Southern Tier - San Diego to Atlanta


Fall 2004


Denis Kertz, ©2004



My preferred time of year for touring is the fall, starting Labor Day weekend.  However, this year my nephew chose to get married in late September and that prevented an early fall trip.  Since I wouldn’t be able to leave until late September that got me thinking that maybe it was time to ride across the country on a southern route and the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) Southern Tier route was a convenient ride.  An additional motivation for a later ride was the upcoming election.  This year’s presidential election promised to be a particularly nasty one with continual bombardments of the senses at a time when our country sorely needs a more honest, competent leader rather than the one who has lied and deceived the public on almost all issues, foreign and domestic, and managed to make enemies of almost the entire world, not to mention becoming bin Laden’s best recruiter.  Nevertheless, it looked like a fairly educated country simply had no clue how awful the Bush term has been, even after almost four years of evidence, and was going to give him four more years to prove the first four were not a fluke.  I couldn’t think of a better time to be on the road and not have to listen to a continual bombardment of Bush lies leading up to the election and watch the dumbing down of America.

Day 1: Mon, Sep 27, 2004 - Place, State to Kensington, CA [15.1, 1:27:13, 10.4]

I got up at 5:15 to leave at 6:00 to get to the airport before the traffic picked up.  My friend Dave drove me to the airport, making good time even though there was a fair amount of traffic on a Monday morning.  At the airport, the America West line had only a few people so I breezed through the line.  I had my bike packed up in a bike box but it went as normal luggage, compared to a typical $80 charge by most airlines, since I was a member of the League of American Bicyclists and had made my travel arrangements through a special travel agency.  Technically, my bike went free but it really cost $30.  That’s the fee the travel agency charged for making the travel arrangement.


What didn’t go so well was the security check.  The security check claimed I had a scissors in my carryon pack.  It turned out I did as I forgot about the small scissors in my first aid kit so I got to donate it to the security folks.


I always seem to forget something and as I was waiting for my flight I discovered what it was – I forgot my bicycle lock, just as I had on my Australia trip.  Fortunately, this was something relatively easy to replace so I wasn’t too disappointed.


The flight was uneventful with a stopover in Las Vegas, which was OK because we didn’t change planes and I didn’t worry about extra handling of my bike box.  In San Diego I managed to locate a luggage cart and picked up my luggage, relieved that my bicycle showed up and looked OK.  I moved away from the baggage claim area and found a spot off in the corner that was out of the way and unused.  There I spread out my stuff and began the assembly process, first putting the bike together and then packing the panniers.  This process is somewhat painful because you spend a lot of time packing everything to fit on the plane and then you have to undo everything to get it back in riding shape.


This process took a couple of hours.  About mid-way I got hassled by an airport cop, who complained I was tying up the area that nobody was using.  Apparently what really got her really excited was I had removed my long pants to get to my biking shorts underneath.  She thought that was stripping in public.  That irritated me and I was tempted to give her some major lip but thought better of it.  Instead I told her I would be done in 20 minutes.


I finally got packed up and was off at 3:30 with a 5:30 rendezvous at a Starbucks to meet my host for the night, Hank.  I followed Hank’s suggested route along Harbor Boulevard.  I rode up 5th Ave and found a bike shop but they didn’t have the bike lock I was looking for.  They suggested I check a hardware store down the street and it had exactly what I wanted so I got that taken care of.


I continued up 5th to El Prado and rode into Balboa Park which was nice but I didn’t have time to linger.  I headed north out of the park to Adams and east to Marlborough where I met Hank at a Starbucks.  We had a coffee and then headed out to dinner after dropping off my bike at Hank’s place nearby in Kensington.  We ate at a fish place and had fish tacos that were very good.

