Day 43: Merryville to Oberlin, LA (56.7 miles); April 25, 2021
The beds in the cabin were pretty squeaky. So much so in fact, it ripped Sheena from a deep sleep convinced there was a snake in the room. Fortunately for us, it was just a dream. We woke up and got ready before heading back over to Stu’s for breakfast. Their bacon is just as good as their cheeseburgers.
Before we left for the ride, we ran into some bikers (of motorcycles). After briefly talking with them, they asked if we would join them in a prayer circle. Never one to turn down a prayer or well wishes, we accepted gladly. It was a wonderful prayer asking for our safety and protection as well as protection of our bikes – that they ride smoothly and without failure. Considering the state of Sheena’s bike, we said AMEN! to that.
And so we were off. Really nothing crazy to report on today. It went smoothly and flatly. Winds weren’t awful and it wasn’t too hot. All in all uneventful. We didn’t have to outrun any gators and our bikes didn’t fall apart. Sometimes boring is good.
We got into Oberlin around 5pm and checked into the Crossroads Inn. We originally were going to stay in the community park, but didn’t reach out to the coordinator in time. But looking at the town of Oberlin, I think it is a good thing. I’m not positive it’s a place we’d want to be camping exposed at night. Though I’m not too sure we’re much safer in this hotel room.
Sheena discovered she had a flat as soon as we arrived in the room, but was happy it happened here than on the side of the road. She fixed it and we’re just relaxing. I have a feeling tomorrow will be just as uneventful as today, though I’m hoping for a little bit of spice to break up the monotony.
Day 44: Oberlin to Bunkie, LA (78 miles); April 26, 2021
Well that’s the last time I wish for a spicier day. Cause well, it was granted. And I was not at all happy about it.
We set out for what was supposed to be a 57 mile easy day in the dense fog. We rode 25 miles past endless crawfish farms on a flat and boring stretch for a stop in Mamou for a rest. It was the first time this trip I felt threatened and even thought about taking out my pepper spray (on humans, not raccoons). Luckily we were okay and we left for another 20 miles to Chicot State Park. It was crazy how we went to poverty stricken Mamou to sprawling mansions just down the road in a less than 10 minute bike ride. And it’s even crazier how cheap these gorgeous homes are not only in price but property taxes. I guess it really is all about location, location, location!
That’s where the real trouble started. For some reason we thought we only had 15 miles to go once we hit the park. We miscalculated the distance drastically. We had another 25 if we followed the ACA. We didn’t want to ride another 25 miles, so we were able to find a shortcut that shaved off 8 miles. Great! We even got approval from an RV couple and a state park ranger. We were warned that a road within the park was closed, but bikes could get through. Rules never apply to bikes!
We took the park road and passed through the road blocked signs. We were cruising when a state trooper pulled us over. He told us the road was closed. We told him a ranger said we could go through. He said there was no way we were going through and we had to take the long way. Apparently the state is using the park as a COVID sanctuary. How adamant he was about not letting us pass was odd and felt like they were hiding a little more – like a zombie camp. Not wanting to mess with a cop or potential zombies, we turned around and were resolved on riding close to 30 more miles to get to Bunkie. We considered just bunking it in the park, but ultimately decided to stick to the schedule and suck it up. Besides, there were definitely gators in that park and we do not want to mess with gators.
The ride into Bunkie was noneventful, though riddled with dogs. Despite being chased by up to 15 dogs a day, all the dogs have been super friendly and appear to just want to run. Really fast. So fingers crossed that trend continues.
We got into Bunkie tired and hungry around 6pm. We’re staying on couches in the fire station. They host cyclists frequently and we’re the 5th in a week.
We got a well deserved pizza and beer and are more than ready for sleep. And I will no longer wish for days with a little more “spice”. Boring is fine enough for me.
Day 45: Bunkie to New Roads, LA (67 miles); April 27, 2021
Luckily today was pretty smooth. We had coffee with the fire guys and headed out around 8:30am. It was an overall pretty uneventful ride with the exception of 15 dog chases, none of which were too aggressive. We did see a road killed alligator, which has been a deterrent for popping a squat on the side of the road when nature calls. Just going to have to hold it until getting into the next town!
We had our first sighting of the Mississippi today, first indication of the East! We got into New Roads around 5:30pm and was greeted by locals at Jim’s Campground (and bar and grille) by locals who were expecting us. Word gets around quickly in these parts. We stopped in for a drink and appetizer and got to meet the locals. Talking with them is an effort in concentration because their accents are so thick and different than anything I’ve ever heard. We got talking about our route into Baton Rouge. No one could recommend a bridge to go over because “you’ll get flattened on any bridge. Seriously you will die”. Encouraging.
We met Susan, who along with her fiancé Matt, are extremely proud Louisianians. We got into talking and she offered to take us to a crawfish boil tonight and take us into Baton Rouge tomorrow. After the warnings about the bridges and the week we’ve had, we decided to take her up on her kindness. Besides, it was only a 30 mile ride we’d be missing out on.
We went to The Crawfish Hole, a new boil joint Susan highly recommended. It was just opened by a 20 year old, Luke. A kid with a lot of drive and determination, I was impressed by the operation. He was hospitable and treated us as VIPs. Plus the crawfish (my first experience) was delicious. I would highly recommend.
We are staying at Susan and Matt’s before going into Baton Rouge to drop the bikes off at a bike shop. Susan is going to take us to a great lunch spot as we wait – let the food tour continue!
