliar culture. Lots of people everywhere, dogs all over the road and most buildings and open spaces in a state of disrepair. A taste of things to come.
Monument Valley with its pencil thin sandstone spires was well worth the diversion. I seem to be traveling to all the places I want to climb without my gear. Next time heh! From here south I was into oil well country and lots of red earth and rocks. I passed through 4 Corners into New Mexico and finally stopped riding at 9.30pm to tired to go on. I had hoped to maybe make Albuquerque that night but had once again overestimated.
I rode into Albuquerque at midday the next day to a fantastic welcome. I have family here that I have not seen for 23 years. The reunion started at my aunties, with Mary and Stephanie there to greet me and then went to my cousin Mikes for the evening. I was treated like royalty, beer and food flowing my way whenever I wanted. This was just what was needed after a long while roughing it and camping in the woods to save money. At My cousin Mikes I met up with more family I have not seen in ages and some I have never met before. The evening ended when we had drank all the beer we could and I could stay awake no longer. Since then the “royal” treatment has continued. I have been taken to the Balloon Fiesta, casinos, bike rides into the mountains, house parties, drag races, had many meals cooked for me. Yesterday my cousin let me ride his highly cherished Harley Davidson Electra glide and last weekend I was even been given the opportunity to ride a highly tuned quad bike which decided to run me over whist I was riding it and park on top of me on some mighty steep sand dune. Ironic that the first crash I have wasn’t even on my own bike. I know how Bill must have felt in Yosemite! Meeting up with my family has been the big highlight of my trip through the lower 48 states of the USA. I am finding it hard to drag myself but am aware that if I am to make Panama by the end of November I must leave soon. I have two more days left to enjoy my time in Albuquerque and then its down the road south, through the Mexican border and on to Copper Canyon, the next big “must see” sight I want to visit. This I think is where my trip will get a little funkier. I will be experiencing a new culture and be expected to speak a language I have been meaning to learn for the last year but never quite got round to studying, firmly believing that it would always be better to put it off till manana. Bring it on!
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