Day 2: Tue, Sep 28, 2004 - Kensington, CA to Pine Valley, CA [47.8, 5:34:07, 8.5, 41]

In the morning Hank fed me a bowl of oatmeal and then we adjourned to the Starbucks and had coffee.  We hung out there until 9:00 when we figured the rush hour traffic would have calmed down and we parted ways, my only disappointment that Bill Walton hadn’t put in an appearance as Hank said he often does.  I thought it would be a simple matter to head east on Adams Mission Gorge Road and pick up the Adventure Cycling route but first I had to turn left off Adams to pick up Fairmont and then I took a right on Montgomery.  I wasn’t sure Montgomery was the right road but it was at least heading east so I figured I couldn’t go too wrong.


When I started passing through San Diego Statue University I was pretty sure I needed to head north to catch Mission Gorge.  It took a couple of direction queries before I finally caught Princess View that took me to Mission Gorge and I could use my Adventure Cycling map.  Mission Gorge wasn’t great but I didn’t expect getting out of the San Diego metro area would be particularly fun.  What the day did prove to be was fairly challenging as it climbed from sea level to 4,000 feet.  I was a little concerned with the climbing since I had injured my left leg in an ice skating mishap in February.  This hurt something just above my left knee that took some time to heal and I still could feel it occasionally.  It hadn’t bothered me while cycling during the summer cycling including my final 120-mile tune-up before leaving but I knew that climbing with my loaded touring bike would raise the stress to another level.  So I took the day’s climbing relatively easy, or as easy as realistic when climbing.


I followed the Adventure Cycling route through Lakeside and then parallel to I8 on my way to Alpine.  While there was a fair amount of climbing along the way, the climbing really began a few miles before Alpine and I spent a lot of time climbing at 5-6 mph.  In Alpine I stopped around 12:30 for a burrito, muffin, and a drink.  Then I resumed my climbing, forced to join I8 for a few miles when Alpine Boulevard ended.  Then I exited I8 to pick up 79 and Old Highway 80 on the way to Pine Valley.  Up to Alpine I had no problems but from there I could feel my energy level waning.  Part of that was probably due to the heat but most was likely due to a fairly hard first day.


Shortly after picking up 79 I stopped at a store and downed a liter of Coke and rested for about 30 minutes.  That helped a lot and I felt better the rest of the way.  Still I knew Pine Valley would have to be my destination for the day.  In Pine Valley I stopped for a medium pizza that I wasn’t quite able to finish.  Pine Valley didn’t have any camping according to my Adventure Cycling map so I started asking around.  I finally found a sympathetic figure, Joe, who decided to let me camp on public grounds after hearing about my trip.  Joe was quite a talker and kept extending our conversation for some time, even offering me a beer, which I accepted.


Then I set up my tent and adjourned to a local bar to write my notes.  All in all it was a pretty challenging first day that wasn’t particularly scenic until the last 10-15 miles.  I was happy that my leg seemed fine but the true test of successive climbing days still remained.


Day 3: Wed, Sep 29, 2004 - Pine Valley, CA to Brawley, CA [102, 7:08:52, 14.3, 45.8]

I got up shortly after 6:00 and packed up to get out of my secret camping spot early.  I bought some milk at a store next door for my cereal and followed that up with pancakes at a restaurant.


It was a cool, cloudy morning when I got up and in the low 40s.  When I left town at 8:30 it was 50 and still cool.  I continued on Old Highway 80 with considerable up and down and about 2,000 feet of climbing but this was balanced by some nice descents as I made my way through the mountains.  A few miles outside Pine Valley I passed by a Cleveland National Forest campground that, had I known about it, I would have been tempted to make yesterday.  In contrast to yesterday’s getaway from the San Diego metro area, the day was pretty scenic.  However, I confirmed that my camera wasn’t working properly.  The night before I left on my trip my camera lens wouldn’t retract when I turned the camera off, although I eventually fiddled with it and got it to close up.  At that point there wasn’t anything I could do.  Now I found I could take photos but the zoom wasn’t working.  Then when I turned the camera off the lens seemed to stick and I would have to help it by pushing on the lens.  Not an encouraging development and I guessed I would have to replace the camera somewhere along the way.