Off day in Baton Rouge: April 28,2021
It always feels great to sleep in. When we rolled out of bed we noticed Susan was nowhere to be found. I popped my head outside and realized the situation – a locksmith was over trying to get into the truck. Matt has his car keys and Susan’s were in the locked truck. Looks like we’re riding after all! But not so fast – Sheena reminded me we had our helmets and her shoes in the truck. We were stuck and mild panic set in. We had to get the bikes looked at today and get into New Orleans by the weekend to keep up with the schedule. While pacing in the kitchen, I noticed a set of GMC keys on the kitchen counter. Surely these weren’t the keys. But I brought them out to Susan anyway. Lo and behold, St. Francis delivered and they were indeed the keys! We were piled in the truck and off to Baton Rouge in 10 minutes.
We got to the bike shop and they were confident they would have our bikes ready by the afternoon. Wonderful! We were hungry and it was lunch time. Susan took us to Chimes and we enjoyed delicious crawfish entouffee and BBQ shrimp. My aunt Janet gifted me some money and I thought a great creole lunch was the perfect way to spend it. Thanks Aunt Janet!
After lunch Susan showed us around LSU’s campus. She told us we were going to see Mike the Tiger. Thinking it was just a mascot statue, I was convinced it had the most epic statue ever to warrant a visit. Then after a few questions, I realized it was an actual live tiger and my mind was blown. I didn’t know live mascots existed – especially tigers. Where were the lions during my time at Widener?
We checked on the bikes at the shop and they were ready in record time. We said our goodbyes to Susan and thanked her for her southern hospitality. Who knows – maybe we’ll crash her wedding in October!
Our warm showers host, Mark, met us at the bike shop. We chatted a little and followed him back to his apartment.
When we got to Mark’s we did some planning for New Orleans and tomorrow. We had plans to stay with a warm showers host, but that fell through. With limited places to stay between here and New Orleans, we’re in kind of a bind. But we’ll figure it out – we always do.
After eating dinner and legitimately getting chased by cockroaches walking back, we hung out with Mark till way past our bedtime. We shared stories and had some pretty good laughs. He is a pleasure to stay with. In fact, bike racer legend Mike Hall stayed with Mark back in 2012 during a Guinness record breaking ride. Mike Hall was highlighted in the movie Inspired to Ride, a documentary about the transamerica race. It’s an inspiring and great movie. Tragically, Mike was killed during a race in Australia in 2017 after getting hit by a car. It was awesome meeting someone who hosted such an inspiring person.
Day 46: Baton Rouge to Gramercy, LA (64 miles) April 29, 2021
We started the morning with coffee with Mark and all three of us set out together early. Mark was riding to work, we were riding to La Place.
Soon our paths diverged and we were on our own. Today’s ride was going to be our longest yet – 85 miles. I ran into a guy at the bike shop yesterday riding the BALL, Bike Across LA Louisiana. He shared with me a route him and 30 others were riding and considering the routes out of Baton Rouge looked sketchy, I figured 30 road cyclists knew what they were doing. So I grabbed the route from him and we decided to follow it today.
The ride itself was fine (zero dog chases!), started up on the levee which was pretty cool. Then we dropped down to the road. At 60 miles in, I received a call from Jerry (aka Duwaine), the warm showers host who initially said he wasn’t available to host. Yesterday during planning I left a message asking if he knew anyone in the area who could host us. We were striking out and I must’ve sounded pretty desperate. He wanted to let us know that after speaking with his wife Stephanie, they were okay with us staying the night even though they wouldn’t be there. Wow! Only 3 miles away, it was great timing. After looking at the maps and seeing it wasn’t worth it to ride to La Place and spend money on a hotel when it’ll only save 10 miles. Now we have more money to spend on beignets and daiquiris in New Orleans!
Before leaving for Houston, Stephanie hung out with us for a little at the Parker’s gorgeous home! She is really awesome and fun to talk with. It’s a real shame she and Jerry won’t be home, I can tell they would be a lot of fun to hang out with. I feel very blessed that they are willing to open their home to us and trust us when they’re not home. It was great timing and might be a sign that our luck is finally changing for the better!
Day 47: Gramercy to New Orleans, LA (60 miles); April 30, 2021
We rolled out of the Parker’s home into the suffocating humidity around 8:30am, set for an easy 50 miles to NoLa. We were excited for a rest day and getting to explore a new city!
Everything was going smoothly until we hit a closed road that was taken out by the spillway overflowing. In order to detour around it, we had to tack on some additional miles. But it was early and not a big deal.
We stayed on the winding Mississippi River Trail, a beautifully paved trail lining the river. We avoided cars and had pretty much the whole trail to ourselves, until we got into the outskirts of the city. We had one cyclist pass us, joking, “I have more weight on me than you guys!” We saw him a mile or two down the road, where he pointed out a live gator. We didn’t stick around to risk our luck – knowing us he’d probably come out of the water and chase us. Eventually the cyclist caught up with us again and we had a really good conversation with him. Originally from New York, Michael went to Tulane for his undergrad degree and Wharton business school for his MBA. He’s now an investor and lives in London, but is currently staying at his home in New Orleans for the next couple of months. He took us on a tour of Audubon Park and showed us his house, where he said will be a small town jazz festival tomorrow and invited us. Perfect way to spend the day!