There were several small towns in the mountains and when I approached Jacumba I was right at the Mexico border, a point emphasized by the presence of the Border Patrol.  At 11:00 I stopped in Jacumba, a town of 400, before I was ready for a break but there wasn’t going to be anything else for a while.  So I had my usual burrito and drink.  After Jacumba there was one final climb and then the fun began.  As Old Highway 80 ended I was forced on to I8 where there was a 6% descent sign for the next 9 miles.  There was also a sign warning of possibly very windy conditions and as I began the descent I experienced some pretty gusty winds.  So I had to descend cautiously for safety reasons.  I also couldn’t pay as much attention the great scenery as the road plunged some 2,000 feet to the Yuha Desert.  At one point I had to exit the interstate although I was able to get right back on.  Apparently the wind was so dangerous at times that all motorcycles and bicycles were required to exit.  The exit descended to a road that passed under the interstate and then there was an entrance that got me right back on the interstate.


It was amazing how the mountains just gave way and opened up on the Yuha Desert.  Near Ocotillo I was forced to leave I8 and take 98 because cyclists weren’t allowed on I8 east of Ocotillo.  Normally I prefer to bypass interstates but in this case 98 to Seeley was about 8 miles longer than the straight shot on the interstate.


The descent from the mountains was accompanied by an escalation in temperatures into the low 90s.  As I rode along 98 that wasn’t too far from the border I started noticing periodic blue flags on the end of flexible 10-15 feet poles.  Eventually I saw a box at the base of one flag that was labeled WATER and I guessed the purpose.  Illegal immigrants from Mexico try to make their way across the rough, forbidding desert and often die of dehydration.  These flags marked sources of water in an attempt to prevent the ultimate tragedy.  They were spaced about a quarter mile apart all along 98.


Fortunately, I had plenty of water and wasn’t tempted by the emergency water.  I also had a great tailwind that, combined with the slight downgrade, made cycling almost effortless and I easily maintained a 16-20 mph pace.  That ended when I had to turn north to get to Seeley.  The turnoff to Seeley marked an abrupt change where the desert was transformed by irrigation to grow a variety of produce.  The road became rough and the wind became a cross wind and slowed me down.  However, it was only 8 miles to Seeley where I stopped for a cold drink that was welcomed.


At this point I had traveled 77 miles and it was only 3:00.  So I pushed on east to El Centro, another 7 miles that went quickly with the wind helping again.  El Centro was a sizable city of 37,000 with a Wal-Mart and a Target.  I was tempted to stop and check for digital cameras but I pushed on the 14 miles to Brawley, which I really wanted to make.  With yesterday’s fairly short day because of all the climbing I had feared that Brawley was out of the question for the day at 100 miles.  Now it was well within reach and I motored along with some helping wind on a slight downgrade.


I made Brawley at 4:30, a community of about 20,000 in the center of the Imperial Valley, just short of 100 miles that I exceeded as I toured through town.  I found the Desert Motel on the west side and got a room for $32.  I chose a motel because tomorrow’s ride was 65 miles to the next place with services and I wanted to be well rested with minimal hassle.  I found a Chinese restaurant across the street and filled myself with a takeout.  There was also a grocery store across the street that made for convenient food shopping.  My room had a small refrigerator so I was able to pick up some milk for breakfast to save myself some time in the morning.


In my room I checked my favorite TV channel, The Weather Channel, and learned I would have pretty much the same wind tomorrow as today but not quite as strong.  That was another reason I really wanted to get in position to make the desolate crossing, hoping to have a helping wind again.

Day 4: Thu, Sep 30, 2004 - Brawley, CA to Blythe, CA [99.2, 7:38:26, 13, 34.2]

I was up early, ate breakfast in my room and was off shortly after 7:00.  I filled one of my 3 liter water bladders for insurance since there would be no services until Palos Verdes, 63 miles away.


When I left town I was struck by the huge farm fields that stretched for miles.  At one point a flashing patrol car zoomed by.  After 12 miles along a canal a police officer flagged me down.  I hoped it was for a speeding ticket but she wanted me off the road because a high speed pursuit was oncoming.  So I and another driver pulled off to the side and waited for the excitement.  In preparation the officer laid a tack strip across the road to try to flat the pursuit car but she left a gap on the opposite edge of the road so the pursuers could avoid the trap.  When the pursuing car came along the driver quickly slowed down, as if he were familiar with this tactic, and edged to the opposite side and around the tack strip and took off again, trailed by two patrol cars.


With the excitement behind, I was on my way again.  The farmland changed to desert and then sand dunes appeared as I rode through the Imperial Sand Dunes, a big recreation area, but apparently not during the week as I saw no dune buggies.  In the middle of the dunes I rode to the top of the Osborne Lookout for a good view of the surrounding dunes.  When I tried to take a photo I was surprised to find my 128M SD card exhausted.  Then when I installed another 128M card I noted it said I only had 10 photos remaining and a light bulb went off in my head.  I discovered I had set my photo quality level to Super Fine which meant every photo was an uncompressed 12M TIFF file for my 4M pixel camera.  That was why my camera appeared to not work properly – it was spending most of its time writing a 12M photo to the memory card and until that was complete the camera wouldn’t allow any other operations.  With that realization, I reduced the photo quality one level and I had a normally working camera again.  A very fortuitous discovery since I was sure I was going to have to replace the camera.


Continuing on I passed through Glamis that was open only on weekends to service the sand dune crowd.  Over night I had moved my front panniers further forward to try to eliminate the front wheel shimmy I had experienced yesterday but that didn’t work.  Then another light bulb went off and I stopped the bike and tested my front wheel and found it was loose.  I suspected my cone nuts were loose from my hub overhaul prior to the trip.  So when I found a shaded area I stopped and removed the front wheel but found the hub was fine.  So I guessed that the wheel was not set quite right in the quick release and it appeared OK after I replaced the wheel.  Then the shimmy was noticeably better but not eliminated.


I continued riding on the route that was a gradual climb of about 1,300 feet, approaching the Chocolate Mountains as I neared the apex of the route.  At this point it was a quite scenic view of rugged hilly, rocky desert.


Earlier I had spotted something ahead that looked like it could be a cyclist only to see it disappear.  Now I saw a similar sight and eventually I caught up to a guy who was cycling from San Diego to Arkansas on a bike with only rear panniers, distinctive Jandd panniers that were very narrow and 3-4 feet tall.  He admitted to not being in shape and took frequent breaks and walked a few of the short, fairly steep hills.  Eventually he rode off and I never saw him again.


A while later I met Bill, another cyclist riding in the opposite direction.  He only had gear hanging from his straight handlebars and I presumed he was a worker but it turned out he had been cycling since spring from Florida up to DC and back to Florida and then cross country.  He was on a simple mountain bike with a wide rolled up sleeping pad strapped to his handlebars and 2 day packs handing from each handlebar end.  Another example of how folks made do with what they have.  He was battling my tailwind and trying to make Brawley with 60 miles to go at 1:00 pm.  I wished him luck and rode on.


As I neared Palos Verdes I passed a slow cyclist who was carrying what looked like might be his home.  In town I stopped for a drink and a bite to eat.  There a former Blythe resident suggested I pass through Blythe and cross the Colorado River into Arizona and stop at a Flying J.  He also said I could camp down by the bridge at the river.


I continued on through farming country to Blythe, stopping for a drink along the way.  As the guy suggested I didn’t see much in Blythe other than The Horny Toad Saloon and continued across the river, riding across on a pedestrian way.  On the other side I crossed over to the Flying J and hit the jackpot.  Out here that usually means a slot machine but for me it was an all-you-can-eat buffet for less than $10 and I got my money’s worth.


After eating I rode down to the river but didn’t see anything suitable for camping.  So I crossed over to the other side where there was an RV Park but they wanted $20 for a simple tent site.  When I noted that was too much the hostess was gracious enough to point out there was a county park on the other side of the interstate.  There I found a sign saying $10 for camping with no one around.  I also found the place was almost completely flooded but managed to find a dry spot and set up for the night.