After we parted ways with Michael, we headed to the French quarter to our hotel. Sheena’s mom was extremely generous and paid for a hotel right on Bourbon Street – The Royal Sonesta. It’s a beautiful hotel and a perfect spot to relax. We are so thankful! Though rolling into a fancy hotel covered in sweat and bike grease garnished a couple snooty stares from upturned noses riding in on their high horses.
After showering and getting ready like proper ladies, we went out to eat. After fearing gators for so long, we took our fears out on one and had some pretty good alligator creole and gumbo at Evangalines. Though super tasty, the portions were lacking for two starving cyclists.
After dinner we took in the sights and sounds of Bourbon Street. And let me tell you. There were some sights to behold. As someone who can experience sensory overload, I didn’t know which way to look. There were people all over. Sheena put it perfectly when she described it as a mix of OCMD, OCNJ, and Baltimore/Philly. We didn’t feel 100% safe, it was a little trashy, but the people watching was exquisite. After avoiding crowds for so long because of COVID, it was overwhelming walking in a sea of people. There was some mask use, but it felt like pre-covid times. Hopefully this is a sign that we may soon be out of pandemic times, but I’m not holding my breath on that.
Soon we found ourselves at a speak easy suggested to us by Jake, who Sheena met getting our Hurricanes. He works there and it was nice to go to a private bar (password required) that wasn’t crowded. We got to stand on the balcony and have a birds eye view of the ridiculousness going on below.
But as usual, it got to be late (for us at least) and we retreated back to the hotel for some rest. We have a pretty busy day tomorrow exploring the city. Maybe we’ll even stay an extra day!
Rest Day: New Orleans; May 1, 2021
Apparently New Orleans is not an early rising city. When we headed out for brunch at 9:30am, the city seemed to still be asleep. We had a delicious brunch and met a ton of awesome people at Curio, it’s a lot of fun to make new friends along the way. Unfortunately, I learned a tough lesson that there should be a bottom to mimosas and went back to the hotel.
Sheena went to Cafe Du Monde and brought back a New Orleans staple – beignets. They were just as delicious as I imagined. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the Jazz fest Michael invited us to. The day got away from us. Pretty bummed we missed out, but I think this city deserves another visit.
Tomorrow we’ll be entering Mississippi for a short jaunt. Florida is on the horizon and we’ll likely wrap up our ride in 2 weeks. It’s been such a fun and eye opening ride, I’m going to be sad to be done and go back to the normal daily routine.
Day 48: New Orleans to Buccaneer State Park (58 miles) May 2, 2021
When leaving the luxury of the hotel this morning, we felt right at home. Street cleaners were cleaning the massive amounts of trash and vomit from off the gutter, appropriate for us in so much as we look and feel like trash. The smell and mounds of garbage was nausea inducing and disgusting. People must’ve partied hardy last night.
We made our way through the sleeping city and eventually got rained on relatively hard. Soaking wet, we rode past marshes, bayous, and a lake. The houses along the lake were charmingly gorgeous and a great distraction from pedaling. Soon we found ourselves leaving Louisiana and saying hello to Mississippi. We look moderately like drowned rats, but at least it’s warm and we’re not shivering our tails off.
We had lunch and rolled the rest of the miles (with the exception of one flat) to Buccaneer State Park, where we had our first sighting of the Gulf of Mexico! I’m really excited to be back on the “coast” with water views. It’s crazy to think we went from pacific coast to desert, to rolling hills, to now the gulf. We’re truly seeing it all! While cooking dinner we talked to Gretchen and Jeff from Bend, OR. Both retired early, they’re touring the country in RV. Gretchen was kind enough to give us microwave popcorn, a treat we’ve both been craving this whole tour!
We have a short stay in Mississippi and Alabama and will be in Florida before we know it! We’re likely going to run into The Guys again either tomorrow or Tuesday, so excited for our reunion!!
Today was my favorite day so far. Everything was perfect for a long day’s ride. From the wind to the temperature to the smooth pavement, everything was just what we needed for a relaxing and fun ride to Dateland.
We woke up early to get out early because we knew we had our longest day yet ahead of us. We were worried that we might get road fatigue from being on I-8 the whole time. And maybe even more worried that the shoulder wouldn’t be completely paved, making for a rocky ride. So we figured why not just get out early in case something goes wrong. We’ve noticed an ugly trend during this trip – any time we expect an “easy” ride, it becomes anything but. So it’s just easier to expect and prepare for the worst that way we’re not disappointed when things go horribly wrong. And if they don’t? Then hey, great!
Our hotel was right off 8, so hopping on was easy. And we couldn’t get lost – we were on the interstate the whole way. Yesterday I wrote off a cheat sheet to know what services were available at each exit (roughly 15 miles apart) so we knew what to expect at each. At Fortuna Hills we got donuts at the first Dunkin Donuts we could find. We’ve been sniffing them out because Stephen’s mom gave us gift cards for DD for coffee and donuts, so we’re hoping we find many more along the way. Thanks Carol!
The tailwinds (15mph) pushed us right through the 42 miles to Tacna, our lunch break, by 11:30am. We chowed down leftover burritos (so stinking good) and spent 2 hours just lounging. We only had 26 miles left and with those tailwinds we knew we’d be there in no time flat – flat being the operative word. There were no hills to worry about!