Another century day but this one was a little harder than yesterday.  Although back-to-back centuries weren’t a problem I hoped to cut back on the mileage in the coming days without the desert dictating the riding.

Day 5: Fri, Oct 1, 2004 - Blythe, CA to Hope, AZ [54.9, 5:16:36, 10.4, 25.4]

I packed up and rode across the Colorado River again to the Flying J for their breakfast buffet, which wasn’t particularly good but there was a lot of it.  I bought a paper to get the presidential debate reaction and was heartened to read that Kerry appeared to do pretty well.


It was nearly 9:00 by the time I left and it was already pretty warm.  The only road east was I10 so I had to ride the interstate, which had lots of traffic, much of it large truck traffic.  The only saving grace was the surrounding landscape was fairly scenic as I climbed gradually to pass through the Dome Rock Mountains. 

Just before Quartzsite I exited and rode through town.  I got directions to the library where I spent an hour reading email and paying a couple bills.  Then I stopped at a foodmart for a drink, not needing any food after my dinner and breakfast buffets.


By this time it was after noon and very warm.  Surprisingly, once I was under way the modest breeze seemed to dissipate the heat and riding was not a problem.  I entered the interstate again and climbed through the New Water Mountains.  After about 30 miles I was mercifully able to exit the interstate and pick up Highway 60 that was quiet and peaceful.  60 had a wide shoulder but it was cracked and a pain to ride but with the light traffic I was able to ride just inside the white line most of the time.  The road was straight and visible for about 15 miles.  It looked flat but it first declined and then began a modest uphill as it climbed toward the Granite Wash Mountains.  The area was notable for numerous mobile home and trailer parks along the road where folks (snow birds) winter during the October through March months.


At Hope I stopped at a foodmart for a drink and assessed the day’s ride.  I had thought I could make Aguila but obviously had miscalculated as it was at least another 30 miles.  Since it was almost 4:00 I reviewed my options.  There was an RV Park across the street and another one down the road but it wasn’t near food.  A little further was a town but it had no camping.


So I decided to check the RV Park across the street.  I expected it was going to be a $20 job and was prepared to ride on but I was pleasantly surprised to find a tent site was only $7.50 and I was sold.  Of course, there was no grass in the area so I was stuck with a fine gravel base but I was able to put my tent under an open angular roof to provide relief from the sun.


After cleaning up I walked back across the street and nuked a couple items for dinner.  While there I noticed a woman hop in a golf cart and ride back to the RV office, just a simple walk across the road.  I guess she couldn’t handle the heat and distance.


Later I joined a group of 5-6 couples around a campfire.  They were gathered for their hot dog night and I joined their conversation, which was a lot more fun than sitting in my tent.  A lot of the guy conversations were about finding rattlesnakes in the area and they probably were hoping to scare me a little so I played along but they had no idea that I had been around much more dangerous snakes when I cycled in Australia.  Around 9:30 I called it a night.  And I locked my door to make sure no rattlesnakes could get in…

Day 6: Sat, Oct 2, 2004 - Hope, AZ to Yarnell, AZ [72.8, 7:36:10, 9.6, 19.3]

I packed up and rode across the road to the foodmart for breakfast – cereal, muffin, banana.  I left about 8:00 on a route that was uphill most of the way.  There was a modest headwind that, with the upgrade, had me struggling to reach 10 mph.  I felt somewhat lethargic and wasn’t sure if I was tired or if it was due to the climb.  In any event I started considering whether I should make it a short day when I reached Aguila.


I passed through Harcuvar first which had seen better days.  It had a couple motels that had been shuttered for some time by their looks.  I passed through Salome which did have a couple motels but was not an exciting place either.


After 35 miles I stopped in Aguila for a break with my usual large drink and burrito.  While there an 87 year old man started a conversation as he eyed my bike.  He said he had spent a couple years cycling around the world when he was 65 until he had his bike stolen in Dover, England.  Now he had bad knees but still did a daily 5 mile ride.


Eventually I decided I wasn’t ready to call it a day even though the next part of the route to Prescott entailed some serious climbing.  With some misgivings, I took off and picked up 71 north to Congress.  The Adventure Cycling route actually continued towards Phoenix but I had decided to detour to the Grand Canyon, since it was only about 300 miles out of the way.  I hadn’t been to the Grand Canyon for some 30 years so I decided it was worth another visit.  The upgrade was mild and I seemed to be riding better, perhaps due to the magic of a burrito.  The scenery also became more interesting as the desert vegetation thickened and displayed more variety.


At the junction of 71 and 93, I stopped under the 93 overpass for some shade and a short break.  Continuing I rode on towards Congress and the Weaver Mountains.  I could see what looked like a road cut into the side of the mountains in the distance.  As I set up to take a photo I noticed movement on the road through my camera’s viewfinder and discovered another cyclist, Clark, riding towards me.  He turned out to be from Lincoln Park in Chicago and was surprised to learn I was from Naperville.  He was riding from Chicago to San Diego and smiling because he was riding mostly downhill.


In Congress I was pleasantly surprised to find a foodmart since my Adventure Cycling map claimed no services until Yarnell.  I downed an ice cream and a liter of 7up, prime food for a large climb.  A couple of locals were surprised to learn I would be climbing up on what was called the 7-mile hill.


Eventually I made the commitment and started rolling on, losing some valuable elevation before the climbing began.  I spent most of the climb in my 2nd lowest gear, averaging about 5 mph but dropping down to 4.5 at times.  The good news was that there were great views of the vast valley, calling for frequent photos that broke up the climb.  The road was split into separate uphill/downhill roads with the uphill road having 2 lanes and a wide shoulder so it was a good route.


Finally, I reached the top and rode into Yarnell, an unincorporated town with roots in mining and ranching.  At the other end of town I found the BBQ place that Clark had recommended and had a very good BBQ pork sandwich.  Then I stopped at the only motel in town that also had the only RV Park.  I got a tent site for $12 on an unused RV site, a distinctive let down from yesterday’s accommodation but it beat paying $46 for a motel.  After setting up I adjourned across the street to a bar to write my notes.

Day 7: Sun, Oct 3, 2004 - Yarnell, AZ to Prescott, AZ [39.8, 4:10:07, 9.5, 33.4]

I packed up and backtracked a mile to the only place open for breakfast and had pancakes and scrambled eggs with ham.  I got done just in time as a covey of kids arrived and took over 3 tables.


I planned a short day to Prescott to give my legs some rest but it would not really be an easy day with some significant climbing.  I could tell my legs could use a break as they felt a little tired for the first time.


Initially riding was easy for about 10 miles on a gradual descent into the Peeples Valley.  This was cycling Sunday and I saw several cyclists riding in both directions.  I chatted a little with one cyclist as we rode to a small store at Wilhoit where his ride ended and mine was about to begin.  After a drink and short break I started riding up Quartz Mountain on a ride similar to yesterday’s climb to Yarnell except this climb was half as long and not quite as steep and I managed about 6 mph.  Like yesterday there were great views of the valley below on the climb and I stopped for frequent photos.


After reaching the top there was a descent and then the climb continued as the road hugged the contours of the mountain, making for an interesting climb with nice scenery.  Eventually the climbing topped out at a little over 6,100 feet and began the descent to Prescott, a town of 34,000 that once was the territorial capital of Arizona and was now a major tourism area.


In town I stopped at Whisky Row and got some tourism information.  The library was two blocks away so I spent some time checking email and checking the weather forecast for the Grand Canyon.  Then I rode down Gurley St and got a motel for $33 at a place suggested by the tourism guy.  I checked in and walked back to Whisky Row.  A block away I stumbled on to the last act of the Folk Festival Weekend which was pretty good.  Then I ate at a Quizno’s Subs and walked back to my motel to rest up for another day.