And that was true. We got to Dateland at 2:30pm, way before we planned for. We had plenty of time to get some souvenirs and indulged in a date shake. Yes, you read that right. A date milkshake. Now I’m sure by now you put together that Dateland is famous for dates. And everything in their gift shop is made out of… dates! Including milkshakes. We actually were told about these by Justin, the air bnb tenant we met at Ben’s Desert View Tower. After his dog almost murdered a chicken and the three of us bonded over our initial impressions of Ben’s little oasis, Justin put us on to a little known local delicacy – the date shake. “You’re going to pass through Dateland. You have to stop there. You HAVE TO get a date shake. Don’t pass it up, it’s amazing”. With a review like that, we just had to try it for ourselves. And unlike the hot springs, this suggestion was not obtuse. Those shakes were amazing. So if you ever find yourself in Dateland, AZ, do yourself a favor and grab one. Don’t pass it up – you won’t be disappointed.
Riding on 8 today was pretty great. After we got out of Yuma, the traffic died down. The shoulder was wide and newly paved so we were just sailing. Literally. The tailwinds were so strong it felt like the bike wasn’t even loaded. When semis would pass it would add an additional quick gust – acting like a speed boost from Mario Kart. And the temperature stayed below 80 degrees, so pretty comfortable. Though I didn’t take many pictures, the scenery was truly stunning. First sign of big saguaro cacti with gorgeous chocolate mountains in the distance. Does it get more desert than that?!
We are staying at a campground in Dateland. At $10 a night, it’s a steal. The showers leave a lot to be desired, but it was hot with a very aggressive water pressure. Can’t complain too much about that. The next few days will definitely be interesting. We have a pretty solid plan and having continued luck with tailwinds would be super helpful!
Oh! We met the mystery tourer! We saw someone come in late at Holtville Hot Springs a few nights ago, thinking maybe it was Christine. After seeing him zoom by yesterday near Yuma, we knew it obviously was not her. Guess who rolled in right after us tonight? Bill! Well we learned that Bill is riding the southern tier, following the ACA route loosely. From Reno, Bill started his tour in LA and has hopes of finishing in Florida, but didn’t sound too committed. He’s riding a mountain bike, which is probably a good idea considering suspension would’ve been very helpful for some of the roads we were riding on. Maybe our panniers would’ve been spared and still fully intact. He’s heading east to Tucson tomorrow while we’re headed more north. I’m sure we’ll see him in a week or two. But it’s good to have a name to the face.
Day 14: Dateland to Gila Bend (50 miles); March 22, 2021
Our campsite was maybe 100’ from the train tracks. A very well used set of train tracks, I might add. So well used, in fact, that every half an hour a mile long freight train would pass by. If the noise didn’t wake us up, the shaking ground sure did. It’s extremely frightening to be awoken at 2pm by what you think is a train plowing through your tent. Despite the minor inconvenience, I slept pretty well.
We woke up late and slept in. The morning desert is freezing. Once the sun peeked out and thawed things out, we set out for what we expected to be an easy day, relying on the hopes of good tailwinds.
Bill set out before us. Maybe we’ll see him down the road. We enjoyed coffee at the travel center before heading out for the ride.
The scenery of today’s ride was similar to yesterday’s. Still gorgeous but with more cacti. I didn’t take many pictures because it would all look the same. The winds were fair, but not as mighty as yesterday’s. It didn’t propel us with nearly the same gusto, but it did make pedaling easier.
We again spent all day on I-8 on well paved roads with extremely encouraging motorists. Every few minutes we had a car or two honk (kindly) at us cheering us on. We had lunch on the side of the road (a good 50’ from the actual road) and enjoyed some good car watching.
We got into Gila Bend around 3:30pm where we were met with many questions at the travel center. One family was kind enough to buy us dinner after hearing about our trip. The generosity of strangers is again very humbling. We even had a woman say she’ll pray for our safety because, as she puts it, “everyone needs a grandmom to pray for them”. And I’ll take her prayers. Because although I don’t have any grandmothers on this earth to pray for me, I know I have two angels in Heaven praying even harder, and that gives me such confidence and strength.
When looking for places to stay in Gila Bend, we didn’t find many options. We decided initially to camp in a park in town. However, after reading reviews, we realized that might not be the safest option. So we took a page out of the ACA TransAm Playbook of 2016 and called every religious denomination in town to see if we could stay on their property. We had a friendly bet of who, if any, would respond to our request. Between Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, my guess was the Mormons. Sure enough, they responded happily within minutes saying they would love to have us stay with them. We were thrilled by their generosity. We met Alma at the community center and she showed us where we’d be staying. She was so kind, sweet, and accommodating. She made sure we felt comfortable and safe before leaving – placing emphasis on making sure the deadbolt was locked at all times. That tipped us off that maybe they were so eager to let us stay with them because they knew we’d be toast if we attempted to camp in the nearby park.
After catching up on the train wreck of a season finale of The Bachelor, we are off to sleep before a big day tomorrow. Hopefully being inside will shield us from the obnoxious train that is still right in our backyard. Fingers crossed!
Day 15: Gila Bend to Chandler (64.5 miles) March 23, 2021
Well the train did not keep us up at least. But there was a bunch of arguing right outside the church that got pretty heated and Sheena woke up to a few gunshots at 1am. So needless to say, we were happy to get rolling out of that town early in the morning, especially when we were informed by News Lady Lisa that Gila Bend was placed under State of Emergency that morning for everything happening at the border.