Day 8: Mon, Oct 4, 2004 - Prescott, AZ to Williams, AZ [73.9, 6:35:48, 11.2, 36.1]

I decided not to eat breakfast in Prescott because I couldn’t find a store nearby with cereal and I didn’t want to eat at a chain breakfast place.  Chino Valley was only 15 miles down the road and it looked to be an easy downhill run.  So I inhaled a bear claw at a foodmart and headed out of town during rush hour shortly after 7:00.  The traffic wasn’t bad in my direction and I had a wide shoulder so riding was OK.  However, there was a lot of traffic headed towards Prescott.  A light by the municipal airport served to back up traffic and cars were lined up for a couple miles.  Not what you would expect out in the country.


I made good time to Chino Valley and stopped at a small restaurant on the edge of town.  When I ordered 3 pancakes the waitress asked if I knew how large they were and that’s when I knew I had made the right choice.  There was also a paper at the counter to read and life was good.


I continued another 10 miles to Paulden and then started climbing but the climbing was fairly easy, helped by some tailwind.  The most exciting event was 6 pre-fabricated homes transported as oversized loads.  Normally, the loads hung out well into the shoulder and I had to watch carefully that the drivers understood that I owned the shoulder.


I was surprised how easy the route was and I made the 50 miles to Ash Fork just a little after noon.  I stopped for my burrito and drink to bulk up for the hardest part of the day – the climb up to Williams on I40.  I didn’t think this would be that bad since it was an interstate but I spent considerable time grinding away at 5-6 mph.  Then about 5 miles from the turnoff to Williams I noticed my rear tire felt soft.  I stopped and pumped it up hoping it was just a slow leak that would hold until the evening.  In about 10 minutes I had my answer as my tire was soft again.  So I stopped along side a guard rail where I could lean my bike against the guard rail to fix it.  I found the small puncture and patched the tube.  Then I checked the tire and found a small wire still stuck in the tire.  I removed the embedded short piece of thin wire and put everything back together.


In a few miles I exited onto Business 40, part of Old US 66.  I stopped at a bike shop in town for some advice.  I had decided it might make sense to take the train from Williams to the Grand Canyon as a way to give me a rest day; otherwise, it was about a 60 mile ride.  My real decision was whether to take the train roundtrip and ride the interstate to Flagstaff or to ride to Flagstaff from the Grand Canyon.  One guy at the bike shop voiced the opinion that the ride to the Grand Canyon was not that great since everybody on the road was in a hurry to get to the Grand Canyon.  Another guy reassured me that the interstate the rest of the way to Flagstaff was nothing like the section I had just ridden.


So I rode to the train depot to check out the train.  The ticket agent had to verify that I could take a bike along and that turned out not to be a problem and it wasn’t even an extra charge.  So I signed up to leave at 10:00 the next morning and return the next day at 3:30.


With that out of the way, I rode to a Pizza Factory for a reasonable size pizza that I managed easily.  Then I stopped at a Safeway for some grocery shopping.  Lastly I rode a mile away to the Cataract Lake USFS campground only to discover it was closed for the season.  Not sure what else to do with little daylight left I snuck my bike under the simple pole gate, figuring I would plead I got caught unaware too late in the day if necessary.

Day 9: Tue, Oct 5, 2004 - Williams, AZ to Grand Canyon, AZ [29.3, 2:42:39, 10.8, 33]

It was cool when I packed up in the morning, upper 40s, and I rode the mile back to town.  I stopped at a place that advertised itself as a pancake place so I had a pancake.  In fact, it was all-you-can-eat pancakes but they came one at a time because each pancake was the size of a large circular plate.  First, I tried the buckwheat pancake and then I had a buttermilk one for a second pancake.  I expected I would be back to this place in another day.


The train didn’t leave until 10:00 but it was suggested I arrive by 9:00 to see about getting my bike on the train.  We ended up putting the bike upright on it’s rear wheel in the vestibule of the car behind where I would be sitting.  I used my chain lock to hold the bike in it’s place.


At 9:20 there was a Wild West show involving horse thieves and a marshal that was mildly amusing.  Then we boarded the train and were off at 10:00 for arrival at 12:15 after a 65 mile ride.  The scenery was OK with short evergreen trees that thinned out to desert grass shrub and then back to evergreens at the park.  There was also entertainment in the form of a guitar player who played a few songs and told jokes.  The best was when the player said he was going to sing a short version of the El Paso song – “Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love, I got shot, and I died” – definitely shorter that the original.


We arrived on time and I retrieved my bike without difficulty.  The difficult part was finding my way around in the Grand Canyon Village complex since I didn’t have a good map.  My plan was to ride out 25 miles to Desert View, camp overnight, and return the next morning, which would give me plenty of time to catch the 3:30 return train, but I wasn’t 100% sure about the camping so I wanted to ask at the Visitor Center.  I was about to give up and just head out when I stumbled on to the Visitor Center while riding around.  There I was assured the campground was open.  I was also told I could ride the Hermit Road that was closed to private vehicles and the ranger recommended it for a bicycle ride.


Reassured, I headed out and stopped at a couple of vantage points along the way.  The views were, of course, stunning and the lighting modified by some overhead clouds seemed to change the views continuously.  However, I soon started having second thoughts about riding all the way out to Desert View only to return in the morning and then try to ride the Hermit Road.  I convinced myself that was too much riding for a marginal benefit and turned around after a little over 5 miles out.  Now my concern was getting a campsite so I stopped at the Visitor Center again where they told me I would have to go to the campground itself.  I did and was pleasantly surprised to get a shared site for $4 versus the normal $15 tent site, effectively a hiker-biker site.


I set up my tent and gear and then rode back to the Rim Trail at Mather Point and made my way along the trail to Yavapai Point.  All along the way the views were stunning and I wore out my camera.  I was just glad I had a digital camera because I couldn’t have afforded film.  Finally, visually overwhelmed I made my way back to camp and settled in for the night.

Day 10: Wed, Oct 6, 2004 - Grand Canyon, AZ to Williams, AZ [28.9, 2:59:47, 9.7, 27.9]

When I got up just after 6:00 it was 37 degrees.  I rode the 1 mile roundtrip to the Canyon Café for milk for my usual breakfast.  Then I packed a few things in my nylon daypack, tied it to my rear rack and took off around 7:00.


Wearing my sandals without socks as usual and my cycling gloves, the cold was a little rough on my toes and fingers until I got out in the sun after about a mile.  It was almost 2 miles to the start of the Hermit Road, which goes west along the South Rim for 8 miles.  This road is open only to shuttle buses but bicycles are allowed on all roads in the park.


Once again the views were fantastic and especially so in the early morning light.  It also helped that most people were not out and about yet.  There were at least 10 observation points and the last few gave views of the Colorado River far below, which was usually hidden in the steep canyon.  At the west end, Hermit’s Rest, I took a short break before returning.  I stopped at some of the view points on the return and was struck by how much difference the early morning light made and I was glad I had started early.


I made it back to my camp around 11:00 and packed up and left the campground before the 12:00 deadline.  I rode to the Canyon Café and had a bowl of chili that was good if a bit expensive as expected.  Then I spent time at the Visitor Center and otherwise killed time before the 3:30 train.  Once again we parked my bike in the vestibule and made it back without incident except we were held up by 3 masked bandits on horses.  Fortunately the marshal was on the train and managed to subdue the bandits.


The train arrived just before it’s 5:45 schedule so I had to hurry to beat darkness.  When I got my bike unloaded I stopped at a foodmart to pick up a sandwich and rode the mile to the Cataract Lake campground.  Once again I was surprised it was closed and this time there was a car parked at the entrance.  I slipped under the pole gate again and headed to my favorite spot.  While setting up I heard voices and traced it to some folks fishing at the lake and realized they were the occupants of the car.  They left when it was dark, around 6:30.




Copyright Denis Kertz, 2004. All rights reserved.