We were getting coffee at a SubWay when Bob the Weather Man forewarned us of the odd wind patterns coming our way. Some were in our favor, some were not. But either way, we had to face what was coming head on so off we went.
The first 40 miles of the ride were glorious for me. The scenery was amazing with huge cacti everywhere and mountains in the background. It took Sheena a few miles to wake up from the past few nights of no sleep, but eventually the tailwinds picked up and sailed us right into Maricopa where we had a nice lunch.
After lunch was when the real trouble started. We had 26 miles and we knew we were in for some hardship because of cross/headwinds. We had to go almost directly North to get to Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix. And as soon as we got going, we were met with head winds, crazy cross winds, heavy traffic, and rough roads. Within a mile, another pannier broke. Luckily Sheena is a pro at zip tying by now.
She’s also a pro at riding in the wind. She prevailed on as I struggled to make any headway. Between the crosswinds pushing me off the shoulder, the headwinds halting any forward progression, and the gusts from the semis zooming by, I must’ve looked drunk swerving from left to right to all over the place. While it was annoying, it wasn’t defeating. I just kept my head down, listened to a podcast, and would check every once in a while for how far ahead Sheena was.
During one of our wind rests, we were laughing at how comical it all was. This morning we were zooming at 14.5mph enjoying the winds. Now we’re battling them and seemingly losing. That’s when I heard it. My back was to traffic, but I knew something had fallen off a truck and was bouncing straight to us. My worst fear (besides getting hit by an actual car) was becoming a reality. Surely a huge tire was bouncing our way, hurling with enough force to kill us. Oh the poetic justice. I just looked at Sheena, not at the bouncing object flying my way. At least it’ll hit me first, and she’ll be safe. I braced for impact and the mystery object hit my bike, only centimeters from my leg. It was an empty bucket. Thank God. There was no damage and no fatalities. The truck it came from slowed down a little, but ultimately kept going. Hopefully that’s the only run in we’ll have with flying debris. In the end all we could do was laugh about it. Really, it was the cherry on top of a pretty rough day.
When we eventually got into Chandler, we went straight to a bar for a drink or two and an appetizer to calm down our frazzled nerves before heading to our warm showers host’s home. Kino is an electrical engineer who has done a few bike tours around the world with very interesting stories. He cooked us dinner and dessert and we all chatted pretty late. He has two dogs that helped me get over (or maybe made worse?) my yearning to hold and rub little Addie’s ears.
We have a very short day tomorrow and are taking advantage of it by sleeping in tomorrow and planning the next few days of riding. Again, services are limited for this stretch and we have to be pretty diligent with resources.
Day 16: Chandler to Apache Junction (23 miles) March 24, 2021
We slept in late. Like super late. And it was great. We both slept so well, which was definitely needed after the last few sleepless nights. We woke up to dogs, coffee, and breakfast. Besides waking up to Addie and The Cat, is there really any better way to wake up?!
Kino let us stay pretty late to plan. He made us breakfast and lunch, both of which were delicious. We got a good plan going, only for it to be crushed by the realization that one of the towns we were planning on staying in has high amount of crime, really not a place you want to be camping in. So we called a Lutheran church and have our fingers cross that they’ll let us stay with them or camp on the church grounds.
After saying goodbye to Kino and the pups, we left at 3:15pm (latest departure time ever) for Apache Junction, only 23 miles away. Not sure if it was because we left so late or the city riding, but it felt a lot longer than that. Either way, we got through it and landed at Rick’s house at 6pm.
Rick is a retired NJ police officer who moved to AZ after living the beginning of retired life on the road in a van. He’s extremely active and either hikes or kayaks everyday. He showed us a ton of pictures of hikes around here and I couldn’t believe how beautiful this area is. May have planted a seed for my future home.
We met Rick on warm showers. He rode across country in 2012 via the Northern Tier and devotes a lot of time to Spokes Fighting Strokes, a charity that builds adaptive bikes for stroke victims. Rick said how rewarding it is seeing people’s reactions to riding a bike after such a devastating event. He has ridden with dozens of stroke victims, and even rode across country with a man who lost both his arms in a farming accident. It really struck a chord with me, pulling at my physical therapist heartstrings. They do exceptional work and if you’re interested in donating, their website is http://spokesfightingstrokes.org
Rick took us out to dinner (pizza – just what we were craving) because he’s sick of cooking. He apparently has been having a ton of cyclists coming through the past month, keeping him very busy. We’re staying in his guest house and he is even letting us stay an extra day to rest. He offered to take us kayaking or hiking – an offer we’re likely to take him up on! Again, we are astounded by the kindness and hospitality shown to us by warm showers hosts. We will definitely pay it forward.
Rest Day; Apache Junction, March 25, 2021
I don’t think we could’ve asked for a better off day if we tried. Having done a lot of planning yesterday, we felt comfortable spending the day hanging out with Rick.
After his PT appointment and breakfast, we set out along with Rick’s friend Holly for kayaking. We rode past Usery Mountain State Park and ended up in Tonto forest to start the paddle. Having very little kayaking experience, I was pretty nervous to give it a go, but Rick reassured me that I look “athletic” and could handle it. Looks are deceiving. But he pushed me out first and right into a rapid I went. Luckily I survived and built confidence quickly.
I am definitely a land mammal, but found my sea legs and felt more comfortable by the minute. We floated past wild horses, blue herons, bald eagles, and swallow mud nests. It was relaxing and a great way to get in an upper body workout.
After kayaking Rick took us to explore the Tonto Basin Wilderness with some short hiking to check out views and cacti. Rick talked about some interesting history (mainly Mormon history and its ties with AZ) and his previous hikes. It was awesome exploring and spending time with Rick.
After a day of exploring, we were hungry. Rick made a great steak dinner and we all got full from food and conversation. Since Rick is leaving before sunrise for a hike with Holly, we said our goodbyes after dinner. Rick is one of those special souls you rarely meet that you just click with. He took me and Sheena under his wing and was such a gracious host. It’s hard to put into words, but he made an impression on both of us. He’s the type of person who finds beauty in every landscape and just wants to share it with others. If we could stay longer and didn’t have a bike tour to worry about, we would!
The next couple of days are going to be interesting. We have a plan, but plans are likely to change. We’re doing a lot of climbing with potential for some cold nights coming our way. We are definitely going to take advantage of sleeping in a nice warm cozy guest house for tonight before braving the next few nights in the cold. The last 2 days of rest have rejuvenated us, hopefully it won’t be too hard to hop back on the bikes!
Day 17: Apache Junction to Sunflower (45 miles) March 26, 2021
We woke up today not wanting to leave. We had such a great time these last few days that we have gotten spoiled. But if we want to make it to Florida at a reasonable time, we gotta keep moving.
We headed out from Rick’s early. Being a couple miles off route, we back tracked a little to get back on. We headed up past Usery Regional park and where we launched the kayaks out from yesterday.
There was a saguaro forest that kept my mind off the climb. I love those cacti. No two are the same and each seems to have their own personality. According to Rick, each saguaro in AZ is protected and you can face a huge fine and punishment for defacing/stealing/messing with one. And if you want one in your yard for landscaping? Well you need permits and a ton of money, cause it can cost upwards of $10k for a healthy saguaro cactus.
We then found ourselves surrounded by gorgeous mountains. It reminded me so much of hiking under the rim at the Grand Canyon. It was a pleasure to ride in such a beautiful landscape.
The rest of the day was still stunning scenery, but man did we work for it. It was nothing but climbing, reminiscent of the Pine Valley day last week. But today just felt longer and steeper and more taxing. Plus it was threatening rain all day. Not wanting a repeat of the ride into San Diego, I was paranoid and made sure a plan was established for if the rain really started to pour. Preparing for torrential rain in the desert. What’re the odds.
Where we are staying tonight is by no means ideal. We knew this coming into today. Without much in the way of town/services and with a hefty climb (3900’), we couldn’t make it much further than Sunflower, AZ. A town without any services at all. So where are we staying?! Well. The Arizona Trail (an 800 mile thru trail) crosses in Sunflower so we figured we’d find camping along there, just like the backpackers do. Well, after much searching, we did. It’s an established site, but it’s not ideal. So we waited until nightfall to set up tents. It’s not that we don’t feel safe – we wouldn’t be camping here if we didn’t. We are just very close to the highway and don’t want anyone seeing that we are here. We are also next to a towing company and don’t want them to know we’re here either. People might see two young women camping and get some bad ideas.
After the tough climbing day, we’re hopefully going to be too tired to worry about camping on the side of the road. It’s going to be a brisk 37 degrees tonight, so fingers crossed we’ll be toasty in our tents. And who knows – maybe the raindrops that are rapidly pouring down will lull us to sleep.
Day 18: Sunflower to Roosevelt Lake (45 miles); March 27, 2021
For being next to a highway, we slept fairly well. So well, in fact, I didn’t wake up until nearly 7:30am. Which was fine, because the tent was frozen. A pretty solid chunk of ice was lining the inside of the fly, dripping onto me as it melted in the sun, waking me up in the rudest of fashions. I didn’t feel like moving because it was so comfy and warm in my sleeping bag, but my warm and comfy sleeping bag was slowly getting drenched so I had to suck it up make moves.
We were slow to get started today. Under the presumption that the majority of the day was downhill, we weren’t too worried about a later start. After drying out the tents we set out at 9:30am.
The first three miles were all uphill and I was not having any of it. I was still tired and annoyed from yesterday afternoon’s endless climb that I was ready to just be done. I think the last few days of good tailwinds and easy riding really spoiled me. I was so ready to be done that I was ready to stick out my thumb and hitch a ride. But after over an hour, we made it to the top and had 4 miles of a 7% grade downhill. However, even Sheena agreed that the downhill was horrible. I clenched in fear the whole time because of a bad shoulder with a ton of debris and she felt the same. After another climb that nearly broke me, we sailed into Jacob’s Corner and got a very late coffee at the general store.
There we met Becky, the sister of the general store’s owner. She was really interested in our trip and got us lunch. It’s experiences like that with strangers that can really change the entire mood of a ride. I went from being downtrodden and annoyed with the day to grateful and excited for the next few miles. We enjoyed our time at Jacob’s Corner so much that we spent over an hour there. I didn’t want to leave – I was enticed by the biker’s bar live music across the way. Music, a beer, and some wings would’ve really hit the spot. But time was ticking and the winds were finally in our favor.
So much in our favor, in fact, that we made record time to Lake Roosevelt. We stopped at Chollo Campgroud, one of the first campgrounds. Being a Saturday night without a reservation, we figured the largest campground would be our best bet for finding a spot. Which we did! But that does add a few miles to tomorrow’s ride – one that again involves a pretty significant climb. But at least we have a very pretty site with a good view of the lake.
While the rest of the campground is still pretty lively, we’re going to bed early trying to catch up on lost sleep from last night. The moon is gorgeous and full, but pretty darn bright. But I think we’re so tired it won’t halt our sleep at all.
Day 19: Lake Roosevelt to San Carlos (61 miles, 26 ridden); March 28, 2021
The full moon did not foster good sleep. Shining right into my tent along with loud campers made for little rest. On the bright side, though, I didn’t need to mess around with my head lamp during a midnight bathroom run. The moon lit the whole way.
But it made rolling out of camp in the morning unpleasant. With little sleep and desperate for coffee, we traveled the 16 miles of rollers to Roosevelt where we quenched our caffeine thirst. But what awaited us was staring right back at us. A hill of mountainous proportions.
After a lengthy stop and staring at all the pickup trucks contemplating asking for a ride, we started the journey up the hill. We knew we were in for a climb, just had no idea how long it would be. After 5 miles (and many hours) and it only getting steeper with headwinds coming right at us; we were reaching our breaking points. Not even getting to the top and 4 miles of downhill made us feel better. We were exhausted both mentally and physically. It was nearly time to throw in the towel.
With the headwinds blowing at 20 mph and 30+ miles to go, we found ourselves at 1pm distraught and done. We had resigned ourselves to ride the remaining miles to Globe and grocery shop, seeing if we could possibly get a ride for the additional 15 miles to San Carlos. But first, we would stick our thumbs out just once at the next car that drives by to see what happens. Surely they wouldn’t stop and we’d be back to pedaling.
But surely wasn’t sure enough. With a lazy thumb, we were shocked when the pickup slowed and eventually stopped. An older non-intimidating gentleman came out. After asking a few questions, we felt safe loading up and getting a ride to Globe, where we bought Rick (we’ve been having great luck with Ricks this trip!) lunch. After some conversation, Rick said he’d be happy to take us all the way to San Carlos. We couldn’t believe it. Rick is a mechanic originally from Michigan who worked on really fast cars (he was featured on a reality TV show in 2014). Now in his older years he owns a mobile repair business. And considering the number of RVs there are here and the countless aftermath of burnt up cars on the highway, he’s never short on business. He dropped us off in San Carlos and gifted us with a crystal he’s had for years. It’s to give power to the owner. After he left I accidentally broke it – typical – and felt horrible about it. But it broke in such a way that Sheena and I can each have a piece. Again, we have been very fortunate with the kindness of strangers. However, we understand that we lucked out with Rick and will not be so quick to hitch a ride in the future.
We got in early and used the time to do some more planning. While doing so, we spoke to a lot of curious town members. One of whom was Rose, the town’s PD dispatcher and retired wildfire fighter. An Apache Native American, she told us we missed out on a traditional coming of age celebration for her two great nieces. She said they would’ve loved to have our company and demonstrated what she hinted at was a dying tradition. We were bummed we missed out on it. She also informed us that the reservation was closed during COVID because the virus ravished their community, which apparently was dwindling even before the virus. They just recently opened it back up to non native people. Though sorrowful, Rose was a delight and wished us well on our journey.
Our original plan for tonight was to camp in Peridot, a small town in an Apache reservation. However, after reading about high crime and robbery, we realized that this was not an option. So we found the local church and after a few back and forth calls with the pastor, he agreed to let us stay with him and his family. We were so grateful and relieved they said yes. They are a wonderfully sweet family with a beautiful 2.5 year old and a lively 8 month old. They made us dinner and invited us to family movie night. They definitely made sure we feel safe, included, and welcomed.
Day 20: San Carlos to Safford AZ (63 miles) 29 March 2021
After some much needed coffee, we were ready to head out for a long day to Safford. We said a grateful goodbye to Pastor Tim, Calista, Rosie, Mariah, and Emily (can’t forget Merlin!) and rode a few miles south to meet back up with the route. Because the reservation does not have leash laws, we were chased by a few dogs, but managed to get away before they could catch up.
Setting out for the day I knew we were in for some bad headwinds. Especially bad for the morning. The gusts were strong and forced us to pedal even downhill. Luckily the truck ride yesterday was enough to mentally put us back on track so we were spared a mental breakdown battling the winds. After nearly 30 miles with barely any breaks we made it to Bylas just before noon. We stayed there for a while and had lunch.
Still on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, we talked with many tribe members who were curious about our trip. They wished us luck on our journey. Two men, in particular, really stood out. Elders of the tribe, they talked about Apache history and the struggles they face maintaining tradition with the younger generations. Apparently the tribe is dwindling (as hinted by Rose yesterday) and many people are shocked that Apache members even exist today. They spoke of the lands their ancestors had before being placed on the reservation and the way of life. They were not bloodthirsty savages as depicted by history and their tribe isn’t even actually called Apache – it was coined by settlers after hearing it used by the Apache’s enemies in Mexico. Apache is literally translated to “enemy”, placing a very negative connotation to their people. Their tribe is actually called Ndee. It was so interesting speaking with them and seeing their passion for their history and culture. It was very heartbreaking as well, however, seeing the hurt in their eyes as they expressed their distress that their culture is slowly being erased and forgotten. They were upset of the life they lost out on, the devastating effect of addiction in their community, and the lost sense of culture of the younger generation. It’s a conversation I won’t soon forget and I feel honored to have had such a raw experience with two members of a tribe so many forget about. It makes me appreciate what I have and realize that life isn’t about the material things. I was actually having a conversation with someone about how they were upset that not having their pool open for Memorial Day was causing them distress. After having this conversation with the Apache natives, my lack of sympathy for their first world problem was apparent. I hope when little inconveniences in my life pop up, I dwell on this conversation to humble and ground me.
After our extended lunch, the winds died down as did the rollers. We made good time and eventually hit Pima. We ended up getting ice cream at Taylor Freeze, a shop with such great marketing it roped us in. Think of a smaller scale “South of the Border” scheme with billboards strategically placed every so often. We enjoyed our ice cream and then sailed the tailwinds all the way to our warm showers host Hal’s home.
Hal is an 81 year old retired history/statistics professor and Arizona native. He has traveled and lived all over the world and enjoys backpacking. Not necessarily into biking, he found out about warm showers through a friend and just loves meeting new people and hearing their stories. He made us a huge whopping dinner complete with wine and we are going to bed bellies full. The next few days are short because of oddly spaced out towns, but we’re happy about it. We need some short days to make up for the killer last few. And we’re finally going to be out of Arizona soon!!
Day 21: Safford, AZ to Lordsburg, NM (76.5 miles); March 30, 2021
Today was a mix of emotions I hope to never experience ever again. It was a rough day, but ultimately ended as a great one. I’ll elaborate more later.
Neither of us slept super well. We both woke up frequently throughout the night and had issues falling back asleep. At one point we talked about taking advantage of the tailwinds and riding almost 80 miles to Lordsburg. But given it was 4am, we didn’t commit to anything. We were gonna wing it.
Hal made us a breakfast of mega proportions – I couldn’t even finish it all. After coffee and conversation, it was getting pretty late. Antsy to get on the road to at least attempt a long day, the chances were dwindling. The sun was settling up in the sky and it was starting to get hot. Before we set out, Hal showed us his project in downtown Safford. He and a group are restoring an open-air theater to bring a more social atmosphere to the town. He is so proud of it and it’s coming along beautifully. But alas, it was quickly approaching 10:30am and we had to get on the road.
Because of the massive breakfast and heat, Sheena stayed back as I took advantage of the tailwinds. During a break, we ran into Dave who was transporting pack mules – the same kind who delivered supplies to me on the JMT! He’s a rancher with great stories and even some not so great. In the past year he’s known of two kidnappings – one involving a 6 year old girl right from her home. Both were returned home safely, but it was scary hearing it none the less and he used these stories as a warning to be vigilant the next few days. He offered us water and was soon on his way to deliver the pack mules further West.
The vastness of this stretch was very humbling. The desert went on for miles with very little services and very little traffic. I went miles without seeing one car.
Eventually the winds really picked up and getting into Duncan was a breeze – literally. Our original plan was to camp in a local park in Duncan, a short 40 mile day. We got in kind of late, and I was resigned on the fact that we were just going to stay there – the additional 36 miles to Lordsburg was out of the question. Given my mental state and high anxiety (likely from lack of sleep), I was really indifferent as to whether or not we continued on. Having a rough day herself, I was surprised when Sheena suggested going to Lordsburg so as to take advantage of the headwinds. Already 4:30pm, we’d get in after dark. We held counsel and debated pros and cons of both options. We decided our fate would come down to the flip of a coin. Heads, we stay. Tails, we go. We got heads. The coin gods have spoken, and I was glad to listen. However, Sheena voiced displeasure at the decision and we agreed to best 2 out of 3. Sure enough, it was heads again. Right then and there we decided the coin gods were wrong. We put our fate into our own hands and we made the choice to try and get to Lordsburg. If we make it, great – we’ll make it a rest day tomorrow. If we don’t, there’s plenty of wild camping options along the way. So after replenishing our water, we set out at 5pm.
The first few miles were a little rough. Not much in the way of winds to get us moving. But that all changed after we reached the New Mexico border! Arizona was great, we met awesome people, learned about the Apache culture, and saw some beautiful scenery. But it was also lengthy with some tough days. We were ready to put it behind us. So we were thrilled to pass the border to a new state. With only 30 miles left to our destination, we set out with gusto.
Literally. The tailwinds picked up and we were cruising. Because I have nothing better to do, I’m constantly timing miles and calculating speed. At 3 min miles exactly, we were moving at 20 MPH for a lot of the stretch. It felt great to be moving that fast with a 90lb bike. Soon the sun went down and we were riding in darkness. The stars appeared and it was magical riding under them. Because the traffic wasn’t busy at all, we felt safe with our front/rear lights
We rolled into Lordsburg at 9pm (really 8pm because AZ doesn’t observe daylight savings – we lost an hour crossing into NM) and checked into our hotel. For what we paid, we were pleasantly surprised by the space we have! We will definitely sleep long and hard these next two nights.
Tomorrow we are looking forward to just relaxing. This is our second rest day in a week, though the first didn’t feel like one. We wouldn’t trade the day spent with Rick for the world, but given that it was full of kayaking and hiking, our bodies didn’t feel completely rested. Tomorrow we will achieve that goal. We plan on doing nothing but eat and plan. We already have breakfast lined up at a restaurant next to the hotel, courtesy of the Hanrahan family. They’re my childhood (well I guess now adulthood too since moving back home temporarily) neighbors who were kind enough to treat us to a meal! Thanks guys!! We already can’t wait to chow down on some good diner food after today’s extravaganza.